North by Northwest. Murder on the Orient Express. Doctor Zhivago. The way that trains exist in our collective unconscious may suggest that train travel is both totally glamorous and totally out of date—but neither of those things is true. The train is alive and well, and in certain parts of the world, it’s by far the most practical way for business travelers to get around.
It’s a long-vaunted backpacker’s tradition to ride the rails around Europe, but the Eurostar has always courted the higher-end traveler. Their Business Premier class offers flexible ticketing, guaranteed boarding, taxi booking, and fast-tracked checking up to just 10 minutes before departure. They even have a wifi-equipped business-class lounge at their stations, plus onboard cuisine created by Michelin-starred chef Alain Roux on trips to nearly 100 destinations.
On our own turf, Amtrak/Acela service continues in the face of financial strife, and in the era of ever-increasing flight costs and ever-more-frequent flight delays, it’s an increasingly viable option. While the Northeast Corridor remains the most-trafficked region, the San Joaquin Corridor in California reached the million-rider mark this past year for the first time in its history, a testament to their service as the California routes must cover significantly more ground — around 13 hours from the Bay Area to Los Angeles on the Coastal Starlight is the norm.
But ultimately, it’s to the East, not the East Coast that train aficionados should ultimately look. The word Shinkansen rolls off the tongue as smoothly as the lightning-fast Japanese bullet train that bears that name float on maglev tracks. This commuter rail system reaches up to 160mph, and was broadly consulted to create the model for the high-speed rail system that could theoretically be implemented in the United States in the future.
There are obvious advantages to trains for the business traveler: no luggage fees, no security check, faster boarding, use of phone and increasingly, internet, and the conveniences that come with avoiding the airport scrum, like lower car-rental fees and cheaper parking. And who knows—maybe as you sit back and watch the scenery go by, you’ll recapture some of the thrill of the glory days of rail travel.