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I'm going to USA on a business/pleasure travel for 1 week in mid-September, and booked open-jaw flight to Indianapolis and then flying home from Washington DC. Since this is would be my first time in the US, I was hoping I could spend a few days on the East Coast after I finish business in Indianapolis.

I am a big fan of overland travel, particularly trains, and thought I might get the train from Chicago to DC instead of flying so that I can sit back and gaze at the Midwest from the comfort of my seat instead of hauling butt through airports. Travel time seems to be around 18 hours.

Does it make sense to take the train instead of flying? Cost is not an issue, but rather comfort on the train, including amenities (such as Internet access and proper meals) and whether there's stuff to see through the window (and by stuff I mean mostly nature and not urban landscape).

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This is one of the rare occasions where taking a train might actually be a good mode of transportation. Having lived in Indianapolis for close to 10 years and having gone through the new airport I can tell you that getting through it will be a breeze.

Nontheless. Cardinal might be one of the few routes where it might be worth taking just for the views starting in Kentucky and going all the way through the Appalachia. The worst of the views you would probably sleep through, if you can given stops at best every hour.

If you are taking the train from Chicago I don't think that it would be of any advantage to you given that most of the traveling time would be during the night and Chicago to South Bend, IN isn't really pretty for most of that stretch.

  • I intended to get the train from Indianapolis, but was under the impression that I have to get to Chicago first by bus. It seems that this line doesn't run every day, so that's why I didn't find it. Great info, thanks! – mindcorrosive Jun 11 '12 at 14:43
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If you have time, then certainly go for it. There are 2 routes: Cardinal and Capitol Limited, with different routes and travel time. Both trains include sightseer lounge with scenic windows and semi-opaque ceiling. You can take Cardinal from Indianapolis, for Capitol Limited you have to go from Chicago.

Cardinal will take you through Kentucky and Appalachia. Scenic highlights include New River Gorge, Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley. It is a slightly longer route.

Capitol Limited will take you trough Pittsburgh and Allegheny mountains. Scenic highlights will include Yougihenny River valley (if you are couple hours late), Sandy Patch mountain pass as well as scenic crossing at Harpers Ferry and C&O Canal. This route operates a rails-to-trails program, so if you time your schedule you may get an interesting history narrative from the C&O canal National Park staff staring at Cumberland, MD.

Note that both trains consistently make bottom of the charts for on-time performance. Delays of couple hours should be expected, and 3-4 hour delays are not uncommon (personal experience).

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I have been on the Capitol Limited train both ways between Chicago and DC. While the views of the Midwestern and Appalachian countryside are certainly nice, much of the trip takes place at night and you may not get the wonderful vistas you were hoping for. If your body is on a normal daily rhythm, you may feel more like sleeping than trying to admire the view.

The trip is significantly more comfortable than flying in the sense that you get a lot more space to sit in and move around. You can get up and walk to the observation car at any hour of the night and the seats, even in coach, are huge compared to a coach seat on an aircraft.

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