18 October 2015

Drive vs Rail

To Drive? Or Take the Train?

On our last trip to France, we relied entirely on trains, trams, and buses to get around. This time, we had a car available the entire time, but I had expected to use the train system for quite a few day trips.

My main reasons for wanting to use the train were:
- avoid the stress of driving in a city - narrow roads, traffic, parking hassles
- be able to get up and walk around during a multi-hour trip
- stations are right in the middle of town; it's easy to find your way to the sites; tourist offices are usually nearby
- no possibility of getting a speeding ticket
- no tolls to worry about (what lane to get in? do we have enough cash?)

Some drawbacks:
- if we did take an overnight trip, we would have luggage to deal with
- most stations have a lot of stairs; elevators and escalators are unusual
- you do have to be aware; confirm/stamp your train/bus ticket, get on the right train car, watch for your station, know and plan for the schedule
- to get to the train, we have to drive, then take a tram. This is usually not an issue, but if you absolutely must make a specific train time, then you end up overcompensating (especially your first few times) - you get there early, and then wait...

As it happened, we only took the train for one day trip. That was early in our vacation, and we weren't as aware of the drawbacks. We also had an appointment we couldn't be late for, and I was nervous about being able to find our way and park in time. Based on a later driving-in-a-city experience, this was the right thing to do!

Why didn't we use the train more? Well, the biggest factor was cost! I used several websites* to compare the cost of driving vs taking the train to various cities. In a nutshell, for two people, the train was nearly twice as much as driving! Notice that we already had the car, so I am not counting that rental cost...

An example is this trip to Carcassonne:
Drive (1 hr 40 min each way) = 64.80€
- gas = 15€ to + 15€ return
- tolls = 13.40€ to + 13.40€ return
- parking at La Cité = 8€

Train = 126.40€
- parking = free +
- tram = (1.60€ x 2) to + (1.60€ x 2) return
- train (1.5 hrs each way) = (29€ x 2) to + (27€ x 2) return
- shuttle from train to La Cité = (2€ x 2) to + (2€ x 2) return

The train is still a great option for one person, and it could be the best way to go even for two, if you don't need a car for any other reason. It is certainly more relaxing!

- www.autoroutes.fr gives you an estimate of gas and toll costs, as well as driving directions
- www.sncf.com/en/passengers gives you rail ticket costs
- various tour books, tourist offices, and trip adviser give a sense of bus/tram and parking costs (often out of date, but still close enough for an estimate)

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