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All aboard: High cost of travel gives trains a boost
Travelers turn to rail for savings, convenience
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Amtrak has reported that business is up, including an 11.6 percent increase in the Crescent line that makes a stop in Gainesville. - photo by Tom Reed

Whether you're going by plane, train or automobile, the trip to grandma's house, or wherever you might be going for the holidays later this year, it is going to require digging a little deeper in your pocket.

An airfare forecasting Web site projects that average airfares out of Atlanta will be more than 20 percent higher than last year during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Live Search Fracases predicts Atlanta round-trip airfares will rise by 27 percent, or about $86, for Thanksgiving, with Christmas fares expected to be 22 percent, or $73, higher.

Extra charges for checked bags and other extra fees will add to some travelers' woes.

Airlines are increasing fares, adding fees and cutting flights to make up for high fuel costs.

Yet there is good news: because Atlanta is a large hub and has low-cost carrier AirTran, the city isn't expected to be hit quite as hard by fare hikes.

And unless you haven't filled up the car since last year, gasoline prices have jumped dramatically this year.

While the cost of going by train has gone up as well, passenger rail carrier Amtrak reports business is up. The Crescent line, which includes stops in Gainesville, has seen an 11.6 percent increase in passengers since October. That is slightly higher than Amtrak's overall increase of 11.3 percent. From October to July, there were 243,936 riders on the Crescent.

Based on Internet prices this week, round-trip on Delta Airlines over Thanksgiving to New Orleans will cost $269 per person. The same trip on Amtrak will cost you $222.

In the same time period, a round-trip to New York's LaGuardia Airport will cost you $344 on AirTran. The Amtrak fare is $361.

The trip to New Orleans leaves Gainesville at 6:58 a.m. and arrives in New Orleans at 7:33 p.m.

The New York bound trip leaves Gainesville at 9:16 p.m. and arrives in the Big Apple the next day at 2:02 p.m. The standard fare for the overnight ride includes a standard passenger seat. A sleeping berth will cost an additional $327 to $477 each way.

Karina Romero, an Amtrak spokeswoman, said more passengers are taking to the rails rather than driving.

"We think it's more the cost of gas than the cost of airline tickets," Romero said of the increase in ridership. "In a lot of markets, we compete more with the car than we do the airplane."

The Crescent line that serves Gainesville runs from New York's Penn Station to New Orleans and goes through the major cities of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Charlotte, Greenville, S.C. Atlanta and Birmingham.

In the year ending Oct. 1, 2007, the Gainesville station served 5,261 passengers.

Romero said rail travel does offer the convenience of being able to show up at a station just a few minutes before departure without facing lengthy delays for security screening.

With airplanes running near seating capacity, Romero said trains have a comfort advantage. "There is definitely more leg room in coach, not to mention the sleeper car availability on longer distance trains," she said.

For some, however, the trip is about nostalgia, the romancing of the rails and hearing the train whistle as it bellows across the countryside. "They remember when their grandparents took them on a train ride," she said.

While there may be something old-fashioned about trains, Romero said Amtrak has become cutting edge in one way: passengers with Internet enabled mobile phones can now book tickets on their hand-held device.

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