Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Mimsy Were the Technocrats: As long as we keep talking about it, it’s technology.

Train Car vs. Town Car: San Diego to Irvine

Jerry Stratton, August 7, 2013

Lincoln and Me: The 2005 Lincoln Town Car Signature Limited.; Jerry Stratton; Town Car

Sixty years from now, this will be an old-fashioned “San Diego at the turn of the century” photo. Look at those quaint people with their black hats, big cars, and tiny houses!

I love trains. We just bought a house where the only noise issue is a regular freight train; we don’t consider it noise. So when my girlfriend suggested just getting out of Dodge1 for the Memorial Day weekend and taking the train up the coast a short way rather than driving, I immediately said, yes. We booked a hotel in Irvine a short distance from the train station2 and started pricing the train ride.

What we really wanted to do was take the Coaster, because it’s inexpensive. Only $5.50 to go the full length of the route. Unfortunately, the full route only goes to Oceanside. To get from Oceanside to Irvine is another $10.50. That’s $16 per person, one way; or $64 round trip for two people3. That was a bit more expensive than we’d expected. Still, it’s on par with taking a car; assuming a conservative 20 mpg average for the trip, it’s 78 miles from our apartment to the hotel. Round trip, that’s about eight gallons, and at $4 per gallon that’s $32 dollars. The hotel charges $11 per day for parking; for three days that’s $33, so it’s $65 dollars to drive, not including wear and tear.

But: on the Irvine side, there are only two trains per day that start/stop in Oceanside. Miss it and we’re up the creek almost literally without a paddle—stuck in a train station with no way to get anywhere else. It means getting on the train at Old Town at 2:22, getting into Oceanside at 3:19, leaving Oceanside at 4:27 and arriving in Irvine at 5:29. And hoping none of the trains are late.

Amtrak is better on the logistics, but the cost for the Pacific Surfliner from San Diego to Irvine is $58 for two people, each way. That’s $116 round trip, far above the cost of driving.

And then we’d have to either take the trolley from Fashion Valley to the Old Town Transit Center to pick up one of those trains, adding in some leeway to make sure we don’t miss the train; or drive to Old Town and park, using the car anyway.

ATSF Passenger Train: “Passenger Train of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, around 1895.”; rail

This is not the Coaster. If it were, we would have found a way to make the trip work.

Coaster$64.00187(not including trip to and from stations with bags)
Surfliner$116.0098(not including trip to and from stations with bags)
Town Car$65.0084(ended up being an unrecorded time up4 and 70 minutes back)

As noted in the table, none of this includes the thirty minute walk from the Irvine train station to the hotel, whereas the Town Car time is obviously door-to-door. We enjoy walking, and we expect to have very light luggage for this trip. It’s pretty much the perfect trip for taking a train rather than driving. But it just doesn’t make sense to do it. The longer trip time—twice as long on the Coaster—wasn’t a big deal if we could have relaxed, but rather than reduce stress as it should, timing issues make taking the train, in this instance, more stressful than driving.

And this cost analysis is for a Town Car. Most vehicles get better gas mileage than 25 mpg highway. If you’re driving something smaller, the personal vehicle option makes even more sense: it will be significantly less expensive than using the train. The train only makes sense if we didn’t have a choice—if we didn’t already have a car. Even then, though, it would be time-consuming and stressful, and make me want to buy a car. And it doesn’t take too many $100+ trips to save up for a basic vehicle.

Of course, having the car available means having to pretend that we don’t have a car available, if we want to remain true to the original plan of staying in the hotel and relaxing; for example, the day after I booked the hotel, I received my monthly reminder for the The Greater Orange County Record Show, much closer to Irvine than to San Diego.

But having too much freedom is not a bad thing.

  1. That is, San Diego.

  2. We chose Irvine mainly because we waited until the last minute, and Irvine is not a holiday destination; everywhere else was full-up.

  3. The problems with trains, planes, and buses become most apparent when there are two or more people going on the trip. The best way to encourage public transport is to ban relationships.

  4. I wrote it down somewhere and then lost it. It was no more than two hours and probably no more than an hour and a half. We ran into some serious traffic around Del Mar/Encinitas—and it was still easier than taking the train.

  1. <- OSCON 2013
  2. Google closed outdated ->