The Perfect Train: Free Power, Wi-Fi And Wine

The Perfect Train: Free Power, Wi-Fi And Wine

I’m in a business class train carriage, a vacant seat next to me. There’s a power outlet in the wall and free Wi-Fi that’s worked along the entire route. I have a view of the Pacific ocean and a man keeps bringing me free glasses of wine. It’s hard to imagine how business travel could get much better than this.

No shock to Lifehacker readers: I like trains. I like them so much I will travel through Sydney in the middle of the night to catch the only train to Scone. I will road test a 24-hour trip to Townsville. I will assess Wi-Fi speeds on Eurostar. I will travel on every single train line in Perth. I will haunt midget stations. I will edit a novel en route to Adelaide

But I don’t think I’ve ever had such a relaxing experience as the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner service between Los Angeles and San Diego, which I tested out during my recent visit to the US roaming between events about data centres, portals and all things Microsoft.

The journey from Los Angeles to San Diego takes roughly three hours. You can choose a standard class seat for around $US37 — even that includes basic free Wi-Fi throughout the trip. Or you can pay $US18 more for a seat which offers more room, a power outlet for each passenger, and free drinks and snacks. That wasn’t a difficult choice for me.

The journey itself is extremely pleasant — for around half the trip, you’re looking out directly at the ocean. This isn’t unoccupied territory, but spotting all those beach clubs put me strangely in mind of Beverley Hills 90210, and that’s no bad thing.

That price difference is rather similar to what you pay for first class on Australian regional trains, but those extra facilities — particularly the power — make it much more viable for real working trips. I’m a big fan of using the train to travel from Sydney to Canberra, for instance, but I also know my battery will be close to flat when I arrive (less an issue these days with ultrabooks, but still a concern). If I wanted to be sure of having power, I’d choose the platinum coach instead, but that is subject to the vagaries of traffic, and the view is terrible.

Any complaints en route to San Diego? Well, if I’m being ultra-picky, having the power outlets in the wall means that the person with the aisle seat has to work out a way of plugging in that doesn’t tangle up the occupant of the window seat. British trains solve that problem by placing the power outlet on the floor in between the two seats — but that means only one person at a time can plug in. (Unless, like me, you travel with a double adaptor.)

We also had an unexpected issue on the return journey: there was a problem with the incoming train, so we ended up delayed by an hour. The Santa Fe depot where I was waiting is an attractive bit of architecture, but I was worried that there wouldn’t be a seat for me. But in the end there was still plenty of room.

If I had a work trip to San Diego, I’d definitely be tempted to take the train rather than jumping a regional flight to the airport, even though it talks at least 30 minutes to get from LAX to Union Station. After all, flights get delayed by an hour or more all the time. And they don’t give me free Wi-Fi or free wine.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman thinks he needs to organise some more Amtrak trips soon. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


  • The Amtrak service in the US is quiet decent. Particularly between towns that are close. I did Boston to NY and the trip took 3 hours, with a larger seat and free wifi. Worked out better then flying when you factor in checkign in bags, the actual flight time and getting from an airport in NY to central NY (the train arrives at Penn Station). and its like half the price.

  • Weird… I’ve been on that train a few times and I found it sloooooooooowwww, basic, crowded (especially with annoying young boisterous marines that everyone treats like gods), and very old fashioned- like being part of an old west cowboy movie with those train conductors in their anachronistic outfits and the old west style Spanish train stations- a group of women in Mennonite grab (blue old style dresses and white bonnets) at SantaFe station topped off that impression.

    The view is nice though.
    Kudos on the Chromebook!

  • Can you please talk to someone about that when you get back? That’s the kind of train service Australia needs.

  • Looks similar to the Acela Express on the East Coast running between Boston and DC. A “first class” seat isn’t that expensive and comes with meals, unlimited booze, lots of leg-room, free wifi, etc.

    We used it in preference to flying as you only need to pitch up 5 mins before the train leaves and terminals are right in the heart of cities and so on …

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