Amtrak's Auto Train by Doug Riddell

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Staff member
Aug 2, 2016
Amtrak’s Auto Train
by Doug Riddell
Published by the RF&P Railroad Historical Society

Did you know that in 1974, Amtrak planned to thwart Auto Train Corporation’s dreams of tapping the lucrative Midwest-Florida travel market by launching its own competitive service—AutoTrak, between Indianapolis, IN and Poinciana, FL? Were you aware that it was once necessary to secretly get Amtrak President, W. Graham Claytor, Jr., aboard the Silver Meteor at a road crossing near Jacksonville, FL, for fear that nearby local officials would find him, arrest and jail the famed railroad executive? It’s true.

Amtrak’s Auto Train, the second book I’ve dreamed of writing, that has been made possible by through the backing of the RF&P Railroad Historical Society, is not your typical history book. Oh, this 192-page volume contains hundreds of color, as well as black and white images, from renown rail photographers, but we’ve also included snapshots taken by myself and Amtrak Auto Train employees, that provides a behind-the-scene look at the railroad’s “flagship,” from the ashes of the original Eugene Garfield Auto Train Corporation, through today’s Superliner-equipped, General Electric P40-powered Virginia-Florida auto ferry service. Along the way the book explores triumph to tragedy—the success Graham Claytor firmly believed would result by resurrecting the original red, white, and purple auto-train, to the deadly April 18, 2002 derailment near Crescent City, FL.

Most importantly, while I’ve written the manuscript, the saga is told in the words of, and seen through the eyes of the people who lived it, Amtrak employees—both those who planned the train, as well as others, who in some cases, have spent thirty-five years offering service that has put many of them on a first name basis with the Auto Train’s patrons—many who for decades have made their annual pilgrimage, from the icy Northeast, to sunny Florida. The insight provided by these insiders will give the reader the feeling that they were present during events that run the emotional gambit from lifelong employee friendships to confrontational labor-management negotiations that risked triggering a national rail strike.

Of course, as I’ve done in Passenger Train Journal, Trains, Railway Age, and other publications, for over twenty years, there are tales that will leave you sore from laughing. At the same time, there are photos and rosters that we hope will not only answer your questions about facilities, motive power, and equipment, but aid you in modeling a train that has been part of the Seaboard Coast Line, Richmond Fredericksburg & Potomac, and their successors, for over thirty-five years. I hope you’ll make it a part of your railroad library, and if you’ve not already secured a copy of my original auto-train, get one before the last few are gone.

Doug Riddell