Auto Train Expansion/Changes?

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ehbowen

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An Auto Training running into New Jersey would work financially speaking, *an* Auto Train. For it to work it would need it's own set of equipment. Just like any other potential Auto Train route would. And there are some that would. I would bet Auto Train lines from West Coast cities to Utah would work because of the national parks as well as a few seasonal lines to Arizona. But, Amtrak would need the equipment for that to work.
OK. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that an Auto Train terminal in New Jersey could support a profitable operation with business from Boston/Connecticut, New York State, and much of the Philadelphia traffic. Now, what happens to the Lorton operation now that its only business is snowbirds from Washington DC and Baltimore? If you shut it down, do you think that the Maryland/DC customers are now going to drive NORTH to New Jersey to catch a train going south? If not, then we lose their business permanently...and the entire operation is weakened.

Time to talk about a New Jersey A-T terminal when A-T is consistently running with and filling up two separate sections every day.
 
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west point

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ehbowen. Now some sanity to the proposal to expand A-T to a north Jersey terminal.
[QUOTE="ehbowen,

Time to talk about a New Jersey A-T terminal when A-T is consistently running with and filling up two separate sections every day.[/QUOTE]
 

jiml

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A NJ/NY State Auto Train would be attractive to a large contingent of snowbirds not previously considered - Canadians. A very large number of retired Canadians (and upstate New Yorkers) spend a good part of the winter in Florida. We used to fly down, but huge increases in the cost of car rentals (FL used to be cheapest in US) now make it much more practical to drive - even with a couple of extra hotel nights enroute. I longingly price out the Auto Train every year, but the drive to Lorton is 2 days from here in winter. By the time one gets there the weather is already better and it's just as easy to drive the rest of the way. I wouldn't take anything away from the current Auto Train, but one from upstate NY (Albany, Syracuse?) would attract riders from there, Vermont, Ontario and Quebec. Utica, NY, comes to mind as a location that may have space for a facility with the appropriate rail connections to pull it off.
 
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jis

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Basically the difference in fare that can be charged for a NJ origination vs. Lorton origination at the North end will have to pay for an additional consist and its maintenance, maybe 4 more T&E crew set and at least 1 maybe 2 more OBS set plus additional terminal costs.

The further north you move the north terminal the more consists and crew become necessary.
 

jiml

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Understood. An upstate train would also have to build in a NJ stop in proximity to NYC to add that market, which would underscore your analysis. Properly planned however, it has the potential to be more successful than the current one - particularly in winter.
 

sttom

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OK. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that an Auto Train terminal in New Jersey could support a profitable operation with business from Boston/Connecticut, New York State, and much of the Philadelphia traffic. Now, what happens to the Lorton operation now that its only business is snowbirds from Washington DC and Baltimore? If you shut it down, do you think that the Maryland/DC customers are now going to drive NORTH to New Jersey to catch a train going south? If not, then we lose their business permanently...and the entire operation is weakened.

Time to talk about a New Jersey A-T terminal when A-T is consistently running with and filling up two separate sections every day.
I never said to eliminate the current service for the prospect of starting a New Jersey to Florida service. Shutting down the existing service would make as much sense as shutting down the California Zephyr and replacing it with an Auto Train between Oakland and Salt Lake City. The present Auto Train does very well for itself, why would expanding the capacity (assuming there was equipment) kill the business of the DC train? By that logic the Silver Service should only have one train instead of the 3 that presently run between the Northeast and the south.
 

jis

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As usual it is a case of spirit may be willing but the flesh is very weak. Given the unfulfilled need for resources to even run the existing system and the general shortage of resources even to address those, it would appear to be quite unlikely that a venture like an additional Auto-Train would be taken up now. Unless of course some private outfit decides to make a go of it. Here is the opportunity for the entrepreneurs among us to take their ideas from the pages of AU and go and make it happen perhaps?
 

sttom

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Taxes don't fund public spending at the national level in the US, taxes justifies our money's existence and tamps down on inflation. This is the reason why Dick Cheney could say "deficits don't matter" and why Congress went along with it.
 

Seaboard92

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Your forgetting another method. What if the upstate New York-Sanford auto train made Lorton a receive/discharge only stop. Thus making it an easy switch to back into a cut of autoracks, and even easier to cut it off.

The only issue if I remember is in the topography of the area because of a creek on the north end. As to make it efficient one would need to run a switch in off the north end of the Auto Train facility.

Honestly it shouldn’t take more than ten minutes to do that. We have added multiple PVs in under ten minutes. Where the consist had to back in to us.
 

jis

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You expect Amtrak which routines takes half an hour to change an engine to shuffle a train in 10 minutes? You are a rank optimist I must say. :D
 
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Qapla

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If the auto train could start in upper state NY at a location that would make it easier for the residents there and in Canada use the rain - and then go to lorton to join the auto train that now runs ... then, in either Savannah or Jacksonville make another stop to service south Georgia and north Florida including the panhandle and then terminate in Sanford as it does now ...

I don't think the people who ride the train would complain about the extra stops since driving to and from Sandford and Lorton already precludes that the people who use this train are in a hurry and an hour or so delay would not be significant.

Also, the train would not need to run all the way to Miami - Sandford could remain the terminus since snowbirds occupy Florida from the Villages (just south of Ocala) all the way through Orlando to both Tampa and Miami

The larger problem would be the owners of the tracks - they may not want to adjust their schedule to allow for the auto train to run at a slightly different time slot as well as making room for it on the tracks in upper state NY.

Another issue would be rolling stock - in addition to the cost of building loading facilities.
 

jebr

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An hour added to the timetable may not make or break every passenger, but it might change some. It also cuts into the layover time at the endpoints, making it harder to recover from delays. That would probably cause more issues than the hour in the timetable, honestly.

I also just don't see the success of the Auto Train being easily duplicated, especially at a price point that's basically break-even. The Auto Train has pretty much every factor going for it: a trip that's at least somewhat common, a very large catchment area that doesn't require people to go "out of their way" to get on it, and an endpoint in Florida that has traffic where having your own car is extremely helpful or a huge cost savings. The second one is, in my opinion, the reason that the Auto Train does so well here, and would be hard to replicate elsewhere. Lorton basically is "on the way" for the entire northeast seaboard to get to Orlando and further south, arguably all the way up through Maine. Sure, the further up you go the less likely it is someone will take it, but it's at least positioned so it doesn't feel like you're having to go out of your way to use it. Mix that with the snowbird population as a core customer base (where a rental car is impractical as a substitute) and the math starts working out fairly well. Remove any one of those factors, and I don't think you'd have a terribly successful train.
 

west point

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Any A-T originating north of WASH is going to run into the present Long Bridge train limit. Until the additional bridge is built CSX is going to be reluctant to allow any additional AMTRAK or VRE trains to pass over Long Bridge. As VRE has hinted it is looking to add another frequency which is being resisted by CSX. Once construction has started on the additional bridge then more service can be looked at. However construction is forecast to take 5 years. Also the 4 tracking of the rest of the WASH - Richmond has started with a favorable ruling but we can probably expect that to take 7 - 10 years in the future.

Expand the capacity of Lorton to allow for a 2nd daily train when enough rolling stock equipment is available seems a first baby step. The second train could be run as a on demand 2nd section. Then start looking for another terminal further north but remember 3 complete train sets will be needed for daily A-T service. Less than daily service for present AMTRAK service IMHO is futile.
 

jiml

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The current Auto Train seems to be working, although I've never really understood what keeps it viable from May to October. My thought would be a separate seasonal train running from upstate NY to Sanford, bypassing Lorton. In an ideal world, or until new equipment was acquired, it would be comprised of "surplus" (yes I know - what surplus?) Superliners less-needed on western routes in winter. To start it would run 3 times a week to offset equipment shortages and balance space and staffing in Sanford.

I chose Utica, NY, for the starting point. While this may seem like an odd choice, it has a few things in its favor. First, it is a large operating Amtrak station with extra platforms used for excursion trains. Secondly, it is adjacent to the still partially-operational yard and maintenance facility of NYS&W, which could be suitable for rehab or expansion. Finally, it is within one day's drive of Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Toronto, Kingston and Montreal. That's a fairly large population base to draw from.

The train would head south on NYS&W tracks to a stop in New Jersey (via NS/CNY trackage rights) close enough to NYC and Philadelphia, plus nearby points in New Jersey. From there it would head south to join the current route somewhere south of Lorton and away from the congestion of Washington. (I haven't figured that part out yet.) Other than refueling/maintenance enroute there would be no other stops.

I've already conceded equipment is a problem. Go ahead with all the other reasons this won't work, including speed restrictions, bridge clearances (although assume anything an auto-rack can clear is fair game), participating railways, connecting tracks, etc.
 
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It would seem to me that the best potential new market for Auto Train would be the Chicago area, presumably west of the congested area, to Colorado. The drive through the Great Plains is interesting but those on vacation might like to skip it. If nothing else it would help justify the investment KS and CO have made in the SWC route. Perhaps Pueblo, on I-25, might make a good end point. It’s 2 hrs to Denver, 4.5 to Albuquerque, about 2.5 to the ski areas around Breckinridge.
I absolutely 10000% second this, it makes all the sense in the world to me and has been on my mind quite a bit. Tons and tons of people here in the Midwest go to Colorado for vacation, and they usually drive. Traffic on I-70 can be absolute hell at times. Hell, for that reason I wish we could have the Colorado Eagle back. But still, getting your car onto a train and off the Chicago streets in order to head southwest sounds like a massive incentive for ridership to me. It’s the most American way to travel, a road-rail trip through the west!

Of course a potential downside of this would be giving Amtrak an excuse to discontinue the California Zephyr. Ideally to me, the Zephyr would continue to be a daily train whereas the “Auto Zephyr” would be a weekend nonstop all-pullman express service.

One of the biggest obstacles I forsee is somehow managing a passenger auto-loading facility in Chicago. And where? If we’re going for the suburban market, where people have the most cars, which side of town would we put it on?

ALTERNATIVELY... in order to effectively serve all the major northern midwestern markets, it could run from Kansas City to Denver. I’d call it the ColorAuto Eagle. ;^)
 

Qapla

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I am not acquainted with the area around Chicago as I haven't been there since 1970 ... but, considering that the Auto Train that now runs:
  • We could say that the AT runs from Orlando, Fl to Washington DC
  • In reality, the AT runs from Sanford, Fl to Lorton, Va
  • The AT runs daily in both directions
  • The people who use the AT don't seem to ming that it does not originate in Orlando or WDC
  • Neither of the Silver's stop at the Sanford or Lorton station
With this in mind, it would seem that the same could hold true of an "Auto Train" that would run from Chicago, Ill to Denver, Co.

By using Google maps it looks like it might be better if such a train were to run from somewhere outside of Chicago and/or Denver. Perhaps an AT station could be built near Aurora on the Chicago end and somewhere near Wiggins on the Denver end. This would be just as convenient as Sanford and Lorton.
 

jiml

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I've always thought Detroit would be a good northern terminus for an Auto Train. Lots of room for a loading facility adjacent to Michigan Central station. Just not sure of an ideal Florida end, whether it could get to the existing one in Sanford by some route or if another more westerly location would make more sense.
 

Qapla

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If additional AT loading facilities/stations could be built/converted - it would make sense that they should all be interlinked instead of being stand-alone routes.

Though it would defeat the "through train" working/status of the AT - I would like to see them add at least one additional stop/loading facility to the present AT (perhaps JAX or SAV) Of course, restoring the train from NOL to JAX would make it possible for the AT to connect to one that could run along the bottom of the country

It seems like a connection from Lorton to Chicago should be doable - so connecting the existing AT to one that goes to Denver and beyond should be possible ... now, would it be profitable?
 

Judy Tee

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I've always thought Detroit would be a good northern terminus for an Auto Train. Lots of room for a loading facility adjacent to Michigan Central station. Just not sure of an ideal Florida end, whether it could get to the existing one in Sanford by some route or if another more westerly location would make more sense.
I totally agree and would love to see that. Not to mention that it might attract some business from Canada coming through from Windsor. There are a lot of Michiganders who are snowbirds.
 

Qapla

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There are no direct routes from WDC to Detroit

Now, a terminus in Detroit that went to an AT hub nead Chicago could work
 

jebr

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I highly doubt that any expansion of the Auto Train would turn a profit, especially after factoring in capital costs (stations, train sets, etc.) The current Auto Train has a lot of factors going for it that most other routes wouldn't: very large population centers within a half-day drive of the terminal, a route where the endpoints are pretty much "on the way" for most of those people making that journey, and a route that both has a lot of families traveling it and a lot of people who relocate each year (with their vehicle) along it. Basically, anyone from the northeast corridor who's going to central/southern Florida would find the Auto Train to be basically "on the way" to their destination, with a half-day's drive or less on either end for most of them. The family and snowbird population is also an important factor - those are ones where having their own vehicle can be especially useful (families for car seats and not having to wrestle with tons of luggage with kids in tow to/from their transportation, and snowbirds because renting a car isn't nearly as economical when it's a three-month rental.) Furthermore, it being only a one-night trip makes it doable for more people and makes equipment use rather efficient.

There's basically no other corridor with all those characteristics. Chicago to the northeast isn't particularly family-heavy, and a lot of people may not even want a car in NYC or DC. Pretty much anywhere from the Midwest to the West has a far smaller capture area; there aren't as many geographical funnels versus the northeast. Someone going from Indianapolis to the Black Hills in South Dakota, for example, might not even get particularly close to Chicago or Denver. Similarly if they're going to Yellowstone - the route doesn't as neatly overlap as Philadelphia - Walt Disney World does for the current Auto Train. If the current Auto Train was making a 30% profit margin after all expenses were accounted for, it might be possible to have these limitations and still be profitable. But the Auto Train isn't that profitable. If we're going to subsidize more train service, and new Auto Trains would almost certainly require subsidies both for capital and operations, I'd much rather focus it on standard intercity rail routes that are able to be used by all travelers. The Auto Train doesn't do that; even if you remove the requirement for a car to ride, the locations that would have the space to run those operations would be in areas that would only be convenient for those with vehicles.
 

Qapla

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@jebr I agree with those points ... but, this thread seems to have become more of a "what changes would you 'like' to see for the AT" - rather than a "what changes do you think are actually practical" thread

The current AT has a unique set of circumstances:
  • It runs between a cold climate and a warm climate
  • It is only one night trip
  • There are many people who travel from the NE to Fl regularly
  • The north end has the nation's largest city
  • The south end has world famous beaches and Disney World
There are not any other routes that have this combination or any other combination to make those in charge think another route would work
 

jiml

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I totally agree and would love to see that. Not to mention that it might attract some business from Canada coming through from Windsor. There are a lot of Michiganders who are snowbirds.
That was part of my thought process. Certainly worth the 5-hour drive from Toronto, with area population approaching 7 million. Add in metro Detroit and you might have something. We spend a good chunk of winter in Florida every year and car rentals (after flying) have increased dramatically in the last 3 years. We drive our own car now to keep costs down, and yes - there's lots of Michigan plates there. We're older and can't do the standard 3 day drive any more, so we're talking 4 nights hotel, gas and meals on the way, compared with Auto Train fares. I longingly price out the current Auto Train every year, but it takes 2 days to get to Lorton and, like many Michiganders and others from the Midwest, we winter nowhere near Disney World, so that's another day's drive at the Florida end. The current Auto Train would only save 1 day's drive and associated costs. Going from Detroit to Pensacola, Tallahassee or even a mid-point like Gainesville would be ideal, but even the current Sanford terminal is no more than 1 day's drive from the most popular snowbird destinations and would save Amtrak the cost of a second Florida terminal.
 

Qapla

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An AT from Chicago to New Orleans might be feasible - especially if the route could be restored from NOL to JAX

I know it won't happen ... but if the route between NOL and Tallahassee were restored it would be nice if it could then turn south and go through Gainesville - linking UF and FSU by train would have some merit if they allowed passengers without cars as well as those with cars on such a dream train.
 
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