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Auto Train Premium car unloading

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ronkstevens

Service Attendant
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Jul 25, 2013
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Is it worth it for a southbound trip in the middle of May? I wouldn't mind a little wait, but I don't want to spend several hours waiting for my car. Actually, I think over an hour when I have someplace to be would be excessive.

This is my first AT trip, as I usually take the Silvers when I make trips to Florida, so I'm not quite sure what to expect.
 

Green Maned Lion

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Dec 27, 2007
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I've never done it. I've never been too annoyed with how long it takes to unload my car. I mean, I don't like taking it anymore, (I hate Florida, for one thing) but back when I did, the premium unloading service would seem like hooey to me.
 
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Hanno

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Sep 19, 2008
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South Central PA
We took the AT north and south several times this past winter. The train was full three out of the four trips (the trip north is Feb. was not too full for obvious reasons). We did not choose premium car unloading. However, after waiting for almost two hours on one of the trips I wish I would have paid the $50. But did not have to be anywhere at a specific time.

On the other hand my son and his family took the train north and south this past year and opted for the premium service at both ends and said it was money very well spent. So if I were under time constraints I think I would spend the money!
 

SarahZ

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I'm one of the most impatient people ever. I HATE not moving. For me, the $50 would be worth it. Once that train stops, I want to go go go, whether it be by car or public transit.
 

Railroad Bill

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We took the Auto Train two years ago in January before there was Premium Service. The southbound trip was full and even though it was kind of the luck of the draw as to when your car was unloaded, we had about an hour wait.

Northbound, the train was only about half full and our wait was about 40 minutes. I probably would pay for the southbound service since you want to get out into the sunshine as quick as possible. :)

Northbound in a similar situation, I would just wait for the car to come down the ramp. I guess it depends on your time frame and how soon you want to get home.
 

FormerOBS

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The decision is yours. Waits of more than 2 hours sometimes occur, but are relatively rare. The first autos usually start coming off the carriers about 20 min. after you get off the train. If it takes 2 hours to get them all off, the median time is a little over an hour. Both terminals are much larger than they used to be, and are fairly comfortable, considering the numbers of people. Both terminals have snack/gift shops. There is a small playground for the kids at each station, and restroom facilities are generally adequate.
 

rrdude

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Best $50 you'll spend on your trip! I've been 7th - 8th car off, and 3rd to last, it's a long, long, long, wait, after a long train trip. Add kids to the mix, anxious.....

Former OBS is correct, the facilities are nice on both ends. On SB trip last week, we were 1st car AFTER premium cars, but that is all SHEER LUCK.

Do it. Do it. Do it.

One of the BEST initiatives that Amtrak has come up with on the AT, so "kudos" to those who thought of it, and actually implemented it.
 

Allypet

Service Attendant
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Jul 17, 2012
Messages
160
I do it all the time, (6 times last year) For me I think my time is worth $50 an hour, so I do it. after being confined to a train, (and in July without a lounge car, I will confined to my room) I just want to get on with my journey. The only advice I will give you is if you do it, be ready out front with all your passengers and carry on luggage. The cars come off quickly, and it you take your time getting to your car, packing up and go, you lost the advantage of paying the $50. I have seen a few times priority cars just sitting there after I pack up and leave and I think to myself, why did they bother?
 
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Joeker

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Feb 12, 2010
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I was one of the first to arrive at Lorton last year, so I thought I would have a good shot of being one of the first to have my car unloaded in Florida. Unfortunately, when they did the cut ours was the last to be placed. You guessed it I was "honored" to be the last car called after 2+ hours waiting and an already delayed arrival. For this they gave me an Amtrak shoulder bag filled with trivial stuff.

If they offer it I would gladly pay the $50 in the future.
 

ronkstevens

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Jul 25, 2013
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Philadelphia Suburbs
I have no problem paying the money for my time. I think my question really is if on a southbound non peak train in May if it would be worthwhile. I had checked yesterday and the fares on my train are still in the lower buckets. Not the lowest, but still down there.
 
T

The Whistler

Guest
I won't pay the $50 for priority unloading as I am not impatient or suffer from the anxiety that afflicts so many. I will wait but after analyzing the cost of the Autotrain vs the costs of the Silvers, you could rent a car for the added auto transport cost, let alone pick up the train in PHL and save the cost and labor of the 230 mile 4 hour drive to Lorton. I drive a 2013 full size car and that trip costs about $225 R/T when you include tolls, fuel, maintenance and wear and tear. On future Florida trips I will compare fares for sure.
 
G

guest_nj_2

Guest
I rode AT in off-peak direction several times, and I'd say that they are very efficient unloading cars

(it's usually about 100 cars on an off-peak train). I never waited for more than 1 hour for the "regular" off-loading.

So, in essence, you may be buying only about 30 minutes of shortened waiting time for your $50.

However, it should also depend on

- whether there is a chance you may be in a hurry (then definitely buy it)

- even if you are not in a hurry, what price did you pay

If you paid, say, a $500 sleeper fare, then the extra $50 seem insignificant and you may buy priority off-loading

just for the heck of it.

If you paid the lowest coach fare ($280), and is not in a hurry, then probably it makes sense NOT to buy it.
 

ronkstevens

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I won't pay the $50 for priority unloading as I am not impatient or suffer from the anxiety that afflicts so many. I will wait but after analyzing the cost of the Autotrain vs the costs of the Silvers, you could rent a car for the added auto transport cost, let alone pick up the train in PHL and save the cost and labor of the 230 mile 4 hour drive to Lorton. I drive a 2013 full size car and that trip costs about $225 R/T when you include tolls, fuel, maintenance and wear and tear. On future Florida trips I will compare fares for sure.
I always take the Silvers, for many of the reasons that you mention. Direct out of PHL, no driving, and public transport good at the southern end. My daughter is going south to go to school for seven months so I have a carload of stuff that makes a vehicle packed full of stuff going south a requirement. Plus since I drive for a living, the last thing that I want to do on my time off is drive 2000 miles. So it's the AT one way, and driving the other. But I'll be back on the Silvers when I go to visit her in the fall.
 

me_little_me

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Jul 16, 2010
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So what happens when everyone opts for "premium" unloading?

"Mr. Smith, you did get premium service even though you had to wait an hour and a half. Mr. Jones over there still hasn't gotten his car. He wouldn't pay so his car is after yours and is the last one off the train."
 

SarahZ

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So what happens when everyone opts for "premium" unloading?

"Mr. Smith, you did get premium service even though you had to wait an hour and a half. Mr. Jones over there still hasn't gotten his car. He wouldn't pay so his car is after yours and is the last one off the train."
They limit it to 20 cars per train.
 

FormerOBS

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Not much to add, except one person suggested that getting there early might be a means of claiming your car sooner at the other end. It doesn't work that way. The track arrangement at Lorton is not the same as the track arrangement at Sanford. Loading/unloading tracks at Lorton are all the same length; but the track length varies at Sanford. The auto carriers cannot be positioned in the same order at the two ends of the line, so the order of loading has no direct relationship to the order of unloading. I think I'd feel a bit frustrated if I paid the extra $50 and was the 20th vehicle off, then watched the owner of the 21st vehicle as he claimed his car, having NOT paid the extra fee. So it's the luck of the draw for anyone who isn't in the select group of 20.
 

rrdude

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That is EXACTLY what happened to us NB, we were the 21st car off, and my son made his 1:55pm flight to Cali, outa BWI, despite being over two hours late.
 

Allypet

Service Attendant
Joined
Jul 17, 2012
Messages
160
Nobody can give you an answer to your question, we can give you our opinions, but there is no way anyone can tell you with any degree of certainty how many cars will be aboard a particular train on any given date. It can run the gambit from a train with a minimal amount of vehicles, so the unloading will be quick, to a half full train, all with single passengers vehicles, so there will be many cars to be off loaded. Its a gamble either way, but I would rather bet that my time is worth the $50, so when I am in my car and on the highway, I really don't care what the rest of the off loading is like.
 

FriskyFL

OBS Chief
Joined
Sep 28, 2008
Messages
782
How about the Southwest Airlines model, where they load and offload in checkin sequence? Logistical nightmare, perhaps, but it would stop the grousing. Or maybe Amtrak could enter into a marketing arrangement with a particular auto brand, so that they get priority. ("Lexus to the front, Dodge to the rear")?
 
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neroden

Conductor
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Feb 23, 2014
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Ithaca, NY
The Auto Train transports you and your car (or your van, motorcycle, SUV, small boat, jet-ski or other recreational vehicle)
I suspect vehicles are loaded in a fashion to as to maximize space usage within the auto carriers. I know all the motorcycles are packed together. Since vehicles vary in size, I doubt that Amtrak could guarantee ordered unloading between sedans, vans, motorcycles, SUVs, small boats, jet-skis, etc.

It might be possible for Amtrak to guarantee a loading/unloading order within the sedans, it's all the other stuff where it really isn't possible.
 
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