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Auto Train Why not more routes?

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MARC Rider

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Auto Train works in the VA - FL Corridor because the Acela Corridor to Orlando area and broadly the rest of Florida too one of the most heavily traveled corridors. This is true of air traffic too, and also Amtrak LD trains, one might add. No other corridor, except perhaps the SFO-LAX catchment area corridor comes even close.
I might also add that there is probably no other Interstate highway as congested as I-95, which connects Florida to the Northeast. I've driven it from Savannah to Washington, and I was totally unprepared for the traffic jams I found on it in places in the Carolinas, in such "large" metropolises as Florence, Lumberton (where we actually got off the interstate to drive through town around the traffic jam), and Fayetteville. I can see why the idea of avoiding driving hundreds of miles on this road is such an attractive idea.

In contrast, I've done a lot of driving between Baltimore/Washington and Ohio and Michigan. I've never run into traffic on the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes, except for a few short (and temporary) slowdowns do to construction projects. And these are roads that pass by Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Toledo, much larger cities than Florence, Lumberton and Fayetteville.

I don't know any interstate highway corridor that has as bad traffic as I-95. Perhaps the I-5 betwen La And San Fransisco. I drove part of it, but it was ages ago (1987), and the traffic was moving very nicely.
 

Bob Dylan

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Austin Texas
I might also add that there is probably no other Interstate highway as congested as I-95, which connects Florida to the Northeast. I've driven it from Savannah to Washington, and I was totally unprepared for the traffic jams I found on it in places in the Carolinas, in such "large" metropolises as Florence, Lumberton (where we actually got off the interstate to drive through town around the traffic jam), and Fayetteville. I can see why the idea of avoiding driving hundreds of miles on this road is such an attractive idea.

In contrast, I've done a lot of driving between Baltimore/Washington and Ohio and Michigan. I've never run into traffic on the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes, except for a few short (and temporary) slowdowns do to construction projects. And these are roads that pass by Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Toledo, much larger cities than Florence, Lumberton and Fayetteville.

I don't know any interstate highway corridor that has as bad traffic as I-95. Perhaps the I-5 betwen La And San Fransisco. I drove part of it, but it was ages ago (1987), and the traffic was moving very nicely.
You might add I-35 between DFW and San Antonio to your "Avoid if you Can" List!
 

me_little_me

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Jul 16, 2010
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Equipment sitting idle for those other days, rarely makes for a good business case/justification.
The middle class in the NE being snowbirds, happens to be that unique passenger pool. I wonder how many of people in Chicago own a 2nd home only in Florida? Or only in Denver. Or only in New Orleans? Or only in Tucson? Remember, if we're adding just one new AT route, then only one of those places can be true.
Just like the snowbirds, who on arrival at Sanford, have to drive further to get to WPB, Miami, the Keys, Pensacola or wherever in Florida they are heading, those from Chicago area (or central Canada or Detroit or many other cities in the rust belt) can drive the additional distance mostly in uncrowded freeways with spectacular scenery and lots of places to visit but the long boring journey to/from those areas is missed and everyone arrives relaxed.

I think those taking the Auto Train from the Midwest would be a different type of crowd with many more tourists as well as those spending the annual winter where the weather is nicer.
 

TheTuck

Train Attendant
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Jun 1, 2009
Messages
54
The Auto Train, does not appeal to everyone, even in its best target market.
Once again, I drove my Prius up to my Queens apartment from West Palm Beach, and returned a few weeks later.
My return trip was on Wednesday. I left Queens at 9:30 AM, passed the Lorton Auto Train station exit at about 2:30 PM, probably about the time I would arrive there if taking the Auto Train. I arrived at my home at 6:05, Thanksgiving morning. The train did pretty well...it departed Lorton at 3:42 PM, eighteen minutes early, and arrived Sanford at 7:56 AM, an hour and two minutes early...pretty good performance. But I was in my bed by 6:30 AM, where if I got off the Auto Train, by the time my car was unloaded, and I drove home from Sanford, I probably wouldn't until after 11:00 AM. And it cost me a lot less...
But when did you wake up? If it was after 11AM, the AT would've been better since you would've gotten sleep on the train. Not to mention being safer than driving up I-95 all night.
 

MARC Rider

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You might add I-35 between DFW and San Antonio to your "Avoid if you Can" List!
I've also driven that one a lot. There's a lot of traffic, but except when passing through Austin, it's nothing like I-95. Maybe no potential for an auto train, but definitely a candidate for corridor service. except that the railroads miss some of the larger cities in between (like Waco.) They'd need to build some new tracks.
 

Bob Dylan

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Austin Texas
I've also driven that one a lot. There's a lot of traffic, but except when passing through Austin, it's nothing like I-95. Maybe no potential for an auto train, but definitely a candidate for corridor service. except that the railroads miss some of the larger cities in between (like Waco.) They'd need to build some new tracks.
Waco is where UP runs their Freights Joe.

T he Amtrak stop for Waco is in McGregor, 20 miles to the West close to Beautiful Downtown Crawford,Texas as the Eagle Conductors say!
 

MARC Rider

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You really need the snowbird crowd, tourists can just rent a car when they arrive for less than what an auto train has to charge to ship the car. And if I don't need to take the car along because I can rend one in Florida, I'd rather not have to drive to Lorton or drive to my destination from Sanford.

In fact, we once did a Florida trip for a long weeked (4 days), Stayed in Miami Beach. Car rental was about $200. I could see no advantage to pay more and have to drive from home to Lorton and from Sanford to Miami Beach.
 

reppin_the_847

Service Attendant
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Jul 9, 2011
Messages
163
One big issue is that the majority of Midwesterners have never taken a train trip -- not even once. They have no experience taking a train anywhere, but we have plenty of experience driving, and driving everywhere. Drive a few hours in the wrong direction ? Big nope on that one -- many of us would simply drive the correct direction, and then keep driving. ( I would rather take the train, but that's my personal preference. The majority of Midwesterners won't even consider an Auto-Train like what you describe ).

Another issue to consider is that Midwesterners don't have the strong affinity for going to Florida to the degree the Northeasterners do. Midwesterners go to AZ, or Southern CA, or HI, or southern TX ( a few, during the pre- COVID times, might even go to Mexico, or Belize, if they had the means ). One reason the Auto Train works where it does is the affinity for folks from the Northeast to travel to Florida -- that's not the case in the Midwest.
Disagree to some extent. There are a lot of Midwestern snowbirds in the western side of Florida (ie. Tampa / Sarasota / Fort Myers / Naples). Yes, Chicago feeds a lot of snowbirds into the Phoenix (Arizona) area & transplants folks to various Texas cities, but California & Hawaii? Negligible. They probably send more folks to SW Florida than California & Hawaii combined, both of which are extremely expensive areas.
 

railiner

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I might also add that there is probably no other Interstate highway as congested as I-95, which connects Florida to the Northeast. I've driven it from Savannah to Washington, and I was totally unprepared for the traffic jams I found on it in places in the Carolinas, in such "large" metropolises as Florence, Lumberton (where we actually got off the interstate to drive through town around the traffic jam), and Fayetteville. I can see why the idea of avoiding driving hundreds of miles on this road is such an attractive idea.

In contrast, I've done a lot of driving between Baltimore/Washington and Ohio and Michigan. I've never run into traffic on the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes, except for a few short (and temporary) slowdowns do to construction projects. And these are roads that pass by Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Toledo, much larger cities than Florence, Lumberton and Fayetteville.

I don't know any interstate highway corridor that has as bad traffic as I-95. Perhaps the I-5 betwen La And San Fransisco. I drove part of it, but it was ages ago (1987), and the traffic was moving very nicely.
I agree that I-95 is the busiest long distance interstate. It has many sections wider than the standard 4 lanes...much of it 6 lanes, and in some places, up to 14 lanes, like the northern section of NJ and VA. It is so well known, that most cruise ships call the main thoroughfare used by crew, "I-95".😁

On my recent drive, I was able to run at the speed limit almost all the way, except for hitting early holiday 'getaway' traffic between DC and Fredericksburg, on the busiest holiday of the year.
 

Dakota 400

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I agree that I-95 is the busiest long distance interstate. It has many sections wider than the standard 4 lanes...much of it 6 lanes, and in some places, up to 14 lanes, like the northern section of NJ and VA. It is so well known, that most cruise ships call the main thoroughfare used by crew, "I-95".😁

On my recent drive, I was able to run at the speed limit almost all the way, except for hitting early holiday 'getaway' traffic between DC and Fredericksburg, on the busiest holiday of the year.
I guess I have been lucky. I have driven I-95 from the D.C. area to South Florida and other than the typical busy, heavy traffic in the Washington area, I did not find the traffic to be much different than other well used interstates, such as I-75 in Southwest Ohio. I have driven I-95 the most from Jacksonville to South Florida and actually enjoy the drive and the scenery.
 

tgstubbs1

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Mar 3, 2020
Messages
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I guess I have been lucky. I have driven I-95 from the D.C. area to South Florida and other than the typical busy, heavy traffic in the Washington area, I did not find the traffic to be much different than other well used interstates, such as I-75 in Southwest Ohio. I have driven I-95 the most from Jacksonville to South Florida and actually enjoy the drive and the scenery.
I've driven I95 a couple of times south of DC as far as SC and it didn't seem unusually busy. Try I5 between Centralia and the north side of the Seattle metro. Like a parking lot, like R 1 in New Jersey.

It's interesting that railfan beat the Autotrain on that route.
Trucks can make the difference and really gum up things for cars.
This map shows truck traffic.

fig3_11.jpg
 

bratkinson

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QB 101
I was re-reading a special Classic Trains publication from 2013 today: "Trains of the 1950s". In a reprint of a William D Middleton Trains Magazine article from 1958 about the Atlantic Coast Line and its numerous passenger trains, was a comment that Pullman travel was up in the winter months and coach travel up in the summer months. The article also stated that 'reverse' destinations like Washington and New York had much fewer ticket sales, even with tour packages.

In my mind, that's the key to success for the Auto Train - year 'round traffic with multiple destinations/venues that suit the variety of seasonal travelers. Given my previously stated thoughts about a one-night only new Auto Train, while New Orleans is a year-round destination, how many NOLA travelers plan to spend a week or so there and still be able to take the school-age children with them and their not being bored? They may not like Cajun cooking, either. While Denver is at the doorstep of great mountain scenery and skiing, how many children would get bored in a hurry there? Family oriented attractions is the key to success.

So, in my opinion, the only reasonable new Auto Train route is a midwest-to-Florida route because of its year 'round family attractions and entertainment. There's more than enough Disney World to fill a weeks' worth of family time and beaches are always a draw in the winter months. Perhaps the route of the old every-third-day CE&I/L&N/ACL Dixieland mentioned in the article (previously named Dixie Flyer) would be the best route, if CSX hasn't already abandoned portions of it. At a minimum, however, the route would have to be upgraded to passenger train speeds.
 

tgstubbs1

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Mar 3, 2020
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The Government and Amtrak Brass thought they would endanger Yogi and Boo-Boo. When they found out it was Jellystone the money was already allocated to a Fence Project in the Southwest. 🤣 😷
If Biden supports Amtrak as much as Trump pushes his border wall we are in luck.

Here's another possibility but it would require a new train from St Louis to Williams Junction. St Louis has the gateway arch so maybe they could name the train after it.

20201130_124015~2.jpg

This could grab traffic from much of the upper Midwest as well as the NE.

Lots of things to do. Hike, ski, fish, hunt.
Grand Canyon, Zion, Las Vegas, Boulder Dam, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, Petrified Forest, etc. There are over a half dozen major retirement areas: St George. Tucson. Yuma. Las Vegas. Prescott. Lake Havasu. Flagstaff. Show Low. plus all of the Phoenix metro.

And if someone wants to throw bikes in the back of their minivan Moab isn't too far, either.

And it could funnel traffic from Southern California towards the east.
 
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Joined
Jan 1, 2021
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2
Location
Australia
The cheapest option for adding car-carrying capacity to routes would be to tack cars onto the back of existing trains. Looking at the existing routes, we find the following travel time differences between Amtrak and motor vehicles. (I have excluded single-level equipment routes).

RouteFromToDistance (mi)Train timeCar time
(without stops)
#1/2
Sunset Limited
New OrleansLos Angeles1,99545hrs27hrs
#3/4
Southwest Chief
ChicagoLos Angeles2,25642hrs29hrs
#5/6
California Zephyr
ChicagoEmeryville (SFO)2,43850hrs31hrs
#7/8, #27/28
Empire Builder
ChicagoSeattle
Portland
2,255
2,205
44hrs30hrs
31hrs
#11/14
Coast Starlight
SeattleLos Angeles1,37735hrs17hrs
#29/30
Capitol Limited
ChicagoWashington DC78017hrs11hrs
#58/59
City of New Orleans
ChicagoNew Orleans93420hrs14hrs

Now on face value, it appears the train would take 1.5 - 2 times as long to complete the given journeys. However, nobody should be behind the wheel for 31hrs straight. The following table assumes that the car is driven for only 8 hours a day. It also accounts for the cost of petrol ($50/day) and motel ($150/night). For the train I am assuming a $200 car fee plus the cost of a roomette for 2 people. Note that these figures are for one-way travel.

RouteRail fareRoad costRoad travel time
#1/2
Sunset Limited
$929$8003d 3hrs
#3/4
Southwest Chief
$1,198$8003d 5hrs
#5/6
California Zephyr
$987$8003d 7hrs
#7/8, #27/28
Empire Builder
$972$8003d 6hrs
3d 7hrs
#11/14
Coast Starlight
$976$5502d 1hrs
#29/30
Capitol Limited
$652$3001d 3hrs
#58/59
City of New Orleans
$1692$3001d 6hrs

As you can see, most of the routes are competitive in this sense, with the exception being the City of New Orleans. The train is more expensive, but has the benefits of being faster (if you decide to have overnight stops while driving), and saving wear-and-tear on a personal vehicle.

The other competitor is the hire car industry. Assuming the travel costs are the same, the train is becomes more and more competitive depending on the length of time that a car is needed. Assuming a hire cost of $200 per day, the train becomes more cost-efficient for any stays longer than 2 days. Of course, cheaper travel methods (such as low-cost airfares) will throw off this balance.

Looking at these routes, we are presented with some interesting options from an operational standpoint. For example, these trains can share facilities. A facility at Los Angeles would serve trains 1/2, 3/4, 11/14, 58/59. A Chicago facility would serve all trains except 1/2, 11/14 (and of course 52/53). A facility at Spokane WA would serve both 7/8/27/28 and a re-routed 11/14. The existing facility at Lorton VA would serve a slightly extended 29/30. Finally, the facility at Sanford FL could serve a (re)extended 1/2.


Of course, most of us have already come to the conclusion that this will never happen, but it is nice to dream.
 

neroden

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Ithaca, NY
That leaves CHI-NYC (Lakeshore Ltd), CHI-NOL (City of New Orleans) as candidates. Is there sufficient demand to even warrant a second passenger train much less an Auto Train on those routes? Do large numbers of 'old folks' routinely travel between those endpoints? I don't think so.
There isn't enough CHI-NOL demand.

There is enough CHI-NYC demand. But Amtrak has been notoriously unwilling to properly serve even the regular (without-a-car) CHI-NYC demand, for convoluted and stupid politics reasons. #1 and #3 metro areas in the US, and the morons who've mismanaged Amtrak since the 1990s keep cutting service.

If Amtrak's brainless idiot management can't see the importance of running one train a day for passengers from NYC to Chicago and back... yeah, they're not going to see the potential in transporting people who want to take their cars with them.
 

Palmetto

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Miami
A Chicago to New York Auto Train could conceivably use a portion of Colehour Yard in Whiting, IN and Croton-Harmon on the east end, assuming cooperation of the host railroads, of course. Besides trackage and switching capability, there'd be a need for Amtrak to purchase/rent space for passenger waiting areas as well as automobile staging. Unfortunately, the current Amtrak station just to the east is on the wrong side of the railroad to be of any use in this project.
Colehour Yard, Whiting Indiana
 

jimdex

Train Attendant
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Feb 19, 2020
Messages
23
I'm not sure that a Chicago-New York autotrain would be viable. Florida is a fairly unique market, because a sufficient percentage of the travelers are planning an extended stay in Florida, (i.e., all winter) where having their personal automobile would be especially useful. I don't think that's true of most travelers heading to Chicago or New York.
 

Mailliw

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Jun 14, 2020
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Northeast PA
The Auto-Train travels between two specialy constructed stations; there's no way to build stations like that in either city proper. How far west of the New York metro would you have to go get around the height restriction? The Auto-Train northern terminal is in VA, not in the Northeast were most if the Snowbirds are from.
 

jiml

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Somewhere in Southern Ontario
A Chicago - Florida Auto Train has a lot of variables. I think there's an assumption that since there was Chicago - Florida passenger service that route makes sense for an Auto Train. If the southern terminus of the train is still to be Sanford I wonder how much demand there would be from the Chicago area. As has been discussed previously on AU, it would seem there's a greater to need to increase service from the northeast, such as upstate New York, New England or even Detroit. The northwest part of Florida into Alabama does feature a large snowbird contingent from Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana though, so maybe a due south Auto Train terminating in Tallahassee or Mobile might work better than one ending near the theme parks. That said, I-65 tends to be less congested and less prone to weather problems than the routes further east.
 

tgstubbs1

Lead Service Attendant
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Mar 3, 2020
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I'm not sure that a Chicago-New York autotrain would be viable. Florida is a fairly unique market, because a sufficient percentage of the travelers are planning an extended stay in Florida, (i.e., all winter) where having their personal automobile would be especially useful. I don't think that's true of most travelers heading to Chicago or New York.
Why is the percentage important?

Here is the US population data from the time Amtrak started. From 203 million in 1970 an increase of 129 million people.

That's why there are more major league sports franchises now.

The numbers of people are there to support a team.

1970203,211,92613.32%
1980226,545,80511.48%
1990248,709,8739.78%
2000281,421,90613.15%
2010308,745,5389.71%
2020332,639,0007.74
 

IndyLions

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Brownsburg IN
This is only loosely related, but I was looking through some old timetables for the Wabash Railroad and I noticed they advertised (without any detail) “Auto Service” on several of their passenger routes. Most of their routes were in the Midwest, including St. Louis to Detroit.

I’m guessing they put an auto carrier rack on the standard passenger train, but I have no way of knowing to be sure.

I’ve looked for details elsewhere on that service, but haven't come up with anything yet.
 

Devil's Advocate

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You might add I-35 between DFW and San Antonio to your "Avoid if you Can" List!
I've also driven that one a lot. There's a lot of traffic, but except when passing through Austin, it's nothing like I-95. Maybe no potential for an auto train, but definitely a candidate for corridor service. except that the railroads miss some of the larger cities in between (like Waco.) They'd need to build some new tracks.
On weekday mornings/evenings I-35 is stop and go for hours on end. A surprising number of people commute to Austin from San Antonio's suburbs and that experience wears me out pretty bad. At this point I try avoid weekday travel whenever possible and if I have to go I stay in Austin for dinner. When I first moved here most of the trip was rolling hill country but now it's one suburb after another all strung together. Over the next decade the 7th and 11th largest cities are expected to start merging into a single metro with even worse traffic.
 
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tgstubbs1

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Messages
384
This is only loosely related, but I was looking through some old timetables for the Wabash Railroad and I noticed they advertised (without any detail) “Auto Service” on several of their passenger routes. Most of their routes were in the Midwest, including St. Louis to Detroit.

I’m guessing they put an auto carrier rack on the standard passenger train, but I have no way of knowing to be sure.

I’ve looked for details elsewhere on that service, but haven't come up with anything yet.
How old are these timetables?
 

NS VIA Fan

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Sep 24, 2011
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Nova Scotia
This is only loosely related, but I was looking through some old timetables for the Wabash Railroad and I noticed they advertised (without any detail) “Auto Service” on several of their passenger routes. Most of their routes were in the Midwest, including St. Louis to Detroit.

I’m guessing they put an auto carrier rack on the standard passenger train, but I have no way of knowing to be sure.
CN did this back in the '70s by attaching an enclosed AutoCarrier to the back of the Super Continental between Toronto and Edmonton. The car was painted in the standard passenger scheme and actually had that graphic with the 'cut-away view' shown here painted on sides to show the contents!


 

NS VIA Fan

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That $387 fare in the brochure above for two passengers in coach (economy) along with their car for the 2200 miles trip on the Super Continental from Toronto to Edmonton would be equal to about $1900. today.

This is the same route VIA's Canadian takes today (covide aside !!)
 
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