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Auto Train Why not more routes?

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MARC Rider

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On trips like that I rarely feel like getting back on the road five or ten minutes after pulling over and prefer to stop and stretch my legs for a while.
This. I'd never do more that 600 miles in a day, which means I'm ready to gas up or charge the battery after 300 miles. My current hybrid has a range of about 400 -- 420 miles, but I usually gas up after 300 or or so. Charging in 30 minutes is no problem if combined with a lunch break. Aside from the lunch break, my rest stops are typically no more than 15 minutes, but frequent (hourly or so) so I can use the restroom and stretch my legs. I'm not sure what a 15 minute shot of juice does for the battery, but I can't imagine it would be harmful.

I imagine more charging stations are in our future, as I saw a news item that Massachusetts is talking about banning the sales of combustion-engine cars sometime in the next 10 years or so. And they won't be the last state to do so.
 

MARC Rider

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That's the way I roll. Two stops for fuel and restroom on my drive between West Palm Beach and Queens. Food? A bag of Chips Ahoy and a bottle of water works for me. YMMV.... :)
I might suggest that to deal with the climate crisis, pollution, etc., you might have to change the paradigm about how you travel. All I can say is that you have one strong bladder!
 

MARC Rider

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Exactly. Auto train has many advantages.

Saves time for passengers.
Saves energy overall.
Saves money for passengers with high cost per mile/expensive cars.
Provides jobs for employees.
Reduces traffic on highways.
Improves safety for all concerned.

I owned two EVs back in the 90s with lead acid batteries. Range is actually determined by the number of power pulses used.
Imagine a EV with 300 mile range.
Equivalent to a 30 mpg car with a 10 gallon tank. If it is stuck in traffic it could use half of its range relatively quickly.

Lithium mining is not always an environmentally sound process and could thwart large scale battery production.
Charge infrastructure is not the only issue.
The main advantages of the auto train for it's customers are:

1) Avoiding ~800 miles of tedious driving on a busy highway,
2) Avoiding the costs of an overnight stop along the way
3) Allows you to bring your own car instead of having to rent at the destination. (This applied when you're staying long enough that the cost of a car rental is more than the fare for the car.
 

Willbridge

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In response to several replies about having pickups/setouts at other than endpoints I have several thoughts:

1. To stop the train, make a cut (behind the locomotives?), proceed forward to a point beyond the switch, backup to make the hitch, test the connection, proceed forward far enough the last car clears the switch, back down to the disconnected passenger train (yep, the passengers are without HEP the entire time!...no A/C, no heat, no functioning toilets!), make and test (a slight yank) the hitch, make air and electric connections (would that require a craft position other than onboard conductors?...or a local yard switch crew 'on standby' waiting for the train to arrive?), perform a brake test, then wait for a clear signal to highball. That's 45-60 minutes on a GOOD day! Meanwhile, passengers whose cars were just added to the train, where were they the whole time? Presumably the train originally stopped with the sleepers in front of the station. But then you get into safety concerns with disconnecting or connecting to the train and the attendant jolts and boarding in the dark at night without HEP. Recalling the fun and games of simply adding or subtracting M&E cars and sometimes Roadrailers to the Amtrak trains I was on, 30-60 minutes was the 'normal' time. And that was usually at the rear of the train, not somewhere up front. I was angered every time at the those delays. 15 minutes would be OK, but 30 or more, no way!

2. Added costs likely exceed the revenue generated. I'm thinking that like the intermodal business where short-hauls don't make business sense, I suspect there's some not-yet-determined 'magic number' of miles and revenue that makes business sense for an Auto Train operation. Would a 500 mile Auto Train make money? I don't think so, especially since it can be comfortably driven in 8-9 hours including a couple of rest stops.

3. Chicago-Denver was suggested and makes sense as it is quite close in mileage with the existing Auto Train. But is there sufficient demand? Perhaps a check of pre-Covid airline schedules WAS to Florida compared to Chicago to Denver might be a gauge. Note that I said Florida rather than Sanford as there's countless destinations within Florida easily accessed from Sanford, especially Disneyworld, and major cities such as Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa within a 2 hour drive. Arriving in the morning in Florida makes south Florida accessible in the day as well. The snow-bunny business is big business to/from Florida, both for vacations as well as all winter. How many travelers would spend the summer or winter in a cabin in the mountains? How many major destinations are within a 2-3 hour drive from Denver? How many attractions comparable to Disneyworld are near Denver? Maybe skiers could be enticed in the wintertime, and hikers/campers in the summer, although I suspect there aren't enough of them to make that a 'demand' level.

4. I think that a separate Auto Train location would be necessary for all points, including pickup & setout points. For example, how many passengers would be happy to leave their car in the covered 'drop off' area at Chicago Union Station to a stranger that promises to get it loaded on the trilevel autorack 5 or 6 blocks away? What about arrivals? Where would arriving cars be parked so passengers can pick them up. Clearly, locating out town such as Dyer IN or Galesburg IL would work best, especially with low-cost land available. Locating on the best rail line from Chicago to Florida or Denver is also crucial. Knowing firsthand how CSX gives the Cardinal the shaft on the ex-Monon line, I'd definitely consider another railroad out of Chicago for ramp placement decision making. By the way, the location should be an easy off/easy on in both directions to a freeway. Wandering down country lanes for 10 minutes could certainly lose some drivers.

5. And, of course, would the railroads involved be willing to host an extra Amtrak train each way without paying them an arm and a leg for such things as extra sidings, new signaling, and anything else they can dream up. When Covid is over and done with, and Amtrak returns the LD trains to daily operation, anyone want to bet the railroads WON'T charge Amtrak extra to 'add' 4 extra trains per week to the route? Lookup the ridiculous numbers UP and CSX have come up with through the years to make the Sunset Ltd and Cardinal a daily operation for the answer.

While pie in the sky thinking is what motivates business expansion as well as new business creation, one must always consider what is the 'market' for the product and both the startup and ongoing costs of running the business. "Build it and they will come' doesn't automatically spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S. Investors want to be very sure they'll get a good return on investment before they'll put down millions of their money. Or, if pure speculators, they want a big portion of the business ala 'The Shark Tank'.
Don't forget the UP's calculations for restoring the Pioneer. They included projects that were already planned for other purposes.
 

tgstubbs1

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"How many travelers would spend the summer or winter in a cabin in the mountains? How many major destinations are within a 2-3 hour drive from Denver?"

There are lots of attractions near Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.
 

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jebr

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This. I'd never do more that 600 miles in a day, which means I'm ready to gas up or charge the battery after 300 miles. My current hybrid has a range of about 400 -- 420 miles, but I usually gas up after 300 or or so. Charging in 30 minutes is no problem if combined with a lunch break. Aside from the lunch break, my rest stops are typically no more than 15 minutes, but frequent (hourly or so) so I can use the restroom and stretch my legs. I'm not sure what a 15 minute shot of juice does for the battery, but I can't imagine it would be harmful.

I imagine more charging stations are in our future, as I saw a news item that Massachusetts is talking about banning the sales of combustion-engine cars sometime in the next 10 years or so. And they won't be the last state to do so.
Yeah - I took a peek at what's the furthest my spouse and I have traveled in a day - it was around 570 miles, and I'm pretty sure if I proposed it again it'd be immediately vetoed. Generally speaking, we stop roughly once every two hours (or between 120-150 miles) and that stop is about 15 minutes long. I'd imagine that, especially if lengthened a bit to 20-25 minutes, we could easily get another 150 or so miles of range on a fast charger with existing technology (especially since current fast-charging technology does well at quickly charging the first 75%-ish of a battery.)

The biggest infrastructure development I'm waiting on is much more robust "level 2" destination charging. Right now living in an apartment it's difficult to have a charge every morning, but if there was a spot on the street within a block or two where I could plug in for the night (or a few hours) and get it charged from 20% to 100%, that would be easy enough to do once a week. Same for when on road trips - the biggest issue is that most hotels don't have robust charging options - at best there might be a charging station or two, and usually it's either nothing or finding a standard wall jack and getting a few extra miles. I think once charging stations at hotels and other destinations becomes commonplace, the practical range issues will go away for 95% of the US, at least for 98% of their trips.

However, the biggest hurdle, at least in the US, is to simply get people comfortable with having a vehicle that works great for 95% of their trips, okay for another 3-4.5% of their trips, and maybe needing to rent a vehicle (or find an alternative method) for those last few trips. Right now a lot of the vehicle trends are towards bigger and bigger vehicles, even if they are significant overkill for 95% of trips. Most people only need to haul a large load a few times a year, yet it seems many people buy a large pickup truck instead of a smaller sedan or hatchback "just in case" - even though there's a number of places where you can rent a truck for a few hours for under $100. Until we can get out of that mindset, it's going to be difficult to impossible to move the needle significantly on electric vehicles.
 

railiner

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Right now a lot of the vehicle trends are towards bigger and bigger vehicles, even if they are significant overkill for 95% of trips. Most people only need to haul a large load a few times a year, yet it seems many people buy a large pickup truck instead of a smaller sedan or hatchback "just in case" - even though there's a number of places where you can rent a truck for a few hours for under $100. Until we can get out of that mindset, it's going to be difficult to impossible to move the needle significantly on electric vehicles.
I would suspect that some of, (I have no idea of the percentage) of purchaser's of large pickups and SUV's do so for the real and perceived sense of safety in the event of a collsion affords, even if they really only need a small hatchback for 95% of their use....
 

IndyLions

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I would suspect that some of, (I have no idea of the percentage) of purchaser's of large pickups and SUV's do so for the real and perceived sense of safety in the event of a collsion affords, even if they really only need a small hatchback for 95% of their use....
I’m sure safety is a factor for some folks.

To me, it’s probably all about cheap gas. The only thing that ever caused me to place “small size” in my top five criteria for purchasing a vehicle - was when gas prices went way up and mileage became important.

As long as gas prices are low, a large percentage of the population will continue to buy big.

It will be interesting to see how the new electric trucks do with the general public.
 

Qapla

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I will admit, I drive a pickup truck. Not because I "want" a large vehicle ... I work out of my truck, I pull a trailer more than a couple time a year and we need a truck way too often to rent one

On the other hand, my wife drives a car. However, she does not drive a "small hatchback". If she did, I would not be able to get in and out of the car. Talking with a number of people I have found I am not the only one in this position. Many of the people who drive something larger than a "small hatchback" do so because they simply cannot squeeze themselves into a vehicle that small - nor do they find it comfortable to sit so low to the ground.

Now, if you can build a high-mileage car that gives one the same accessibility and road-view as an SUV - maybe more people would buy them.
 

railiner

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I will admit, I drive a pickup truck. Not because I "want" a large vehicle ... I work out of my truck, I pull a trailer more than a couple time a year and we need a truck way too often to rent one

On the other hand, my wife drives a car. However, she does not drive a "small hatchback". If she did, I would not be able to get in and out of the car. Talking with a number of people I have found I am not the only one in this position. Many of the people who drive something larger than a "small hatchback" do so because they simply cannot squeeze themselves into a vehicle that small - nor do they find it comfortable to sit so low to the ground.

Now, if you can build a high-mileage car that gives one the same accessibility and road-view as an SUV - maybe more people would buy them.
How about one of these? Incredible mileage for something that size, and it can tow a small trailer...
Might be my next vehicle...

 

tgstubbs1

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As long as gas prices are low, a large percentage of the population will continue to buy big.
Statistics bear this out.

Part of our "pickup truck" epidemic started because CAFE rules gave them an edge over cars. So much they enacted rules regarding Japanese pickup imports.

There's the carrot and the stick. Rules can only push people so far. There are a great many choices for higher economy vehicles in all classes, but gas is so cheap they don't sell.

Gas taxes are unrealistic, don't support proper road maintenance and don't encourage people to buy the cars CAFE rules force automakers to make.
 

jiml

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Since this topic has morphed into a vehicle discussion,;) here's a couple of thoughts. 1. Older people (guilty) may have trouble getting into a compact car because of its height, making something higher a better choice. 2. If you live in an area with bad winters, 4-wheel drive is a good idea, but small 4-wheel drive cars tend to not have enough clearance to be much help. 3. If you travel much via road, having more than a small trunk is invaluable.

This is defending my choice of a small-mid SUV, that has a 4-cylinder engine which is turbo-charged to enhance performance. Until this year we drove to Florida every year through bad weather, needing extra storage and luggage space for multi-week stays and we're not as young as we used to be. That said, I really want our next vehicle to be a hybrid (I've been consulting with a recent purchaser on AU), with the only scary part being the huge difference in price between them and comparable conventional models.
 

Qapla

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How about one of these?
Somehow, I doubt that would be able to pull a trailer with a tractor on it ...

1. Older people (guilty) may have trouble getting into a compact car because of its height, making something higher a better choice.
Seems to me I someone mentioned a similar thought

she does not drive a "small hatchback". If she did, I would not be able to get in and out of the car ... Many of the people who drive something larger than a "small hatchback" do so because they simply cannot squeeze themselves into a vehicle that small - nor do they find it comfortable to sit so low to the ground.
 

Dakota 400

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1. Older people (guilty) may have trouble getting into a compact car because of its height, making something higher a better choice.
This is true. My Buick salesman put me into a Regal when I was shopping. I almost needed help in getting out the car. Yet, a SUV can be too high. That's one reason I bought "Mama Bear" of the 3 Buick SUV's, Envision. "Pappa Bear", Enclave, when I tried that, I felt like I had to climb into and out of it. More vehicle than I wanted, needed, or desired.

mid SUV, that has a 4-cylinder engine which is turbo-charged to enhance performance
I love my Envision's turbo 4 cylinder's performance! It has the most power of any engine in any car that I have owned. I have to keep my eye on the speedometer to prevent getting a speeding ticket.
 

west point

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My sitting height is too tall for most cars. Had a devil of a time to find one with necessary headroom. Even rejected car I had ordered as it was not same as demo car. Always though I was sand bagged. You cannot imagine the teeth grinding from the dealership..
 

Bob Dylan

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My sitting height is too tall for most cars. Had a devil of a time to find one with necessary headroom. Even rejected car I had ordered as it was not same as demo car. Always though I was sand bagged. You cannot imagine the teeth grinding from the dealership..
Sounds like Chevy Chase in that Vacation to Walley World Flick!😄
 

IndyLions

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My sitting height is too tall for most cars. Had a devil of a time to find one with necessary headroom. Even rejected car I had ordered as it was not same as demo car. Always though I was sand bagged. You cannot imagine the teeth grinding from the dealership..
You say you distinctly ordered the Antarctic Blue Super Sportswagon with the CB and the optional Rally Fun Pack? Not the Wagon Queen Family Truckster in Metallic Pea?”

While the Sportswagon is a fine vehicle - it really is - if you want extra headroom you really NEED the Wagon Queen!C5B3BA45-B844-437B-95D9-D09D711B5E90.jpeg
 

Dakota 400

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My sitting height is too tall for most cars. Had a devil of a time to find one with necessary headroom.
That was the situation that I had when I did my shopping. Almost bought a Lincoln MKZ, but getting the seat positioned to where I wanted it, there was very, very little headroom. It was less money than my Buick with the same features as the Buick, but simply decided that I would not be pleased with my forehead being so close to the sun visor and so little headroom.
 

west point

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Also a problem that I forgot was that leaning the seat back to get the headroom severely restricts seating for passengers in the back. Someone said to me that the back seat is only for younger children.
 
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