Auto Train: Why not more routes?

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tgstubbs1

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Any vehicle, no matter what the motive force, can do better cruising at a steady speed than with repeated stops and starts.

A anecdotal example shows that there can be exceptions but doesn't necessarily apply in all situations.

A 20 mph drive on a familiar route with other people during a routine commute isn't necessarily representative of what someone might encounter on a long trip out of town in unfamiliar territory.

I read an article online about the increasing costs of driving.

The biggest cost of driving for most people isn't the incremental costs of fuel, tires, etc. It's the overall cost of the capital investment of the vehicle minus the residual resale value.

The median price of new cars these days is around $34k. Subtract the resale value after 5 years and you probably lose $15k - 20k on maybe 100k miles.



"Many new-car buyers do not realize that depreciation often is the greatest expense incurred by drivers during the first five years of vehicle ownership. An average 2020 model-year vehicle will only retain about 37% of its original value after a five-year ownership period, meaning that a $35,000 new car today will only be worth somewhere close to $12,950after five years. "


Then add the costs of taxes, insurance, fuel and maintenance.

For the time being fuel is really cheap, but it has gone up in the past.

Auto train can save people money on fuel and driving expenses.
 

railiner

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There are always exceptions. Coach is much cheaper than a sleeper - do you travel coach so you can save the money?
If I was to take the train, I would want a Roomette...current promotion is coach, $59., sleeper, $99.
Very tempting, until you have to add on the $208. for the auto...;)
 

tgstubbs1

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I think most people would find riding coach more comfortable than sitting in one seat for 20 hours, except for the food.

Here is some information I found online about the largest "megaregions" according to US Census data.

Florida is bigger than the sun belt but I think this shows the overall fallacy about the belief than only the NEC - Florida market is large enough to support Auto Train.

A Long Distance east-west Auto train could serve more than one megaregion pair. People from the NEC could benefit from a Great Lakes - Sun belt train, as could people in SoCal. I don't think this is true for the current Auto train.


Megalopolis NamePopulation
in millions
2010
Percent of U.S. Population (2010)Population
in millions
2025 (projected)
Population
percent growth 2010 - 2025 (projected)
Major cities and metro areas
Arizona Sun Corridor[14][15]5.62%7.839.3%Chandler, Mesa, Phoenix, Tucson
Cascadia12.43%13.58.2%Abbotsford, Boise**, Eugene, Portland
Florida17.36%21.524.3%Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Port St. Lucie, Tampa Bay Area(TampaSt. PetersburgClearwater)
Front Range5.52%6.926%Albuquerque, Cheyenne, Colorado Springs, Denver, Pueblo, Salt Lake City**
Great Lakes55.518%60.79.4%Barrie, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Erie, Fox Cities**, Grand Rapids, Guelph, Hamilton, Indianapolis, Kansas City**, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Louisville, Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis–Saint Paul
Gulf Coast13.44%16.321.6%
Northeast52.317%58.411.7%Atlantic City, Baltimore, Boston, Hampton Roads (Virginia Beach, Norfolk), Harrisburg, Jersey City, Lehigh Valley (Allentown-Bethlehem), Newark, New York, Philadelphia, Portland (ME), Providence
Northern California145%16.417.1%Fresno, Modesto, Oakland, Reno, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, Stockton
Piedmont Atlantic17.66%21.723.3%Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Greenville, Huntsville, Knoxville**, Memphis**, Nashville**, Piedmont Triad(GreensboroWinston-Salem), Research Triangle (RaleighDurham)
Southern California24.48%2918.9%Anaheim, Bakersfield, Inland Empire (San BernardinoRiverside), Las Vegas, Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tijuana

 

jebr

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Population is but one part of the equation, especially when considering megaregion-to-megaregion transportation. A "Great Lakes to Sun Belt" or "east-to-west" train are far too broad of corridors (with no clear chokepoints in the way NEC to Florida has) to even begin to judge whether they're feasible or not. Simply put, the market of "I'll plan my trip around a theoretical Auto Train" is very small - too small to be successful on its own. It needs to be able to cater to enough of a "I'd take an Auto Train if it was fairly convenient and fairly price competitive" market to fill the train - and I don't see that existing pretty much anywhere, especially given current available rail routes and highway networks.
 

ShiningTimeStL

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Been thinking about this a lot lately. Hasn't anyone thought of an "Auto Eagle?" Anywhere in the midwest to just about anywhere in Texas sounds like the perfect market to me, using any number of possible routes. CHI, STL and KC are obvious potential starting points with KC being my favorite. The current Teagle route seems so laborious. A direct route more along the lines of the old Katy-Frisco Texas Special seems to me like it might save time. Plus, both CHI and STL feed into KC. It's kinda replaced my hometown as the true western gateway.

Texas is easily becoming the new California, it's a massively growing market and definitely a wintering location for midwestern snowbirds. It's a place people are moving to in droves. Sure, there's no traffic getting there, so it doesn't have quite the same appeal, but as a luxury express train to Texas, I still think it would do quite alright. Hell, maybe there would be a way to do through-autoracks on the MORR and Chief. Maybe. That's probably asking a bit much on top of what's already quite a stretch of the imagination...
 
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I think most people would find riding coach more comfortable than sitting in one seat for 20 hours, except for the food.

Here is some information I found online about the largest "megaregions" according to US Census data.

Florida is bigger than the sun belt but I think this shows the overall fallacy about the belief than only the NEC - Florida market is large enough to support Auto Train.

A Long Distance east-west Auto train could serve more than one megaregion pair. People from the NEC could benefit from a Great Lakes - Sun belt train, as could people in SoCal. I don't think this is true for the current Auto train.
Some of those don't seem worthy enough to use the train rather than drive but others, given that the number of stops for loading/unloading cars is much more limited than in your list, are pretty reasonable considering the time, distance and the "pain of driving" factor.
 
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Some of those don't seem worthy enough to use the train rather than drive but others, given that the number of stops for loading/unloading cars is much more limited than in your list, are pretty reasonable considering the time, distance and the "pain of driving" factor.
If one was doing an even more thorough study, it would be interesting to factor in age demographics as well. There seems to be general agreement that "snowbirds" are a key component of Auto Train customers and us old folks are very cognizant of the three factors you mentioned.
 

tgstubbs1

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I wonder how much the covid pandemic has affected 2020 census numbers, with some people relocating to distance themselves?

These figures from the chart were predicted a few years back. The Florida megaregion doesn't include Pensacola, which is in the Gulf megaregion.

I have come to the sad realization, looking in the mirror every morning, that there are old geezers all over the country. While I have a 'hunch' that many Midwesterners winter in South Texas, I can as easily guess that many people in various megaregions have been transplanted from other areas, and they might want to retire someplace they affiliate with their younger years. So someone now in NYC, transplanted from Southern California, might prefer Arizona over Florida.
 

Qapla

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It would take some sort of study to determine if there are "snowbird" routes that have the same type of back-and-forth travel that NE and FL have. It would take a somewhat steady stream of travelers like the NY-FL corridor has to make an auto train feasible.

The migration from the NY area to Fl has been a long established and well traveled migration route for decades. It has a proven flow of travelers. Are some of the other proposed route as well traveled by yearly back-and-forth travelers that spend extended periods of time at each end to warrant bringing a vehicle like the NY-FL connection does?
 

tgstubbs1

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I think they say the current rise in the senior population is due to the baby boomer generation reaching retirement age. It's a nationwide experience although they say there has been a general shift from northern states to more southerly states.
I would guess that the number of Auto train passengers, and the number of autoracks needed, has risen significantly over the 50 years of operation. So I guess one question might be : how big a train do you need to make a profit? How long does the trip need to be?

As far as Amtrak's Auto train I think it's there because of the original Auto Train company. It was a good route and it still is. Unfortunately due to underfunding and lack of insurance they went bust. That doesn't mean they couldn't have eventually enjoyed success in other parts of the country ( with adequate funding). Amtrak might never have built Auto train on it's own, and it's unlikely they will add more Auto trains unless they get special funding for that purpose.
But if they could get the funds I think it could be a good thing for Amtrak. It might make customers out of people that have never heard of Amtrak.
 

jis

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Of the retiring baby boomers that I know who are in good health and are serious about seeing the country, a majority appear to be acquiring motor homes. Those that plan to see the country by train or by loading their car on trains if available, appear to be a relatively small niche at present. Maybe if more service was available it would be a bigger niche, but I doubt that it will beat those that want to hit the road. It would appear that older people in less than good health may be the prime clientele for passenger rail, but they would not be the ones using Auto Train either.
 

Cal

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I’m on the west coast and have only seen the Auto Train in YouTube videos. I’d love to see auto carriers included on more of the long distance routes. Probably just a pipe dream.
Well, before Amtrak took over the Auto Train, the original company tried to start another one ( I believe it was from Chicago to Florida?), it didn't do so well and they ended up going under. Then Amtrak took over the Auto Train.

I think Amtrak is doing so well with the current Auto Train, they don't see the need in launching a new one. In addition, with them already trying to cut long distance routes a few years back, I don't think they want to launch new major routes.

And if they wanted to launch one, they would have to build one or two more loading facilities. That would probably be expensive, or at least more money than what they want to spend.

These are my personal thoughts and things that I've read, not sure of the accuracy!
 

railiner

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The original Auto Train Corporation, did run a Midwest to Florida train for a while, from Louisville to Sanford. They paid Amtrak to haul it behind the Floridian.
Auto Train was under-capitalized, and a few unfortunate wrecks drove them out of business.

Before Amtrak starts up any new Auto Train route, I believe they should first have at least one regular train on that route...
 
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Lack of equipment is another high cost. 40 passenger cars at $4M and 50 car carriers at $2.5M === $350M

$350M or, in the only currency our country can understand, about 120 miles of Interstate.

EDIT: I hate to be wrong, though I often am. Turns out I was exaggerating. You can only build around 35 miles of Interstate for $350M. Shows just how unaffordable and unjustified rail improvements can be...
 
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I know there are endless discussions on adding a new Auto Train between the Chicago and Denver areas. This would avoid the long drive through ‘fly over’ country, although I find it interesting because it is so different than the East.

A recent trip on I-70 from the KC airport to see my wife’s relatives in western Kansas made me think of another possibility. One of the oldest rail routes in the west is the Kansas Pacific, now UP, from KC to Denver. Formerly the route of the Portland Rose and City of St. Louis (Wabash East of KC), it’s now a secondary line to serve the grain traffic, occasional coal train, and overflow for the mainline through Nebraska. It also recently hosted the Big Boy excursion train. I suspect it’s Class 3 track- 40mph for freight and 60 for passenger.

How about an A-T from suburban St.Louis, maybe Kirkwood, that would take the slot that was the second Amtrak train recently discontinued for budget reasons. West of KC there is no priority freight and sporadic tonnage trains that could sit in sidings. The western terminus could be Limon, CO where I-70 heads NW to Denver and US24 heads SW to Colorado Springs and I-25 to Albuquerque- about 6 hours. The distance is about 750 miles, shorter than the 810 miles to Florida. Even with a slower schedule a same day turn should be possible.

Certainly a St. Louis origin would appeal to those in parts of the Midwest, Mid Atlantic, and Southeast who would appreciate not having to head to Chicago. The fact that Amtrak seems to be promoting the A-T (with attractive fares) makes me think they may be more receptive to this than the traditional LD train - assuming the 750 mile rule would not apply.

This is a photo of the UP station in Abilene, KS and now the visitor center (also home to the Eisenhower library, the Abilene and Smoky Valley excursion train, and, for a few years in the 1800’s the terminus of the Chisholm Trail fromTexas).

1646605751758.jpeg
 
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coventry801

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Not in my case....I can drive that distance a whole lot cheaper in my eleven year old car....even by myself, leaving the other four seats empty...
And that was with a deeply discounted promotional fare...


You have to factor in cost staying at a hotel.
 

tgstubbs1

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I know there are endless discussions on adding a new Auto Train between the Chicago and Denver areas. This would avoid the long drive through ‘fly over’ country, although I find it interesting because it is so different than the East.

A recent trip on I-70 from the KC airport to see my wife’s relatives in western Kansas made me think of another possibility. One of the oldest rail routes in the west is the Kansas Pacific, now UP, from KC to Denver. Formerly the route of the Portland Rose and City of St. Louis (Wabash East of KC), it’s now a secondary line to serve the grain traffic, occasional coal train, and overflow for the mainline through Nebraska. It also recently hosted the Big Boy excursion train. I suspect it’s Class 3 track- 40mph for freight and 60 for passenger.

How about an A-T from suburban St.Louis, maybe Kirkwood, that would take the slot that was the second Amtrak train recently discontinued for budget reasons. West of KC there is no priority freight and sporadic tonnage trains that could sit in sidings. The western terminus could be Limon, CO where I-70 heads NW to Denver and US24 heads SW to Colorado Springs and I-25 to Albuquerque- about 6 hours. The distance is about 750 miles, shorter than the 810 miles to Florida. Even with a slower schedule a same day turn should be possible.

Certainly a St. Louis origin would appeal to those in parts of the Midwest, Mid Atlantic, and Southeast who would appreciate not having to head to Chicago. The fact that Amtrak seems to be promoting the A-T (with attractive fares) makes me think they may be more receptive to this than the traditional LD train - assuming the 750 mile rule would not apply.

This is a photo of the UP station in Abilene, KS and now the visitor center (also home to the Eisenhower library, the Abilene and Smoky Valley excursion train, and, for a few years in the 1800’s the terminus of the Chisholm Trail fromTexas).

View attachment 27503
Are you planning a stop in Abilene?
I think Kansas could use a train along that corridor but passengers might prefer to continue to Denver where they could connect to other Amtrak transport.

If the route you propose to Limon is 750 miles it would almost be as long as Lorton Sanford--an overnight trip. Sleepers would be needed.
 

George Harris

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May have been said already, but please understand that Auto Train found a "sweet spot" both in location and time for their type of service, Northeast to mid Florida. The demand was there in the size of the demographics that would use it. The ex-ACL main was at that time still mostly double track and they had a good reasonably straight alignment that had long hosted numerous passenger trains, hence an average speed equivalent to a drive over the same distance was practical. It was done at a time when there was a lot of relatively new passenger cars available, so their equipment investment was about as low as it could possibly be.

The decision to start a midwest service was an absolute corporate blunder. The number of relatively close large cities made it look much better than it actually was. The run time was unacceptably long for the market, the tracks were for the most part in relatively poor condition which led to poor ride quality. The lines were mostly single track, and south of Montgomery AL without signals. Thus delays for meets were many and inconsistent in duration. The combination with the Floridian resulted in the worst of both worlds. You had the passenger stops due to Amtrak that were purposeless for the Auto Train riders. You had the string of auto carriers that led to essentially freight train speeds and handling characteristics which downgraded the Amtrak operation. There was no "sweet spot" here.

If someone were to have hit them over the head with multiple millions of dollars to start a midwest service, the better choice of routes would have been to have a starting point somewhere south of Cincinatti on Southern's CNO&TP line south, then running on Southern rails to Jesup GA where ACL rails could be accessed for the rest of the way into Sanford. I would be inclined to say build an Auto Train hotel at the north end so you could have a set up for people to arrive the night before, and possibly even turn their cars over for loading, and then a morning departure at whatever time it would need to be to get you into a reasonably early morning arrival in Sanford, then get it unloaded and out of the way ahead of the northeast train's arrival. You would have a run time of something like 20 to 22 hours, with the daylight part is some of the prettiest mountain country in the eastern US, and over a route that had been given major rebuilds in the 1960's. Northbound should be the reverse more or less, evening departure from Sanford, next evening arrival at Cincinatti area terminal. You would be about the same distance from Chicago as the Louisville terminal, and closer to all the Ohio points plus Detroit, Buffalo, etc.
 
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