What if every LD train was an Auto Train?

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Nick Farr

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I was just thinking: Wouldn't it be great to take my car with me from Chicago to Reno, enjoy the CZ and have my car with me when I stop?

The Auto Train is the most successful of all the LD trains, mainly because it serves a specific market developed after the decline of passenger rail.

Yes, it is a huge logistical challenge. Yes, it could only be done at or near major crew change stations. But it would add a while new market that is best served specifically by passenger rail.
 

jis

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The schdules of trains will probably increase considerably in length depending on how many pickup and drop off points one is thinking of. Each such point will involve dropping off and picking up some random set of auto carriers. which will take quite a bit of time. Afterall just changing an engine takes 20+ minutes these days.
 

Nick Farr

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The schdules of trains will probably increase considerably in length depending on how many pickup and drop off points one is thinking of. Each such point will involve dropping off and picking up some random set of auto carriers. which will take quite a bit of time.
As far as the CZ goes, my thought is Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake, Reno and (Somewhere in the Bay Área).

Loading is done well in advance, unloading is done when the train has left. The only thing to do at each stop would be to be add/detach carrier rail cars at the back of the consist.

It would require a big capital investment, but it would also spur interest in an otherwise untapped market.
 

Nick Farr

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As someone who does not drive, I would not like it if every train was like the auto train. With the current auto train, you can only ride it if you have a car or are riding with someone who does.
I meant "auto train capable". I never meant to advocate for the all the LD trains requiring having a car to ride, that's ludicrous!

I know the current AT is a super speciality product, but the capability therein shouldn't be contained to just that product/route.
 

jis

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As far as the CZ goes, my thought is Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake, Reno and (Somewhere in the Bay Área).

Loading is done well in advance, unloading is done when the train has left. The only thing to do at each stop would be to be add/detach carrier rail cars at the back of the consist.

It would require a big capital investment, but it would also spur interest in an otherwise untapped market.
It would depend on what orig/dest you allow for the Autos. If you allow all possible pairs, then a bit of car shuffling will be involved in addition to adding and setting off cars. OTOH if destination is limited to only Chicago and Bay Area then there will be much less car shuffling involved at the add/drop points.
 
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NS VIA Fan

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Just do like CN did on the Super Continental back in the 70s. Attach an Auto Carrier on the rear for those that wanted to take their car along between Toronto and Edmonton. And that is just how the Auto Carrier was painted....revealing what was being carried!

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I think this would be an awesome idea. I was thinking of driving "out west" (from upstate NY) this summer with my truck to tour the SW states (AZ, UT, CO, NM). But after going over the 30+ hours of driving to get there and back...ugh.

In the end, we are going to train from NY to Tucson via Cardinal and Texas Eagle (with an overnight in Chicago on the way), do a car rental there, and fly home. But the trip would have been better with my own truck plus my own 19 yr old driving child (who loves to drive) to help out.
 

ShiningTimeStL

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This is another one of those things that I always think about with Amtrak. By my calculation, the Auto Train concept is the ultimate American method of travel. If we were serious about traveling by train in the USA, we would have multiple frequencies of these absolutely massive passenger trains on every transcontinental route. There is SO much potential there, but also a lot to unwind as far as how they would best operate. I really hate the notion that the concept of the Auto Train is only viable on routes like the one it currently serves. I didn't even know about the Super Continental's Car-Go-Rail service, that just goes to show how this concept can be applied differently to more routes. Also, look at the system on Finnish long distance trains. It's all about the right application.

Here's something else though; it drives me insane that Amtrak's brand new baggage cars seem to be going completely unused, even on revenue trains. Why not convert them to carry bikes, motorcycles, and other related small vehicles? You can just roll them in and out of those doors.
 
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Exvalley

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The easiest way to do it would be to have one auto carrier for each destination. When that carrier fills up - that's it for that destination.

That way they could just drop an auto carrier off from the end of the train as they reach each destination.

The bigger issue is: (1) The facilities for loading and unloading, and (2) The staffing.

Another issue is that the best place to load and unload is often outside of the city, not in it.
 

Qapla

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To make it so each LD train could carry cars and be able to operate with overlapping on/off points, the autorack cars would need to be redesigned.

Some sort of design that would allow each car to be loaded onto an individual carrier device that could be slotted in from the side of the train by a large forklift type machine would allow individual cars to be loaded/unloaded regardless of when they were placed into the rack. You would not have to load/unload any addition cars to get any car in or out.

That might make it somewhat feasible ...
 
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Cal

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IIRC, the AutoTrain company was doing well until it tried to expand its service to the Midwest.
I believe this is true. In theory it's a great idea, but history has proven otherwise. Maybe if it's under the right circumstances and right leadership.
 

dlagrua

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This was posted here 12 years ago.
The AutoTrain Corporation made arrangements for Amtrak to carry a midwest route back in 1977. As a result Amtrak stopped running the Floridian into downtown Louisville Union station and instead diverted through a large freight yard outside of town to pick up the AT consist. It posed problems and Amtrak lost ridership from Lousiville because of this. Secondly the switching operations now posed by the AutoTrain at Lousiville and Sanford added two hours to the already long schedule and made the Floridian perpetually late. Last of all the track conditions on the former L & N and PC's routes had both deteriorated through Indiana to the point where speeds were limited to 30 mph. Then a horrific derailment caused loss of much Autotrains RR equipment. By the end of 1977 the AT midwest route was gone and Amtrak discontinued the Floridian. The old PC route from Louisville was abandoned. Within a year of this AutoTrain corporation also ceased to exist.

The questions remain as to whether the midwest AT accommodation idea killed the Floridian, whether good track through Indiana was unavailable, or the trip that sometimes exceeded 30 hours was far too long. . My guess is that the route was far too long, too slow and originated 300 miles from Chicago. Todays there is no track through the former Indiana segment where passenger trains could run. Good idea-bad implementation.
 

Anthony V

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An Auto Train on the route of the California Zephyr would likely have to be routed on the Overland Route through Wyoming between DEN and SLC due to the immense length and weight of such a train, because the locomotives would have trouble pulling such a train over the Rocky Mountains on that part of the current CZ route. Reducing the load on locomotives going over the Rockies is one of the two main reasons the Pioneer was rerouted onto the Overland Route west of Denver in 1991.
 

joelkfla

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I read that many of the car-trains, as they seem to be called in Europe, have been discontinued over the past 5-10 years. Perhaps one could argue that Europeans are not as tightly bound to their cars as are Americans, but the trend doesn't seem to bode well for the concept.
 
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We have extensively covered in previous threads why the Auto Train succeeds, due to it's very unique market. I think it will be a moot point in the not so far future, as I believe that except in rural areas, people will no longer own cars, but will belong to co-ops with nationwide fleets of autonomous driving vehicles. Perhaps with reciprocity with other's, world-wide.
 

toddinde

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I am very skeptical. The car culture is waning fast. Rental cars are ubiquitous. Uber and Lyft exist. Bay Area to Reno is too short. That’s a pretty easy drive, and Reno is pretty self contained. One wonders why one even needs a car on a gambling junket to Reno when the station is downtown and Tahoe is a shuttle ride away. I would theorize that perhaps Chicago to LA, or New Orleans to LA might make some sense, especially for people moving. I think it’s a niche that requires a huge investment in personnel and fixed facilities that will never be recouped. It makes more sense to make rental cars more available in stations. Also, the RV craze is in full swing. If you could accommodate RVs (very hard to do) that could be a market. It’s also the greatest competition to this idea. Many time insensitive, inveterate drivers are buying RVs. I don’t think many of them will ride the train. The real markets for rail travel are 1) people seeking cheap travel across country, your classic long haul coach traveler; 2) people traveling between small and medium size cities underserved by air; 3) the person seeking a unique experience and wants to see the country (frequently the sleeper passenger); 4) time insensitive seniors. None of those are natural auto train customers. Why does the Auto Train work? Huge cold weather population centers conveniently located an overnight ride to a destination where many people stay for an extended period making rental cars prohibitively expensive. If you could find another similar market (Chicago to Northern Wisconsin was contemplated at one time), you might be able to replicate it.
 

sttom

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I personally think Auto Trains outside of the one we already have could work, but it would probably be seasonal for the most part and would need to be run as a separate train. I do think the Zephyr could sustain a summer season Auto Train with stops in Northern California, Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago and possibly Western Nevada. There are plenty of national parks along this route and others that people might want to take a car along with them. But, I do think this would be a largely seasonal market since the summer would be the best time to do this and would be the better market for it. You could schedule an Auto Zephyr to run through some places at night so people have the day to see parks in Utah and Colorado and possibly catch some of the more scenic parts of the route before they get into either city. But theses trains would need to run separately because like with the express freight thing, it takes time to cut cars and that already ruined trains reliability back in the 90s. Couple this with getting into Salt Lake City at 3am or 11pm or whatever inconvenient time in the middle would mean these trains would likely only be good for a few stops along any given route instead of all of them. This also doesn't take into consideration what you would do with any of the facilities during the winter when a train might not be running, but that is a different can of worms which would make more auto trains less feasibly.

I do think more auto trains could be feasible under the current model. Chicago - Florida has been pointed out, but I think Chicago - Southwest could also work for the same reason. A lot of snowbirds also go west too and Arizona and New Mexico are destinations they go to. For the same reason, I could see a Starlight to Sunset route auto train maybe working. But it would require more facilities, more equipment and an extra train on applicable routes. It would be far easier to get an Enterprise office next to every station in a town with 10,000+ people than expanding auto trains.
 
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Qapla

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If you could accommodate RVs (very hard to do) that could be a market.
That is an interesting idea. If you could load RV's on train cars similar to how semi-trailers are loaded and have them connected to power, water and possibly sewer so that people could ride across the country in their RV to a NP or other resort destination it might work. It would allow people to have their RV destination trip without having to drive through the "empty space" they need to cover to get there.
 

jis

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That is an interesting idea. If you could load RV's on train cars similar to how semi-trailers are loaded and have them connected to power, water and possibly sewer so that people could ride across the country in their RV to a NP or other resort destination it might work. It would allow people to have their RV destination trip without having to drive through the "empty space" they need to cover to get there.
I suspect RVs with people riding in them would give FRA and NTSB conniptions though. 🤷‍♂️
 
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west point

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When the car I now have was to be replaced I would have to pay 2-1/2 times more. Guess what ? Cannot afford same. What do I do when my present car dies ? Have no idea.
 
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