What if every LD train was an Auto Train?

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IIRC, the AutoTrain company was doing well until it tried to expand its service to the Midwest.
Auto-Train was the first stock I ever bought and a big $800 loss for a young investor. It really hurt. And seeing those dome cars being cut up for scrap brought additional pain.

But as far as the Midwest expansion goes, they really did do their homework and found that that area had the second highest amount of people driving their cars to Florida. It seemed like a no-brainer at the time.

BTW - Anyone remember this?


 

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iliketrains

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Wouldn't it be great if all Amtrak long-distance trains had at least one Auto car that loads and unloads vehicles at each endpoint? Using reservations, it would be first come first serve. Once it's full, no more reservations. On the trains that prove to be popular, more than one Auto car could be added. I wonder if Amtrak has considered this? I guess the cost of having trained staff at the endpoints would be costly?
 
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Terminal and staffing is the downside of this plan. That and only 8% of the passengers travel end point to end point.

It would be nice to have more AutoZug options. Nightjet have several terminals that are quite small, but with our lawsuit filled environment having passenger drive there own cars on a train is just not realistic.
 

Qapla

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Yeah - and the freight lines agreed to give Amtrak priority on the mainline and not side them in favor of long freights.

Don't think the freights could really complain if Amtrak could run a single autocar on each LD train.
 
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When I was at the TRB meeting a couple weeks ago, I attended a meeting of the Passenger Rail Advisory Committee (I forget the exact name of the committee.) I guy got up and identified himself as working for the Rocky Mountaineer (I didn't get his name), and he was interested in obtaining copies of the original studies that were done in the 1960s on the original Auto Train concept. I don't think he was speaking for the Rocky Mountaineer, that the company was actually interested in starting such a service, but he did say that he thought there might be some places where it might be a viable possibility. I think he said Chicago-Denver (the terminals being on the outskirts of both cities, out by the highways.) He also talked about Ro-Ro truck train service to allow the truckers to bypass difficult stretches of road, where the trains would keep the trailers moving, and the drivers would ride along, presumably in passenger cars, during their mandatory rest periods. I could see a train like that running Grand Junction to Denver or Reno to Sacramento, or even Pittsburgh to the east coast.
 

chickpea

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I'm not sure if this is the best place to ask but it is at least a thread with recent comments... if I have to get from NJ/NY to southern MS and I'd rather not drive the entire way, is it worth taking the auto train?? I haven't figured out the cost (roomette only) vs the gas and hotels if I limit myself to 300-ish miles/day, 400 max. I think it's 4 days of driving and 3 nights hotel, plus $150-200 in gas... so maybe doing VA>FL is worthwhile? Happy to hear feedback.

And thanks for the report!
 

pennyk

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I'm not sure if this is the best place to ask but it is at least a thread with recent comments... if I have to get from NJ/NY to southern MS and I'd rather not drive the entire way, is it worth taking the auto train?? I haven't figured out the cost (roomette only) vs the gas and hotels if I limit myself to 300-ish miles/day, 400 max. I think it's 4 days of driving and 3 nights hotel, plus $150-200 in gas... so maybe doing VA>FL is worthwhile? Happy to hear feedback.

And thanks for the report!
That does not seem practical to me. You would be driving from Central Florida to Mississippi - But it likely would not be 4 days of driving and 3 nights in a hotel.
 
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I'm not sure if this is the best place to ask but it is at least a thread with recent comments... if I have to get from NJ/NY to southern MS and I'd rather not drive the entire way, is it worth taking the auto train?? I haven't figured out the cost (roomette only) vs the gas and hotels if I limit myself to 300-ish miles/day, 400 max. I think it's 4 days of driving and 3 nights hotel, plus $150-200 in gas... so maybe doing VA>FL is worthwhile? Happy to hear feedback.

And thanks for the report!
New York - Lorton is 246 miles driving, Google Maps says 4:42 (I would add time to that estimate)
Sanford - Biloxi is 585 miles driving, Google maps says 8:14 (I would definitely add time to that estimate)
New York to Biloxi is 1,273 miles or 19:16 driving. (aside from adding to Google Maps time estimates, you would probably need to make at least one overnight stop.)

The Auto train is 855 miles and 17 hours, plus you need to arrive at least an hour and a half before departure, so it's really 18 1/2 hours.

I'm not sure what I'd do. You are going out of your way by going to Florida, and that 585-mile drive back to Biloxi sounds a little brutal to me. On the other hand, you won't need any motel stops, and you'll be moving while you eat dinner and sleep.
 
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I believe that there is a very slim chance that Amtrak will add another Autotrain any time soon.. Autotrain Corporation once had a Louisville-Sanford route but here was no way to get that combined train end to end without many stops on the way. It was loaded and boarded in a freight yard West of Lousiville and pulled by the Amtrak Floridian. This slowed the route considerably for standard passengers. The tracks were also very slow though Kentucky and Indiana. Some parts even had a 30 mph limit. The train ended up providing a very slowtrip taking something like 36 hours. It was a good idea for midwest snowbirds but IMO not implemented properly.
 
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Wouldn't it be great if all Amtrak long-distance trains had at least one Auto car that loads and unloads vehicles at each endpoint? Using reservations, it would be first come first serve. Once it's full, no more reservations. On the trains that prove to be popular, more than one Auto car could be added. I wonder if Amtrak has considered this? I guess the cost of having trained staff at the endpoints would be costly?
I suggested that a while back. But it wouldn't have to be just endpoints - just endpoints for the auto-car i.e. say Galesburg or one of the other stations south of Chicago to Albuquerque where the car passengers depart and the car carrier unhooked while the train is getting fueled at this longer stop. Similarly, south of Chicago to/from a suburban Denver station where it is only a boarding/departing station for the car passengers.

Dropping the auto-car off or attaching it would be similar to dropping off or attaching a private car. A car-carrier with a battery-electric motor or attached battery "vehicle" like that shown in another thread could move the car carrier around instead of using the engine to save time.

After all, the train has only so many bedrooms and once they're full, that's it. Same thing with the car carrier.

I wonder if that would work for a third party to do - they would make their money on carrying the cars. Amtrak would make money by pulling that car carrier and on the passenger tickets. And if Amtrak got enough sleepers, they could add one to the train that would be dropped off/added with the car carrier and would be just in front of it at the back of the train. Any unused rooms could be assigned to regular passengers to that destination if it were a place like ABQ.
 

daybeers

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He also talked about Ro-Ro truck train service to allow the truckers to bypass difficult stretches of road, where the trains would keep the trailers moving, and the drivers would ride along, presumably in passenger cars, during their mandatory rest periods.
So...freight trains with intermodal cars? How is that any different except for massively more efficient and for far less money?

If you like train service, you shouldn't be advocating to subsidize car-centered sprawl, which is what auto trains are doing, really. They make it easier to travel and live with a car. It's catered to snowbirds, many of whom are from further north than Lorton, VA and are going further south than Sanford, Florida. Do we really need more Vehicle Miles Traveled? Why can't we have better regular train service and better transit connections so you don't need a car to get around at your origin or your destination? If someone wants a car when they get to their destination, rent one. It's really that simple. Amtrak's auto train, while it is profitable by Amtrak's accounting, I'm sure it also costs a fortune to maintain specialized equipment and staff specialized employees doing specialized jobs. Would be a lot easier to spend that money on improved regular train service along that corridor.
 

Qapla

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Since I live in a rural area on acreage I doubt there will ever be better transit connections so you don't need a car to get around - and if I went to visit with my relatives in southern Colorado the same would apply. Add to that, if the entire family went that would entail quite a bit if luggage that could easily be stowed in a car while we rode the train.

I can see why the idea would appeal to some.

Yes, we need better transit, better passenger service and less vehicle sprawl - but we don't need the elimination of all personal cars.
 
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So...freight trains with intermodal cars? How is that any different except for massively more efficient and for far less money?

If you like train service, you shouldn't be advocating to subsidize car-centered sprawl, which is what auto trains are doing, really. They make it easier to travel and live with a car. It's catered to snowbirds, many of whom are from further north than Lorton, VA and are going further south than Sanford, Florida. Do we really need more Vehicle Miles Traveled? Why can't we have better regular train service and better transit connections so you don't need a car to get around at your origin or your destination? If someone wants a car when they get to their destination, rent one. It's really that simple. Amtrak's auto train, while it is profitable by Amtrak's accounting, I'm sure it also costs a fortune to maintain specialized equipment and staff specialized employees doing specialized jobs. Would be a lot easier to spend that money on improved regular train service along that corridor.
Auto trains have nothing to do with countering car-centered sprawl, they're auto trains, after all. And because of the space they need for loading and because the catchment area for the passengers is very large, the stations will need to be outside the central cities, by a major highway. They're a niche service for a certain class of traveler who has a need to take the car along. The only viable service in the US is the one to Florida which caters to snowbirds and others who are staying long enough that the extra fare is less than the cost of a car rental at the destination. There might be a few other routes that could be viable, but none of them are going to induce enough extra driving to be greater than the noise in the estimates of national VMT.

As for the truck version (which could also take cars), I they would have limited use as "shuttle trains" similar to the train shuttles that carry vehicles through the Channel Tunnel, but at a somewhat larger scale. An 8-hour run would allow the trucks to keep moving, even though the drivers have to have a mandatory rest period, which they would have on the train. They would also allow the trucks to avoid difficult stretches of highways, with a safety benefit. Rather than crossing the Rockies on I-70, just put the trucks on a train in Grand Junction, let the drivers chill out riding the train during their rest period, and when the train gets to Denver, the drivers are rested and drive on from there. Same goes for the Sierra Nevada or Appalachians.
 

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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 remember Trailer Life Magazine used to have excursion up thru western Canada and down south thru Mexico many years ago. They contracted with various railroads and had a long string of flatbeds. Large motorhomes and travel trailers (including tow vehicle) would be loaded and tied done. Chain-type safety rails around the edges. And gangways between each flatbed. Passengers would "camp" in their own RV enroute. Usually enough room at each end of a car to place a couple of lawn chairs and the like. Obviously it wasn't high speed rail just a leisure cruise. I remember reservations went very quickly. Doubt BNSF, UP, CN or any class 1 would spend more than a second to say no way. Some of the pictures I remember in some very remote scenery.
 
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Logistics aside, I can see a winter train from Chicago to Denver working. Unlike in Florida where rental cars work just fine, a rental car in ski country is not ideal.

One catch is that people would want to be able to have ski carriers on the roof of their vehicle.
 
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Logistics aside, I can see a winter train from Chicago to Denver working. Unlike in Florida where rental cars work just fine, a rental car in ski country is not ideal.

One catch is that people would want to be able to have ski carriers on the roof of their vehicle.
I've rented cars in ski country, even in Vermont. :) It's worked just fine. Highway departments in snow country do know how to clear roads. On the other hand, driving to Florida, you have to go through the Carolinas, where they do sometimes have winter storms, but the highway departments aren't as well prepared for them.

I think the viability of an auto train depends on the cost of the rental vs. the auto train fare for carrying your car. The longer one stays at the destination, the more expensive the car rental.
 
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I've rented cars in ski country, even in Vermont. :) It's worked just fine. Highway departments in snow country do know how to clear roads. On the other hand, driving to Florida, you have to go through the Carolinas, where they do sometimes have winter storms, but the highway departments aren't as well prepared for them.
I am thinking in particular of skiers. Skiers want snow tires and a vehicle big enough to hold all of their gear. Most families want a ski rack.

Sorry, but when it is actively snowing, a rental car with all season tires doesn't hold a candle to a vehicle with snow tires. Driving in Colorado during the wintertime is no joke even if they know how to clear the roads.

As far as Florida is concerned, I am not sure why a person renting a car in Orlando would care what the whether is like in the Carolinas. Which is exactly why I said that renting a car in Florida is more appealing since a two-wheel drive car with all season tires is perfectly fine.

Put another way, people traveling from the Chicago area to Colorado for skiing would likely place a premium on being able to bring their own vehicle - at least more so than people traveling to Florida.

Whether or not it is worth having the infrastructure for a seasonal operation is an entirely different question.
 
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I'm not sure if this is the best place to ask but it is at least a thread with recent comments... if I have to get from NJ/NY to southern MS and I'd rather not drive the entire way, is it worth taking the auto train?? I haven't figured out the cost (roomette only) vs the gas and hotels if I limit myself to 300-ish miles/day, 400 max. I think it's 4 days of driving and 3 nights hotel, plus $150-200 in gas... so maybe doing VA>FL is worthwhile? Happy to hear feedback.
I concur with @pennyk. Pre-pandemic we wintered in NW Florida near Alabama, driving 4 days to get there. Each year I would check out fares on the Auto Train, but could never make the numbers work. It would take me a day with unpredictable winter weather to reach Lorton with a hotel night, then another full day's drive across Florida on arrival, without a hotel night only if the train was on-time. (You wouldn't have as long a drive the first day, but would make up for it at the southern end.) I could never get below $1,000 each way for the train, so weighed against two additional hotel nights on I-65/75, gas and meals, it never made sense. Mississippi would be just that extra few miles too far IMHO, unless you really wanted to take the train.
 
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You should read some of his trip reports and learn what he does when he rents a vehicle in snow country (hint: it involves skiing, usually after riding a train).
It is an objective fact that a vehicle that is properly equipped with good snow tires is going to outperform a vehicle with all season tires in snowy conditions. That can be a scary lesson to learn at Eisenhower Pass in a snowstorm. This, and the ability to haul lots of gear, is why I see many people do the two-day drive from the Chicago area to Colorado.

I live in snow country. My work car has all season tires since it is swapped out every couple of weeks. My personal car has good snow tires. I know of what I speak.

Obviously, MARC Rider is not going to take an Auto Train from Chicagoland. The question is whether or not it would be viable for people who live in that region.
 
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Joe from PA

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Even though I live close enough, the Auto Train is not in my future. Although the trip to get on it is less than 3 hours, driving in the D.C. area can be a nightmare. Then, once there, it's a 4 hour drive to Ft. Lauderdale. Here is how we go: We walk 10 minutes to our local station. Arrive Philadelphia 30th Street and give bags to red cap. Get on train. Get picked up in Ft. Lauderdale. ZERO driving.
 

Mr.Technician

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Terminal and staffing is the downside of this plan. That and only 8% of the passengers travel end point to end point.

It would be nice to have more AutoZug options. Nightjet have several terminals that are quite small, but with our lawsuit filled environment having passenger drive there own cars on a train is just not realistic.
And it's doubtful an autocarrier would fit in Chicago Union Station
 

chickpea

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New York - Lorton is 246 miles driving, Google Maps says 4:42 (I would add time to that estimate)
Sanford - Biloxi is 585 miles driving, Google maps says 8:14 (I would definitely add time to that estimate)
New York to Biloxi is 1,273 miles or 19:16 driving. (aside from adding to Google Maps time estimates, you would probably need to make at least one overnight stop.)

The Auto train is 855 miles and 17 hours, plus you need to arrive at least an hour and a half before departure, so it's really 18 1/2 hours.

I'm not sure what I'd do. You are going out of your way by going to Florida, and that 585-mile drive back to Biloxi sounds a little brutal to me. On the other hand, you won't need any motel stops, and you'll be moving while you eat dinner and sleep.
Thanks! Helpful. It doesn't seem to save hours of driving as much as hotel stays... one thing it would have been good of me to say is that I do like exploring, so the downside of FL>MS is that I will see places I haven't yet. Thanks again all.
 
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