What if every LD train was an Auto Train?

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daybeers

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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.
I think you're emphasizing the wrong word: train instead of auto. I just don't know why you're advocating more VMT, however low that number is.

Regarding your truck shuttle idea, again how is that easier than just running an intermodal train? No need for beds or time-consuming and complicated truck trailer-on-rails maneuvers. That was tried with RoadRailers and there's a reason they're not around anymore.

@me_little_me why the angry reaction?
 
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@me_little_me why the angry reaction?
Because I think your statements are out of the ballpark.

I don't know if you have been renting cars lately on your own dime, but rental car companies have become worse and worse in the last few years (Covid aside). Service, costs, ripoff add-ons, misleading pricing, attitude and reliability IMHO have been going downhill. It was a bit different when my company paid for the car rental. I could tell the rental company they could discuss it with our corporate attorneys, could simply tell them to keep their car and rent from another company (my company always backed me on this) and file a complaint with my company (which got a communication from them as we were a big customer).

My car moved 800 miles by train is much better than renting a car when the costs are right or the decision is the best overall. I have a fuel efficient car that I know the condition of; don't have to fight third party companies trying to blame me for problems; a reliable, trustworthy insurance company; my own vehicle where I can go or not go at will; familiarity with the vehicle; ability to have emergency tools I want; car safety options I want; no extras required; etc, etc.

How using a rental car rather than my own car in an area where a car is required causes urban sprawl is seemingly in outer space. Urban sprawl is related to living in one place and commuting to work or driving to stores, fitness centers, etc. not to visiting places with little or no usable public transportation and places of interest.

As to cost, Amtrak needs to decide if multiple trains pulling vehicles is practical, how to implement it if possible and have an open mind on alternatives. They do not have an open mind on anything IMHO, have more interest in cutting costs than adding revenue, don't like working with third parties, don't like giving out any information to their customers (passengers, cities and states that hire them to run trains) or their owners (the American people and the government represented by congress) and don't like partners (witness their poor treatment of Private Varnish).

I thought my "comment" was sufficient. You asked.
 
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tgstubbs1

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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.
Plus another option is driving all the way.

So also compare the costs to drive vs. the cost of Auto Train.

Also if you consider the person that might rent a car consider that person would probably be better flying. It's often cheaper and faster.
 

tgstubbs1

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Not everyone can/will fly
True, but if you want to base your travel plans purely on economics I think that is the conclusion most Americans come to. Then a big segment drive the entire distance. So I think it's important to compare these options with Auto train as well as riding and renting a car.
 
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Also if you consider the person that might rent a car consider that person would probably be better flying. It's often cheaper and faster.
well, yes, that's true, but some people just prefer to take the train. They may consider the experience part of the vacation, or they may be part of the population who can't or won't fly. A former colleague once had a trip to Disney planned for his family, but then he had eye surgery, and the doctor told him he couldn't fly. So he went down on the train instead.
 

tgstubbs1

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well, yes, that's true, but some people just prefer to take the train. They may consider the experience part of the vacation, or they may be part of the population who can't or won't fly. A former colleague once had a trip to Disney planned for his family, but then he had eye surgery, and the doctor told him he couldn't fly. So he went down on the train instead.

I think Auto train(s) could take away business from airlines and self drivers.
But if there isn't an Auto train that suits their needs. If they don't have some specific needs or preference that you mention they will probably continue their current method, unless they are afraid of witnessing a violent confrontation on a packed, disease ridden, airbus, like I am.😁
 
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Qapla

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I think that is the conclusion most Americans come to. Then a big segment drive the entire distance.

That's partly due to them thinking those are the only options open to them. It is surprising how many people don't know passenger trains still exist.

Amtrak needs to start some aggressive ad campaigns once they have trains running again. If people knew/realized there was a third alternative that doesn't involve taking a bus, train ridership would most likely go up - even without auto trains to take their cars.

Another thought about auto carriers added to LD trains (if there was a feasible way to load/unload them without huge, expensive facilities) is the EV users. Many of them may be inclined to take their car because renting an EV is not the standard yet - and their car could be charged while they traveled on the train.
 

toddinde

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The Northeast to Florida is a unique market. An auto train is a hugely labor intensive endeavor, with expensive, unique equipment. Who are the subset of people who really want to take their own car on vacation rather than renting a car? They’re people who will be spending enough time at their destination to make the cost of putting their car on the train worthwhile, like a month or two. The Florida snowbirds. A ski vacation to Colorado is not that kind of trip. Unless the charge to bring a car is cheap, people won’t do it. In a world of rental cars and Uber’s, it’s hard to think of a market where the juice would be worth the squeeze.
 

jis

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I agree. I suspect the Auto Train would have difficulty sustaining itself if there was not such a huge Snowbird population migrating to and fro.

Northeast to Florida taken as a group at both ends is the largest domestic air market in the US too.
 

Seaboard92

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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.

The most interesting of these that couldn't happen in the USA is a service like the Sylt Shuttle. It is the only Auto-Train I know of that you don't only drive onto the train you ride in your vehicle for a pretty decently long trip. I would think riding your car on a train for 45 minutes a pretty long example. And they are all open air autoracks think of the amazing view. Get there early get the lead spot on the upper deck of an autorack and it's like a dome view.

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.

Now that is really rather interesting and I would love to get a copy of the original study myself. Not because I want to open an Auto Train (Granted I've had dumber ideas and done those) but I just want to read the study. I'm wondering if it is someone who is thinking he could make a run with it. We don't obviously know what his job title is but lets say he is in management. He probably would know how to work with the private railroads to get a new service started. So maybe there is a glimmer of hope on this. I wonder where I could get a copy of the original study again purely from curiosity. Or at least that's what I'm telling my girlfriend.

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.

Well I think originally that train ran independent. Now the problem for the Floridian/South Wind wasn't the Auto-Train on it but really it was Penn Central's abysmal track in the state of Indiana. The L&N was in a vastly better shape in that time period, same with the Seaboard Coastline. I think the proble mwith Louisville was the location. There are plenty of snow birds coming out of the Midwest too and far worse weather to deal with. The problem was I would have located the station further north. I think they were trying to save on a trainset and that didn't really work well for the business model.
 
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The Northeast to Florida is a unique market. An auto train is a hugely labor intensive endeavor, with expensive, unique equipment. Who are the subset of people who really want to take their own car on vacation rather than renting a car? They’re people who will be spending enough time at their destination to make the cost of putting their car on the train worthwhile, like a month or two. The Florida snowbirds. A ski vacation to Colorado is not that kind of trip. Unless the charge to bring a car is cheap, people won’t do it. In a world of rental cars and Uber’s, it’s hard to think of a market where the juice would be worth the squeeze.
The only thing that has skewed that argument is the recent shortage/outrageous pricing of rental cars in many markets. If things ever return to "normal" you are absolutely correct.
 
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The most interesting of these that couldn't happen in the USA is a service like the Sylt Shuttle. It is the only Auto-Train I know of that you don't only drive onto the train you ride in your vehicle for a pretty decently long trip. I would think riding your car on a train for 45 minutes a pretty long example. And they are all open air autoracks think of the amazing view. Get there early get the lead spot on the upper deck of an autorack and it's like a dome view.
The English Channel car shuttle is similar, although a bit shorter. The car carriers are enclosed however, since the view ain't that great.
 

Seaboard92

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I think your problems you have with the original Midwest Auto Train were really the end points. Louisville was too far south of Chicago. I see that Louisville has a good catchment area Cincinnati, Dayton, Indianapolis, Columbus, and St. Louis. But if you are going to drive that far you are probably going to drive the rest of the way. Putting it in Chicago area makes sense. Then you are right up there on Chicago, Northern Indiana, and Milwaukee. And you probably could pull out of Michigan as well.
 
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The Northeast to Florida is a unique market. An auto train is a hugely labor intensive endeavor, with expensive, unique equipment. Who are the subset of people who really want to take their own car on vacation rather than renting a car? They’re people who will be spending enough time at their destination to make the cost of putting their car on the train worthwhile, like a month or two. The Florida snowbirds. A ski vacation to Colorado is not that kind of trip. Unless the charge to bring a car is cheap, people won’t do it. In a world of rental cars and Uber’s, it’s hard to think of a market where the juice would be worth the squeeze.
Totally disagree. If you're thinking of the present Auto-train as a model, I'd suggest you could be right but many of us in this forum are not thinking of 19 car carriers on a train - just ONE to start. And not necessarily on every train. When that car is continually booked up, then consider more cars or more city pairs or whatever. And there are alternatives to Amtrak doing it all themselves.

I would add me to the list of users wherever it was possible for me to go that way. It's the freedom to route how and where I want. I can drive to the nearest loading city, put my car on to the end point (and that doesn't have to be where the train ends up), pick up MY car and drive and tour my way to a different train to go as much as possible home then drive the rest of the way. It's real freedom. And a lot less than those rental drop-off charges. The convenience of my car combined with the reduced driving of the train.
 
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If one could locate a Chicago area terminal well, it could serve multiple routes. One to Florida and another west, perhaps varying seasonally (and probably not daily).
 
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I think your problems you have with the original Midwest Auto Train were really the end points. Louisville was too far south of Chicago. I see that Louisville has a good catchment area Cincinnati, Dayton, Indianapolis, Columbus, and St. Louis. But if you are going to drive that far you are probably going to drive the rest of the way.
Yes, southbound at Louisville is about where the weather gets better most winters.
 

jis

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I would submit that the relative commercial success of the Virginia - Central Florida Auto Train has a lot to do with its 18 or so hours running time which makes it possible for it to operate with just two sets of most expensive things.

But as pointed out, that has relatively little to do with a model where each train is envisaged to carry an auto carrier or two. There the expensive thing will be the staff and facilities at the points where those carriers are loaded and unloaded and attached/detached to/from the train, and the incremental fares brought in would likely be expected to cover a substantial part of the incremental cost.
 

toddinde

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Totally disagree. If you're thinking of the present Auto-train as a model, I'd suggest you could be right but many of us in this forum are not thinking of 19 car carriers on a train - just ONE to start. And not necessarily on every train. When that car is continually booked up, then consider more cars or more city pairs or whatever. And there are alternatives to Amtrak doing it all themselves.

I would add me to the list of users wherever it was possible for me to go that way. It's the freedom to route how and where I want. I can drive to the nearest loading city, put my car on to the end point (and that doesn't have to be where the train ends up), pick up MY car and drive and tour my way to a different train to go as much as possible home then drive the rest of the way. It's real freedom. And a lot less than those rental drop-off charges. The convenience of my car combined with the reduced driving of the train.
I don’t know what the size of this very niche market is. I know that B&O/C&O tried it between Chicago and Washington. It might get some following. Twice weekly Chicago-LA/Chicago-Bay Area/Chicago-Northwest/Chicago-Texas. I’m not a guy who likes to rain on ideas. Maybe start with a twice weekly to Denver or LA, and see how it goes. I still think the terminal costs are a killer. It will also delay the trains that have the cars attached. A switch engine has to pull the cars off the rear of the train, and passengers have to get off. A crew then has to drive the autos off the auto racks. It just seems like a huge investment when if Amtrak just marketed their trains, ridership would increase without all the capital costs.
 

Cal

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What is this "if" you speak of?
Agreed, Amtrak does market their trains fairly frequently. I see ads on TV during prime-time fairly frequently, and I've also heard ads from then on Spotify. I don't recall hearing/seeing ads for long distance trains though.
 

Qapla

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@Cal looks like you're in Southern California - are the ads on TV on "local" stations or "network" stations. Also, are they for all of Amtrak or the Amtrak trains in California?

I ask because I don't see any ads on TV where I live in Florida for Amtrak. My brother has heard ads on the radio when he is in Tamps - but there have not been any on the radio stations from Jacksonville and/or Gainesville.

And the ads that he has heard have certainly not qualified as "fairly frequently"
 

Cal

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@Cal looks like you're in Southern California - are the ads on TV on "local" stations or "network" stations. Also, are they for all of Amtrak or the Amtrak trains in California?
Honestly I don't exactly remember but I'm pretty sure it was network, and just the surfline.

Online (YouTube, Instagram, and just general browsing) I have seen Amtrak ads, IIRC for the NEC, California, and long distance.
 

Qapla

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Regular TV ads during primetime network TV shows would be good ... maybe not Superbowl ads - but advertising during sports events would be a start
 
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