The Auto Train passing through Folkston, Georgia in 2005.
|Service type||Inter-city rail|
|Former operator(s)||Auto-Train Corporation|
259,944 total (FY11)
|Distance travelled||855 miles (1,376 km)|
|Average journey time||17 hours, 30 minutes|
|Class(es)||Superliner Coach and Sleeper|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Operating speed||70 mph (110 km/h)|
|Track owner(s)||CSX, CFRC|
Auto Train is an 855-mile-long (1,376 km) scheduled train service for passengers and their automobiles operated by Amtrak between Lorton, Virginia (near Washington, D.C.), and Sanford, Florida (near Orlando). Although there are similar services around the world, the Auto Train is the only one of its kind in the United States. The Auto Train is the only north–south Amtrak train in the east to use Superliner cars.
Passengers ride either in coach seats or private sleeping car rooms while their vehicles (car, van, sport utility vehicle, motorcycle, small trailer, or jet-ski) are carried in enclosed automobile-carrying freight cars, called autoracks. The train also includes lounge cars and dining cars. The Auto Train service allows its passengers to avoid driving Interstate 95 in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, while bringing their own vehicle with them.
The service operates as train 53 southbound and 52 northbound, making no station stops between its terminals at Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida. Amtrak's Auto Train is the successor to an earlier similarly named service operated by the privately owned Auto-Train Corporation in the 1970s.
During fiscal year 2011, the Auto Train carried over 250,000 passengers, a 6.4% increase over FY2010. The train had a total revenue of US$68,618,768 in FY2011, an increase of 12.5% over FY2010. The Auto Train had the highest revenue of any long-distance train in the Amtrak system.
The original Auto-Train operated on Seaboard Coast Line Railroad and Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac tracks. It was operated by Auto-Train Corporation, a privately owned railroad founded by Eugene K. Garfield. Garfield had worked at the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Department had funded a study of the practicality of an automobile-train service. Garfield resigned and used the study as the blueprint for his enterprise. The company used its own rolling stock to provide a unique rail transportation service for both passengers and their automobiles in the United States, operating scheduled service between Lorton, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., and Sanford, Florida, near Orlando, Florida.:15
Passengers rode either in wide coach seats or private first-class sleeping compartments while their vehicles were carried in enclosed autoracks. The train included dining cars and meals were served. The equipment of the Auto-Train Corporation was painted in red, white, and purple colors. The typical train was equipped with two or three General Electric U36B diesel-electric locomotives, 75 ft (22.86 m) double-deck auto carriers, streamlined passenger cars, including coaches, dining cars, sleeping cars, and 85 ft (25.91 m) full-dome cars, and a caboose, then an unusual sight on most passenger trains. Auto-Train's first auto carriers were acquired used, and started life in the 1950s as an innovation of the Canadian National (CN) Railroad. The CN bi-level autorack cars had end-doors. They were huge by the standards of the time; each 75-footer (23.86 m) could carry 8 vehicles.:25:198
Auto-Train Corporation's new service began operations on December 6, 1971. The Auto-Train was immediately popular with the traveling public and at first enjoyed financial success as well. In FY 1974 the company earned turned a profit of $1.6 million on revenues of $20 million. In May 1974 service began over a second route between Florida and Louisville, Kentucky, and the company was mulling additional service between Chicago and Denver.:198 The Louisville extension proved to be the company's undoing. The decaying Louisville and Nashville Railroad track between Louisville and Florida (which also hampered Amtrak's Floridian) hindered operations, and a pair of derailments stretched the company's finances to the breaking point. Service ceased in April 1981.:59
After a period of 22 months without service, the service was revived by the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, better known as Amtrak, the corporation that operates most intercity passenger trains in the United States. Amtrak acquired the terminals in Lorton and Sanford and some of the Auto-Train equipment. On October 30, 1983, it introduced its new version of the service (under the slightly modified name "Auto Train") on a triweekly basis. Daily service was introduced a year later.
Amtrak continued to use the bi-level and the tri-level autoracks that Auto-Train had used. For passenger equipment, it initially used a mixture of former Auto-Train railcars and mid-century long-distance railcars from Amtrak's general fleet, all rebuilt to Amtrak's "Heritage Fleet" standards. In the mid-1990s, Amtrak replaced all these passenger railcars, which were of the conventional single-level type, with its newer, bi-level Superliner I and II equipment. In 2006, the aging bi-level, tri-level, and "van" autoracks were phased out and replaced with 80 new autoracks. Unlike the old racks, the new racks have uniform heights, and are most similar to the "vans" of the previous fleet. As of 2009[update], an Auto Train consist is normally made up of two General Electric P42 diesel-electric locomotives (and sometimes a third engine) and forty or more railcars (passenger and autorack), for a total length of a 3⁄4-mile (1.2 km) or more. A typical train has: 1 transition sleeper (for the crew), 6 sleepers (including a deluxe sleeper), 1 diner and 1 lounge for sleeper passengers, 4 coach cars, and 2 diners and 1 lounge for coach passengers, and 20-30 autoracks which run on the rear. There is no caboose.
Amtrak's Auto Train is often said to have the longest passenger train in the world, although (as mentioned above) it may be best regarded as a mixed train, rather than as a pure passenger train. Currently, two Auto Train consists are in simultaneous operation each day. At 4:00 pm, there are departures from both the Lorton and Sanford terminals. Florence, South Carolina, is the only scheduled stop on the 855-mile (1,376 km) run: at this stop, the train is refueled and serviced and the engine crew and conductors are changed, but no passengers are entrained or detrained. Each train is scheduled to arrive at the other end the next morning at 9:30 am, for an endpoint-to-endpoint average speed of about 49 miles per hour (79 km/h).
In fiscal year 2006, Amtrak's Auto Train carried about 207,444 passengers, including 87,802 sleeper passengers. The train is notable, especially within the Amtrak system, for the high quality of its equipment and of its customer service. The train grossed $49,351,664 in ticket revenue in Fiscal Year 2006, making it Amtrak's highest grossing single train. With total expenses of $62.1 million, it is Amtrak's best-paying long distance train in terms of income in comparison with operating expenses. This popularity has Amtrak exploring other possible routes for this service, with a Chicago-Phoenix route being considered, among others.
Auto Train operates on the same route it and its predecessor have always used, with a majority of the route owned by CSX Transportation & 16 miles of track being owned by Sunrail. The trains are known by their route numbers (53 Southbound, 52 Northbound) internal to Amtrak. When communicating on the CSX road channels, they are known by their CSX designations: P-053xx and P-052xx, where xx is the 2-digit date at which the train departed its origin station. So a Southbound train that departed on the 23rd of the month would be known as CSX P-05323 on the road channels. This allows for unique identification in the event that 2 trains on the same route are operating simultaneously.
In the January 2011 issue of Trains magazine, this route was listed as one of five routes to be looked at by Amtrak in FY 2012 and examined like previous routes (Sunset, Eagle, Zephyr, Capitol, and Cardinal) were examined in FY 2010.
The Auto Train was the last Amtrak service to permit smoking on board. Amtrak discontinued the practice on June 1, 2013, and began permitting passengers to alight at the Florence service stop to smoke.
The train operates every day. At 11:30 am, the station gates are opened to allow the passengers for the next trip into the vehicle staging area. Here, the vehicles are assigned their number, which is affixed to the driver's door magnetically. The vehicle is typically video surveyed to document any preexisting dents and other damage, in the event a damage claim is later filed. The passengers leave their vehicles here and take their carry-on bags with them into the station to await boarding. The vehicles are then staged near the autorack ramps by size and length for optimal loading order, and are then loaded onto the autoracks. In the case of motorcycles, the owner assists with tying their bikes down to a dedicated motorcycle carrier which is then loaded into the autorack. Passengers do not have access to their vehicles during the trip.
By 2pm, the last motorcycles, vehicle/trailer combinations and Priority offloading vehicles are accepted. Priority offloading is an time-saving option that Amtrak offers to its Auto Train passengers which would ensure that when the train reaches Lorton or Sanford, their vehicle would be one of the first 20 vehicles offloaded from the autoracks.
Boarding begins at 2:30 pm. At 3 pm, a wine and cheese tasting is offered in the lounge cars. [Now discontinued as of late March 2014.]
The last vehicles and passengers are accepted up until 3 pm (changing to 2:30 pm effective Sept. 1, 2014), at which time the autoracks are closed and coupled together, the passenger cars are coupled together in the case of Sanford departures, and the autoracks are coupled to the rear of the consist. At 4 pm, the locomotive engineer is given clearance to occupy the main line, and the train departs the station to begin its run.
There are 2, 3 or even 4 dinner seatings, depending on how full the train is. Dinner (included in the ticket price) is served in the dining cars at 5, 7, and, when there is a third seating, 9 pm. Each seating is announced over the intercoms in each car, and in each sleeping compartment. Sleeping class passengers have 4 options at 4:30, 6 pm, 7:30 and 9 pm. After the first dinner seating, a recent movie is shown on televisions in the lounge cars, which is repeated later in the evening. After midnight, the train arrives in Florence, South Carolina, where it stops briefly to be refueled and re-watered. A crew change also occurs here for the train and engine crew.
At 6 am, the dining car crew serves breakfast. No announcement is made for this seating until 7 am, however. Breakfast is served until 8 am.
As the train approaches the destination station, announcements are made concerning arrival time updates, and a general call for the passengers to gather up their personal belongings. At 9:30 am the train arrives in the destination station. Passengers may not immediately detrain at this point, as the autoracks are first decoupled from the consist, and in the case of the Sanford station, the passenger cars are split into two sections to fit on Sanford's shorter platforms. At this point the passengers are then allowed to detrain and move to the auto claim area. Cleaning crews move into the train once all passengers are off and the train is re-supplied with that day's food and water. The passenger cars' seat backs are all changed to allow everyone in seats to ride facing forward. The train's power (locomotive engines) is turned around, using a railway turntable in Lorton and a wye in Sanford.
The autoracks are further split into 4–6 sections and each section is lined up with a loading ramp (see picture). The doors between each are opened, and connecting ramps are lowered to allow vehicles to move between cars. At this point vehicles begin to roll off the autoracks and around to the claim area, where they are identified and announced by the vehicle number that was attached to the vehicle at the origin station. Vehicles are not unloaded in the same order they were loaded the previous day. It normally takes two hours to unload all vehicles from a full train.
Lorton, Virginia is about a half-hour drive south of Washington, D.C., just off Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia. Amtrak's new Lorton terminal opened in early 2000 as a replacement for the original station built during the 1970s, and features a large, modern waiting area with high glass walls. The station was designed by architect Hanny Hassan. The suspended sculpture in the lobby was designed by Patrick Sheridan. Outside the waiting room are the tracks where passenger cars are set out for boarding. The platform is 1,480 feet (451 m) long.
Sanford, Florida is the southern terminus and is about a half-hour drive north of Orlando. The original facility was an older and smaller facility than the terminal at Lorton. Currently, the Auto Train loads its passengers on two tracks in Sanford, as no one track is long enough to accommodate all the passenger railcars. Sanford's operation is also unique in that a railroad crossing runs through the middle of the rail yard. This complicates some switching procedures and also produces the need for a three-man yard conductor crew – conductor, assistant conductor, and footboards – as opposed to Lorton's two-man operation (conductor and assistant conductor). Both yards operate with one engineer. Sanford serves as the main mechanical and maintenance location for Auto Train, with diesel and car shops to service the fleet.
- "Amtrak Ridership Rolls Up Best-Ever Records" (PDF). Amtrak. October 13, 2011. Retrieved February 7, 2012.
- One (REALLY) Big, Really Happy Family. The Auto Train—Where Relative Strangers Become Relatives.
- Ely, Wally (2009). Images of Rail: Auto-Train. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7385-6785-3.
- Lukasiewicz, Julius (1976). The Railway Game. McGill-Queen's University Press.
- Leatherbee, Mary (March 24, 1972). All Aboard! Cars and People 72 (11). Life. pp. 54–57. Retrieved 2012-10-11.
- National Transportation Safety Board (October 21, 1976). "Railroad Accident Report: Auto-Train Corporation Train Derailment on the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Near Jarratt, Virginia, May 5, 1976". Transportation Research Board. NTSB-RAR-76-11.
- National Transportation Safety Board (September 21, 1978). "Railroad Accident Report—Derailment of Auto-Train No. 4 on Seaboard Coast Line Railroad, Florence, South Carolina, February 24, 1978". Transportation Research Board. NTSB-RAR-78-6.
- Amtrak September 2006 Monthly Report, pp. A-3.3 and A-3.4, http://www.amtrak.com/pdf/0609monthly.pdf. Retrieved May 7, 2006
- retrieved May 16, 2010 Amtrak riders express love of Auto Train
- Amtrak September 2006 Monthly Report, pg. C-1, http://www.amtrak.com/pdf/0609monthly.pdf. Retrieved May 7, 2006
- On Track On Line – Amtrak Auto Train Travel Tips
- "Amtrak's Improvement Wish List", Trains, January 2011, 20–21.
- "Auto Train: No Smoking Policy Begins Aboard Auto Train". Amtrak. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
- Auto Train Boarding and Vehicle Requirements
- Disney World Transportation Information – Transportation – Auto Train Info
- Amtrak Planning & Booking: Auto Train – Your Car, Your Stuff and You
- Patrick Sheridan
- Amtrak (October 18, 2010). "NEW AMTRAK AUTO TRAIN STATION IS OPEN IN SANFORD".
- Amtrak's page on the Auto Train
- ThemeTrains.com – The Story of the 1971–1981 auto-train
- Bill's Railroad Empire—the original Auto-Train page N-scale modeling
- George Elwood's Fallen Flags site, original Auto-Train pages Lots of locomotive and rolling stock photos
- Transcribed text of an Auto-Train Corporation brochure (described as a "1971 brochure", although it must actually be from the period 1974–77), including information on the short-lived Louisville-to-Sanford Auto-Train route
- Diesel shop rail photo site Photo of Auto-Train diesel-electric locomotive when almost new
- Photos and data, Amtrak autoracks
- Orlando Sentinel newspaper article about Auto-Train Corporation and Amtrak's Auto Train replacement