Riding Aboard Amtrak’s Auto Train

Amtrak’s Auto Train is a fun and unique
way to travel between the Northeastern United States and Florida. This is the only train in the Amtrak system
to provide passengers with the option of bringing a personal vehicle on board. There are only two stations on the Auto Train’s
route – the end terminals of Lorton, Virginia, located on the southern outskirts of Washington
D.C. and Sanford, Florida which is just to the north of Orlando – a popular tourist destination
both summer and winter. The only scheduled intermediate stop for the
train is in Florence, South Carolina for a train crew change. In the spring of 2019 while on a trip to Florida,
I was invited by Amtrak’s Social Media Department to travel on board the Auto Train from Sanford,
Florida to Lorton, Virginia and return to work with them on a special video project
for Amtrak’s 48th Anniversary. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for
me to show what it’s like to ride on board one of Amtrak’s premiere long distance trains. So sit right back and enjoy the ride as we
travel from Sanford to Lorton and return on board the Auto Train! I arrived at the Sanford Loading Terminal
just after 1 PM to begin my Auto Train Adventure. There was already a long line of cars waiting
to get in. Sanford is the main maintenance facility for
the Auto Train and all of the day to day repairs on the locomotives and cars are done here. Amtrak also does some maintenance work for
Orlando Florida’s Sun Rail commuter train. After checking in at the gate and walking
into the beautiful station building, I was escorted around the Sanford Terminal by Amtrak
to capture photos of the facility as well as some photos of the interior of the train
prior to the scheduled boarding time. We will take a more in depth look at the vehicle
loading and unloading process in Lorton. Passenger boarding began at 2 PM sharp. This afternoon’s departure would be completely
full, with many travelers from the Northeast returning home after a spring vacation down
in Florida. After grabbing a few more stills of the train
from the boarding platform, I stepped back on board. Just before 4 PM, we departed Sanford. Since the last vehicles are accepted on the
Auto Train at 2:30 PM, the train can depart as soon as boarding has completed. As a result, the Auto Train will frequently
leave a little early from its points of origin. Immediately after departing Sanford, the train
rolls past the Sun Rail Sanford Commuter Station. Shortly thereafter, we’d cross over the
St. Johns River. Other than a brief stretch of track out of
Sanford that is owned by the state of Florida, the rail lines we would be traveling over
on our journey to Lorton are owned by CSX Transportation. The Auto Train continued north through Florida
passing by several small towns as we headed toward Jacksonville. Auto Train is the longest regularly scheduled
passenger train in the world, frequently reaching 50 rail cars or more in length. That’s over 4/5th of a mile! This particular train was 50 cars in length,
17 of which were passenger cars with the remaining 33 rail cars being bi level vehicle carriers,
often called “Autoracks”. The passenger cars on the train are bi level
cars known as “Superliners”. Amtrak’s Auto Train runs once a day in each
direction, traveling a distance of 855 miles. The train is scheduled to leave both end terminals
at 4 PM, arriving just minutes before 9 AM the next morning at the other end of the line. This was a full train with over 320 vehicles
and 550 people on board. There would be three dinner seatings in the
dining car at 5PM, 7PM, and 9PM to accommodate all of the passengers. I was given a 9 PM dinner ticket which gave
me the opportunity to explore the train for a little while. The Auto Train is divided into two sections. The first section on our train was the sleeping
car section and the second was the coach section. Each section has a separate dining car and
lounge car. For sleeping car passengers, a sightseer lounge
car is typically used, which provides for some great viewing opportunities of the scenery
as the train passes by. There is also a cafe section on the lower
level of the lounge where you can get various snacks and beverages. After enjoying the sights for a few minutes,
I retuned to my room. There are three different sleeping car room
types to choose from: Roomettes, Family Bedrooms, and Deluxe Bedrooms. Roomettes feature a bunk bed that converts
into two seats that face each other for travel during the daytime. Family bedrooms feature a bench seat for three
plus an additional stand alone seat that converts into 4 bunk beds. The deluxe bedrooms feature a similar bench
seat with an extra separate seat setup that converts to a two person bunk, but they also
have their own restroom, sink, and shower inside the sleeping compartment. We will take a closer look at one of the deluxe
rooms on the return trip from Lorton. Showers and restrooms for roomette passengers
and the family bedroom are located on the lower level of each sleeping car. Most of the sleeping cars are divided into
two sections on the upper level. Half of the level contains deluxe bedrooms
and the other half features roomettes. The lower level has more roomettes and a family
bedroom like the one I am staying in. Two and a half hours into our journey, we
reach the outskirts of Jacksonville and roll over the Ortega River. Jacksonville is the largest city in Florida
with a population of nearly 900,000. Interestingly enough, it is also the largest
city by area in the contiguous United States. As we approach the massive freight yard in
Jacksonville, we come to a well known “Horseshoe Curve”, making for an interesting view of
the rest of the train out the window. Jacksonville is a station stop for Amtrak’s
Silver Meteor and Silver Star which also run along portions of this rail corridor. The auto train, however, makes no intermediate
station stops for passengers, so we continue to roll right on through. It wouldn’t be long before we’d cross
into Georgia. With the sun inching closer to the horizon,
we pass through the small town of Folkston, Georgia. Folkston is a well known spot for railroad
enthusiasts to watch trains passing by, featuring a “Railfan” Train viewing platform similar
to the one that is located in Rochelle, Illinois. As we continued our journey north, I enjoyed
watching the setting sun through the trees. Around 8 PM, the car attendant came by to
transform my room from a sitting area into a bedroom. Shortly after, I went off to the dining car
for a late dinner and then it was off to bed. During the night, the auto train would pass
through South Carolina, making its one and only scheduled stop in Florence for a locomotive
crew change. After departing Florence, the train would
continue north, traveling through North Carolina and into Virginia. I was greeted the next morning by a mix of
thick clouds and sunlight as the sun made an attempt to break through. We were well into Virginia and only about
an hour from Lorton. This last segment of the trip would take us
along the banks of the Potomac as we entered the Washington D.C. Metro Area. Before I knew it, we were arriving at Lorton
almost a half hour early. The train came to a stop before reaching the
boarding platform and the Autorack cars were detached from the end of the train by another
locomotive. The switching crew would then break the auto
racks into shorter strings so they could be unloaded simultaneously, greatly speeding
up the vehicle unloading process. With the Autoracks uncoupled, we pulled up
to the platform where I was once again escorted around the facility. The Amtrak yard crew had wasted no time in
breaking the vehicle carriers into sections as they began the unloading process. Even on a busy day, the yard crew can get
the train unloaded in little more than an hour. Each vehicle is given a large magnetic number
that is applied to the side doors when it is dropped off. As vehicles are unloaded, they are driven
up to the front Portico of the station where they are reclaimed by their owners. For an additional fee, Amtrak offers priority
unloading. This will guarantee that your vehicle is one
of the first 30 to be unloaded. The Auto Train accepts all sorts of different
vehicles and even trailers and motorcycles, but there are certain clearance requirements. Be sure to check both Amtrak’s website for
restrictions as well as your vehicle for proper clearance if you are planning on taking the
Auto Train. I took a brief break from watching the vehicle
unloading to see the switch locomotive moving some more autoracks around in the yard. Locomotive 508 is a P32-BWH type built by
General Electric in 1991 for Amtrak. These locomotives were originally used on
long distance and corridor trains in the western United States and out of Chicago. While they aren’t seen in revenue passenger
service too much these days, they are still hard at work as switcher locomotives in yards
all over the Amtrak system. I took a break from watching the yard operations
to meet up with the Amtrak Social Media team. After we were done, I walked across the street
for some lunch and then back to the Lorton Station. By the time I had returned, the locomotives
that pulled my train up the previous night had been moved to the other end of the passenger
car set for the return trip to Florida. These are General Electric P40DC locomotives,
built in 1993. A group of several of these locomotives is
kept in permanent Auto Train service. These units rarely travel to other parts of
the Amtrak System and it is just as rare for other Amtrak locomotives to be used on the
Auto Train. I walked back over toward the station building. The front of the Lorton Station is beautifully
landscaped with trees, grass, some benches, and a play area for kids. The Lorton terminal is quite convenient for
travelers, being located just 15 miles from Washington D.C. This particular structure was built in 2000
to replace the original station. My return trip would be significantly less
crowded, with most of the spring break traveling done for the season. It wasn’t long before I was boarding the
train and we were getting ready to leave Lorton. Once again, the train departed right on time,
in fact a minute or two early. After pulling to the south end of the yard,
the vehicle carriers were attached to the end of the train and we were on our way, passing
once again along the Potomac River on our journey southbound. In the dining car, tables were already being
set for dinner. For the return trip, I had one of the Deluxe
Bedrooms and as promised, here is a view of the interior. The sun was starting to break through the
clouds, so I decided to walk down to the lounge car to enjoy the views as we left the Washington
DC metro area behind. The Auto Train is not only a unique long distance
train in the Amtrak system, it also has a very unique history. Auto Train began as a privately operated passenger
service run by a company called Auto-Train Corporation. The service started in December of 1971, just
months after the US Government created Amtrak. While the initial route between Sanford and
Lorton was moderately successful, the company over expanded to a second route that was not
very well suited for passenger rail. In 1981, the company went out of business. Just two years later in 1983, Amtrak purchased
the terminals at Lorton and Sanford and restarted service on a tri-weekly and shortly thereafter
daily basis. Today, Auto Train is one of Amtrak’s premiere
trains with approximately a quarter million riders each year. I had an early 5 o’clock dinner ticket on
the return trip and before I knew it, I was off to the Dining Car for the 5 PM seating. Hey everyone, so we’re just rolling south here, just south of Richmond, Virginia right now. Just came back from dinner. I got the lasagna and it was actually really good. I’m going to go to the lounge car in a few minutes to look at some more sights before sunset and then it’s off to bed and down to Florida, so we’ll see you soon! After a bit of sightseeing in the Lounge, I returned
to my room to find my bed already turned down and ready for the night ahead. I decided to enjoy the sights and sounds as
we passed through towns on our southbound journey before finally calling it a night. I awoke the next morning to find the train
already south of Jacksonville and moving along at a decent clip. We would be to Sanford in no time at all. In the dining car, passengers were enjoying
a light continental breakfast. I continued through to the Lounge car. I was up early enough that I had the lounge
car all to myself for a while. As rain started to fall, I was very glad to
be on board the train rather than driving on the wet roads. On a much sunnier day, we see the auto train
from the outside as it passes through DeLand, Florida. Back onboard, we pass by the DeLand depot,
currently served by Amtrak’s Silver Meteor and Silver Star. As we neared Sanford, I returned to my room
for the last time. And just like that, we were pulling into Sanford
at 9AM, bringing my trip aboard the AutoTrain to an end. Hey everyone, thanks again for joining me
on my trip aboard Amtrak’s Auto train. A big thank you to Nicole, the Social Media
Team, and everyone else at Amtrak for making this happen. Especially, I’d like to thank all the staff
at Lorton and Sanford and everyone on board the train as well as Cindy and Keith. Thank you so much, you run a first class operation
all the way. Also, be sure to check out the 48th Anniversary
video I did with Amtrak if you haven’t already seen it, I’ll provide links in the description. If you liked this video and want to see me
do more videos like this in the future, be sure to give this video a like and leave a
comment below. And finally, if you’ve never done it, I
highly recommend taking the Auto Train if you’re ever traveling between the northeast
and Florida and want to bring your vehicle. This was my first overnight train ride and
it really was an excellent experience. There’s something that’s just so relaxing
about riding on the train, feeling the car rocking back and forth and watching the world
go by and you don’t have to deal with driving in traffic on I-95. The schedule for this train is really great
too because you leave in the afternoon and by the  time you wake up the next morning,
you’ve gone nearly 1000 miles all the way to your destination. And the Auto Train is almost always on time. So overall, just a great experience and I
definitely recommend it. Well, that’s it for now. Until next time, I’m Mike Armstrong. I’ll see you down the line! Thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “Riding Aboard Amtrak’s Auto Train

  1. Mike, great video. Its not to often i watch a video more than once but this one I do. Besides no loud music which makes feel like I'm riding along with you.

  2. For all train goers it's basically a regular train but you can take your car from one shittty city to another even more shitty city.

  3. Not mentioned in this video – Autotrain is one of the few money maker for Amtrak, pulling in more revenue than it spends. The Northeast Corridor and Chicago to Detroit are the other two stretches in the network that are profitable.

  4. The Auto Train is my favorite. I pretty much grew up on it, since it was the primary way to get to Disney for me and my family. I've never had a sightseer on my trips, typically it's a dining car which has been converted into the lounge.

    Until the most recent journey, returning home from school, the Auto Train was either On-time or EARLY! The most recent was delayed by a quad on the tracks.

  5. Man what a terrible train. Loud, it looks dated, slow as hell. The US will never have good passenger train systems like most of Europe, Japan, & China.

  6. It's too bad that using public transport is looked down on here in the U.S.

    I see a lot of people complain about the lack of high speed trains here in the U. S, but I think that it is better to invest in commuter trains that have reliable time tables with speeds closer to 75-85 mph as opposed to 175 mph. Not to mention that once you get off the train station you also need a reliable bus service to take you to your destination.

  7. You did not report how dirty the restrooms after 5 or 6 hours. Most people did not use the restrooms until reaching Lorton or Sanford. You did not report how people was fighting to use the restrooms at the destination.

  8. Thank You taking the time to document and share this journey with the rest of us, I would love to see an auto train across our beautiful country!

  9. I wouldn't mind an Auto Train from Baltimore to Los Angeles.

    And do they also give you a designated seating time for breakfast?

  10. the Auto Train is just such an absolutely wonderful train. I hope I have an opportunity to take a trip on that one day. I love watching it zoom through Jacksonville.

  11. I rode Amtrak from Denver Colorado to Martinez California. One of the best experiences of my life.

    I went back in April on the California Zeper. It was snowing outside for most of the trip.
    My favorite part was passing through Utah at night. I sat in the Senic Car & watched the stars.

  12. Why the hell don’t they do this everywhere????think about how many highways would be cleared up crossing state lines…seems like Amtrak could finally compete with the airlines again for the first time in 60 years. You can’t take your family car on an airplane

  13. What doe you think about the price? $386 two way with 1 car. Quite expensive. However I would also prefer to ride this distance in a train instead of riding my car that long. Surely not through the night! Imagen if there would be a high speed train like the ICE (Germany) or TGV (France) it would only take abt 4 hours !!

  14. My husband and two little sons will be on the Auto Train in November. So, I am so happy you did this video, as there has never been a full length YT video about it of high quality. I cannot wait!

  15. My husband and I traveled from NY to Jacksonville last April in the Amtrak mateor. I was very surprised with the service. It was my first time and I was a little nervous about being in a train for so many hours. I brought my tablet and my cellphone to have better internet connection. We got a roomette in our way down and a large room in our way back. It was a pretty pleasant experience. The food was good also. I did have a little bit of a hard time sleeping but I guess it was normal given the train movement.

  16. You're so lucky that your train wasn't behind schedule. Last year I took Amtrak 97 Silver Meteor and was 14 hours behind schedule when it got to my stop at Deerfield Beach. An auto train was the cause of my train being 14 hours behind schedule.

  17. in either 1972 or 1973, the Amtrak Autotrain crashed in a tiny town called Hortense, which is about a 30 minute drive north of Folkston, after colliding with a logging truck on a crossing. One of the locomotives caught fire

  18. Who wants to listen to this dreadful nerd reading from an amtrak approved official script? as boring as christ and twice as stupid. a corpse would have written a better script.

  19. My husband and I rode the auto train. The ride was nice but the food was terrible. If we ever ride it again we decided we would take our own food.

  20. Is that the wheels squeaking off and on around 19:00. I don' t know if i could stand that the whole way.

  21. I recognized every railroad crossing from Sanford all the way up to until you passed the Amtrak station in Jacksonville. I pass a lot of them regularly. I'd also like to mention at 6:20, that's Yukon, not necessarily Jacksonville

  22. AutoTrain DOES NOT offer passengers the option of bringing their car with them Unless there's something new, AutoTrain only carries passengers who have booked their vehicles, too.

  23. As of January, 2020, Coach Passengers will no longer have a Dining Car for meals. Who knows what will be offered instead.

  24. If I live in the Northeast, I have to drive all the way to/from Lorton, VA. If I'm going to/from Orlando, Tampa or Miami, I have to drive to/from my FL destination. Why bother? I can drive to an airport and rent a car at my destination. Or I can take a regular train and rent a car. The AutoTrain hassle just ain't worth it to me.

  25. So, you love trains because you can travel on them. Interesting. I like trains because I really like (big) machines. Trains, carnival or amusement rides, buses, construction trucks, animatronic dinosaus (are machines), garbage trucks, fire trucks, monster trucks, etc.

  26. This one of your greatest videos (in my opinion) besides the toy trains, and the diesel engines galore videos. Do more of this – riding and showing more of Amtrak trains. It doesn't have to be on an auto train. You can also go to train museums. I don't think you do that.

  27. The last time I rode Amtrak we were stuck in the swamps of Georgia for 8 hours. No water, toilets backed up and nobody was allowed off the train. Notice I said the last time.

  28. Amtrash- they can’t even get it right knowing that you are posting this in exchange for a free ride. Out dated equipment, pointless point to point destinations, who wants to drive all the way to VA only to to get dumbed off in SANFORD! What’s that ? That meal plate was sloppy and the fork was disgraceful. But then again, this is what you get for Government subsidizing. Ever take a look at the 1980 web sit they have ? Good luck trying to figure out how to make a reservation and bless you if you have to call them and get a miserable, over paid , government subsidized employee… BTW! What the hell is deluxe about that ??? I’ll take Delta First Class from MY town to MY destination for half the price , a better meal, all the free alcohol I want , first on first off in 1-1/2 hours ….sadly our county just can’t keep up like ..oh let’s say, Japan or even France ….they have real trains that go 400 MPH….IN STYLE…BTW AMTRASH! Take a lesson. A continental breakfast is not a cup of cereal in a plastic trash bowel and one banana…true Continental is, an assortment of warm biscuits, hard rolls , sweet rolls, hard boiled eggs, toast, fresh squeezed OJ, , apple juice, cranberry juice , yogurt , coffee and tea. Of course you recommend it, you got it for free, bet you would never do it if you had to pay for it …

  29. Love the Auto Train so much. It was a pretty big part of my childhood in the early 2000s because both my parents worked on the Auto Train (in fact it's how they met). I remember riding on the train quite frequently since I live in Lorton.

  30. An auto train from Boston to Florida would be fabulous! Maybe some time in the future? But for now, we’ll take the drive to Virginia to board the train. Anything to avoid flying in a tin can in the sky!

  31. I have had the pleasure of taking the Auto Train and could not find anything to complain about. The service in the dining car was outstanding just like the food and several glasses of wine. The wine glass never got anywhere near being empty at any time in the dining car. Just like the video, my deluxe bedroom was turned down waiting for me to hit the bed and be rocked to sleep. I rode the train sometime in'98 and again in '99. Don't live in the eastern corridor anymore so no auto train for me anymore.

  32. If you ride on the Auto train do they let you take food on board.And do they serve a special meal plan on board . I have a food allergy to nuts

  33. Thoroughly enjoyed your video. My Mother and some of our family members did this trip and I couldn't go but i am re energized by your video!! Now it's a must that I go thank you!!!!

  34. Avoid the family room! It is the width if the train, so you have windows on each side of the room but it’s on the lower level and right over the wheels. NOISY!

  35. Splendid video! After watching this video, it convinced me to consider riding the auto train. Time to start saving! Maybe next year or two years I'll take it

  36. My daughter and I rode the autotrain in September 2018. It really was a unique and different experience. It was a great , safe way to get her older car and the two of us to Florida. We travelled not long after the service was suspended due to Hurricane Florence. Our train was 3/4 of a mile long and I believe there were 455 passenger automobiles on the train. For my next trip I will invest in noise canceling headphones as the whistle blows all night long, made the sleeping difficult.

  37. An Auto Train from Toronto (or Buffalo if border crossing is an issue) to Orlando would probably be booked 100% of the time because of Canadian snowbirds.

  38. Awesome, thanks for the wonderful work. I love trains and at least once a year I travel to Europe starting in Paris to ride the European trains with all the time on time departure and arrival time with 206 miles per hour max that I have proof with. I will now definitely try our own Amtrak trains in the USA after watching your video. Again, thank you for the great work you did.

  39. You might feel differently about the trip if you tried to sleep in coach with a crying kid all night. Then, after a really bad nights sleep, you get to drive the rest of the way home through the most congested traffic. I’ve done it a few times. If you want to try it, take it southbound. Usually not as crowded and you can stretch across the coach seats. Actually, they make a second very short stop (or they used to) to get morning newspapers and fresh baked goods somewhere in Virginia on the northbound trip. I think when I took it it wasn’t a superliner. I was awake for the crew change.. kind of dark and eerie.

  40. My wife and I took the Auto Train from Sanford to Lorton three times. Each trip was enjoyable and worth the ticket price. It certainly beat driving!

  41. I took the Auto Train in 2011 when I moved from Maryland to Tampa, FL. My only complaint was that I had a roomette and the mattress on the "bed" was horribly hard. It was not a comfortable sleep. Unfortunately there was also some issue with the closets bathroom and it started to smell. They moved us but boy. I am moving back north to Northern Virginia, I'll do the Auto Train again. The cost is great for the convenience. I recommend just take something to sleep on since the mattress is hard. Ha!

  42. Are you kidding me I was on vacation at Jacksonville so I think I heard the Auto Train go by gosh dang it I wish I saw it

  43. I went to Disney in the seventies on the auto train with my family. We loved it. Very professional and courteous crew & staff.we all loved it. So glad we went. It’s one of our best vacation memories. Thank you Auto Train.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *