The Auto Train - What Were We Thinking?
Coach and Sleeper Cars
The Amtrak Auto Train
My wife and I travel to Florida each year from Connecticut. We like to vacation on the west coast of the state where have a time share. For the past few years we opted to take the Amtrak Auto Train over flying. We chose this mode of travel because (or thought it would be) the convenience of not having to drive for 18 hours of the trip. We also thought that it would be a nice stress-free, relaxing way to start and end our week long vacation.This article will talk about the Amtrak Auto Train and how it works. Mixed in here I will share some of the things that just happen on a trip like this. Some fun and some not so much.
The Amtrak Auto Train is located in Lorton, Virginia and travels to Sanford, Florida with a return trip back to Lorton each day. So, we typically leave from Connecticut in plenty of time to get to Virginia. When you arrive in Lorton, Virginia, you will pull your car up to the gate where an attendant greets you and hands you a packet containing all the necessary info about the trip ahead. You then leave your vehicle with the attendants to load onto the train. They attach a metallic number to the side of the car for identification purposes. Ours was #321, and just to let you know, we were one of the first to arrive so, we thought that we might be the first to get our car when they unload in Florida. We’ll get to that later.
Now, before they take your automobile and put it on what looked like large double decker “cattle” cars, a person walks around the vehicle with a video camera filming the outside of each car. This is for the purpose of any damage that might happen during the trip. Very cool. From there we went inside to the registration desk.
At the registration desk they assign you seats, ask you your preference for dinner service (5:00, 7:00, or 9:00), what you would like for your dinner entree and desert. Amtrak has a dining car for meals but, if you would like, they will bring your meal to you at your seat. Very convenient! The train pulled out of the station on time, a bit before 4:00 pm as we began our long journey to Sanford, Florida (outside of Orlando).
As we got settled in for our 18 hour trip ahead we were informed that this was a full train of around 400 passengers, crew compliment of 28 and roughly 180 vehicles being transported for a total of 44 train cars. The train was estimated at being close to 3/4s of a a mile in length. The longest train in the United States. 5:00 pm came and our car had all opted to take our meals in our seats in stead of traveling through 1/2 dozen cars to get to the dinning car. In came the attendant with our meals and evidently, the people putting the meals together didn’t read names correctly or .............I don’t know. Our whole car was given the wrong meals and we had to start all over again. The second time was not much better. But, for the most part we all survived this little mishap and had something to eat. The food you ask? I liked it. You actually have a choice of a fish, chicken or beef entree with potato, vegetable and a roll. Oh! And desert! Not bad! If you are lucky to get what you ordered.
The Lounge Car
Most people stay to themselves on a train trip. Occasionally, a friendship through conversation will develop in the seats around you. But, the action for interaction is in the Lounge Car. This car is near the center of the train where you can purchase soft drinks, coffee, snacks or a cocktail. Just sitting in the lounge car with my laptop was all I needed to relax a bit with a cup of coffee or cocktail.
Some of these people are a “Hoot” and fun to be with. On this particular trip I found myself sitting amongst a few very funny folks. You didn’t have to know them to appreciate the conversations. Topics of discussion and frivolitiy range from politIcs to “If I get in the bathroom, is there any chance I will get trapped in and can’t get out?” Fun people make the trip more enjoyable and the trip goes by faster. The interaction between the passengers and the crew is found in the lounge also. Conversations ranged from learning about where different people come from to kidding the person behind the bar as to how she could make certain drinks if one was to use different combinations of the limited liquors available.
The Lounge Car is more spacious and a great relief from the regular seat provided in the passenger car.
We had an older couple in our car in need of the bathroom facilities. The older lady(probably in her 80’s) was being guided by her husband and I got up to help him. We almost made it when the train took a turn and the three of us ended up on top of another person minding his own business. What a pileup. Just a few scrapes and bruises but mission accomplished and we eventually all got back to our seats.
We are scheduled to arrive in Sanford, Florida around 8:30 am until over the intercom you hear “Ladies and Gentlemen, due to an unforeseen delay we will be arriving in Sanford, Florida around 10:30 am. Now, we understand - Things Happen! But, remember earlier in the article that I mentioned that when we got to Lorton that we were one of the first cars to be loaded. Fantastic! When we got to Florida we waited and waited listening to everybody’s number being called but never heard 321. Looking around the lobby and seeing the people leave to pick up their vehicles made us more frustrated but after 1 1/2 hrs later the did call #321 and we went outside to get our car.
The Final Analysis
My wife and I are now concluding our vacation with the return train trip back to Lorton, Virginia and then another six hour car drive to home in Connecticut. We both live by the saying “To be on time is to be late and to be early is to be on time”. With that being said, we wanted to make sure that we again would be at the Amtrak Auto Train in plenty of time.Upon arriving on the street where the entrance was turned into the beginning of a nightmare. We got caught in traffic jam. (or what we thought was one) We couldn’t see too far ahead so, many thoughts were going through our heads: Was there an accident up ahead? How long would we have to sit here. Come to find out we were in the line that was for the Amtrak Auto Train Station.While just sitting their waiting my wife call the 1-800 number for Amtrak. The information from Amtrak was that the train from Virginia arrived at about 11:00 am. Two hours late! Sound familiar? So we sat their creeping down the street and eventually getting to the gate. While on the phone with Amtrak my wife arranged with them to get Priority off boarding when we get back to Virginia. That’s an added $50.00.
We got underway quickly and not too much of a delay so we didn’t mind too much. The meals situation that we experience on the way down seemed to be over because we had a good meal. I visited the lounge car after we ate and again fun and frivolity was definitely present between passengers and crew. This happened for a while until the train slowed to a stop and a deep voice over to speaker saying: “Ladies and Gentlemen, due to a situation ahead of us we will be delayed for a bit”. This “bit” turned into a seven hour stop because of a freight train up ahead of us had derailed.
I probably don’t need to go on much further for you to have figured out that neither me or my wife will be choosing the Auto Train for a mode of transportation again. And as much as we both don’t like to fly, we will flap our wings next time and get there sooner than later.
© 2017 Reginald Thomas