On Track On Line - Amtrak Auto Train Tips Miscellaneous
Auto Train operations can be easily viewed by railfans at the Lorton and Sanford terminals. Plan to drive there, since there is little or no public transportation to either station. Arrive around 1:00pm, when things start to get busy, and plan to stay until around 4:00, by which time the Auto Train should be on its way. There's plentiful visitor parking at Lorton (bear to the left of the greeters booth when entering the station area). Visitor parking is more limited at Sanford. Railfans may also wish to watch the morning arrival of the Auto Train. If you choose to do so, be sure to check the Amtrak website for the estimated time of arrival.
You can expect to see a variety of Amtrak equipment, including vintage switcher engines, auto carriers, all varieties of Superliner cars--mostly Superliner-IIs--and, since their return to service thanks to the Stimulus Program, P40 diesel locomotives. All the equipment is easy to photograph from public areas. Both stations have rest rooms, snack counters, and outside benches. Amtrak's Auto Train crews tend to be friendly towards well-behaved railfans; they take a great pride in their train and enjoy seeing others take an interest in it. With the heightened concern about security since 9/11, you will almost certainly be challenged if you stray into non-public areas. If you're asked to leave an area, immediately do so.
The Auto Train operates on CSX tracks along its entire trip. If you wish to see the Auto Train en route (remembering that much of the trip, particularly during the winter months, is in darkness), it follows the general route of Lorton, Fredericksburg, Richmond, Rocky Mount, Fayetteville, Florence, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Deland, and Sanford. The following frequencies should prove helpful to hear the Auto Train and other CSX operations along its route: 161.550 (particularly useful at Sanford), 161.100 (heavily used at Lorton), 160.590, 160.410, 161.520, and 160.320 MHz. Amtrak and host railroad CSX generally refer to the northbound Auto Train as train P052, and the southbound as train P053, the P referring to Passenger. Please note that there is a zero following the "P" and not the letter "O". You may here a crew saying P Oh 52 or 53, as that‘s easier to say than zero. Sometimes they will abreviate things to just the train numbers, 52 or 53. Other times they'll even add the date of the train's depature, for example either P052-0205 or P052-05, which would indicate the train that departed Sanford on February the 5th.
If railfanning at Lorton expect to see a number of trains operating along the adjacent ex-RF&P tracks, including CSX freights, many Amtrak trains, and, during weekdays, Virginia Railway Express Fredericksburg line commuter trains. There's less action at Sanford, although you'll see an occasional Amtrak or freight train pass by. Amtrak doesn't routinely distribute its system timetables on the Auto Train, so if you want to identify passing passenger trains, be sure to take along your own schedule (copies may be available at Lorton and Sanford).
Comments about these tips or your trip are always welcome and may be sent directly to
I try to respond to questions and comments within a day of receipt. Remember that I have no official relationship with Amtrak or the Auto Train other than as an occasional passenger. The Auto Train material on this website was totally revised and updated in late 2007. If you see something that should be changed or added, please let me know!
My grateful appreciation to On-Track-On-Line members Alan Burden and Kevin Korell for their extensive help in updating this web material.
Individuals wishing to use all or part of this document on their own websites or in other media, including print publications, must first obtain permission from the author. See also the copyright statement on this page.
HAVE A PLEASANT TRIP ABOARD THE AUTO TRAIN!
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