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Amtrak's Auto Train is a one-of-a-kind service in the U.S., enabling travelers to take along their car, small van, or motorcycle when they travel along the east coast. Passengers ride in either wide coach seats or private first-class sleeping compartments while their vehicles are safely carried in enclosed auto carriers. Originally a private venture, the Auto Train is now operated by Amtrak, the Federally chartered corporation that operates interstate passenger trains in the United States.
The author of these "Auto Train Hints" is not associated with Amtrak or the Auto Train, other than as an interested passenger. The material contained herein is not an official publication of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak). I hope that these hints will be of help to fellow travelers who are considering a trip on the Auto Train.
The Auto Train operates every day of the year non-stop between Lorton, Virginia and Sanford, Florida. THIS IS ITS ONLY ROUTE. All passengers must have a car, van or motorcycle with them. Auto Train can also handle trailers, travel trailers, boat trailers with boats, and trailers that handle jet skis and motorcycles, with conditions. Contact Amtrak for details at the special Auto Train toll free number 1-877-SKIP-I-95 (1-877-754-7495) or the normal Amtrak number, 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
Lorton is about a half-hour drive south of Washington, DC, just off I-95. Sanford is about a half-hour drive north of Orlando, a short distance from I-4. Both the Lorton and the Sanford terminals are used exclusively by the Auto Train.
The Auto Train is arguably Amtrak's finest train. Since it is a great revenue generator, Amtrak's management treats the Auto Train with "kid gloves", using some of their finest train attendants and best-maintained cars. (The retiree snow birds would complain loud and clear about bad service!) The Auto Train is very popular and is often crowded, particularly during the months when the snow birds travel. It's also used by quite a few families traveling to Disney World (which is a 40 minute drive from Sanford). Many people from Pennsylvania, New York and the New England states also use the Auto Train as a way of knocking 900 miles off their time on the Interstates.
If traveling during peak periods, it's best to book several months ahead. Sleeping car reservations can be difficult to get on short notice. Keep trying though, right up to when you arrive at your departure terminal, since there are typically last minute cancellations and the occasional "no-show".
Amtrak continues to consider other routes for Auto Train-type service, in particular Chicago to Florida and along the Pacific Coast, but due to shortages of equipment, significant startup costs, and Amtrak's uncertain financial situation, such services, if they occur, are years away. If Amtrak is ever dissolved (something periodically discussed by Congress, but in my opinion highly unlikely), the Auto Train will likely be taken over by a private operator.
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