• Amtrak Auto Train Discussion

  • Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.
Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

Moderators: GirlOnTheTrain, mtuandrew, Tadman

  by crazy_nip
 
Gilbert B Norman wrote:They simply are looking for a way to move the Bennie Caddy Lex over an 850 mile exceptionally non scenic route
you mean you dont think the trek from richmond to jacksonville is scenic?

I cant say that I blame you, especially from about the selma, nc area south

specifically the entire state of south carolina, nothing but swamps and pine trees

its not bad at night as far as the trucks, but during the day its maddness

  by updrumcorpsguy
 
I wonder how a west coast Auto Train would fare. There are a LOT of snowbirds up here who leave Seattle for the SW right after New Years and don't come back until the time changes (and I don't blame them - we're not at our best in the dark, rainy winter. Thank God for hot tubs) and I-5 is rapidly becoming as hateful of an experience from Seattle - Portland as it is anywhere. Due to geography, it's the only road option available.

There are also a lot of people from So Cal who "summer" up here these days. In between, there's lot of folks who move up and down the coast for one reason or another, and might want to take their car with them.

Of course, there would have to be a lot more cooperation from the UP as well as some sort of terminal in the Bay area, but other than that, it might actually work. Maybe something that ran from suburban south Seattle (one of the empty Boeing parking lots in Tukwilla, for example) to Bakersfield with a terminal in the Sacramento area.

  by AmtrakFan
 
Mr. Nip,
I would book very early if you want a good fare.

  by Gilbert B Norman
 
Nip--

Unless you are an aborist and noting the difference between a Pitch Pine, a Scotch Pine, and a Lobolloy Pine (and whatever other names the L&N had for their 6-4-6 Sleepers) I guess the route, I-95 or the ACL, could be a nirvana. But for those of us in the "if you've seen one pine tree, you've seen 'em all" crowd, one must wonder why any railroad serving the route over the years, be it the Seaboard, Auto Train Corp, or Amtrak, ever invested a dime in specialty sightseeing cars is beyond me.

Amtrak made a wise move in withdrawing Superliner Sightseers from the Auto Train. The 3310X Lounges are very attractive, and both involved at Crescent City emerged from their rebuilds (AFAIC) "better than ever".

  by VPayne
 
I hate to ask the following question as it hints at future operationaly changes, but why did Amtrak order so many Autocarriers. It almost seems like they have enough for three trainsets. I have always admired the simplicity of servicing the train in or near the terminal and an absolute same day turn that Autotrain represents. To me it is the ideal model for an overnight corridor train.

  by AmtrakFan
 
VPayne wrote:I hate to ask the following question as it hints at future operationaly changes, but why did Amtrak order so many Autocarriers. It almost seems like they have enough for three trainsets. I have always admired the simplicity of servicing the train in or near the terminal and an absolute same day turn that Autotrain represents. To me it is the ideal model for an overnight corridor train.
They have less capacity they can only fit 8 Cars a piece.

  by crazy_nip
 
AmtrakFan wrote:They have less capacity they can only fit 8 Cars a piece.
I find that hard to believe
  by 2nd trick op
 
The natural market forces causing the continued upswing in petroleum prices inveigh in favor of alternatives to the autombile, although our basic desire for more freedom while traveling will continue to inveigh against it.

Conversely, the high capital cost of new facilities weighs in against investment in any expensive facility, which, due to its fixed location, is likely to draw the attention of those who control the local political power structure.

In a completely free market, without government interference favoring any particular mode, entrepreneurs would likely be more willing to consider auto-rail technology as an alternative.

But the railroad, due to its fixed-and-expensive physical plant, is more likely to see itself as vulnerable to de facto confiscation.

Where and when politicians and governement-backed union-labor monopolies show, up, capital flees; it really is just that simple.
  by John_Perkowski
 
Someone mentioned re-looking Auto Train operations in the current energy environment.

Maybe it is time to re-look auto-train operations.

Now, here are some questions:

First, a family with two drivers and two kids can make about 600 miles a day. How much further does an Amtrak auto train, to be of value, have to travel in a 24 hour period?

Second, including FWT of $0.35 per mile, $50 per day for motel, and $45 per day for food, a 1200 mile (2 driving days) oneway trip costs about $560; RT about $1120. Can Amtrak beat that cost for carrying an auto and 4 pax (considering foodservice in the mix).

Third, what are city pairs that make sense? I submit that following the Interstates is probably a good start.

Please, don't get down in the weeds of freight/passenger/locomotive mixes: Let's talk policy and business plan stuff...

John Perkowski

  by pgengler
 
There was a discussion somewhere on this board not that long ago about the possibility of extending the Auto Train north to a NY metro terminal. I think that as the idea goes, it makes a lot of sense; there are plenty of people in the area who drive toward southern destinations. As was pointed out in that discussion, the worst of the traffic along I-95 is noth of DC, which is (very roughly) where you'd begin a trip on the Auto Train.
Once a family (from the NY area) has driven that far, odds are they're just going to keep driving until they get to where they're going, which oftentimes for families is going to be destinations in Orlando, FL, though most people I know going that way chose to fly instead of driving. So I think that a more northern terminal would make a lot of sense.

One thing that came to mind while thinking about this was intermediate stops; while it certainly isn't practical to add many stops, since you would need loading/unloading facilities and consequently long dwell times, over a long route, it makes sense to have one or two intermediate stops. For a NY-Orlando route, keep the Lorton stop, so that people going to destinations in Virginia or the Carolinas can get off closer to where they're going.

Economically speaking, I don't know how any of this would work out. It would need to end up being priced around what it costs to fly a family to wherever and then to rent a car there, or else it would be hard to compete. It would probably also have to be a reasonably fast route, if it's going to attract family travel (young kids generally don't take well to long trips in enclosed spaces; with a car, at least, you can stop somewhere along the way for fun or to spend the night, outside the car).

  by walt
 
There is a tremendous logistical problem for an Auto Train regarding intermediate stops---- it takes about two hours to load automobiles onto and unload them from the current Auto Train ( I just returned from a trip on the Auto Train, and observed the process). Automobiles are loaded prior to the carriers being connected to the passenger section, and are unloaded after the carriers are disconnected. Also, "oversized" vehicles ( vans and SUV's ) are transported in separate carriers from automobiles.
In this light, dwell times at intermediate stations would be extremely long, and current station facilities in most places could not handle the process. ( Note that both the Lorton and Sanford termini serve only the auto train).

While it would certainly be possible to establish Auto Train service between points other than the present Lorton- Sanford route, those trains would almost certainly have to serve only terminal points where the current method for loading and unloading the trains could be employed.

Another factor---- The Auto train is the world's longest passenger train- 31 cars -- about 1/3 mile long. There are few current stations with platforms that long. ( The Sanford Fla. platform is too short to house even the complete passenger section. The coach and sleeper sections board before those sections are connected--- THEN after that, the car carriers are connected.)

A NY- Sanford ( the train does not pass through the Orlando Station) routing would not be possible in any event because the consist, both the Superliner Passenger equipment and the car carriers, are too tall to run on the NEC.

  by Gilbert B Norman
 
First, I don't think there is an energy shortage out there. Our world of $3ga gas (I have yet to see that price "cracked", but it's coming) is simply the reality of life. The producers have simply determined that, owing to worldwide demand from areas of the world that were not even in the equation during the 1973-74 "energy crisis" and the 1979 "encore", and are pricing their product accordingly.

Secondly, Amtrak's costs will soon rise rapidly; even though fuel is hardly the same percentage as a factor of production in their transportation product when compared with POV's and air transport, it is still a factor. Amtrak has "hedged" their fuel costs with the intended use of commodity futures, but that "price protection" will soon run its course and Amtrak will have no alternative other than to sharply raise fares.

While some may disagree, I do not think Amtrak has any "social obligation" to offer bargain fares in any market - Auto Train or otherwise because of some perceived social responsibility. While maybe sounding elitist, charge what the traffic will bear is what it is all about.

Best defense, ring up your friendly stock broker to determine into what oil equities your portfolio should take positions.
Last edited by Gilbert B Norman on Thu Aug 18, 2005 9:57 am, edited 3 times in total.

  by JoeG
 
I think that Auto Train should be expanded wherever it would be patronized, because it not only saves energy, it gets cars off the road bigtime. I can see city pairs NY-Orlando, Chicago-Orlando, and Seattle-LA.
The fly in the ointment is Col Perkowski's cost numbers. Checking the Auto Train's fares for a non-peak period, I see that his hypothetical family of four could make his numbers if they went coach. If they went for a family room, the cost would exceed Col P's cost of driving. I can't see that taking a family on an overnight train without a sleeper is practical--it's tough enough with a sleeper.
So, if we wish to make the cost of the Auto Train competitive with driving, we would have to increase its per passenger subsidy.
Increasing Auto Train's subsidy seems like a good social purpose to me.
  by JoeG
 
Mr. Norman, in your note you expressed opinions on 2 subjects, both of which I disagree with.
One, you said there is no energy shortage. You are literally right; if we pay enough we can get all the energy we want. (For example, we could build plants to turn coal into gasoline, like the Germans did in WWII. This would be very expensive and environmentally very damaging, but it could be done. There is enough coal to last a very long time, even when converted to gasoline.)
But, when people use the expression "energy shortage," they mean "affordable energy shortage." That's because energy you can't get because it costs too much is energy that isn't there for you. So far, this has affected mostly less-affluent people (Wal-Mart reports its earnings have been adversely affected by its customers having less money to spend at its stores) but as gas prices continue to rise many more of us will be affected.
Two, you said
While some may disagree, I do not think Amtrak has any "social obligation" to offer bargain fares in any market - Auto Train or otherwise because of some perceived social responsibility. While maybe sounding elitist, charge what the traffic will bear is what it is all about.
If this is what you believe, why do you advocate an annual operating subsidy for Amtrak?
I believe that Amtrak, as a quasi-governmental operation, has an obligation to provide services that fulfill social purposes. For instance, Amtrak went much further than other transportation companies in providing accessible accommodations. And, I believe that Amtrak has an obligation to provide affordable transportation. I believe it should receive sufficient operating subsidies so that it can reduce fares and provide more frequent service. We have lots of Federal programs that provide corporate welfare, such as oil tax breaks and farm subsidies to giant agribusinesses, especially sugar plantations and tobacco farms, which grow crops of dubious social value. I see Amtrak as a Federal program that provides subsidized rail transportation to regular people, and I would like to see this role increase. It would also save energy.

  by Gilbert B Norman
 
If this is what you believe, why do you advocate an annual operating subsidy for Amtrak

Quick answer, Mr. G:

The traffic will not "bear" enough to have Amtrak self sustaining. The other problem is that there is no volume of traffic that the existing infrasturcture can support to likewise make Amtrak self sustaining.

Returning to the existing Auto Train. I have yet to encounter anyone on my 15 trips (all in season) over the years that is using it to save money.

The product is exclusively sold for its convenience and, if I may say so, public safety. Some of the people I have noted I'm not sure if they should even be on the road from Sanford to destination. Something tells me I am not the only visitor to, or resident of, Florida who has noted the Caddy with out of state tags that can't seem to find one lane or the other on either the Turnpike or 95 (oh well, just use both of 'em).

As I've noted in the past, the Auto Train is simply the " Nantucket ferry" relieving affluent people from an unscenic (seen one pine tree? seen 'em all) and often dangerous drive. Fog can occur any time of year, ice in the winter (somewhere, I'll bet there has even been a blizzard; it seems I do recall a hefty dose of that white stuff in Charleston, SC during Xmas 1989).

The 18 wheelers are always law unto themselves.

However, I'm pledged to support Col. Perkowski's underlying intent when he originated this thread (he carefully laid out his intent with me by phone) and I don't wish to be the guilty party obviating such.
Last edited by Gilbert B Norman on Thu Aug 18, 2005 10:06 am, edited 2 times in total.
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