Ride the Rails: Amtrak’s Auto Train

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I recently had the chance to ride Amtrak’s Auto Train from Sanford, Florida to Lorton, Virginia and came away very impressed.

There’s not much to see in Sanford; the station is relatively isolated and there’s no food nearby. Boarding was a relatively easy process. You check in at the security gate, drive your car into the lane directed to, just like a ferry boat, and wait in the terminal.

The train was delayed four hours due to a track incident the evening before. The train struck a downed tree somewhere in South Carolina on its trip down. Tree strikes can be very dangerous, often derailing the train and causing fatalities, depending on the speed.

Since we would miss dinner, the station staff provided pizza. The station also is well equipped, with a gift shop. Of course, I availed myself to an Auto Train coffee mug.

Once onboard, we were greeted by the very friendly staff. I was seated in coach, as the sleepers were sold out. We were also provided with boxed lunches.

Coach is comfortable, with expansive legroom vs the airlines, and the seat fully reclines. Still, a roomette is much more comfortable and private. The train stops in Charleston, South Carolina for a crew change. Usually, that’s in the middle of the night, but due to late departure it was at breakfast. This isn’t a passenger stop. They replenish the train and drop garbage. Once again, we were treated to a box breakfast and unlimited coffee (thank the good Lord!).

The schedule has about an hour’s cushion, so our arrival in Lorton was only three hours late. This terminal is very conveniently located close to Washington. The unloading process, as the loading process was, is very efficient.

You can pay for priority unloading if you’re in a rush; it costs about $75. I chose not to, and only had to wait about an hour for my car. There were six auto racks, as well as five coaches, five sleepers, and two engines..

With that, I was on the road to Stamford, Connecticut, and a comfortable bed.