• Auto-Trak

  • 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 Gilbert B Norman
I cannot recall much about this 1975 Amtrak misadventure that was going to operate an "Auto Train Service" between Indianapolis and Poinciana, FL. This book, written by retired Amtrak Passenger Engineer Doug Riddel addresses the "caper".

It appears that Amtrak was going to attach an Auto Rack car to the Floridian and operate such to a newly built Amshack at Poinciana. Passengers would be accommodated in line space aboard the train.

As I recall, Amtrak employees with their own autos were rounded up to be "guinea pigs". The "reward" was a week's free vacation (apparently not chargeable, and a meals and lodging allowance - taxable by the way). Apparently, only one such trip was operated and every auto had some kind of damage occurring during transit.

To my knowledge, that was that.

"Such a deal" Amtrak made with the Auto Train Corp Estate when they acquired the expertise to safely handle autos and to expediently handle any such claims arising (reportedly those involved at the recent DeLand incident were "showered with kindness") - and all for $1.00.

During 1983, I once went on an "archeological expedition" at Poinciana looking for relics of the station. There were still remains of a concrete loading area and chips of same colored a "familiar" Red and Blue. Today, surely redeveloped or reclaimed by Mother Nature.

Finally, I'll always wonder if Mr. Riddel was aboard a Northbound #52 a few years ago that I was also riding. I noted a dark Blue colored Hyundai with the Virginia tag "Amtrak 1" and have wondered if that auto was his. But needless to say, I wasn't looking for him, nor was he for me.
  by Tadman
It boggles the mind how you screw something like this up so bad. At the time, auto trains were common throughout the UK, Europe, Argentina, and even 50 miles from Amtrak's headquarters. Would it have been that hard to send a man to London and ask how it works? Maybe hire a few of the Lorton auto-jockeys as consultants? Look up their insurance company and ask what steps they take to mitigate damages (if you don't buy commercial insurance often, many brokers and carriers offer safety audits and will work with bigger customers to bring down EMR numbers).

Heck there has to be a whole department at Penn Central, N&W, GTW, and C&O that focused on loading cars carefully in Detroit. Couldn't borrow/hire one as a consultant for 90 days?

And if it was so hard to accomplish a well-known task such as loading autos, what else are they doing poorly?
  by gokeefe
Tadman wrote:And if it was so hard to accomplish a well-known task such as loading autos, what else are they doing poorly?
I think in fairness to Amtrak of 2020 vs. Amtrak of 1975 the past tense should be applicable.

With regards to why this particular venture failed in 1975 my hypothesis would be that Auto-Train wasn't interested in cooperation that would potentially create a competitor. They may have had a tight enough pool of experienced loyal employees that no one would return Amtrak's calls (I would be willing to bet $100 that Amtrak tried).

With regards to freight operations I think there simply aren't enough parallels. The timing of loading is much tighter and the documentation associated far more difficult. There are many similar tasks of course (switching auto racks and making up the train) but I can't imagine the pacing and sequencing are the same.

Now lets consider the one time operation of this train. What would lead Amtrak to throw in the towel after only one attempt? Perhaps there was damage to the vehicles which was sustained enroute from debris but I doubt that was the case on most of the vehicles.

The kind of damage that occurred would have to be something that would convince Amtrak that this operation was beyond their competence or that of a capable third party. I'm going to guess that the damage was entirely due to careless loading and possibly improper securement.

I would be curious to know if the author of the book attempted to draw any conclusions in this regard.

Claims and paperwork have tended to be Amtrak's strengths. For an operation covering such wide territory they handle the back end of passenger rail service in the U.S. more efficiently than almost anyone else ever has.

It's unfortunate that this attempt in 1975 failed but Amtrak has managed to succeed where Auto Train Corporation failed. And in so doing they have also managed to maintain a semblance of the traditional winter Florida traffic. It's a pretty impressive accomplishment on their part which they probably don't get as much credit for as they deserve.

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  by John_Perkowski
I will agree with Tad: ARE.

See also the quality and quantity of food service.

See also the OTP.

See also the current status of the fleet.