Amtrak Auto Train Service
The Amtrak Auto Train® (Train 52 and 53) runs a daily service, the 855 miles (1376 km) in each direction between Lorton (just south of Washington DC) and Sanford (north of Orlando) and as its name suggests it carries automobiles, vans, SUVs and motorcycles plus their passengers.
In fact the service is only for passengers and their vehicles, if you wish to travel between the North east and Florida without your vehicle, then you need to use either the Silver Star or Silver Meteor service.
To see the full list of Florida destinations, check out the list of Amtrak stations in Florida including Thruway connections.
The Auto Train is the world’s longest passenger train (with two engines and 40 plus rail cars) and is very popular with the Florida’s Snowbirds escaping the harsh northern winters and families travelling to Walt Disney World
If you don’t fancy the long drive down the congested I–95, then the Auto Train makes a great alternative way to get to Florida.
It is the ideal opportunity to unwind, relax and enjoy the journey and is the only auto train service in the USA, carrying some 200,000 passengers a year.
All vehicles are carried inside special bi-level and tri-level enclosed auto carriers called autoracks and now they can accommodate larger vehicles and SUVs. Cars and SUVs must be 65 in. (1.65 m) or lower with at least 4 in. (10 cm) ground clearance. Vehicles between 65 in. (1.65 m) and 85 in. (2.15 m) in height (maximum width 84 in.) can reserve in advance an oversized vehicle space but the number of spaces is limited.
There are a limited number of spaces to carry small enclosed trailers or trailers for transporting boats, jet skis, motor-cycles etc.
A limited number of spaces are also available to transport standard two-wheeled motor-cycles (no side cars) with at least 5 in.(13 cm) ground clearance and with a maximum windshield height of 57.5 in. (1.45 m).
Bicycles, in bicycle racks, may be attached to the back of the vehicle but cannot be carried on the roof. Factory-installed roof luggage racks are permitted as long as they don’t exceed the height restrictions but they must be empty; any temporary roof luggage must be stored inside the vehicle.
You are also not allowed to take animals on the train with you unless they are trained service animals accompanying passengers with disabilities. They are not allowed to remain in the vehicle during the journey.
It is a very profitable Amtrak service and as a result it attracts some of the best crews and has some of the best rolling stock on the network.
Boarding and loading
Boarding times are strictly enforced and there is only one service a day so it is important to arrive in good time. Train 53 runs southbound, from Lorton to Sanford and train 52 northbound, from Sanford to Lorton.
At both Lorton and Sanford, loading starts at 11:30am and closes at 3pm, one hour before departure, for normal sized vehicles when the doors are closed and all passengers must board. If everyone loads early and the tracks are clear, then the train may depart before its official departure time. Oversized vehicles must board by 2pm.
The journey time is typically around 16 hours, departing at around 4pm in the afternoon and arriving in at around 8:30am the following morning.
There are no stops en route apart from a crew change at Florence in South Carolina.
On time performance for the last 12 months (February 2012) is 86.3%. Delays are mostly caused by train interference from CSX/Central Florida Rail and track/signal work.
Seating and sleeping cars
All seats must be reserved and the cheapest tickets are a Coach Seat or a Lower Level Coach Seat in one of the bi-level Superliner coaches which is a bit like a typical Business Class airline seat, which reclines with a fold down tray and individual reading lamp.
It you want a bit more privacy and to sleep in a bed then there is a choice of a Superliner Roomette, Superliner Bedroom or Family Bedroom.
The Superliner Roomette is designed for one or two passengers with two comfortable reclining seats facing each other by a large picture window. At night the seats convert into a bed and a second upper berth folds down from the wall. The cabin also includes a garment rack, fold-down table and climate control. Roomettes are situated on both decks of the Superliner sleeping cars.
Note that the cabin does not have a washbasin, toilet or shower; these are located nearby in the same car
The Superliner Bedroom is similar to the Roomette but can accommodate three passengers at a pinch (two sharing the lower berth). Most of the facilities are the same as the Roomette, but the lower berth converts from a two seater sofa and the room also has an enclosed toilet and private shower and a separate armchair. Superliner Bedrooms are located on the upper level of the Superliner sleeping cars.
For a family of four (2 adults and 2 children), there is the Family Bedroom which spans the entire width of the car and has two picture windows.
A sofa and two reclining seats convert into two lower beds and the two upper berths (suitable for children) fold down from the wall.
Family Bedrooms are located on the lower level of the Superliner sleeping cars and have the same facilities as the Roomettes, i.e. they do not have en-suite toilet and shower facilities.
The Superliner Accessible Bedroom spans the whole width of the car on the lower level and has ample space for a wheelchair. The lower berth is suitable for a passenger with a mobility impairment and the upper berth for a companion. There is also a wheelchair accessible toilet in the cabin and meals can be served in the cabin if required.
With all Superliner Roomette and Bedroom tickets you are given First class Superliner® service and you get fresh towels and bedlinen, soap and shower amenities, turn-down service, bottled water and a wake-up service with coffee, tea, juice and daily newspaper.
The terminal in Lorton was purpose built for the Auto Train. It opened in 2000 and has a large waiting room and a snack bar.
The platform is around 1,480 feet (451 m) long which allows the whole train to be loaded without splitting.
The terminal at Sanford dates back to the 1970s and is shared with other Amtrak services. It is not as plush as Lorton and the train has to be split across two platforms.
In May 2009, work started on a new terminal building which will be about four times the size of the existing buildings and will feature a 600 seat waiting room, gift shop, cafe and restrooms. The new terminal will open in late 2010.
Tickets include complimentary dinner and breakfast in the dining car (seats 72 on the upper deck). The best southbound fares are mid February, late March and May to December. The best northbound fares are early January, mid February and mid June to mid December.
Reservations are required for all tickets and you can often get special deals including accommodation and theme park tickets.
Dining & Entertainment
The Auto Train has a full-service Dining Car and a Lounge.
Included with all tickets (no matter what class you are in) is a complimentary sit-down dinner including vegetarian dishes and special kids meals plus regional wines. The following morning, you receive a continental breakfast.
The Superliner Lounge car features large picture windows that extend into the roof on the upper deck. Here you can watch movies or grab a snack and a beverage.
Cigarette smoking is permitted in an enclosed room on the lower level of the lounge cars but there is no smoking in any of the sleeping cars, coaches or dining cars.
Amtrak is also offering the rental of a digEplayer portable entertainment device which allows you to watch high-quality movies, music, TV shows. The players can be rented from Lorton or Sanford station.
Because you are travelling with your car, the Auto Train does not offer a checked baggage service. Passengers are allowed to bring two carry on bags on board (including any medications) but all other baggage must be left inside the vehicle. Passengers do not have any access to their vehicles whilst they are on the train.
Look out for the official Red Caps to help you with your baggage when arriving at the station.
If you wish to travel between the North east and Florida with your vehicle, then Amtrak’s Auto Train is the ideal solution.