Originally run by the Auto Train Corporation
as early as 1973, the Auto Train
was taken over by Amtrak and became its most popular route - the only one that comes close to breaking even
financially. First Operated three times a week beginning in late October 1983, since 1984 the service has had one northbound (Train 52) and one southbound (Train 53) departure daily. Despite being billed as the alternative to I-95
(which runs from Boston
), the only two stations served by the Auto Train are Lorton
, near Washington, DC
, and Sanford
, near Orlando
. No points north or south of the stations are served by Auto Train, and no points between are available as stops: the route is DC to Orlando only. Both stations offer tot lot
s for children.
All passengers must have a vehicle to ride the Auto Train. A limited number of spaces are available for vans and other vehicles larger than cars, and spaces are also available for trailers and motorcycles. Temporary bicycle and luggage racks are not permitted; those attached at the factory are allowed but may not have anything on them. Each rider may bring one carry-on bag on board the train, but all other luggage must be kept in the car, which is not accessible during the trip. Vans, trailers, and motorcycles must arrive at the station by 2:00pm, automobiles must arrive by 3:00pm, and the train departs Mile 0 at 4:00pm. The destination station, Mile 855, is reached at 8:30am.
With two engines and more than forty Superliner cars, the Auto Train is Amtrak's longest passenger train. Continental breakfast is included, as is dinner - kosher and heart-healthy meals are available, and holiday dinners are served in season. The lounge cars offer snacks, drinks, and feature movies en route, and a Railfone is available. Smoking is only permitted within an enclosed space on the lower level of the lounge cars.
Update: At around 5:08pm local time on April 18, 2002, the northbound Auto Train derailed 44 miles north of the Sanford station, about an hour after departure. Fourteen of the sixteen passenger cars left the track, and half of those tipped onto their sides. Seven of the twenty-three auto racks derailed as well, but none were overturned. Four passengers died, making the incident the first fatal accident in the Auto Train's history. Scores of passengers were injured, and at least 75 were trapped and had to be freed by emergency personnel. The last major Auto Train accident occurred in late February 1978, prior to Amtrak's assumption of operating responsibilities, and resulted in twenty-three injuries - the first Auto Train accident to result in injury. The southbound train had left its station at around the same time that day, but was turned around at Richmond and returned to Lorton. The accident is being investigated by Amtrak, CSX (which owned the track where the derailment occurred), and a team from the National Transportation Safety Board.