Take your Car on the Train

Whoever said the joy of the journey is in the journey itself must have taken the Auto Train. It’s the only way you can get from the Northeast to Florida on a tank of gas. The Auto-Train, the only one of its kind in the world, at three-quarters of a mile long, the longest passenger train in the world, and the most relaxing way to get between the north east and the Sunshine State, is the non-stop ride that takes you and your vehicle, be it sedan, motorcycle, or SUV, from Lorton, Va. to Sanford, Florida. From there, you’re on your own to points further north or south. But a ride on the Auto-Train means beginning the vacation as soon as you step into the designed especially for the Auto-Train station in Lorton. You check your vehicle at the door, take a carry-on bag of essentials for overnight, and begin to relax. Your vehicle is taken by trained crew members and driven into the two-level enclosed rail cars where, along with the other up to 330 cars making the same trip, it is secured in place for the journey south. At the same time, you’re welcomed into the passenger cars, and depending on whether you opt for a lounge seat or a Superliner Deluxe bedroom, or something in-between, settle into your assigned quarters. It’s the same for the trip north to Lorton, where the station is located immediately adjacent to I-95.. Trains in both directions leave their respective stations at 4 in the afternoon, scheduled to arrive at their destinations 17 hours, 30 minutes later at 9:30 the following morning. You’re requested to arrive at least 60 minutes in advance of departure time, and it takes about an hour on average for all the vehicles to be unloaded and get you on your way at the opposite end. IN between, there are lounge and dining cars, regardless of whether you opt for a seat or a bedroom, movies in the evening, practically always a wine tasting at departure, and a three course dinner complete with wine, all included in the price of the ticket. For those who opt for lounge seats, it means stretching out in the recliner and using the blanket and pillow they provide, or, if you want the extra baggage, carry on your own. Bathrooms are located on the lower level of each car, and fresh fruit, coffee and cookies are generally provided in the lounge car. A full bar is also accessible. Dinner menu offers a choice of five dishes, always including a vegetarian, chicken, beef, and fish entree, with a chef’s special. For those who opt for the Superliner bedrooms, coffee is always available in each car, the deluxe rooms are made for two, have private bathrooms with a mini-shower built in, and the five dinner entrees in the Superliner passenger dining room often include filet mignon along with gourmet chicken dishes. There’s still fresh fruit and cookies in the lounge car. The roomettes are built for two, snug and without a private bath, but providing privacy and comfort. There are also family bedrooms, which sleep two adults and two children in one room, and accessible bedrooms which accommodate two adults and are on the lower level, available on every train. Besides the comfort of travel, there’s the beauty of the passing scenery. Before the sun sets heading north, you’ll leave Florida, pass through Georgia’s oldest city, Savannah, and if everything’s on time, cross the state line into South Carolina. Just before dark, then whiz through Charleston and Florence, SC, as well as the home of the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg, NC. If you’re a light sleeper, you’ll know the train stops for a half hour or so at Florence, SC for a change of engine crew, fueling and watering. If you’re an early riser, the charm of Virginia, from Petersburg, where a famous battle of the Civil War was waged, to Quantico, the home of the US Marine Corps and an FBI training facility, are worth seeing from the large train windows. The railroad runs right smack dab down the middle of several communities, including Ashland, so the slower speed gives you ample time to admire the gracious old Victorian mansions, the busy main street, and picturesque Randolph-Macon College. As spectacular as the scenery is, it’s the folks you meet traveling by train that set this mode of transportation above all the rest. Dining room tables are all set for four, so you’re bound to sit with other interesting people. It’s always fascinating to see where they’re from, where they’re heading and what they like best about rail travel. Surprisingly, there are a plethora of college kids who opt for Amtrak, some because they are afraid to fly, others because it’s an easy way to get all their stuff, crammed into their cars, between home and campus. If there is a major disadvantage to the Auto-Train it’s the fact it travels over rails owned by CSX railroad, which means freight frequently has the right-of-way and the Auto-Train is put on a siding to give access to CSX equipment. This occasionally means delays at arrival; on the occasions late arrivals are four hours late or more, the ingenious kitchen crew aboard whips up lunch for all. Cost of the Auto-Train sounds expensive on the surface, but considering it includes dinner and breakfast, that wine tasting and wine with dinner, the constant coffee and fruit and muffins, and comfortable sleeping accommodations, it isn’t too bad. Add to that the high cost of fuel, particularly if you’re traveling alone, and it could even represent a bargain. Like the airlines, prices vary according to the time of year and the availability; generally, the earlier you reserve, the cheaper you’ll get it. Amtrak often offers a special, sometimes allowing kids to travel free with adults. Any way you look at it, it’s worth a call to 1-800-USA-RAIL to learn more about a Vacation to a Vacation.


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