AMTRAK AUTO TRAIN Trip gives drivers much-needed rest
The world's longest train is also the only one that lets passengers take their vehicles with them.
LORTON, Virginia -- It's no bullet train -- the 861-mile trip takes more than 16 hours -- but the Amtrak Auto Train offers a break for travelers weary of driving up and down I-95 between the nation's capital and Mickey Mouse country.
The auto train provides daily nonstop service between Lorton, Va., just south of Washington, D.C., and Sanford, Fla., just north of Orlando.
Trains depart both locations at 4 p.m. and are scheduled to arrive at the other end of the line at 8:30 the next morning.
It's the only train in the United States that allows passengers to take along their vehicles -- automobiles, vans and motorcycles.
But no pets.
The auto train is the longest passenger train in the world. It stretches from one-half to two-thirds of a mile long with 50 cars, including two locomotives, crew car, diner and lounge cars, coach and sleeper cars, and vehicle carriers. It can haul 270 vehicles in 32 cars and 600 passengers in 18 cars.
What it's like
The passengers are served dinner and breakfast and treated to a full-length feature movie in between. Each seat in the coach reclines with a foot rest and offers plenty of leg room. Pillows and blankets are provided and sleeper cars are available for an additional cost.
Safety concerns have increased since an auto train derailed in northern Florida on April 18. Four passengers were killed and 150 were injured.
Nonetheless, several passengers on a recent trip commented that they encountered fewer hassles than they would flying these days and they would take the auto train again.
Meg Stanzione, a homemaker from Toms River, N.J., who recently made her third trip this year, is one who prefers the auto train to air travel.
"There's good food on board and the staff can't do enough for you," says Stanzione, who owns a condo in Sarasota, Fla., and was traveling with her daughter, Nicole, a student at the University of Tampa.
What riders say
Carole Healy and Gladys Pekari, retirees from Ormand Beach, Fla., were returning home after visiting relatives in Pennsylvania. Healy can't drive long distances anymore and Pekari doesn't drive.
"Gladys and I don't like to fly," Healy says.
"The bus makes too many stops," Pekari adds.
Tracy and Jim Keeports of Bear, Del., were heading for a vacation in Orlando with their children, Daniel, 8, and Emily, 5.
"There were less hassles on the train than air travel -- like airport delays," says Tracy, a homemaker.
"It was cost efficient, less stressful and more comfortable than flying," says Jim, an aircraft loans underwriter.
Maureen Wetzold, a former New Yorker who now lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is a customer service representative for American Express, was returning to Florida after visiting relatives in New York.
She didn't want to drive alone with her boys, Chris, 12, and Kile, 10, and she thought the train ride would be an adventure.
"The cars were spacious," she says. "I would definitely take the train again."
Ray Abbott of Virginia, an Amtrak attendant for 12 years, has a tip for auto train riders.
"Passengers usually carry too much luggage on board," he says. "Leave the baggage in your vehicle and relax and enjoy the ride."
XFor more information, call the Amtrak Auto Train toll-free reservation number at (877) SKIP-I-95 or visit www.amtrak.com on the Web.