At the two passenger rail discussion forums at which I regularly participate, both are now having active discussion regarding additional Amtrak Auto Trains. The thoughts range from the “reasonable” such as extension of the existing Lorton-Sanford service to the New York area to the absurd such as Sanford to LA “taking a route around the Appalachians to save fuel”. It appears the most “popular‘ suggestion is Chicago-Sanford.
As a veteran of eighteen Auto Train journeys made over the years, including one on the private AT, I can only hold that there is no route out there that would enjoy the same success as does the existing Lorton-Sanford, although I have several in mind that could possibly support “Auto Train Service” with an auto carrier or two added to an existing train with the passengers being accommodated in line space. The routes I would have in mind would be:
Galesburg IL-Irondale CO
Galesburg IL-La Junta CO
Albuquerque NM-San Bernardino CA
Galesburg is selected as the Eastern terminal in that it is 150 miles West of Chicago yet roundly at the junction of two Interstate highways. It is in a location to draw traffic not only from Chicago, but also Indianapolis, St Louis, and even Minneapolis. The ground facilities such as auto ramps could provide service for two trains enabling greater operational efficiency. Additionally the BNSF Railroad has substation operational and maintenance facilities and would hopefully enter into agreement with Amtrak to provide switching and maintenance.
Locating the Western terminal at Irondale some ten miles to the East of Denver enables passengers with destinations such as the Rocky Mountains to avoid having to drive into/out of Denver. Also, with the redevelopment of Denver Union Station into a mass transit hub (busses, light rail), space for handling auto carriers and passenger autos will be quite limited. Amtrak may even have to find a new home before the project is complete.
La Junta provides access to the Pike’s Peak region and Santa Fe; also a “back up” for traffic to Denver, albeit such is 200 miles away.
Albuquerque-San Bernardino would enable service to a fast growing region, including visits to Santa Fe. A terminus at San Bernardino instead of in Downtown LA would provide more expedient access to any destination within the LA Basin.
Now why have I only considered “one night out’ segments rather than “all the way Chicago-LA”. This is simply based on my observations of passengers during my eighteen journeys and that is one night is enough. Auto Train passengers are no more railfans than is the average NECorridor passenger. I’m reminded of a book ex libris “The Only Way to Cross” by John Maxtone-Graham. Here the author describes life aboard a Trans-Atlantic ocean liner. While of course some passengers were seafarers, most were not; they wanted the voyage over and done and preferably without becoming seasick. No wonder the decline is “Trans-At” ocean travel was far more precipitous than any experienced by the railroads during the 1960’s. From personal experience, “arewethereyetitis” becomes quite endemic if Auto Train is not at destination by, say, Noon.
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