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Auto Train Travel Tips

by Don Weinstein

Last update April 16th, 2015

On Track On Line - Amtrak Auto Train Tips On Board

On Board the Train

Boarding the Train

Car number boards aid passengers in Lorton The train is usually ready for boarding by 2:30 p.m. If you have coach tickets you'll be seated in one of several modern Superliner coach cars. The seats are wide, have foot rests, and lean back (about equivalent to flying first class). Families with kids are usually seated in the same car, which works out best for all passengers: the kids play together and the older travelers are not bothered by the noise.

The sleeper portion of the Auto Train uses Superliner II sleepers-arguably the best sleeping cars in the world. They offer a choice of Roomettes for up to two passengers, Family Bedrooms for two adults and up to two small children, Bedrooms for two adults with a private washbasin, toilet and shower, and Accessible Bedrooms for a mobility-impaired passenger and a companion. Be aware that there are only a handful of Family Bedrooms and Accessible Bedrooms on each trip of the Auto Train. If you want one, it's best to reserve several months in advance. For more information on Superliner accommodations see the Amtrak Tips on this web site.

Sleeping car passengers will have been assigned a car and room number when they made their reservations. For instance, their ticket may read "Car 5241, Room B". The first two numbers (in this case "52") indicate the ticket is for the northbound Auto Train, which Amtrak has designated as Train 52. Similarly, Amtrak has designated the southbound Auto Train as Train 53. The third and fourth digits of the car number (in this case "41"), designate which sleeping car you'll be in. So, when you're ready to board the train, look for the sleeping car numbered "5241". There are signs along the platform, plus electronic signs on the sides of the coach and sleeping cars right beside the door, indicating the car number. Your sleeping car attendant will direct you to the correct compartment, some of which are on the lower level of the car, and some on the upper level.

Food and Entertainment

Dinner menu for sleeping class passengers All Auto Train passengers receive meals as part of their ticket price. Dinner will consist of a salad, rolls, a choice from several entrees, vegetables and potatoes, and a choice of dessert. The entrees typically include a beef, chicken, fish, and vegetarian selection. The dessert is usually a choice of pie (a la mode if you like!), cake or cheesecake and ice cream with syrup. You will be offered iced tea, coffee (regular or decaf), hot tea or water to drink. Soft drinks, as well as red and white wine are available for purchase during your meal.

All passengers are served by waiters/waitresses at four-person booths that have excellent views of the passing countryside. Sleeping car passengers, on request, can be served in their compartment, particularly if they have mobility problems. Coach passengers with mobility problems can also request that meals be brought to them at their seats. The Auto Train bi-level Superliner cars The café area in the lounge car sells drinks-both soft and alcoholic-until late in the evening. When you board, there will be complimentary fruit (such as apples and bananas) and bowls of a salty snack mix in the lounge car. After dinner, there will be complimentary cookies. In the sleeping cars the train attendants keep an urn of coffee warmed up well into the night, and at your request will bring coffee, tea and juice to your room in the morning.

Smoking is no longer permitted anywhere on the Auto Train. Smokers may, however, stand on the station platform to smoke while the Auto Train stops during the night for servicing in Florence, SC.

You may use your personal cellphone while on the Auto Train, but be aware that reception may be sporadic while passing through the more rural areas. If you are in a coach car or other common area, please be respectful of your fellow passengers while making calls.

The Auto Train now offers free wi-fi on the Auto Train as well as inside the Lorton and Sanford terminals. Amtrak restricts you from using data-intensive applications, such as watching streaming videos, to ensure there is sufficient bandwidth for your fellow passengers.

The Auto Train is extremely long -- Amtrak claims it's the longest passenger train in the world! The exact length and composition of the train depends in part upon the anticipated number of passengers expected to ride the Auto Train at that time of year. The train typically includes two Superliner observation/lounge cars where all passengers so inclined can look out over the darkened countryside as they speed at 69 mph [110 km/h] over the 855 mile route. In his (or her) welcoming announcement when you board the train, the Chief of On-Board Services will inform you of the number of passengers traveling that day and the number of autos being carried on the train.

Most of the lounge cars were specially designed for the Auto Train and feature lounge and booth seating and an upper level attendant service area where you can purchase snacks, and beverages. Be sure to visit the lounge car often throughout the trip-they are the focus of activity on the Auto Train.

After it becomes dark outside the lounge cars remain active with people talking and enjoying the trip. A PG-rated movie is shown on video monitors in the lounge cars two or three times during the evening. The movie will be of recent vintage (about what you would see on a cable "Pay Per View" channel), probably a comedy or light drama. By around 11:00 p.m. the sleeping car passengers will have retired to their compartments and the snack counter will have closed. Most coach passengers will have gone back to their seats and will be trying to get some sleep.

All bedding is supplied for sleeping car passengers. Coach passengers may wish to bring their own pillow and blanket. Parents typically bring along pajamas for children. A few passengers in coach choose to stay up all night in one of the lounge car, playing cards and socializing.

The Auto Train attendants start to fade away into their crew dormitory car around 10pm for a few hours of sleep. (In case you're curious, they all live on the northern end of the Auto Train route, rather than in Florida, and work a round-trip, followed by several days at home. They are divided into five teams, each managed by a Chief). If you need emergency assistance during the night you can always find senior crew members, including a train attendant, the Chief of On-Board services, or one of the two conductors, available somewhere on the train (often doing paperwork at a table in one of the lounge or dining cars.)

The only stop during the night is in Florence, South Carolina, where the two engines are re-fueled, fresh drinking water is pumped into the train, and the engineer, assistant engineer, and conductors change. In the still of the night the work is done very quietly, to avoid waking sleeping passengers.

Expect the train to slow down periodically to move through freight yards, or past freight trains waiting at a siding. Travel through Jacksonville is particularly slow due to curving track. Don't be concerned though--these are all figured into the Auto Train's schedule.

Around 7:00 the next morning a PA announcement by the Chief of On-Board Services will awaken any still-sleeping passengers, informing them of the estimated arrival time and the weather at their destination, and inviting everyone to one of the dining cars for breakfast. A light continental breakfast is served in the dining cars beginning around 6:00am, consisting of juice, coffee or tea, a selection of fresh fruit, cereal, bagels and muffins with cream cheese, jelly and butter. Some of these items will also be available in the lounge car for those who choose to skip the sit-down breakfast in the dining car.

In the event that the Auto Train is delayed en route, the crew will keep you fed and entertained until you arrive; scheduling extra showings of the movie, putting out snacks, and if the train is particularly behind schedule, providing lunch.

Auto Train operates over railroad tracks owned by CSX Transportation. The ability of the Auto Train to arrive at its destination terminal on time is largely dependent upon CSX's ability to keep traffic flowing along the eastern seaboard. CSX has had problems with this in recent years, resulting in the Auto Train often being late. It's best to just relax and consider the extra time on board a no-cost bonus! If the track has been clear and there have been no delays, you might arrive up to two hours early. If the train is running very ahead of schedule, expect the train to slow down, since it can't pull into Sanford or Lorton until the terminal crew has arrived for work. Since CSX runs fewer freight trains on weekends, trips on Saturdays and Sundays are the most likely to arrive at their destination early.

Traveling with Children

The author of these hints has repeatedly traveled on the Auto Train with his wife and young daughter. The experience has been quite good. Children under 2 ride for free; children ages 2-15 typically receive a discount fare. On one trip we reserved a Bedroom and one parent shared the oversized bottom berth with our daughter while the other parent slept in the upper berth. The next year we reserved a Family Bedroom, providing each of us our own bed. Of the two, we preferred the Family Bedroom.

There are no booster seats in the dining car, meaning one parent had to keep a hand on our daughter while in the booth. The Auto Train offers a special children's dinner plate consisting of chicken fingers, macaroni, and mixed vegetables, called "Choo Choo Chewies". Children may also choose a selection from the regular adult menu, if they prefer, and adults can order the Choo Choo Chewies if they like.

Our daughter has always enjoyed the freedom of the train, watching parts of the movie in the lounge car and on the whole sleeps pretty well on the train. The year we traveled during Thanksgiving week there were many other children on the Auto Train off to visit grandparents and Disney World. The year we traveled over Christmas there were special screenings of family videos in the lounge car. We typically take along story tapes and a personal cassette player with headphones for our daughter's use while on the train. On one trip we also took along a personal DVD player for use in our sleeping compartment.

Next page discusses fares and charges, deals and discounts, and how to make reservations.

Amtrak does not endorse this page and other associated On Track On Line pages, nor does it sponsor this or any other On Track On Line page. Amtrak sources were used to compile or confirm some of the information here, but this does not represent official Amtrak information, nor is this information endorsed by Amtrak.

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