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Trip Report

Florida Trip 2002

March 28-April 6, 2002
Section 2 of 2


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Our time in Florida

We had a relaxing week in Florida. We spent the time with my parents who provided us with the usual entertainment, including trips to various beaches and parks, and buffet restaurants. This year we also visited Weeki Wachee Springs, which recently opened an adjacent water park that accomodates non-mermaids like us. We also spent a half day with a visit at my parent's house by Michael's estranged mother, whose mental condition is no better than it was when she broke down for the third and worst time in 2000, ending up in her mother's custody in Florida.

Unfortunately, I also had to spend some time at the bank following up on a financial loss incurred while we were on vacation.

Friday, April 5, 2002

Driving to AUTO TRAIN

I decided that leaving my parents place in New Port Richey about 9:30 AM would give us plenty of time to get to the AUTO TRAIN on time, while having time for a short lunch stop. For some reason, we both had a craving for Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets, so we were determined to get them for lunch. I even checked their website for Florida locations before we left the house. I figured a good one to visit would be the one in Altamonte Springs, which is right off I-4 between Orlando and Sanford.

Our trip went as planned, most of the way. I took back roads (a combination of Florida 54 and U.S. 98) to Lakeland, then jumped on I-4. Everything looked good, until we got near the first of the four Disney World exits. Traffic got much heavier. Shades of the Capital Beltway once again. Since I am too good to wait in traffic, I bailed once again. There is a half-Beltway of sorts that goes around the east side of the Orlando area, called the Central Florida Greeneway (yes the extra "E" is in there). It begins just south of the Disney World area and goes to Sanford. I knew this would be a toll road, but I had no idea how much the tolls would be. Nevertheless, I took it. The road was fast-moving for me, but it makes a rather large circumference around the area.

Well, the toll booths never stopped. I believe there were six. And the amounts varied from 50 cents to a dollar, another dollar, another 50 cents, still another 50 cents, and then the last whammy was $1.50 --- right before the road dead-ends right before Sanford as it was not yet completed back to I-4. One thing about the tolls - as they nickel and dime you along the way, there are automatic toll lanes that accept both of Florida's programs, E-Pass and SunPass. However, the EZ-Pass from the Northeast is not accepted, so I had to throw quarters at baskets and hand bills to humans for the larger amounts.

So for my five bucks I still had to negotiate U.S. 17-92 through Sanford and then Florida 46 to the AUTO TRAIN terminal. At least in Florida there are trailblazer signs all over the place, including at the temporary end of the Central Florida Greeneway, pointing the way to the AUTO TRAIN.

One problem with taking this bypass is that we never found an exit for Altamonte Springs. In fact, we came upon the AUTO TRAIN terminal having not yet eaten lunch. We still had time, however, for Plan B, the Seminole Towne Center, whose food court does contain a Chick-Fil-A. So I passed AUTO TRAIN by, and continued three miles east to the mall. We fulfilled our desires, and then headed back to the AUTO TRAIN terminal, getting there about 1:45 PM.

Check-in & Boarding

When we got to the terminal, there was the obligatory small booth, which had a short line (roughly 4-5 cars). I guess we were not so early after all. The attendant checked my name on a list, and then tried to slap the magnetic random car number onto my plastic Saturn's door. After he picked it up he gingerly placed it on my dashboard. We were then directed to Lane 1 for car check-in.

This time my Saturn became an instant Hollywood star. As soon as we got out, a girl started videotaping my car. I guess they ran out of pens or paper? We were also told to make sure all carry-on bags have tags. This was not told to us or enforced during the Lorton check-in procedure the week before. We found tags inside for the total of three bags would be bringing aboard.

Inside the terminal I could tell right away this would be a more crowded trip. A lot of people had beaten us here, and there were few available seats to be found. After a short wait at the check-in counter, we were assigned Car 5212, Seats 55 & 56. This time, both coach and sleeper passengers had three dinner seatings, at 5, 7, and 9 PM, so I chose the soonest grub I could get, 5 PM. Our dinner tickets indicated we would be in the "B" diner, which is the very last passenger car on the northbound train before the auto carriers. We were told that the movie would be "Domestic Disturbance" with John Travolta.

We found some bench seating on the platform near the playground, which this time Michael decided to skip. Meanwhile, I did the activity which gives me more exercise than anything else, walking the platform to get the consist.

  834   P-40 locomotive
  843   P-40 locomotive
39001   Superliner II transition
32105   Superliner II sleeper
32107   Superliner II sleeper
          "Rhode Island"
32504   Superliner II deluxe sleeper
          "Palm Harbor"
33104   Superliner I AUTO TRAIN
38051   Superliner II diner
          (Diner "C")
32505   Superliner II deluxe sleeper
          "Palm Springs"
32108   Superliner II sleeper 
          "South Carolina"
32089   Superliner II sleeper
38053   Superliner II diner
          (Diner "A")
34121   Superliner II coach 
34128   Superliner II coach
33102   Superliner I AUTO TRAIN
34127   Superliner II coach
          (We sat here)
34124   Superliner II coach
34123   Superliner II coach
38045   Superliner II diner
          (Diner "B")
Plus 24 auto carriers

Note that the lead engine, 834, was the one that had malfunctioning cab signals and had to be swapped at Lorton with its P-42 mate. Eight days later it obviously was fixed.

The call to board the train came at about 2:45 PM. The process of putting the auto carriers together started as well. As I had surmised, our coach was full of passengers.

We went through the series of pre-departure announcements. We learned that our coach was equidistant between two diners, and our half of the coach would be using the one in the rear of the train. The announcements also said that we would be departing Sanford on time, even possibly up to 15 minutes early. They hold to the 3 PM arrival deadline, and in fact I did see a few cars that arrived after that time turned away.

At 3:40 PM, the southbound SILVER METEOR, Train #97(4), passed by on the mainline, running about 40 minutes late. I noticed quite a few auto carriers still at their loading positions and figured there would be no way we would be departing before 4 PM. What I was actually looking at were auto carriers that would be left behind.

Train #52(5), northbound AUTO TRAIN

We did depart from the Sanford AUTO TRAIN terminal at 3:58 PM. Our engineer was told to make noise as the engine passed under I-4. This is because there is road construction in that area, where they are working to connect the northern end of the Central Florida Greeneway with I-4. After passing the Rand Yard, the engineer obeyed his orders with a long blast of the horn.

A defect detector said that our train was 3468 feet long, and it had 172 axles.

5 PM came quickly, and we were off to the dining car. This time we were seated with Myrna and Steve, a snowbird couple returning north to their home in Monroe Township, NJ, not too far from where we live. I don't mind making conversation with strangers, but their predictable comments and questions grow old fast: "Oh what a cute boy." I know that, and so is Michael. "Did you visit Disney World?" Not on your life. "Ever ride a train before?" Grrrr. Never mind. Check please?

At 6 PM we were back at our seats, and approaching Jacksonville. Actually in West Jacksonville, we had to stop and flag a crossing. Seems CSX's biggest problem on our trip was broken gates. It did not delay us too much. However after passing through downtown Jacksonville at 6:23, we had more slow orders, and did not pass the city's suburban AMTRAK station until 6:38 PM.

I decided I would accompany Michael to this movie. What is it with AMTRAK and John Travolta? This is probably the third or fourth time we've had to watch a John Travolta flick while on the train. Two years ago we had to watch "Michael", and I know I saw "Grease" on a train back when it came out in the early 1980's.

We got to the lounge car a little before 7, and they were having trouble with the movie. Both the lounge attendant and the lead service attendant could not get it to work, and they announced that it looked like there would be no movies shown. They summoned the conductor to the lounge car, and he flipped some breaker downstairs and got the movie working to the sound of applause from the passengers who had come to the car for the movie. And here I was already envisioning another service voucher in my near future. Oh well.

The film was OK, but a little too violent, I felt, for kids to be watching. The bloody end left a few questions unanswered.

Now close to 9 PM, Michael and I went back to our seats to prepare for sleep. I also took a sleeping pill to ensure I would get some shut-eye before morning, as I had to drive us home from Virginia upon arrival. And we slept pretty well, although it was a bit more uncomfortable having to sleep in only one seat. I did wake up around 2:30 AM as we were passing another train, our southbound counterpart. Once more I missed the Florence stop.

Saturday, April 6, 2002

Train #52(5), northbound AUTO TRAIN (continued)

We awoke about 6:15 AM, as we were approaching the Richmond area. We passed the "Richmond" station at 6:36 AM. Two consists were in the station, representing Acela Regional trains 82 and 86. The first announcement of the day said that we were running slightly ahead of schedule, and that we would arrive in Lorton at about 8:15 AM.

We went for our continental breakfast around this time, and had no conversation (mercifully) with our table mates. Again they were part of a larger group that was seated at other tables.

At 7:42 AM, we passed the southbound TWILIGHT SHORELINER, Train 67(5). Then, at 8:15 AM, our journey was over as we pulled off the CSX main and onto AUTO TRAIN's Lorton siding. Again it was a few minutes until we could detrain. Being a bit cooler than Florida (it was only in the 40's), everyone waited in the waiting room for their automobiles to be called. Some still wore their shorts from Florida, even though we had returned to a very cool early spring day.

Once again Michael and I waited and waited through 2/3 of the auto loading numbers before ours was called. At least having arrived early, we were able to be on our way by 9:30 AM.

Driving home

I had decided that if we got in at a decent time, we would take the Cape May-Lewes Ferry rather than going up I-95. There would be some variety for us, and it would give me some rest from driving and break up the day for Michael.

I also decided that given the experience on the way down, we would avoid the Springfield Interchange altogether and take the same shortcut. I went to U.S. 1 in Lorton and took that up to Alexandria. After paying a highly-inflated price for gasoline, I entered the Capital Beltway. We encountered no traffic problems this time; perhaps the fact it was a Saturday had something to do with that.

When we got to the New Carollton area, I turned east onto U.S. 50, which is a freeway all the way across beyond Annapolis to the Eastern Shore. Between Washington and Annapolis, it is an excellent road built to Interstate standards, providing a smooth, quick ride. We got off in Annapolis to have lunch, a little past 11 AM. We ended up in another Chick-Fil-A, this one in the Westfield Shoppingtown Annapolis (formerly the Annapolis Mall).

After that, we had to rush because I wanted to catch a 1:40 PM ferry at Lewes, DE. We went over the William Preston Lane, Jr. Memorial Bridge (better known as the Bay Bridge) over Chesapeake Bay. After continuing southeast on U.S. 50 a little more, we then turned east on Route 404, which goes across the rest of Maryland and clear across the state of Delaware to Lewes.

I did not know if we would make it, but as luck turned out, we arrived at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry at 1:34 PM, with just 6 minutes to spare. I was, in fact, the last car on the vessel.

After a nice leisurely 75-minute ride across Delaware Bay, we were finally in our home state. A good run up the Garden State Parkway, and finally U.S. 9 back to Howell, we were home around 5 PM.


Overall, it was a good trip. I accomplished the goal of riding the AUTO TRAIN for the first time in 5-1/2 years, and experiencing its relatively "new" lounge cars. I got to ride one tourist railroad while in Florida. And we had a good week of relaxation with family.

Next year, I hopefully will be able to ride the Orlando-Mt. Dora all-day steam train excursion. The new TECO streetcar line should be open in Tampa by then as well. And maybe there will be passenger trains running over the Florida East Coast Railway. To ride that would mean a side trip to Jacksonville, where we also can complete unfinished business in riding the newest portion of the Skyway people mover system. Sounds already like a busy itinerary for next spring!

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