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Trip Report

Auto Train Round Trip

July 11-12 and July 22-23, 2004


A trip to sell another section of railroad right-of-way, lease some land and join a family reunion.

Northbound - 11 July 2004

This trip was planned for my son and I leaving on 10 Jul in his pickup truck. It is too big for the train so we would drive up and back. On 5 Jul my wife decided that she should go to sort some goods. Her idea was to go "somewhere close" and rent a car. Well I looked at all the lines that were within 200 miles. The only one that went by in daylight was the Cardinal and it had no deluxe sleepers available at this late date. So Auto Train is it. The train had deluxe bedrooms open on the 11th but not on 19 through 21. Took the 11 th and 22nd and ordered tickets for pick up at Sanford.

On 8 Jul the local fires closed our primary route to the north, Krome Ave (997), and the road remained closed on 9 and 10 Jul. Got up early on the 11 th and finished packing the car. Turned on the radio for traffic up-date and now both 997 and US 27 are closed. We depart to the east and enter the Florida turnpike before turning north. Light smoke and light Miami Sunday traffic. Heavy smoke to the NW where 27 and 997 would be.

Just south of Ft Pierce the "low tire" light came on. The tire was low but I could drive to the Ft Pierce exit and take care of the problem there. Nothing open to fix it on a Sunday so called On Star. They passed me over to Chevy and Chevy sent a man out to change the wheel. After a short discussion the decision was made to go to a Tractor Supply Store just down the road. At 55 on the "doughnut spare" I would not be in Sanford in time to catch the train. The Chevy man followed us to make sure we made it. Filled the tire to 30# and purchased an air tank. They filled the tank to 120# and I departed back to the Turnpike. It is a bit shorter route and I needed all the help I could get. Will take care of the tire in Va., if needed. Chevy man wished us "Good luck."

Weather was hazy and looked like rain ahead. Got off at the "Beeline Expressway" and then the outer loop road. Raining hard and time is short. Called Amtrak but they could not get an answer from Sanford. They said probably the crew was out loading cars. From past observations that did not ring true. Office crew stay in the office and outside crew take care of cars.

Now it is pouring so hard I can just make out the road markings. Get to the city of Sanford and still pouring. Water hub deep in the center lane so slow going. No one is in the outer lanes. Almost missed the Amtrak sign but by turning hard left just made it without turning around.

The welcome booth was closed but ahead under the canopy they were waving. We were the last car. Got our overnight gear and into the station. 3 PM on the clock. Their phones are out of order but we got our tickets and meal pass. They led us out the door and our car is directly in front of the station. Deluxe Sleeper Palm Bay, 5241 for this run. Settle in to room M. Short wait and the auto cars are coupled to the end. All ready by 3:45.

We sit. Reason for this delay is given as "Severe weather storm." Actual start is 4:17 p. This will be my first trip with the new ICOM IC-V8 transceiver. Have it programmed for the freqs as listed in On Track On Line - Amtrak Radio Frequencies. Notes will be taken with a Radio Shack DR-83 as it worked well on our last trip to Texas.

4:24 p We are on the main line sitting in sight of the old ice house. Amtrak 97 ( about 2 hours late), 52 (loco 833) and the dispatcher are discussing the best way to get both Amtrak trains through this section of track. They are having trouble at the bridge across the St John River just up the track.

Final agreement is: 52 will sit on the main since we have had the block since 4 p. The bridge tender will walk north to flag 97 through the bridge. 97 will take the side track to pass 52. After 97 passes and the switch is clear, we will advance to the bridge and be flagged through.

4:43 p. 97 glides by with 9 cars. Hear "Ready on the rear" and we move slowly ahead.

4:47 p. We get a green flag to enter the bridge. Later an axle count gives 132.

5:30 p. Depart for the evening meal. Return at 7:07. During this meal we stopped for a defect detector. Nothing found wrong. I had beef, baked potato and mixed vegetables. My wife had chicken, rice and mixed vegetables. Beef and potato were good and well prepared. Only ate the carrots from the vegetables. Never liked carrots until I made Chief. Brownie a la mode finished the meal for us. Glenna received hot water and milk to go, just by asking.

7:21 p. We pass Orange Park Station and the PV Coco Grove (PV = Private Varnish, i.e., a privately owned railcar).

7:47 p. Juanita arrived to make the beds. Took her about three minutes. Gave her our order for breakfast in the room. And soon to bed.

1:10 a. Arrived at Florence, SC for crew change and train service. Due at 12:50 a. Someone is calling for ice. Depart at 1:45. Hear a short discussion of Rule 5314 A*. Not sure if that is an Amtrak or a CSX rule. Some one did something wrong either at or close to Florence. Nothing is said about Rule 5314 B.

6:15 a. We are stopped with a freight alongside. Actually half a freight. It has a busted knuckle leaving the other half on our track. Crewman on the freight said, "It is a mighty thin dime holding up a silver dollar." I guess he is talking about what they get for a coal train vs Amtrak. Breakfast is served. A Dole fruit cup, banana, bagel, corn muffin, OJ, Philly cream cheese, jelly and milk.

6:42 a. Coal train has movement both directions so I guess he fixed his coupler. SFEX is the marking on the coal cars.

6:47 a. Start forward with clear signal but only about half a mile to a restricted speed section so don't accelerate fast. Soon pass through Carsons.

7:38 a. At Richmond. 7:44 pass the station. Should have been here at 6:15. Overheard on the radio with a very slow drawl, "How long is that train, Roy?" Reply, "It's a long one. Five thousand feet, I done know." 7:57 a Through Ashland.

9:00 a. Quantico Slow crossing of the bridge to the north.

9:30 a. Arrive at Lorton. A long walk to the station as the passenger cars are not split as they are at Sanford. Just get set down and our number is called. The fifth or sixth car off. Get in, check the tires and go.

Have lunch at our usual stop in Stevens City, Va. and home by 5:30 p. On arrival the water is hot, refrigerator is cold and AC works. Not bad as the house has been closed for over a year.

Return Trip - 22 Jul, 2004

Arrived at the gate at 11:25 with five autos in line ahead. Gate opened at 11:30 and we were soon in the big terminal. While Sanford has a large seating area outside the terminal, Lorton has only a few benches. They face the train cars, not the auto loading area. Sales of food, books etc were brisk inside the station.

Relaxed after the morning drive. I-81, I-66, The Prince William Parkway and about two miles of I-95. Very heavy and slow traffic on the last mile of I-66. I-95 is I-95, period. The parkway by- passes the congestion of I-295, I-66 and I-95 close to D.C. By taking Lorton Road to the right as you leave the terminal, you can catch the parkway without using I-95 at all. None of my 2003/2004 maps show the parkway as completed, but it is from its start at I-66 to I-95 and beyond. Probably stops at US 1.

Started loading at 2:25. A long walk to the Palm Bay. I purchased a back pack for this trip and will use it from now on. It was made by the same company that makes the "Swiss Army Knives" and has a padded space for a laptop computer. As loaded it contained a Sony 15" laptop, my computer glasses: floppy disks for Sony camera; clothing and the camera: papers, tickets etc: three chargers; the radio; the Radio Shack recorder; spare batteries and had two side pockets for bottled water still empty. Made the stairs in the car an easy climb even with a cane. Joey would have brought it up but I wanted the radio as soon as we were in room L. Same car we came up in with the number changed to 5341.

Joey had his own welcome page in the room. Had info about the room on one side and the menu on the other. After all were on board, he came by for the usual briefing and took our order for breakfast and bed makeup.

3:25 p. Pull ahead so auto carriers can be coupled on the rear. PA system says they found a plastic jug of milk on the platform. They have it in the refrigerator and the owner can get it in the diner or by asking a crew member.

3:44 p. Move forward to the switch and await clearance to enter the main line. Conductor is Kenny and unlike most trips in the past, he tells why we are stopped.

3:50 p. After passing the first switch we again stop. Reason? Told to by dispatcher. CSX has only one track open to the south and traffic is backed up both ways. We are in line to go when an opening is available. Three trains are ahead of us. Our train has 14 passenger cars and 17 auto carriers for this trip.

4:00 p. Four or five people on the air discussing the holdup. Conclusion, "Yep, it is a circus."

4:20 p. A Virginia Express goes by. Conductor back on the PA to explain our situation. Track work to the south "So we are just going to sit and wait for our time." Also they still have the milk.

4:47 p. Medium Clear signal so looks like we may move south. Start moving at 4:49. According to "the powers that be" we were ready to go at 3:35 and actually got out at 4:50. Someone says that at this rate we may not make Florence tonight. Conductor on the PA says it is just like a traffic jam. "We'll work through it much like you would out on the highway."

5:06 p. Stop.

5:30 p. Evening meal. Same as the previous trip. Good but still no Bunt Cake . Guess they only have it on the Silver and Sunset. Get back to the room at 6:40.

7:24 p. Arrive at Richmond. Should have been here at 6:00 p. Room is ready for sleeping.

10:48 p. Stopped somewhere for some reason. Back to sleep.

5:30 a. Folkston.

6:15 a. PA says should arrive about 9:30. Joey makes up the room, then brings breakfast.

6:48 a. Short stop at the station in JAX . Probably about an hour late.

7:00 a. Arrival time now given as 9:15.

7:15 a. Passed Orange Park Station.

8:05 a. Cross the St. John River south of Palatka. Should be about an hour to Sanford.

8:58 a. Re-cross the St. John River just north of Sanford.

9:00 a. Pass the old ice house

9:09 a. Stop at the Sanford station and loose power to the car. Joey comes by for luggage. He fills our cooler with ice. That will save us a stop in Sanford before heading for I-95.

9:12 a. Have moved forward so our exit door will be lined up with the edge of the station. Sun is out and looks like a nice Florida day. The end of another great train trip. Sit outside and watch the cars come off.

In the rush to get our gear out of the car going north, I had left my last toll quarter in the door handle of the Impala. It was still there when we got the car at Sanford on our return. So was the nickels and dimes in the ash tray. Not recommended but we have only lost change in one trip out of twenty one.

Take road 46 to I-95. Get off at Ft Pierce and stop at a quilt shop for Glenna. Then head for the by-pass around Okeechobee and the lake. US 27 and 997 to home. Fires are out. Light traffic to 997 and then slow going during the evening rush hour. 30 to 35 mph the last 13 miles. Can't complain as that is faster than our last mile on I-66 yesterday.

* For What Its Worth: As I picked up on the radio, Rule 5314 A is: "Place your feet firmly on the trap door as they place the rope around your neck."

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