The pluses and minuses of the Auto Train

... forget traffic jams -- except at either end

by Dorothy O'Connor

For many years Russell and I drove to Florida, pulling an Airstream trailer. A few years ago we sold the trailer. The next time we drove from Melrose to our stationary trailer north of Tampa, we each ended up with a sore coccyx. We vowed to find another way to make the 1500-mile trip.  

And indeed we did find a better way. On the northbound trip we and our Camry boarded the Amtrak Auto Train in Sanford, 40 miles north of Orlando. We learned that it is the longest train of its kind in the U.S:  there were 285 vehicles and 402 passengers. We spent over 18 hours on the train. We boarded at 2 p.m. and arrived in Lorton, VA, just south of Washington, at 8:30 the next morning, an hour after the scheduled time.  

The actual journey itself was fairly comfortable and pleasant. We made one trip to the lounge and trips to the dining car for dinner and breakfast, where we talked with entertaining fellow passengers.  The food was good, better than many restaurants, and served by affable people.  

We, like most passengers, had opted not to pay for a narrow and presumably uncomfortable berth. Instead, we used the little pillow and soft blanket supplied by Amtrak, reclined the seats and slept surprisingly well. I awoke occasionally and observed the small southern towns we passed through. Somewhere in the Carolinas I was astonished to notice some grand, lovely old houses facing the street, on the other side of which was the railroad track.  

The lighting was pretty dim for reading or knitting. In the middle of the night, however, I did manage to knit for a while. Surrounded by gently snoring fellow passengers, I solved a knitting problem, and that was immensely satisfying.  

Both at the beginning and end of our trip, the stations were situated near major highways. Reunited with our car in Lorton, we made one turn and were on I-95 North. Soon we arrived at the Beltway, a nightmare of congested traffic and construction. We inched along.  Two hours later we reached a restaurant on the eastern side of Chesapeake Bay. Neither one of us likes to drive at night, but we suspected that would be the case as we headed for my niece’s home in New Jersey.  

Sure enough, it was dark by the time we got to our exit off the NJ Turnpike. We missed Route 287 and spent precious time finding it.  Russell bravely drove for an hour on a busy, dark, unfamiliar highway. We were thankful indeed to arrive safely at Jenny’s home where we basked in her warmth and hospitality. The drive home from New Jersey the next day was uneventful. In retrospect, we decided that, even with a few misadventures, taking the Auto Train is preferable to driving the whole distance.  

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