cars are Double Decker rail cars. The upper level has
95% of the coach seats and requires the use of stairs
to reach them. The first floor is usually reserved for
handicapped or elderly passengers. There are plenty of
bathrooms in each car that are usually large enough to
change clothes or tend to infants and children.
Although some love the auto train, some do not, all depending upon how flexible you are when traveling. A good night's sleep in a coach seat (auto train or conventional train) is almost impossible. Like a plane ride, any sleep will be in an upright seating position. There are times when the train is not crowded and the conductors allow you spread out (one whole seat to each passenger) where you may be able to lie down.
If you live close to the Lorton, Virginia Train Depot it is not hard to get to the train the same day, but be aware there are times when there are back-ups on the Beltway (Interstate 95/495) crossing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge from Maryland into Virginia. Usually it is a relatively smooth trip. For folks traveling for more than 3-4 hours I recommend arriving the day before and getting a hotel room that is within 1-2 hours of the Auto Train terminal. This allows you to get a good night's sleep and then drive to the terminal without having to rush.
Upon arrival at the terminal you will be checked in at a welcome station. They will number the side of your vehicle and direct you to where they take your car. As you exit your vehicle, the employee will inform you about the items that you will need to take aboard the train, such as a change of clothes and overnight needs. Pack wisely! Remember that once you leave your large bags in the vehicle, you won't have access to them until your trip is over. Each passenger is allowed two carry-on bags. Sleeping car passengers may bring additional pieces, but only two average-sized suitcases will fit in even the largest rooms. Be sure to pack all medication and special snacks in one of your carry-on bags. They will keep the lounge cars cool to provide maximum comfort for all the passengers, so you may want to bring an extra sweater if you tend to get cold easily. For maximum comfort, dress in layers and bring a pillow with you on board -- or stuff a small duffel bag with sweaters or sweatshirts. Be prepared. There's nothing like watching the countryside roll by your outside window. Bring a camera with high-speed film to record some of the sights you will see.
All other luggage and other items will remain in your car. You will not have access to your vehicle after it is loaded into the car carriers. You then go into the waiting room and sign in. There you will select a dinner seating time (usually they will have three dinner seating to choose from) Finally, you will wait for the boarding announcement. Take five minutes to read the Amtrak Safety Instruction Card for help, in the rare event of an emergency.
note that they don't unload your car at Sanford (or Lorton)
in the same order in which it was received. They expect
everyone who is booked on the train to be checked in by
2:30 P.M. But, you still have approximately an hour before
you're allowed to board the train. Also keep in mind that
the restrooms on board the train are not operational until
the train pulls out of the station, so if nature calls,
use the restrooms at the waiting room.
Upon arrival to your destination they ask you to depart the train. After everyone has departed the train, they then begin unloading the vehicles. As they are unloaded, a representative calls out the number of the vehicle being unloaded. When your number is called you go claim your vehicle and continue to your final destination.
When you to take the return train back north the procedure is the same as when traveling south. You have to be at the Auto Train depot by 2:30 P.M. This is because of the amount of time it takes to load all the vehicles. The trains always leave around 4:30P.M. The train gets into Sanford (or Lorton if you're going north) at around 8:30 A.M. the following morning. It takes approximately two hours before they unload all the vehicles.
There are restrictions on the size of the vehicles and you may have to remove antennas, luggage racks etc.. The vehicle requirements are:
Auto Train begins accepting vehicles as early as 11:30 A.M. and oversized vehicles and motorcycles must arrive by 2:30 P.M. Automobiles will not be accepted after 3:30 P.M.
If you have any questions about special Auto Train requirements, call 1-800-USA-RAIL for more information.
The majority of vehicles on the Auto Train going south are from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Vehicles from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Maine, and all the New England States and several Canadian Provinces also use this mode of transportation. The trains are usually less crowded going north from Sanford during November and into early December than the opposite way because many retirees head to Florida for the winter. In September the train is equally crowded in both directions because of college students going back to college, and many students ship their cars that way.
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