Amtrak Auto Train: An Easier Way to Get Your Car Up or Down the East Coast

Old-car buffs and train buffs have a lot in common, since both hobbies include classic machinery in motion. Did you know there’s a way to combine them? It’s called the Auto Train, and it runs every day between Sanford, Florida, and Lorton, Virginia—basically between Orlando and Washington, D.C.

Founded in 1971 as a private corporation and operated by Amtrak since 1983, the Auto Train is the only car-carrying passenger train in the U.S. In addition to the auto carriers, it uses Amtrak’s deluxe Superliner passenger cars.

Since Classic Motorsports headquarters is just 45 minutes from the Auto Train terminal in Sanford, we had no problem justifying a trip aboard the rails when we needed to take our Sunbeam Tiger north to attend the Tigers East/Alpines East United meet in St. Michaels, Maryland. Any lingering doubts were erased by the fact that Amtrak prominently features the image of a Sunbeam Tiger in its Auto Train marketing.

Tickets are easily purchased online, and the cost can be extremely reasonable depending on the direction of travel. As one might imagine, pricing is highly seasonal, since the service was designed to facilitate snowbird travel between the Northeast and Florida. We found that if you go against the grain and travel north in October, a one-way ticket that includes the smallest sleeping accommodations is only about $400. This includes passage for two, a mini-sleeper (called a Roomette) that converts from two comfy facing recliners in the daytime to a pair of bunks at night, a wine and cheese reception, dinner, breakfast, and even a movie after dinner. Add another $179 to take your car with you.

The food was good, the wine was served with good cheer in the Lounge car, and on our trip they showed ‘Casablanca,’ which seemed appropriate,” Tim Suddard reports, “although maneuvering in the Roomette at night is tricky.” Overall, we found the whole experience very upscale, fun, and way more relaxing than towing a car to an event over busy interstates. No matter which direction you travel, the train leaves at 4 p.m. and gets you to your destination the next morning around 9 a.m., relaxed and rested.

As for your car, you do have to relinquish control to Amtrak personnel, but we encountered no problems and no damage, and the autos are transported in covered cars. Classics are photographed by staff and treated with kid gloves.

If you’re looking for a relaxing way to transport yourself and your classic, or just want to enjoy the romance of the rails, we highly recommend this experience.

Now, if only Amtrak would offer this service on an east/west route so we could get our cars to Monterey and Scottsdale. Click here for more details.

Ever Notice the Tiger on Amtrak’s Posters?

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If you look around any Amtrak station or glance at their marketing materials, you’ll no doubt notice the gorgeous, highly stylized illustrations featuring a Sunbeam Tiger. As you might expect of something depicting such a rare vehicle, this was no accident.

San Francisco-based graphic artist Michael Schwab designed the posters, and when we tracked him down, he readily admitted that he’s a Sunbeam Tiger fanatic. While Michael doesn’t own a Tiger himself, he says a local friend with a Tiger allowed him to borrow the one featured.

Schwab says the folks at Amtrak asked for a couple of alterations to make the car more generic, but there is no disguising the Tiger’s distinctive lines, grille and chrome side trim. The poster is available on Michael’s site at michaelschwab.com–and yes, we’ve already ordered ours.

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David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/3/20 11:09 a.m.

Weekend bump. smiley

jdw
jdw New Reader
1/4/20 2:32 p.m.

Thumbs up for the auto train.   Used it to bring a Challenge car to Florida in 2003, IIRC.   Red 84 Volvo 242.  

wlkelley3
wlkelley3 UltraDork
1/4/20 9:26 p.m.

There used to be a train from St. Louis to the LA area that you could bring your car. Don't think they have it anymore.

Titan4
Titan4 New Reader
1/5/20 2:14 p.m.

We did this to Orlando when my daughter was little.  We had a slightly larger family room at the end of the railcar.  There was some room on the floor for my daughter to play and then bunks for us at night.  Then we had our car to go around Orlando / Disney.  

Marjorie Suddard
Marjorie Suddard General Manager
1/5/20 4:33 p.m.

I loved our trip on it, have been wracking my brain for an excuse to do it again. There is something about train travel that makes you feel like a much cooler person than you actually are.

Dcmdpilot
Dcmdpilot New Reader
1/6/20 3:20 p.m.

It is unfortunate but a year ago some of the Tigers East alpine East club had been denied boarding on the auto train because sundenly the cars in the advertisement are too low???

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/6/20 3:50 p.m.

In reply to Dcmdpilot :

That is a bummer. I'm looking at their specs, and looks like they require at least 4 inches of ground clearance. 

I'd love to do an Auto Train trip. I should measure my car. 

Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA SuperDork
1/10/20 7:34 p.m.

You only have access to your car between Lorton and Sanford, correct?  In other words, you can't get your car off in between?

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