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Amtrak’s $700,000 Auto Train idea

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Monday, January 28, 2013

The best idea I’ve ever had made a couple hundred grand for my employer. I felt good about it. So imagine the pride of Amtrak employees who thought up and pushed through a genuinely good plan that deals with a perennial customer-service issue involving the Virginia-to-Florida Auto Train. Namely, when will I get my car off the train?

From the time you arrive at the end of the run in Lorton or Sanford, it takes up to 30 minutes to get the first cut of auto carrier cars spotted and to begin unloading. Depending upon how many vehicles are aboard the train, another 60 to 90 minutes can pass before you see your Old Dependable being driven off the train. Some people are oblivious to the wait. But for those who can’t wait to get out, Amtrak by about March 1 will have a solution: Pay a $50 premium and Amtrak guarantees your vehicle will be one of the first 20 off the train.

This was one of the proposals put forth last September by Amtrak’s product-development team, and specifically (I am told) by employees Dennis Lyons and Pat Pietrantonio. I suspect this service will be fully subscribed every day. If so, the math suggests this will bring in more than $700,000 in additional revenue while costing Amtrak not a dime and making a lot of customers happy. Figure on maybe $550,000 or so this year, which is already underway.

Now, here’s a tip from Fred: If the Auto Train yard crews continue to switch the auto carrier cars as they have in the past, you can save your $50 and also be one of the first 30 or 40 vehicles off the train by surrendering your vehicle for loading at about 2:45 p.m. By then, there is only one cut of auto carriers left to load, and at each end this cut is also the first spotted for unloading. No guarantees! Maybe the yard crews will assemble and disassemble the trains differently. If you try this, let me know the results—Fred W. Frailey

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