Fred Frailey Blog

Amtrak’s $700,000 Auto Train idea

  • Comments 10

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

  • Hooray!  Now, if Amtrak would only start selling seat reservations for specific seats.  If only 10% of their 30M passengers would bite for $5 a seat, that'd be a cool $15M a year.

  • Here's another low cost tip that would increase customer satisfaction.  Force employees who drive the cars to wear coveralls with no pockets.  All the change in my car was cleaned out on my 2006 trip on Auto train.

  • did you not tell of this awhile back?

  • Seaboard dude: Yes, I wrote a couple of months ago that I had found the secret to being first off the train, but withheld the secret, not wishing at the time to hack off the people who work on the Auto Train. Now that Amtrak is asking $50 to be first off (an idea I endorse, obviously) I feel less reason to be secretive. So I revealed what I had witnessed and how (unless Amtrak changes it switching routine) being one of the last to arrive all but guarantees being one of the first off. Like I said, that may change; no guarantees. But Amtrak crews are handling the cuts of cars in the most logical and expeditious manner, and changing that just to thwart my advice to those few of you who ride Auto Train would be cutting off your hand to spite yourself, wouldn't it?

    Fred F

  • A better low-cost tip: don't leave change in your car.  I use an EZ Pass (and a SunPass in FL).

  • Al,  I understand your comment and on a one-on-one basis I apprectiate the advice.  I use EZ Pass as well - the loose change has more to do with food purchases than anything else.   But in the bigger picture, is this how Amtrak should be perceived by the non-railfan traveling public.  Do we just wink and let this go on simply because this is how it's always been?

    I haven't taken Auto Train since.  Not saying I'm a regular Florida traveler, but the few times I have gone there I've thought long and hard about my options.  

  • gravely fan,

    We picked up our car in Sanford one trip and some wise*** had turned the car heat and seat heaters on "full". A few four letter words helped "cool" us down, and we still keep comig back.  There's a sour apple in every bushel; luggage gets stolen in airports on a fairly regular basis, but people still fly.

  • Yeah, Fred, we accidently discovered that trick when we took our 4th Autotrain round trip a couple years ago. We were running late getting into Sanford and that had us in the first 10 vehicles off in Lorton! (course, we also had to wait till the last seating to eat dinner)

    I often wondered if the oversize vehicles were first off regardless?

  • The only "uh-oh" I've got is what happens when more people then Amtrak plans on pay the $50?

  • Chill out America. If you are coming south in the winter, just stand in the sun and enjoy the Florida sunshine, If going north you will miss the D.C. rush hour if you are a bit late getting your car. I wrote a remark about Fred's "secret" when he first wrote it as being very smug and still feel that way. Get a life Fred and smell the roses.

Amtrak’s $700,000 Auto Train idea