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» RAILforum » Passenger Trains » Amtrak » Auto Train - Prior Voyages and DeLand Derailment

   
Author Topic: Auto Train - Prior Voyages and DeLand Derailment
Gilbert B Norman
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No "Voyage 25" - at least this year.

Last year, I was questioning the value of an $814 #52(24 FEB) Northward "passage" comprising me in a Bedroom; auto on the rack. Using AT saves me a net of 399 miles of driving - something that is "not a white knuckle fright fest" (as it seems to be for many participants at the several railroad related discussion sites) for me. Just drive rested, sober and in a mechanically sound vehicle and "it ain't the end of the world".

But "fast forward" to this year; same passage on #52(26 FEB) is $1138. Sorry Amtrak, I don't need you THAT bad.

For the record, I'm "comfortable +" in retirement - able to do "what I want to do when I want to do it", but I have my limits - and Amtrak has pushed my "limit buzzer".

Oh well, I'll have more flexibility to visit with my en route friends, such as Ocala Mike. I allow two nights en route each way (one night was "fortysomething stuff"; straight through? "college stuff").

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palmland
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Wow, no wonder A-T has been running with less than the 50 car limit quite often this winter. That’s too much for an overnight trip.

I’m with you on increasing number of overnights for road trips. Our son in ATL is in the process of moving to eastern PA. What was a 4 hour drive will now be 11. Too much for us to drive in one day. The good news is he will now be only 1 hour from our other son in northern NJ. And we have long since established our favorite overnite cities on each of our 3 routes: Ashland/Richmond, Charlottesville, and Staunton. All have one thing in common. A college campus is nearby to insure a lively downtown, good restaurants, and of course good train watching.

I’ll have a trip report in a couple weeks for another guys only mid winter basketball weekend in Ashland that requires a ride on th Palmetto.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Well, maybe we might be "back on" after all.

$1138 is now $979; last year $814.

Once again; 52(26) me in a Bedroom; "Black Beauty" (my new Lex) on the rack.

I'd be inclined to think Amtrak doesn't deserve a dime more than they got out of me last year, but "I'll sleep on it" tonight.

But as I noted earlier my net saving of miles driven is 399; i.e excess Sanford to home via Lorton 95-70-76-80 over 75-24-65 direct route is $168, i.e 399mi x (.135mi gas + .24mi mtce). Overnight stop $120 hotel; $65 restaurant & Grape Juice = $185, or a total of $353.

$979 v. $353.

We shall see what the morning brings. If that is what I choose, then, Mike, we will only have Sat Feb 23 for a meet up.

Finally, I should note, I was also "on the fence" about going overseas this year. The fare ORD-MUC-ORD came down from the unacceptable Business of $4355 to an acceptable $3653. The hotel seems "about the same". So I'm off to Salzburg, again this year, Aug 14.

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Ocala Mike
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Might be going to Tampa on 2/16, but 2/23 should be good.
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Gilbert B Norman
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Well, I've booked Voyage 25; #52(26JAN) Bedroom J Car 5240 $693.

That's "a mite bit more palatable" than was $814 two years ago.

It will be interesting to see what new amenities, if any, are available. It will also be interesting to see the "food truck" concept in place for the Coach trade.

"Thirty nine days and a wake-up".

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palmland
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Good for you, GBN! Anxious to hear about the enhancements and say hi to SCA, Ernest, if you see him. Best one we’ve had in Amtrak era.

I wish the Birmingham Special was still running as we’re in middle of long drive from Morristown, NJ to Birmingham for family visits.

Merry Christmas!

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Gilbert B Norman
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Well, time to ring up Mr. Ladbroke, or other bookie of your choice, and place your bets. Will they or won't they have these "enhancements" in place for my 52(26) "Voyage 25"?

https://www.amtrak.com/alert/auto-train-2020-enhancements.html

I'm expecting nothing beyond a ride and vehicle transport. That Monday 27th, have a Lunch with a friend in Stafford; want to "stock up" at Potomac Point winery there, and also at Chrysalis in Middleburg before hitting the 70 and 76 to Akron and "tying up".

I just did a little "snooping" around the Amtrak website, and it appears that only I, along with the Cleveland Orchestra, wanted to avoid the Super Bowl malarkey, moving our respective journeys "down below" to January.

While, once again I'm paying $693 on 52(26), taking same Feb 24 - the same "window" during which I would have taken the journey last year - will be $1165. Of further interest is that same for March 30 - when the birds, snow and otherwise, start their migration - that journey checks in at $1465. So it appears that the Super Bowl made Auto Train "affordable" for me this year.

Finally, the new AT Menu, featuring a Flat Iron Steak and one glass of "comp" wine, is now available at the website.

Flat Iron if properly prepared, can be a very tasty cut of beef, even if it's somewhat "tough". Guarantee the Amtrak varietal will be one of those properties - guess which one.

One glass? come on! Well, I'll just make sure I have a little "room stock" to go along with my "Times reading hour" (it's sold at both the SFA and LOR Faber shops).

Again, I'm expecting nothing beyond passenger and vehicle transport.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Aboard 52(26)---

First impressions:

I think the Attendant, Debbie, has got to be amongst "the best of the bunch".

There are now ten Sleepers in the consist but some tonight appear to be completely blanked.

Dinner 7PM, but Debbie says she will try to have me "squeezed in".

"J" was "*** first", but she said I could have "A" which is forward riding.

NO SIGN of the elusive Food Truck @ SFA, (addendum) present for duty @ LOR.

Oh and for those around here active at AU, Debbie knows their "Richie Rich".

52(26)

162 PAX 92 AUTOS. 16 PSGR 22 RACKS

Dinner? well I guess an "upgrade", but a feeling "everything's rationed out". The Flat Iron Steak was cooked as ordered; don't know if I "got lucky" or if this can regularly expected. Oh, and the comp "wine" (if you care to call it that) is "presented" to the passenger in a "milk carton" container (funny, how comp wine is still presented to First/Business passengers in glass bottles - at least on United. Can't speak for Delta - probably last flew them forty years ago).

So far, the best experience has been this exceptional Attendant: Debbie.

Passed a few minutes ago, that railfan "Mecca" Folkston, GA.

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yukon11
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Mr. Norman, I can well understand how fortunate it is to come across a great attendant like Debbie. It seems like it's rare to come across a really good employee, in any line of work, who goes to considerable lengths to be cheerful and extremely helpful. It can help displace any negative feelings for other problems, like bad Amtrak food.

I had a very nice experience, the other day, at a check-out counter at a "Whole Foods" market (I think they are nationwide, but not sure). The check-out girl and bagger were exceptional nice and went out of their way to make you feel appreciated. It can make your day. If I get the usual e-mail asking me to rate my experience at Whole Foods, I always give a glowing report for such nice folk. If I have a "Debbie" for an attendant on my next Amtrak excursion, I would give her "flying colors" in the "please rate your Amtrak trip" evaluation email.

However, getting email asking to rate any little thing you buy or encounter is driving me crazy. They want you to rate anything from a pair of socks to a box of toothpicks.

Richard

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palmland
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Yes, Richard, ‘Debbie’s’ are too rare on Amtrak. We were fortunate on our trip to have one too, Ernest. Later in that trip we stopped on our way home to see friends in Ashland, VA where the tracks go through town. Ernest told me he’d be on AT that day and then called me when he left Lorton. He was hanging out the window in the door of his sleeper waving at all of us gathered on the platform.

I made sure to let Customer Relations know how good he was, and also to complain about the AC. I believe Amtrak has some right of selectivity in AT employees. I suspect that train has more of the better employees than most.

Totally agree with you about too many surveys!

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Gilbert B Norman
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From Lorton LOR--

Arrival 711A, detraining 815A, first Priority auto off 831A.

First regular off 839A, Black Beauty at 851A

I'm outta here, next stop Mickey D.

Food truck present for duty at LOR; sorry I'll pass for what I know.

Finally, Debbie will get a commendation from me to Amtrak, for she made what was otherwise an "institutional" experience a "mite bit" more acceptable.

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Ocala Mike
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Yes, Palmland, the best employees are selected for the AT. Many years ago (maybe 10 or more), I attended a Florida Coalition of Rail Passengers meetup in Winter Park and one of the speakers was the "boss" of the AT service, who explained that the employees bid on the job and only the "cream of the crop" make it.
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Gilbert B Norman
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Here is the message I sent Amtrak Customer Relations regarding Attendant Debbie:

  • Please commend this exceptional SCSA for the exemplary service she afforded to all passengers in this car.

    Amtrak is truly fortunate to have her in its service - she is a tremendous asset.

    GBN

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Gilbert B Norman
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#52(26) was involved in a serious derailment incident at Deland- only some fifteen miles into its "voyage".

The link appears to be drone shot "raw footage"; no talking head:

WESH Orlando

Fortunately, only one minor injury.

Let the Amtrak/CSX "finger pointing" begin. "It's your corner cutting equipment maintenance"; "no it's your lousy track".

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palmland
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Someone posted the location on Google Maps. It appears it was coming off a curve. If someone miss switched and put the loaded auto carriers behind empty ones, sometimes referred to as 'string lining', that could be the cause. Especially so with the high center of gravity. That's a problem for empty intermodal cars in the middle of a train, even without the extreme height.

I forgot if CSX is still responsible for maintaining that track as poor maintenance could also be the cause, or at least a contributing one, as GBN notes. Mayebe some of the eight dertailed cars were the ones with late arrivals or perhaps those who paid extra for early unloading! Little did they know.

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George Harris
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With stringlining it is usually the middle cars in the train that are off the track. Also, this is unlikely in the Florida flat terrain. In freight train terms, Autotrain is short. Not going to try to guess the cause, but think it unlikely to be stringlining.
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Ocala Mike
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I will guess the cause (this is the internet, right?)

Deferred CSX maintenance of the right-of-way maybe exacerbated by unseasonably hot weather lately.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Mike, it appears you had a chance to observe the Auto-Train through your namesake city, this sounds like a "rare mileage detour" 53 (26) is making or has completed. It appears to be using a routing used by the Star after CSX chopped the SAL Coleman-Auburndale and when it was routed through Orlando. It of course represented quite a sight on the SAL passing through Waldo and Ocala- and within sight of The Villages, the 100K strong adult community where the "truth patrols" are out searching for anyone getting news from a source other than Fox or Drudge. At Coleman, it was on the ACL through Zephyrhills converging near Lakeland with the existing Star route - albeit a Southbound train heading North.

Finally, such a move must have "turned a head or two" in Orlando and Winter Park.

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Ocala Mike
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Wish I was in town to see that, Gil. My trips in to the big city of Ocala are extremely rare, especially nowadays. Have they opened the line through Deland yet?
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Gilbert B Norman
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52(28) is a "go" at present.

It will be interesting to learn how they wyed 53(26) at or near SFA. Lest we forget, AT operates as a "Shuttle"; it's never turned.

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palmland
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Check out google maps, GBN. It appears there is a wye of sorts beyond the AT ‘yard’. One leg appears to be a lead to an industry so is somewhat short. It would be interesting to see how they do it.
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Gilbert B Norman
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Mr. Palmland, I have learned that 53(26) turned from the Wildwood Sub through the (compass) NE quadrant connector to the (ETT) Northbound Lakeland Sub. There was no "foreign" power needed.

However, since each AT set is a "shuttle", and with Southbound 53 arriving SFA in a Northbound direction, it would need be wyed....somewhere.

I guess it could be done the industrial trackage, which I've seen first hand driving into Sanford, if they broke the set into "workable" sized parts and minimized blocking US-17/SR-46 (French Ave.).

But then, as I've been reminded at another site, I was just "a Non-Agreement office boy", so what do I know?

Finally, let us note that the (outside contractor) Valets might have had to back the autos out of the racks when they were spotted at SFA. Guarantee you I'd be less than happy if MY auto was handled in such a manner. EKG designed (or got credit for designing) a Ro-Ro system for handling vehicles so it not be necessary to operate in reverse (of course, when I give my auto to Valets at hotels or restaurants, I sort of X my fingers and look the other way).

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Gilbert B Norman
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Bob Johnston has a review of the "new" Auto-Train appearing in May TRAINS based on a Northbound trip taken during February.

It seems as if he walked away with the same impression as did I from my January sojourn; "nothing to be excited about, nothing to go out of your way for".

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