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T O P I C     R E V I E W
Gilbert B Norman
Member # 1541
 - posted
As inferred at several recent postings, I have now made Auto Train Voyage 21.

Well, Palm Springs IS in Florida - at least several days a week.

Auto Train 'Voyage 21', i.e. my 21st journey on AT since 1972, was aboard 52 (FEB26), and otherwise from 78dg Sanford to 33dg Lorton.

All told, the equipment assigned to Auto Train continues to be maintained at a high level. For once in this life, I made the scene at Sanford at about 130P rather than my more usual 245P (3P is closing to load vehicles). As such I had ample time to 'walk' the 17 car passenger consist parked at the station (one Diner was being DH'd for reasons I know not). Otherwise the consist comprised, 390XX T-Dorm, 2 32XXX Sleepers, 3250X Bdrm Slpr, 3310X Lounge, 380XX Diner, 3250X Bdrm Slpr, 2 32XXX Sleepers, 4 341XX Coaches, 380XX Diner, 331XX Lounge, 380XX Diner DH Diner. All equipment other than the two Lounges was S-II. Sorry if I am no longer into recording consists as I once was - simply too many 'wondering eyes' watching nowadays.

Boarding was shortly before 3PM, I knew this was going to be a heavy load as, booking about three weeks in advance, I was assigned Bedroom 'A' in line 5241, #32505 Bedroom Sleeper 'Palm Springs'. Ouch, that's the Bedroom any experienced Amtrak traveler knows to avoid!!! Oh well, heavily booked train; somebody's going to get it. Female Attendant named 'Champagne' (or so said her badge) proved to be attentive, even if a solo able-bodied traveler who 'knows the ropes' has little need for such. First was the formerly named wine tasting that has now been recoined as Reception. It is more of a 'happy hour' environment than anything else, but I was seated with a retired couple and a lady who turned out to be a saleslady for a cruiseline. The other couple have taken many a cruise both originating here and overseas and I think this lady smelled a sale. Since I am rather negative about cruises (have been on six of 'em in this life), silence was golden on my part. 5PM Dinner call relieved me of a less than comfortable social situation (I guess I would have wanted to talk about the two wonderful concerts I attended while 'down below', but such was not to be). Early Dinner seating, incidentally, is always my preferred.

The steak was 'prepared as ordered' and the Williamsburg wines (now also served at the Reception) are quite drinkable - especially considering what you directly paid for them. There was a bit more 'four way interaction' at the table than I found to be the case at the reception.

By 630P, my bunk had been made; it was time to finish off The Times and Journal that I had started earlier in the day at the hotel in Boca. To my pleasant surprise, Bedroom A rode well; I think Chessie has been out 'working on the railroad' as the ride was considerably smoother than what I have experienced on previous journeys - even when assigned a center car Room/ette. Having retired at about 730P, I did get a 'rarity' - observing the service stop at Florence. Now for a first ever 'bonus' while there - 53(26) arrives for its service stop; 'As the Auto-Trains pass in the night'. That SB consist included the 'waste of a Dome' - the lone Sightseer assigned to AT. As I've noted elsewhere, why can't Amtrak simply yank a #37000 Diner Lounge, X-Country Cafe, doing less than nothing and convert it to the 33100 configuration thereby releasing that Sightseer for sightseeing? Why any railroad, Amtrak or predecessor ever spent a dime on enhanced sightseeing cars simply escapes me. I guess Coast Line believed in my maxim 'If you've seen one Pine Tree, you've seen 'em all'.

Come morning, it was pleasing to learn we were some 60 minutes ahead of schedule and Lorton was expected about 830A. Continental Breakfast was just that. Shower? still 'batting a Thousand' with the best innovation Amtrak has made for overnight travel. Arrival was 830A and I had Red Lex back by 930A. On the drive home, the temp was 33dg at LOR, at Bedford PA 22dg, snow X-ing the Alleghenies on the Tpk, arriving Akron 13dg, leaving Akron Friday morning 2 below - so much for bidding this winter 'adios'.

Passenger count was announced at 436 (theoretical max is 540); no doubt, all Sleeper space was sold. The fare was $1177, which is the highest I have ever paid. I'm sure had I been a bit more 'flexible' as to dates of travel I could have had a lesser fare, but I was governed by wanting to attend two concerts in Miami and West Palm respectively and a need to be home on Feb 28.

Finally, at Sanford, I noted a Black higher end Hyundai; what caught my interest was its Virginia tag 'Amtrak-1'. Could that have been an official Amtrak vehicle, a loyal employee, or simply a 'fanatic fan'? Enquiring mind wants to know.

All told; while maybe testing the parameters, 'more positives than negatives'.
Member # 3179
 - posted
Thanks for the review. My wife and I will be making that same trip in August and your post is very useful. We have Bedroom D reserved on car 5341. This will be my first AT trip, so I was happy to hear that the equipment was all S-II equipment. How long did it take to get your car unloaded? Trying to figure out if last in is first out or the other way around.

Gilbert B Norman
Member # 1541
 - posted
Mr. Fix; as noted, I had my auto back by 930 or one hour after arrival. I'm not sure if the priority unloading, which could result in your vehicle being returned within 30 minutes is worth it. On the loading end, the closing for such is 230P instead of 3P. I'm usually 'moving it' (lawfully, but no 'oh let's stop for a little bit') to make 3P.

I've never figured out how to 'game the system' (and wouldn't even if I could), but I would think if you knew where they cut the auto carrier consist AND somehow you could time the loading of your vehicle so that it was near the head of a cut, you'll luck out. Evidently that is what they do with the cut of the carriers in which they load the priority vehicles.

Now one thing that is mythology; beyond their priority service, they always say 'we don't know when you'll get your vehicle back'. I have always contended that since they know exactly what vehicle is loaded in which carrier (they have to for liability reasons) and where that carrier will be spotted at destination, they could, if they chose, tell a passenger within about five minutes when they would get their vehicle back. But wisely, 'Gene the K', as part of the goodwill Amtrak acquired for $1 back in 1983, said 'don't'. I think some of the people that Smitty met while on his cruise, and for that matter my Father, would be a bit prodding to see if their unload time could be 'expedited'.

Just as well they don't.
Member # 4344
 - posted
Originally posted by Gilbert B Norman:
Why any railroad, Amtrak or predecessor ever spent a dime on enhanced sightseeing cars simply escapes me. I guess Coast Line believed in my maxim 'If you've seen one Pine Tree, you've seen 'em all'.

Nice detailed report, GBN. But, of course, I do take slight exception to the lack of southern scenery, pine trees included. It's certainly not spectacular like the western vistas, but I do find the small towns you trundle through quite interesting. And, lets not forget that in its twilight years the Florida Special sported a B&O dome sleeper on the rear of the train from Richmond south. And SAL's sun room sleeper lounges were about as close as you can come to a dome and still make it through NEC clearances. Although I suspect most of the viewing was of the palm trees south of Jax.

It is too bad the SCL didn't retain the more coastal SAL line from Savannah to Jax. The tidal area it went through and the many trestles were fascinating - especially when hanging out the dutch doors of the Palmland's sleeper. But that tidewater route and lack of double track certainly made it redundant.

Lets hope on your next voyage you'll be able to enjoy the same amenities.

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