A response to Progressive Railroadings article: "Amtrak launches construction on new Auto Train station in Florida"
There hundreds of thousands of auto-commuters who travel between Michigan & Florida via Interstate I-75, including the Canadian Province of Ontario, since they pass through Detroit to head south. Most of the travelers either live in the North and have second residences in the South or vice versa, up north during the summer and down South during the winter.
My Aunt is among the many who used commute by automobile, but since her serious road accident last year she is stuck in a nursing facility in Traverse City, Michigan unable to commute to her cottage on Pine Lake, Michigan or her condo in Del Ray Beach, Florida or anywhere else either. Due to the age of many of the North/South travelers and the tremendous amount of stuff that they pack into their cars to transport back and forth, an AUTO-TRAIN would enable many of the seniors a safe way to travel, many whom continuue to drive too many hours and after dark. Over-loaded Mercurys, Cadillacs, Buicks, Grand Cherokees, Tahoes, Vans etc...would actually be considered HIGH-MILEAGE-VEHICLES if transported by RAIL...
AMTRAK AUTO-TRAIN service with additional origins and destinations in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia including others could save a lot of lives and "lonely-gallon" gasoline cans, principally focusing on a service parallel to Interstate I-75.
Presently, there are plenty of un-used rail auto carriers in the Conrail/Norfolk Southern railyard behind the (former) Chrysler stamping and assembly complex in Sterling Heights, Michigan---maybe a logical place to launch an AMTRAK AUTO TRAIN service?
Amtrak Auto-Train service from the Midwest to Florida? Sounds like a good idea, but there are a few concerns here.
First, Amtrak is hard pressed to provide rolling stock for their existing trains. They just don't have the coaches, sleepers and diners on hand to start an all-new overnight train srevice. They just received funds to re-hab about 80 existing out-of-service cars, but most of these will be absorbed by the existing trains when they become available for revenue service.
Second, Amtrak would have to pay the freight railroads for all the capital infrastructure improvements needed to accommodate these new passenger trains on their rights-of-way. The start-up costs for this service would be considerable.
Third, the high availability of rental cars in Florida somewhat goes against the marketability of such a service.
Nice idea, but it's not likely to happen anytime soon.
The Luddites among us like to make claims like you could give each person traveling between New Orleans and Los Angeles on Amtrak a plane ticket and the taxpayer would be ahead. Here's a comparable one - and I deny I'm a Luddite. For the cost of running an auto train between Michigan and Florida (there was a Chicago-Florida auto train service, but it was discontinued years ago,) your great aunt Bertha could hire a nice young college student to drive her car to Florida. That would be less expensive than the full cost of running a train.
One problem that rail fans and advocates tend to overlook is pure, basic economics. Lots of things would be nice to have - if only they didn't have to be paid for. Amtrak's need for more equipment is a fine example. It relies on the government for its capital, and most of the time it doesn't get as much as it feels it can justify. Private companies that operate profitably pay for their capital expenditure out of their profits It's just that simple.
"ne problem that rail fans and advocates tend to overlook is pure, basic economics."
I agree, many do. Also though, people using cars absolutely do NOT look at the economics of it. Cars are generally a bad idea because of tertiary costs.
But on the note of the auto-train. It would be an interesting service, and an interesting route. Auto-Train was one of the last private passenger rail carriers to turn profits. But after that one incident the insurance bankrupted the whole plan. Amtrak then took it over and turned it into another of their routes.
If one buys their own car, it is cheaper to use their vehicle in the long run than to rent, the price of putting a car on a train for a 500+ mile trip is a LOT cheaper than driving.
Rail carriers generally charge about what - $200-500 bucks a car? Even on an inefficient tractor trailer we're talking $600-1600 bucks. Depending on the size and distance. Usually just based on gas prices, it is 5-10% cheaper that way. If you add in the cost of car maintenance and wear and tear you'll see a 11-40% savings depending on the car.
...if you include exotics you'd see a huge savings by transporting vs driving them.
Point being, it could be a viable service, and the auto-train company back in the day, before Amtrak, was actually planning expansions before they got their tail ends sued of by litigious Americans and lost the whole business venture.
More info: en.wikipedia.org/.../Auto_train
Adron: Have you ever driven on I-95 in the fall or spring? You find all sorts of Cadillacs, Chryslers and Lincolns seemingly tooling along with no driver. Pass one, though, and you find a little old man looking through the spokes of the steering wheel. The "snowbirds" who stay for several months in Florida are the natural market for the Auto Train. If you're just going down for a family vacation of a week or two, the economics don't work at all. Younger people drive more hours each day, making the trip duration shorter and cutting down on motels and meals un route. They may not be safe enough, but we're dealing with reality here. Auto Train was profitable originally because it targeted its prime market; people who would justify paying the freight, so to speak, because the price was a small part of a four or five month trip. For the average person, by the time you add the cost of driving either to Lorton, Va., northern terminus of today's service, or to the Illinois starting point and then paid for the cost of the trip, it's not that good a deal. I doubt there's sufficient demand to create an Auto Train network connecting a bunch of major metropolitan areas. What's really frightening is that you and I agree on the economics of cars and a few other things. Have a nice weekend.
No need to check the math again. You are correct; the pure economics is that IT WILL NOT WORK. But of course we could print more money and watch the economy sink to the bottom quicker.
In my opinion, businesses should support themselves or not after the first two years. Now we allow Executives of a failing company to leave behind a terrible mess while they fly away to some beautiful beach taking EXCESSIVALY HUGE bonuses (our money) and leaving the wrecked company behind?
Where and when did we get to point where the Government has to rescue any of us? We have all become FISCALLY IGNORANT as we have grown older. WAKE UP AND GET REAL!
Face it folks, your parents and mine wanted the American Dream, a SINGLE family dwelling and TWO cars, yes we love our cars. Soooo, we stopped ridding passenger trains for the most part in the late forties and early fifties and the Railroads stopped maintaining the tracks for passenger train speeds.
Passenger Trains for the most part in the late forties and early fifties begin to die at the same time as our patronage begin to dwindle and the Interstate Highway System begin to grow quickly, and is still growing like a weed.
Too bad the passenger rail system couldn't have grown at the same time. It just seems a terrible waste, that all that construction equipment was right there in the area but we put our hopes and money on the highways and not the railways.
As Dr. Phil might ask: "How's that working for you?" So we kept doing it anyway.
Passenger transportation Today ONLY WORKS where the population is in dense and crowded areas, such as the Northeast for example, NOT the Midwest. Anyway that's only my two cents worth after almost thirty years of railroading.
I really wish that our transportation history had been much different. To try and catch up now is way too late and too costly.
Thanks for your time.