Can railroads run autotrains with passengers in the their vehicles?

In Europe there are a couple of auto trains that passengers stay in their cars. Could that be done here? I was thinking of a RV and truck train where they would be inside the Auto racks for high speed or overnight trips

54 Replies

  • The European operations are for short distances.  The Alaska Railroad used to run through a mountain to Whittier, I believe, where there was no road just their track.  The haul was just 7-miles.   Makes no economic sense otherwise and is too dangerous.

  • I am not sure about safety, but would ask, how would a passenger reach the rest room?   It could not be very high speed if a 10 minute stop was required every hour or two for sanitary reasons.  Not many autos or SUV's come equipped with sanitary facilities and there is not much room beside a vehicle in a trilevel to move about, nor place to put the rest room and still allow loading and unloading through a rail car.

  • In reply to ARailroaderWhoRemembersThings:

    If there were a serious need for it, it's be simple enough to make a staggered arrangement, with half the autos parked hard against on side, and half against the other, and certain areas kept clear for bypass.  Ferries do this sort of stuff all the time.

    I'm not saying it would be a good idea, except for very specific niches, but I can see ways to do it.

  • In reply to anmccaff:

    Given the traffic congestion and lack of double tracks,the Eastern Seaboard needs several alternatives.

    Perhaps the best solution can be found offshore with ships designed to hold railcars and passenger cars below decks.The Maritime Provinces, State of Washington and Alaska have done this for decades,as have the Norwegians and English Channel truckers and tourists.

    These could be loaded at the present container ports or separate loading areas with rail spurs and  have a rollon/roll off situation.

  • In reply to bilgewater:

    Speaking as someone who lives in a state that uses ferries rather often, I'm very, very aware of the time  tradeoff.  Unless you want to spend a great deal on energy, with all the economic and ecological consequences that implies, car (both senses) ferries are much slower than cars or trains on their own, and only get high-speed business when they allow a shortcut.

  • There are trains in Switzerland (I have done this) which transport your car on and you remain in the car.  The reason has nothing to do with speed.  During times of inclement weather, this allows travelers to avoid closed tunnels, closed roads, and driving during icy conditions (i.e., avoiding unnecessary risk).  Auto racks for travelers makes sense when inclement weather makes travel either difficult or impossible.  As far as tunnels are concerned, there is the challenge of looking out your car window as the structure of the rack car is clearing the tunnel by less than a few cm at speeds of 120 killometers per hour.  Some might find that scary.

  • Amtrak Autotrain does carry cars, smaller trucks and SUV now, however, you are not allowed to ride in the vechicle because of:

    1.  Liability   2. Length of Journey for this service  3. Lack of communication in case of emergency   4. Sanitary facilities not available enroute  5. Unable to control passenger movements and safety outside of vechicle while the train is in motion.

    I  am sure there are many other reasons that this service is not provided in America which I have not noted ... However, the prime reason and is listed first is the Liability Cost which would price such services far too high to be practical ... even if it were proven that the passenger knew the danger, took the risk and was hurt they can, do and will go to court to seek payment for being stupid.

  • I think Walt's post nailed it.  SAFETY issue.  Whether it is or not, the Class I's wouldn't take a chance.

  • Amtrak has a system called Auto Train that carries both passengers and drivers long distances (e.g., 855 miles one-way) on the East Coast between Lorton, Virginia and Sanford, Florida. In this system half of the train is designed for passengers and the other half of the train carries the passenger's empty vehicles in racks. However, this solution is exclusively used for long distance travel where the drivers at the end of their trips have their vehicles available to them. In this system the drivers and passengers are kept separated from their vehicles during the trip and reunited afterwards. For short-term trips lasting one, two or three hours this system is ineffective, inefficient and impractical as it would require long delays at each station for loading/unloading passengers and their vehicles separately as at each stop. The way the present system works right now, each car would be separated from the train and ramps attached and vehicles loaded/unloaded and then joined together with the train.


    The auto-train run by Amtrak takes more than a day to reach Florida, which would not be a practical amount of time for staying in the vehicle.  Several ferries around the country that have shorter trips, allow drivers to stay in their cars.  Amtrak is the only railroad right now that runs an auto-train.

  • In reply to marc6850:

    Marc6850 is correct. The Alaska Railroad ran a short shuttle service through a 2.5 mile long tunnel and another .96 mile tunnel from a ramp a few miles out. We placed flatcars with jump boards between them and circus loaded cars. The passengers stayed in their vehicles (most of the time) but it was a very scary service. We operated it from World War II, when the tunnels and rail were built, through about 2000. The road now circumvents the short tunnel and goes through our longer tunnel as if it were the world's longest road crossing. It is now a 2.5 mile single lane road with rail clipped into concrete panels as a road surface and signal systems, cameras and a local control room.

  • In reply to medwards:

    I have used the AutoTrain and it really an excellent way to move you and your car between the Washington, DC area and central Florida.  It departs either station (Lorton, VA and Sanford, FL) at 4:00 pm and arrives at destination the next morning at 9:30 am.

  • In reply to WALT1ORO:

    AutoTrain is Amtrak's most profitable passenger train.  They can literally run a shuttle service with two trainsets, leaving origin points in the late afternoon and arriving at destination at a very good time.  Amtrak cannot find other origin-destination pairs that provide them with traffic density and the opportunity to use just two sets of equipment.  Possibly, when CSX improves their trackage structure between Atlanta and Chicago - that route could be a candidate.  I would have thought Los Angeles and Las Vegas would make sense.

  • Does the FRA have a rule agaist this? I am thinking that if the train were for trucks and RVs that already have there own on board toilets that that problem would be taken care of. Problem with auto-trains is that you cant load and unload your own car. How much side clearence is there anyway on a auto-rack--I was wondering how they get out of the car? Loading auto-racks is not a job for fat people

  • In reply to railroadpostoffice1:

    The service could work here like winter trains through the rockys and long distance were the route is boring. I am thinking that we can have tru truck intermodal were the driver could drive for 12 hours and sleep for 12 hours on the train while his cargo and the driver is moving.

  • The short answer is yes.  In the US the B&O ran passenger trains with auto racks for motorists who road in regular passenger cars.  A Private Company Auto-Train ran service from Washington area and Louisville area to Florida, until  financial considerations let to replacement by Amtrak.  In these cases passenger rode in the passenger cars on the train and employees parked the cars on board.  Their have been some short lived train by-passes of road closures and the Alaska operations to allow access to rail tunnels.  I'm aware of overseas operations under the English Channel. Special Oversized closed rail vehicles carry passengers in their cars, but they can get out and use several rest rooms provided at fixed locations.  Other operations exist in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary and India.  Switzerland has many.  There are short journey trains that motorists drive onto and stay in their cars.  There are also truck oriented operations of a longer often international basis where truckers can sleep in sleeper cars that are also attached to the train.  These operations are often targeted to expedite freight and allow drivers to sleep and avoid hours of service violations.  

    Then there are rail operated ferry services for rail cars and highway vehicles.  China is building new vessels for access to Hainan Island (South China Sea) and  to cross the Bohai Strait (a real short cut from central coastal China and northeast China).

    Issues for a US train with autos operations would depend on the length of the trip.  Some railroads now do limited catering to moving personal vehicles but without a driver.  Short shuttles could be organized with conventional assets and liability waivers for incidents like the recent extended closure of I-70 in Glenwood Canyon where the UP has tracks and the road detours were many hours long.  If regular railroads can do longer trips on their lines, what incentive is there for a third party to do a service? 

    Wikipedia covers some of these and provides a start.



Related Content