In past posts I’ve had the pleasure of describing our travels from the point of view of already “being there”–elves, geothermal springs, geysers, gazing into the maw of an active volcano, zip-lining through the rain forest, the breathtaking antiquities of Turkey. Only once before have I discussed the “getting there” (Costa Rica return flight debacle). Fasten your seat belts, tray tables up, and your seat in the upright position.
Dante, in the Divine Comedy, eloquently describes nine circles of hell, each with increasing levels of torment. To adequately describe the Auto Train running back and forth between Lorton, Virginia and Sanford, Florida, Dante would need a 10th circle of hell–the ultimate hell. I must point out that (a) I don’t like crowds, (b) I hate being herded like cattle, and (c) I’ve always been fanatical about being on time–I never wanted to waste other people’s time by my being late for a meeting or appointment. You can put a check mark in front of a, b, and c above regarding the Auto Train as you read the following.
When we arrived at the station at 11:30 AM for a 4:00 PM departure from Lorton, Virginia to Sanford, Florida, we were told the inbound train would be three hours late arriving from Florida. The outgoing train on which we were traveling would be full with 660 people aboard but that number exceeded the capacity of the station in Lorton. Thus you could barely move without bumping into someone or tripping over their bags and people, inconsiderately, didn’t care if their bags were in the middle of the aisle. Advantage (a) Crowds: AMTRAK.
Scorecard: AMTRAK 1, Melnick 0.
When the incoming train finally arrived, we had to wait while they got things turned around. A boarding that was to have occurred at 2:00 PM never started until 3:30 PM at which time AMTRAK announced, ” … Please stay out of the entrance way so that people can board when their train car is called.” Simple instructions any fourth grader could follow. However, more than half of the 660 people immediately sprang out of their seats and crowded in front of the boarding doors resulting in no one being able to get through. Once boarding started, we were all placed in our respective cattle chute categories and herded aboard in long lines fighting our way through the throngs who inappropriately crowded the doorway. People were bumping and pushing, jockeying for position to get on board, as if the train was going to leave without them and being in front of someone rather than behind them made one iota of difference. As an aside, it amazed me how much luggage people brought on board with them. Many looked like they needed sherpas from Nepal to carry the load and jam all that crap under their seats and in the overhead racks …. only to have to repeat the process to put that shit back in their car upon arrival in Florida. Why not simply leave all but essentials in their car ? It’s an Auto Train for Pete’s sake. We weren’t going cross country … Advantage (b) Herding: AMTRAK.
Scorecard: AMTRAK 2, Melnick 0
The Auto Train experience is in a class by itself. Mussolini himself must be in charge of the time schedules. Although he famously “made the trains run on time” in Italy when he came to power, the Italian trains were not on time and were believed to be so only because of the propaganda campaign by the Fascists to make the people think the government was actually helping them. Although the official Amtrak schedule shows the Auto Train to leave at 4:00 PM and arrive at 8:58 AM the next morning at your destination (either Sanford, FL or Lorton, VA), I have little doubt that Pinocchio, with an excessively long nose, was somehow involved in laughingly developing the current schedule. We boarded late in Virginia and then arrived late in Florida by two and a half hours. Add to that the interminable wait for you car to be unloaded (they are unloaded randomly) and from the time we arrived in Lorton, Virginia until we drove off in Sandford, Florida, a full 24 hours had passed. The schedule should actually say, “Departure: Sometime from 4:00 PM to whenever; Arrival: Significantly after 8:58 AM.” Advantage (c) being on time: AMTRAK
Scorecard: AMTRAK 3, Melnick 0
It’s a shutout. In truth, I would rather have a strip search by TSA in the middle of an airport than ride the Auto Train again. Although we had reasonably roomy Business Class seats that reclined with a footrest, I have never been able to sleep sitting up. Being awake for 24 hours with a two hour drive that lay ahead of us to our destination was just too much. We found the closest Hampton Inn that was near an Olive Garden, got sloshed on wine and gin, and promptly fell asleep at 2:00 in the afternoon.
FOOTNOTE: We tried the sleeper cabin with private bath several years ago. Didn’t like that any better.
All that being said, it may still be preferable to the crazy traffic traveling at warp speed, bumper-to-bumper, on I-95 south right after Christmas. I am seriously looking for Scotty to beam us up when we return to the Chesapeake this summer.