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Auto Train Security?


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#21 rrdude

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Posted 25 April 2011 - 10:11 PM




2. I didn't get my ticket yet. I have a reservation, and i paid for it online. When i get to the auto train, I assume i pull up and they take my car. But i won't have my ticket yet. I'll have to go inside with my reservation and get my ticket. Will this be ok? Will i have to go inside and get my tickets FIRST them i can put my car on the train?


You pull up to a booth, they give you an envelope with your tickets, then you pull forward to the unloading/transfer area where you get your carryon luggage and head inside, while Amtrak (not Amtrack) takes your car.


No, they won't have the tickets in the booth, AFAIK they never did in the past, you had to go inside to get the actual tickets.

However, that's all academic now anyhow. Since the Auto Train now has eTicketing, they no longer issue tickets for the train. You just show your print out with the barcode on it and you're done.


I didn't even have that, just told them my name, showed my ID, and they gave me the tix. Now I "had" the email confirmations on my PC, but I would have had to boot the bugger up, if there was a problem.


They're not supposed to be handing out tickets anymore for the Auto Train. Those with tickets that were printed before the conversion to eTicketing must bring them to the station. But any bookings with tickets that weren't printed are supposed to be eTicketing only from here on out.

My bad, I mis-typed, they gave me my "Boarding Pass" upon seeing my ID............

#22 AlanB

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Posted 25 April 2011 - 10:16 PM

Ok; that makes more sense. :)
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#23 RyanS

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 05:27 AM

"It travels at 70 MPH most of the night and that causes a bit more side to side movement than many of the other routes." Umm.. how is this different from most routes? I can't think of any Amtrak LD routes that don't do this actually.

"You are also riding on Norfolk Southern and CSX freight trackage that is often in rough shape." Unless I'm mistaken, the Auto Train runs only on CSX track. CSX track in my experience is quite rough compared to others.

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#24 TVRM610

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 11:51 AM


IMO, even if you have a sleeper, the A/T is one of the harder routes to sleep on. It travels at 70 MPH most of the night and that causes a bit more side to side movement than many of the other routes. You are also riding on Norfolk Southern and CSX freight trackage that is often in rough shape. Still the ride is enjoyable and because we have our car with us,its one of our favorite routes. Don't forget to go to wine and cheese hour at 3 PM.

How does the fact that 52/53 operate nonstop correlate to more sideways sway in the cars? It wouldn't be any different than riding on any of the Silver Service trains. If anything, a nonstop trip would be easier to sleep on because there would be no jolts from station stops I would think.

Auto Train operates exclusively on CSX trackage.


Actually I think I figured out what dlagrua was talking about.. the auto train is the only train that operates superliners over CSX track overnight. The Capitol runs on CSX, but mostly in the day, and that run is mostly slower (30-40mph) running if i recall. So perhaps there is a notable difference in the amount of sway you feel on the auto train compared to other overnight superliner runs.

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#25 dlagrua

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 07:43 PM

The point that I was making is that the Autotrain runs at a consistent 70mph on much of a non-stop run. Other Eastern routes do have slower stretches AND station stops. In comparison our trip to Chicago on the CL last June was far smoother than on the Autotrain. The trackage on the A/T route is some of the roughest that we've experienced. I know that the A/T runs on CSX trackage but I though that the section through the Folkson Funnel was owned by NS.

#26 TVRM610

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 08:00 PM

The point that I was making is that the Autotrain runs at a consistent 70mph on much of a non-stop run. Other Eastern routes do have slower stretches AND station stops. In comparison our trip to Chicago on the CL last June was far smoother than on the Autotrain. The trackage on the A/T route is some of the roughest that we've experienced. I know that the A/T runs on CSX trackage but I though that the section through the Folkson Funnel was owned by NS.


The Capitol Limited runs on NS tracks west of Pittsburgh. NS is MUCH smoother than CSX track.

I'd be willing to bet (not a large bet though) that the Capitol has a higher average speed than the Auto Train, at least for the overnight sections.

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#27 BobWeaver

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 08:37 PM

The point that I was making is that the Autotrain runs at a consistent 70mph on much of a non-stop run. Other Eastern routes do have slower stretches AND station stops. In comparison our trip to Chicago on the CL last June was far smoother than on the Autotrain. The trackage on the A/T route is some of the roughest that we've experienced. I know that the A/T runs on CSX trackage but I though that the section through the Folkson Funnel was owned by NS.

Auto Train will not have faster sections than any of the Silver Service trains, Palmetto included. The exact opposite is true, as Auto Train's top speed is 70mph, whereas the other trains will peak at 79mph. Auto Train runs on the RF&P sub down to Richmond, and then it's CSX's A Line all the way to Jacksonville, Folkston included. Isn't Sanford on the S-Line? I'm a little rusty on some of my CSX facts...

I'd be willing to bet (not a large bet though) that the Capitol has a higher average speed than the Auto Train, at least for the overnight sections.

Eh not quite. Auto Train is still averages a few miles per hour faster over the course of its runs.

Edited by BobWeaver, 26 April 2011 - 08:58 PM.

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Posted 05 May 2011 - 05:49 AM

I remember around The State of the Union address Obama said something like "Take the Amtrak if you don't want a patdown."

#29 Guest_Barry_*

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 02:16 PM

My wife and I rode the Auto Train last week in both directions (North then South to return home).

With respect to the discussions above, we observed the following.

The ride varies depending on the quality of the rails. In some stretches it is obviously a welded well maintained rail bed and the ride is reasonably smooth with minimal clickityclack. In other areas the rail bed sucks and the ride is noisy and rough with a lot of sudden significant jerks. Even though we are long time boaters and certainly have well practiced sea legs, it was difficult sometimes to walk. We were joking that an equivalent ride on an air plane would be considered very rough and cause a lot of white knuckles. I cannot offer an accurate estimate of what portion of the trip was over a competent rail bed but I would guess about 1/3 rough and 2/3 smooth.

Just south of Lorton we were at a full stop and I was watching the rails as various freight consists past by. To my surprise, the ties at any given instant under a truck noticeably sunk into the ballast and then popped back up as soon as the truck past. Since these trains were moving at a relatively high speed, the ties and rails just kept bouncing up and down with each set of wheels/trucks. No wonder so many spikes in the area visible to me were only partially seated.

The maximum speed and the maximum sustained speed during the night was 70 mph (per my GPS). However, there were many slowdowns and even stops. There were also long stretches that appeared to have much lower speed limits (e.g. 45 mph). I was told about 50% of the right of away is a single track right of away. I also read somewhere that freight has the priority (understandably). Therefore, the amount of slowing and waiting on a siding is dependent on the amount of freight traffic. When I asked about this an Amtrak employee that seemed to be the Conductor told me it was first come first served for a single track right of away but my instincts tell me that is not correct.

I saw no obvious security measures. My wife checked early in while I sat in the car so I never showed anyone my ID. Later when we checked the car and then even later when we boarded, no one asked me for ID. Our carry ons were never screened. This was true at both Sanford and Lorton. Prior to departure at both stations anyone had free run of the entire boarding platform. There was even a seemingly unattended yard switcher parked one track over from the platform. I cannot remember if it was idling but it was readily accessibly for anyone to board it. That does not mean there was not video surveillance but nothing was obvious.

#30 RyanS

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 03:08 PM

I also read somewhere that freight has the priority (understandably).

Wherever you read that was mistaken.
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#31 Guest_Barry_*

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 07:52 PM

I also read somewhere that freight has the priority (understandably).

Wherever you read that was mistaken.

Ryan, thanks for clarifying that. I guess it really is first come first served when only a single track is available.

I hope you do not mind a question:

With respect to HEP, what is the typical Auto Train load? I suspect it would be heaviest prior to dark with the highest A/C heat load and the galleys preparing meals. Each of the two Genesis P40's appears to have a HEP capacity of 800 KW but I doubt the max load is anything close to this high. I am curious because 800 KW at 480 V 3 Phase is just under 1000 amps and that is a lot of current to deal with. It would take three 500 mcm cables per phase to handle this much current. The jumpers and associated connectors between cars did not appear to have anything close to this capacity. In other words, there seems to be much more HEP capacity available than there is ability to distribute it, at least through the first cars behind the engine. (I am an EE and manage Electrical Maintenance at a large Nuclear Plant, ergo my interest in power distribution).

Thanks for responding. I know very little about RR technology but find it hard not to be curious about it. I actually have numerous other questions about signaling, routing (who sets the switches so the train takes the correct path - this must take enormous coordination by someone considering the large number of trains all going to different locations), engine control and operation, etc. In any case, now that I have taken a train trip, and my interest has been stirred, I guess I have a lot of interesting research to do.

#32 AlanB

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 08:23 PM

With respect to HEP, what is the typical Auto Train load? I suspect it would be heaviest prior to dark with the highest A/C heat load and the galleys preparing meals. Each of the two Genesis P40's appears to have a HEP capacity of 800 KW but I doubt the max load is anything close to this high. I am curious because 800 KW at 480 V 3 Phase is just under 1000 amps and that is a lot of current to deal with. It would take three 500 mcm cables per phase to handle this much current. The jumpers and associated connectors between cars did not appear to have anything close to this capacity. In other words, there seems to be much more HEP capacity available than there is ability to distribute it, at least through the first cars behind the engine. (I am an EE and manage Electrical Maintenance at a large Nuclear Plant, ergo my interest in power distribution).

Thanks for responding. I know very little about RR technology but find it hard not to be curious about it. I actually have numerous other questions about signaling, routing (who sets the switches so the train takes the correct path - this must take enormous coordination by someone considering the large number of trains all going to different locations), engine control and operation, etc. In any case, now that I have taken a train trip, and my interest has been stirred, I guess I have a lot of interesting research to do.


Barry,

While I'm not Ryan, I can help a bit. Amtrak cannot run the two engines in series if you will. Therefore they can only provide HEP from one of the two engines at any given time.

This in fact is a very limiting thing for Amtrak, as they cannot add more cars to this train during the busiest periods. They're maxing out what the engine and cables can provide with 3 dining cars, 2 lounge cars, 6 sleepers, 1 Trans/Dorm, and 5 or 6 coaches.
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#33 RyanS

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 09:11 PM

Welcome to the rabbit hole, the hobby is a fascinating one. I too find the operational side of things to be the most interesting part of the deal.

You are correct in your deductions, it isn't just the jumpers it's also the wiring inside the cars that limits the length of the train.

There's been some speculation around here that it would be theoretically possible to put a second locomotive between the autoracks and passenger cars (it can't go on the tail because the autoracks don't have the cable needed to pass HEP) to run the train "split bus" to allow for longer trains. In practice that isn't really going to happen as you would need to pay an engineer to sit in the locomotive to secure power if it becomes necessary.
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#34 George Harris

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 09:30 PM

Yes, it is all CSX, in fact, ex RF&P north of Richmond and ex ACL south thereof.

Extra sway is probably more because of the additional height of the superliner and for those on the upper level, which will be most people, a longer end of the see saw than you have in a single level car than anything else. If anything, the lower speed limit should help.

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 10:12 PM

There's been some speculation around here that it would be theoretically possible to put a second locomotive between the autoracks and passenger cars (it can't go on the tail because the autoracks don't have the cable needed to pass HEP) to run the train "split bus" to allow for longer trains.


Thank you all very much for responding to my questions. I never gave RR operations much thought until this past week but our very enjoyable round trip certainly opened my eyes to a fascinating world of different technology.

I wonder if anyone ever looked at the potential payback associated with building a dedicated "Train Services" car that would be nothing more than a hollow shell with a 400 KW or so diesel generator in it. I know from experience these type of machines are designed to start and run for long periods unattended so a dedicated person to monitor it would not be necessary. The revenue from the additional cars that could be added to the consist during peak periods might just justify the expense of something like this.

I noticed when the train is in the station and on "shore power" (I have no idea what RRs call the equivalent) the train is electrically split. I took note of this because it clearly highlighted how much load there is to provide for. It was interesting to see how long it took to reconfigure from shore to HEP. After thinking about it it is understandable as there appears to be a lot of cables/jumpers that need reconfiguring at both the center of the train and then between the engines and first passenger car.

I also noticed that since everything is in series, a fault in any car or between car jumpers takes out all AC hotel power to all cars aft of the fault. This must be especially difficult with respect to customer relations if the problem occurs in a car near the engine. That must eventually happen sometime and must cause a huge problem for Amtrak. I just cannot imagine running a train through the night without any A/C, any forced ventilation, only battery operated DC lights, no toilets or sanitation, and no food service if the problem occurs early enough. If I was the Amtrak Maintenance Manager I think I would identify the through car AC power distribution a critical system that would demand a high level of preventive maintenance and periodic testing.

#36 AlanB

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Posted 03 August 2011 - 12:08 AM

I wonder if anyone ever looked at the potential payback associated with building a dedicated "Train Services" car that would be nothing more than a hollow shell with a 400 KW or so diesel generator in it. I know from experience these type of machines are designed to start and run for long periods unattended so a dedicated person to monitor it would not be necessary. The revenue from the additional cars that could be added to the consist during peak periods might just justify the expense of something like this.


Just to provide you with a bit more info, the issue surrounding the dedicated person is the fact that there is are FRA rules about being able to turn on/off the HEP. That's part of the reason why Amtrak doesn't add a third engine in the middle so as to be able to short loop some cars and extend the train length. There is the added expense of simply running a third engine, but there is also the issue of how FRA rules come into play and require a warm body in that engine to be able to turn on/off the HEP and monitor other engine issues too.

When the engines are coupled together the engineer can monitor all engines up front. Seperate them with cars and the engineer cannot monitor the engine in the middle.

I noticed when the train is in the station and on "shore power" (I have no idea what RRs call the equivalent) the train is electrically split. I took note of this because it clearly highlighted how much load there is to provide for. It was interesting to see how long it took to reconfigure from shore to HEP. After thinking about it it is understandable as there appears to be a lot of cables/jumpers that need reconfiguring at both the center of the train and then between the engines and first passenger car.


I suspect that what you saw as taking a long time with the HEP wasn't just the issues surrounding HEP. When they start any switching moves, all HEP must be off so as to prevent accidental electricution of personel. In Sanford you've got to put the two sections of the passenger portion of the train together and then you have to couple on the Auto Carriers. So from start to finish of that entire procedure, there is no HEP in the train.

I also noticed that since everything is in series, a fault in any car or between car jumpers takes out all AC hotel power to all cars aft of the fault. This must be especially difficult with respect to customer relations if the problem occurs in a car near the engine. That must eventually happen sometime and must cause a huge problem for Amtrak. I just cannot imagine running a train through the night without any A/C, any forced ventilation, only battery operated DC lights, no toilets or sanitation, and no food service if the problem occurs early enough. If I was the Amtrak Maintenance Manager I think I would identify the through car AC power distribution a critical system that would demand a high level of preventive maintenance and periodic testing.


I'm far from an expert on this, but I believe that pretty much the only thing that would take out everything would be a failed cable between cars. And they're supposed to have a couple of spares onboard. But otherwise in most circumstances I believe that even if one car should have problems and end up with zero power, that power could & would still pass through to the following cars.
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#37 CHamilton

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Posted 03 August 2011 - 01:45 AM

I'm far from an expert on this, but I believe that pretty much the only thing that would take out everything would be a failed cable between cars. And they're supposed to have a couple of spares onboard. But otherwise in most circumstances I believe that even if one car should have problems and end up with zero power, that power could & would still pass through to the following cars.

I was on the Sunset a few years ago, and we had just left Del Rio (I believe) station when there was a huge white flash outside the window, together with a pretty large bang. The power went out, as apparently the cable connecting our car to the one ahead had disconnected. Luckily, the crew was able to walk over to a business across the street and get some duct tape, with which they taped everything back together again. Or so I was told when I asked. The conductor seemed pretty blase about it, and said that cables disconnected pretty frequently. I always wondered what they would have done if we'd been in the desert someplace.

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#38 Trogdor

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Posted 03 August 2011 - 09:59 AM

I'm far from an expert on this, but I believe that pretty much the only thing that would take out everything would be a failed cable between cars. And they're supposed to have a couple of spares onboard. But otherwise in most circumstances I believe that even if one car should have problems and end up with zero power, that power could & would still pass through to the following cars.


I'm also not an expert on this, but my experience with HEP problems on trains has been that the entire train loses power. I've never seen or heard of a train where a middle car had HEP problems but everything else on the train worked.

I'm not going to try and get into the really technical details, since electrical circuits aren't my thing, but there is a process called "short looping" a train that can, in certain circumstainces, preserve power to the entire train even if there is an electrical problem somewhere. Basically, there are two HEP loops, one on the right side and one on the left side (that's why there are HEP cables on both sides of the couplers). If they somehow identify where the problem is, they can short loop before that location, so only one side would be fully connected from the engine to the tail, and the other side would be looped from the front just to the last "good" car.
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#39 jimhudson

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Posted 03 August 2011 - 10:18 AM


I'm far from an expert on this, but I believe that pretty much the only thing that would take out everything would be a failed cable between cars. And they're supposed to have a couple of spares onboard. But otherwise in most circumstances I believe that even if one car should have problems and end up with zero power, that power could & would still pass through to the following cars.

I was on the Sunset a few years ago, and we had just left Del Rio (I believe) station when there was a huge white flash outside the window, together with a pretty large bang. The power went out, as apparently the cable connecting our car to the one ahead had disconnected. Luckily, the crew was able to walk over to a business across the street and get some duct tape, with which they taped everything back together again. Or so I was told when I asked. The conductor seemed pretty blase about it, and said that cables disconnected pretty frequently. I always wondered what they would have done if we'd been in the desert someplace.

Duct tape saves the day again! :lol: In the event of failure in the boonies, the Crew could borrow some from any AU members aboard since "we don't leave home without it!" :lol: :lol: :lol: !
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Posted 03 August 2011 - 12:28 PM

... there are two HEP loops, one on the right side and one on the left side (that's why there are HEP cables on both sides of the couplers).


I noticed 480 V 3 phase connectors on both sides and was curious why there are two sets. This probably explains it; redundancy so a fault in one circuit can be easily rerouted through the other simply by reconnecting the jumpers.

I am glad I found this forum. Some really interesting information about a subject I know nothing about. I do know a lot about low and medium voltage power distribution (especially in industrial venues) but not in a railroad mobile application. This is fascinating and I appreciate those who are taking the time to respond to my questions.

I suspect each so called "loop" is nothing more than a copper bus that runs from one end of the car to the other, terminating in the connectors at each end of the car. I would guess it is what is referred to as a "non-segregated" bus meaning all three sets of bus bars are in a single enclosure. This would provide high reliability and high current carrying capacity (800KW = 962 amps). There is probably a single tap on this bus for an on car distribution panel. I have no reason to suspect it is designed this way other than that is how I would do it if I were designing it.

BTW, if someone working for me used duct tape as a 480 volt insulating material, I would fire him on the spot. Duct tape is nothing more than a loose cloth weave impregnated with an adhesive. It has great mechanical strength but, even though the adhesive has some insulating ability (it is sometimes polyethylene based), I do not believe it has any proven ability to be safely used as an insulating material. Trust me, 480 Volts is nothing to take chances with and restoring A/C does not constitute an emergency sufficient to risk injury or fire. Just my opinion.



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