Even if the article is a year and a half old it is still interesting. Given the economic performance of the Auto train it is only logical to at least study an expansion.
I especially noticed one comment:
"...probably linking it up with one of our other western trains that already exist," Vollten said.
This is logical in some respects and might be the only feasible way of getting auto trains running in the West but also poses a lot of problems.
The pros are that you don't have to fill a whole train = better economy from the beginning. Also a lot of costs will be shared with the existing LD, giving that a better economy too. Last, but not least, it will save Amtrak to have to negotiate for a new slot with the host railroads and the associated possible for capacity expansions, that would probably kill the project.
But there is a few obstacles:
Car shuffling: The auto train cars will need it's own terminal and then have to be latched on to the LD and then detatched at the other end. I take it that it will only be an end to end service like the current auto train, but even so it takes time that has to be added to the LD's schedule. At Chicago a terminal would have to be somewhere along the route south of town. Somewhere close enough to Union Station that the auto cars could be run into Union Station and joined with the regular LD cars there is unlikely given the crowding on the tracks in the Chicago area and the much larger amount of time this would take for the auto train customers. Likewise at the other end.
Delays: As the joining is at the auto section's starting point, delays of that section is not a question and the usual problem in car splitting of one section having to wait for another, late section is not there for the regular LD. As the terminus for the auto train in Phoenix and in Texas (where somewhere in the Dallas area is the sensible location) is far from the terminus of either the TE or the SWC situations with grumpy auto trains riders sitting for hours in the train at the terminal waiting for their "host" train to show up is bound to happen though. Not good for a "premium" service.
If more than one service is started out of Chicago where should the terminal be? Can a location be found where all the LD's that would pick up cars run sufficiently close by?
Length of train. The auto racks and sleepers of course do not have to get to the platforms on the intermediate stations, but a very long train might block grade crossings or interlockings for sidings while stopped at a station.
"Unnesessary" stops: The regular stops of the LD will be seen as a slow down by the auto train passengers. This is more a psychological problem, but it gives less of a feel of a premium service.
So in all running the trains together will take some toll on both services, but it might be the only way of ever getting such a service started.
I would like to see the feasibility studies mentioned in the article though, both in regards to estimates of cost recovery and start up costs. If auto train service is made part of existing LD's it might have a good operating economy even if the ridership is substantially smaller than the current Auto Train's, but I would really like to see an asessment of the negative effects too. And I have no idea what the capital costs would be for two or three terminals, racks, passenger cars, extra engines and work engines at the terminals, plus any track alterations for the longer trains at stations.