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Chicago to Florida Auto Train?


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#21 railiner

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Posted 07 May 2018 - 10:02 PM

The route is pretty flat overall, but there's still the problem of:

 

1. Population. Chicago has nowhere near the population of Boston + NYC + DC, and going from the Midwest to Denver Chicago is only really in line for people coming from northern Ohio/Indiana and the lower peninsula of Michigan. That adds some population, but you're still nowhere near the population of the Northeast megaopolis.

 

2. Snowbirds, or more broadly stated, temporarily relocating people. The Auto Train costs around $400 to haul a vehicle round trip, saver coach round trip is $190, and a roomette round trip for one person seems to settle around $530 (including the one person's rail fare.) Flights on Spirit are typically under $200 round trip, and legacy airlines are closer to $400 round trip on more expensive days. That means a car rental would have to be over $200 for it to break even to bring your own car if you took coach and got the saver fare, or over $550 if you went for the roomette. That'd be even higher if you took Spirit, Frontier, or got a good deal on a legacy airline ticket. For a week or two, it'll almost certainly make more sense to rent a car. The savings only really start adding up if you're in the area for longer than a few weeks, because then it's significantly cheaper to haul your own vehicle than to pay for a rental. That's why snowbirds are such a lucrative market for the Auto Train; they will typically be relocating for a few months so renting a car while at their destination is a lot more expensive proposition than someone visiting for even a couple weeks.

 

3. Traffic and auto driving cost. For such a train to work, you'd need loading and unloading facilities for the train, which typically aren't economical to build in city centers. For the sake of argument, let's say Amtrak would choose Naperville (just outside of Chicago) and Fort Morgan (a bit outside of Denver.) That's about 900 miles; since we have a car already, the fixed cost for owning the car is sunk, so a fairer comparison would be the IRS standard rate for moving purposes (18 cents/mile), which is based on the variable costs for operating an automobile. That results in driving the vehicle costing $324 round-trip. Even with a night's stay each direction at $80ish/night and tolls at $10 each way, the cost is still around $500 round trip. That's not much less than coach for one person, but coach only gives you a seat to sleep in, where an $80 hotel room will typically give someone a decent roadside motel to sleep at for the night along the route. If there's more than one person, then the difference is quite a bit greater ($250.) There also generally isn't the traffic issues along I-80/I-76 that I-95 seems to have (at least from what I've heard about I-95.) That means that avoiding traffic isn't as much of a selling point.

 

Realistically, the reason that the Auto Train works is that there's enough daily demand along the I-95 corridor where people really want to have their own vehicles at the destination to make a train that takes vehicles worth running daily. That means that there's enough demand to generally cover the fixed costs (loading facilities, auto carriers, etc.) There really aren't any other corridors that fit that criteria in the United States; there's typically not enough demand on any single corridor to make it worthwhile, and there's no natural choke point or similar route to make a particular leg of it worthwhile.

I agree with most of your post, except perhaps about avoiding the traffic on I-95 by taking the Auto Train...

The Auto Train carries you between Lorton, Va. and Sanford, Fl.  That portion of the trip has a lot less traffic normally than driving along the NEC to reach Lorton, or driving the stretch between WPB and MIA....so you still have to fight I-95 traffic over the heaviest portion, albeit shorter in miles than the train ride.


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#22 cpotisch

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Posted 07 May 2018 - 10:18 PM

 

The route is pretty flat overall, but there's still the problem of:

 

1. Population. Chicago has nowhere near the population of Boston + NYC + DC, and going from the Midwest to Denver Chicago is only really in line for people coming from northern Ohio/Indiana and the lower peninsula of Michigan. That adds some population, but you're still nowhere near the population of the Northeast megaopolis.

 

2. Snowbirds, or more broadly stated, temporarily relocating people. The Auto Train costs around $400 to haul a vehicle round trip, saver coach round trip is $190, and a roomette round trip for one person seems to settle around $530 (including the one person's rail fare.) Flights on Spirit are typically under $200 round trip, and legacy airlines are closer to $400 round trip on more expensive days. That means a car rental would have to be over $200 for it to break even to bring your own car if you took coach and got the saver fare, or over $550 if you went for the roomette. That'd be even higher if you took Spirit, Frontier, or got a good deal on a legacy airline ticket. For a week or two, it'll almost certainly make more sense to rent a car. The savings only really start adding up if you're in the area for longer than a few weeks, because then it's significantly cheaper to haul your own vehicle than to pay for a rental. That's why snowbirds are such a lucrative market for the Auto Train; they will typically be relocating for a few months so renting a car while at their destination is a lot more expensive proposition than someone visiting for even a couple weeks.

 

3. Traffic and auto driving cost. For such a train to work, you'd need loading and unloading facilities for the train, which typically aren't economical to build in city centers. For the sake of argument, let's say Amtrak would choose Naperville (just outside of Chicago) and Fort Morgan (a bit outside of Denver.) That's about 900 miles; since we have a car already, the fixed cost for owning the car is sunk, so a fairer comparison would be the IRS standard rate for moving purposes (18 cents/mile), which is based on the variable costs for operating an automobile. That results in driving the vehicle costing $324 round-trip. Even with a night's stay each direction at $80ish/night and tolls at $10 each way, the cost is still around $500 round trip. That's not much less than coach for one person, but coach only gives you a seat to sleep in, where an $80 hotel room will typically give someone a decent roadside motel to sleep at for the night along the route. If there's more than one person, then the difference is quite a bit greater ($250.) There also generally isn't the traffic issues along I-80/I-76 that I-95 seems to have (at least from what I've heard about I-95.) That means that avoiding traffic isn't as much of a selling point.

 

Realistically, the reason that the Auto Train works is that there's enough daily demand along the I-95 corridor where people really want to have their own vehicles at the destination to make a train that takes vehicles worth running daily. That means that there's enough demand to generally cover the fixed costs (loading facilities, auto carriers, etc.) There really aren't any other corridors that fit that criteria in the United States; there's typically not enough demand on any single corridor to make it worthwhile, and there's no natural choke point or similar route to make a particular leg of it worthwhile.

I agree with most of your post, except perhaps about avoiding the traffic on I-95 by taking the Auto Train...

The Auto Train carries you between Lorton, Va. and Sanford, Fl.  That portion of the trip has a lot less traffic normally than driving along the NEC to reach Lorton, or driving the stretch between WPB and MIA....so you still have to fight I-95 traffic over the heaviest portion, albeit shorter in miles than the train ride.

 

If memory serves, it takes something like 13 hours to drive the Auto Train route. While someone from NYC still has to drive for five or so hours to get to Lorton, cutting 13 hours out of the drive is massive. My point is, though people might still be driving for the worst portion, that's still a hell of a lot better than doing the worst portion AND another 13 hours.


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#23 Metra Electric Rider

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Posted 08 May 2018 - 08:55 AM

I think that a non-daily train from the mid-west west would do well. Detroit, the big three in Ohio, Indy, Chicago and Milwaukee would be a seasonal draw. The problem would be spring and fall when there was less attraction to go west. Of course, I don't see it happening anytime soon. Nor should resources be put into it.


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#24 Trogdor

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Posted 08 May 2018 - 09:02 AM

I think that a non-daily train from the mid-west west would do well. Detroit, the big three in Ohio, Indy, Chicago and Milwaukee would be a seasonal draw. The problem would be spring and fall when there was less attraction to go west. Of course, I don't see it happening anytime soon. Nor should resources be put into it.

 

Non-daily trains never do well.

 

Not only does it require people to work their travel schedule around the days of operation, but it also makes it virtually impossible to get any kind of economy of scale out of staff, facilities, etc.


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#25 jebr

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Posted 08 May 2018 - 10:10 AM

Even ignoring the fixed cost aspect, I'm not convinced it'd really do well in attracting riders. The Auto Train takes advantage of the fact that there's only really one shortest way to get to/from the Northeast to Florida - pretty much all of the Northeast corridor will run along or near I-95 for a large portion of the journey. That's a lot of destination pairs where the Auto Train isn't very far out of the way to take a significant chunk of the driving out, and it essentially makes the two day drive (unless you're wanting to drive 13+ hours in a day) still two days. There isn't a similar road for the Midwest; someone going from Milwaukee to Phoenix will be significantly different than someone going from Cincinnati to Las Vegas. There just isn't the same shared route that a lot of people used. Mixed with the rather long journey time (over a full day) and rental cars being rather inexpensive for vacation-length rentals, and the audience starts dwindling rapidly.


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#26 Metra Electric Rider

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Posted 08 May 2018 - 03:25 PM

Even ignoring the fixed cost aspect, I'm not convinced it'd really do well in attracting riders. The Auto Train takes advantage of the fact that there's only really one shortest way to get to/from the Northeast to Florida - pretty much all of the Northeast corridor will run along or near I-95 for a large portion of the journey. That's a lot of destination pairs where the Auto Train isn't very far out of the way to take a significant chunk of the driving out, and it essentially makes the two day drive (unless you're wanting to drive 13+ hours in a day) still two days. There isn't a similar road for the Midwest; someone going from Milwaukee to Phoenix will be significantly different than someone going from Cincinnati to Las Vegas. There just isn't the same shared route that a lot of people used. Mixed with the rather long journey time (over a full day) and rental cars being rather inexpensive for vacation-length rentals, and the audience starts dwindling rapidly.

 

I'm not as convinced - people going for a long time can't carry all their stuff on a plane or rent everything, especially camping equipment - though I don't see it ever happening.

 

This is a land cruise, more or less, so I think people wouldn't have an issue planning around it with the right price and service.


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#27 jis

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Posted 08 May 2018 - 03:55 PM

We can't even seem to be able to get a simple passenger carrying train going between Chicago and Florida, and people keep dreaming about Auto Trains and what not :blink:


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#28 Trogdor

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Posted 08 May 2018 - 05:17 PM

This is a land cruise, more or less, so I think people wouldn't have an issue planning around it with the right price and service.

 

 

 

Problem is, the "right price" is likely to be too low, and "right service" too expensive, to make such a venture worthwhile.

 

You mentioned, as an example, the "big three" Ohio cities (I assume you mean Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus), plus Indianapolis.  However, going from most of those cities to Denver doesn't take you anywhere near Chicago (only Cleveland to Denver takes you through Chicago).  The direct driving route is through St. Louis and Kansas City.  None of those folks are going to be interested in driving up to/through Chicago, when they could be between 1/3 and 1/2 way to their destination in just the time it takes to get to the hypothetical Naperville facility (and still have just as much travel time in front of them as they would have had if they had gone straight to Denver from their home).

 

Even from Milwaukee requires a slight detour, as the fastest driving route bypasses Chicago and goes through Rockford.

 

Again, these are the geographic challenges that make an Auto Train a difficult proposition for anything other than the market it currently serves.


Edited by Trogdor, 08 May 2018 - 05:18 PM.

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#29 railiner

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Posted 09 May 2018 - 12:18 AM

 

This is a land cruise, more or less, so I think people wouldn't have an issue planning around it with the right price and service.

 

 

 

Problem is, the "right price" is likely to be too low, and "right service" too expensive, to make such a venture worthwhile.

 

You mentioned, as an example, the "big three" Ohio cities (I assume you mean Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus), plus Indianapolis.  However, going from most of those cities to Denver doesn't take you anywhere near Chicago (only Cleveland to Denver takes you through Chicago).  The direct driving route is through St. Louis and Kansas City.  None of those folks are going to be interested in driving up to/through Chicago, when they could be between 1/3 and 1/2 way to their destination in just the time it takes to get to the hypothetical Naperville facility (and still have just as much travel time in front of them as they would have had if they had gone straight to Denver from their home).

 

Even from Milwaukee requires a slight detour, as the fastest driving route bypasses Chicago and goes through Rockford.

 

Again, these are the geographic challenges that make an Auto Train a difficult proposition for anything other than the market it currently serves.

 

They could solve that by making the eastern terminal for a "CHI-DEN" Auto Train at Galesburg, instead of Naperville.  Land is a lot cheaper, and they would benefit from the vast area that I-74 taps....   It would inconvenience those from Chicago somewhat, but it would still be a much easier drive than say, NYC to Lorton...


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#30 Metra Electric Rider

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Posted 10 May 2018 - 11:06 AM

I suspect the south suburbs would be the best location - also Detroit and Michigan are markets.

 

But I think the ever-wise JIS made the right comment; we can't even get a direct train to Florida from Chicago.


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#31 Bob Dylan

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Posted 10 May 2018 - 02:12 PM

Yep, well see First Class Diner and Pullman type Sleeper Services before this one.

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#32 cpotisch

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Posted 11 May 2018 - 11:46 AM

I am of the opinion that Amtrak should run a couple through cars between one of the Silvers and one of the Chicago trains, since I feel like there is a market for a direct train between Chicago and Florida, but I just don't think the market is remotely big enough to justify an Auto Train. As was mentioned, there are tremendous costs and overhead involved in running an Auto Train, which can only be offset by tremendous ridership.


Edited by cpotisch, 11 May 2018 - 11:46 AM.

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#33 frequentflyer

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 01:33 PM

I am of the opinion that Amtrak should run a couple through cars between one of the Silvers and one of the Chicago trains, since I feel like there is a market for a direct train between Chicago and Florida, but I just don't think the market is remotely big enough to justify an Auto Train. As was mentioned, there are tremendous costs and overhead involved in running an Auto Train, which can only be offset by tremendous ridership.

 

Funny you say that, Amtrak used to have a through car, forgot if it was a coach or sleeper from the Cap Ltd. to the Silver Star for a short time.



#34 cpotisch

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Posted 08 June 2018 - 08:47 AM

I am of the opinion that Amtrak should run a couple through cars between one of the Silvers and one of the Chicago trains, since I feel like there is a market for a direct train between Chicago and Florida, but I just don't think the market is remotely big enough to justify an Auto Train. As was mentioned, there are tremendous costs and overhead involved in running an Auto Train, which can only be offset by tremendous ridership.

 
Funny you say that, Amtrak used to have a through car, forgot if it was a coach or sleeper from the Cap Ltd. to the Silver Star for a short time.

I didn't know they did that, but I imagine it would have been a sleeper, since sleeper pax pay way more and are usually more willing to endure such a long ride. That said, I'm about the least knowledgeable person on AU about that kind of stuff, so I could have it completely backwards.
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#35 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 08 June 2018 - 09:10 AM

Coach passengers too.

 

http://timetables.or...10407&item=0044

http://timetables.or...10407&item=0051

 

Of the potential Chicago-Florida routes, the route through Washington would overlap the most population and include Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Raleigh (although it would hit CLE during the graveyard shift and PIT close to if not during it, using today's CL schedule).


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#36 WICT106

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Posted 09 June 2018 - 12:55 AM

  http://discuss.amtraktrains.com/index.php?/topic/24943-travel-to-florida/  

 

http://discuss.amtra...ago-to-florida/

  

http://discuss.amtra...hicago-florida/  

 

These three threads discuss issues related to train travel between Chicago, or the northern Midwest, and Florida.  


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#37 MARC Rider

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Posted 11 June 2018 - 06:31 PM


The route is pretty flat overall, but there's still the problem of:
 
1. Population. Chicago has nowhere near the population of Boston + NYC + DC, and going from the Midwest to Denver Chicago is only really in line for people coming from northern Ohio/Indiana and the lower peninsula of Michigan. That adds some population, but you're still nowhere near the population of the Northeast megaopolis.
 
2. Snowbirds, or more broadly stated, temporarily relocating people. The Auto Train costs around $400 to haul a vehicle round trip, saver coach round trip is $190, and a roomette round trip for one person seems to settle around $530 (including the one person's rail fare.) Flights on Spirit are typically under $200 round trip, and legacy airlines are closer to $400 round trip on more expensive days. That means a car rental would have to be over $200 for it to break even to bring your own car if you took coach and got the saver fare, or over $550 if you went for the roomette. That'd be even higher if you took Spirit, Frontier, or got a good deal on a legacy airline ticket. For a week or two, it'll almost certainly make more sense to rent a car. The savings only really start adding up if you're in the area for longer than a few weeks, because then it's significantly cheaper to haul your own vehicle than to pay for a rental. That's why snowbirds are such a lucrative market for the Auto Train; they will typically be relocating for a few months so renting a car while at their destination is a lot more expensive proposition than someone visiting for even a couple weeks.
 
3. Traffic and auto driving cost. For such a train to work, you'd need loading and unloading facilities for the train, which typically aren't economical to build in city centers. For the sake of argument, let's say Amtrak would choose Naperville (just outside of Chicago) and Fort Morgan (a bit outside of Denver.) That's about 900 miles; since we have a car already, the fixed cost for owning the car is sunk, so a fairer comparison would be the IRS standard rate for moving purposes (18 cents/mile), which is based on the variable costs for operating an automobile. That results in driving the vehicle costing $324 round-trip. Even with a night's stay each direction at $80ish/night and tolls at $10 each way, the cost is still around $500 round trip. That's not much less than coach for one person, but coach only gives you a seat to sleep in, where an $80 hotel room will typically give someone a decent roadside motel to sleep at for the night along the route. If there's more than one person, then the difference is quite a bit greater ($250.) There also generally isn't the traffic issues along I-80/I-76 that I-95 seems to have (at least from what I've heard about I-95.) That means that avoiding traffic isn't as much of a selling point.
 
Realistically, the reason that the Auto Train works is that there's enough daily demand along the I-95 corridor where people really want to have their own vehicles at the destination to make a train that takes vehicles worth running daily. That means that there's enough demand to generally cover the fixed costs (loading facilities, auto carriers, etc.) There really aren't any other corridors that fit that criteria in the United States; there's typically not enough demand on any single corridor to make it worthwhile, and there's no natural choke point or similar route to make a particular leg of it worthwhile.

I agree with most of your post, except perhaps about avoiding the traffic on I-95 by taking the Auto Train...
The Auto Train carries you between Lorton, Va. and Sanford, Fl.  That portion of the trip has a lot less traffic normally than driving along the NEC to reach Lorton, or driving the stretch between WPB and MIA....so you still have to fight I-95 traffic over the heaviest portion, albeit shorter in miles than the train ride.

I had the opportunity to drive up from Hilton Head to DC last year. Mid April. I couldn't believe the traffic on 95 around such metropolises as Florence and Fayetteville. Bumper to bumper a good part of the way. Then there was the stretch between Fredricksburg and DC. More Bumper to bumper, well before we passed the Lorton exit. Give me the New Jersey turnpike any day! :)

#38 Sauve850

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Posted 29 June 2018 - 09:16 PM

This conversation of auto trains chi-fl or chi-den has been going on for 20 years I swear. Nice thought but wont happen.






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