Auto Train delays

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by W6ORZ, Nov 1, 2019.

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  1. Nov 1, 2019 #1

    W6ORZ

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    W6ORZ

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    I'm an infrequent Amtrak traveler. But, we are taking the Auto Train to FL on Saturday, 11/1. I saw last night that 52 and 53 both left several hours late. I didn't think of the implications until today. Today (Friday) both trains showed arrival estimates about 8 hours late. That means both trains arrive about the same time they are supposed to head back the other direction. Am I correct in my assumption that when 52 arrives in LOR it is unloaded, serviced and then becomes 53 heading for SFA that afternoon? If that;s correct, then the ripple effect from yesterday's delay might take several days before getting back on schedule. Is that how train travel works? This may be a dumb question for more experienced rail travelers; but I really have no experience in a situation like this. I've spent enough years on airplanes to know how they handle delays - but lack a frame of reference for Amtrak. So, hoping someone on this forum can help with my education.

    Thanks
     
  2. Nov 1, 2019 #2

    Thirdrail7

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    Due to the limited sets of equipment on that route, that's how it works on the Auto Train. They can chip away at the delays until it is corrected (since they can usually turn the train in 4 to 5 hours if there aren't any issues) or they may cancel a leg to straighten things out.
     
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  3. Nov 1, 2019 #3

    W6ORZ

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    Thanks - That's what I thought.
     
  4. Nov 1, 2019 #4

    RichieRich

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    " Is that how train travel works?"
    LOL - Yes! As an 8-times-a-year A/T regular...I've seen it all. At least you got out...right?. They hit a point where they will simply cancel both ends for a day to reset the schedule...and you're really outta luck. Did you get the chicken picnic dinner in the station lobby. We did in Sanford when we got out at 10:00PM. It really wasn't half bad. Rather be late then not at all.
     
  5. Nov 2, 2019 #5

    Seaboard92

    Seaboard92

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    Welcome to the Auto-Pain I mean Auto Train
     
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  6. Nov 2, 2019 #6

    W6ORZ

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    We haven't "got out" yet - we're on 53 tomorrow (Sat, 11/2( I keep looking at the train status ans 52 today (Fri, 11/1) is estimated to depart now - 8:50p - and arriving in LOR on Saturday at around 1. I don't believe that one! I've been looking at the history - At seems to frequently leave early and estimate early at the other end - but end up arriving late. Hopefully 52 can arrive around 1 and 53 can get out before 8 or 9 pm. We have a 90 minute drive to LOR, so I'm concerned about what time to leave on Saturday. I'll see what they're estimating in the morning. but, no call from Amtrak cancelling 53 for tomorrow - yet!
     
  7. Nov 2, 2019 #7

    Seaboard92

    Seaboard92

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    Can someone correct me if I’m wrong. But I believe they have autoracks on both ends. So they might still do the load out at the same time because of that. That would greatly help reduce turn time.
     
  8. Nov 2, 2019 #8

    W6ORZ

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    This is getting more entertaining! I started with a robo-call from Amtrak at 7am telling me about a delay on 53. Now we can check in cars up until 5pm, snacks in the terminal, no dinner service on the train, but breakfast and lunch on Sunday. I talked to a nice lady at LOR and she said thy will still start accepting cars at 11am. But, 52 (which left SFA at 10:30pm) is currently stopped in Florence, SC, and not due in LOR until 5:30! Looks like we may not leave until 10pm tonight. Does anyone know if there are enough seats in the LOR terminal for all the passengers? Amtrak is offering full refunds today so I assume some people will cancel due to the delay. I'm concerned about having to spend several hours in the terminal with no place to sit.
     
  9. Nov 2, 2019 #9

    Thirdrail7

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    It really depends on how many people are travelling on the train. It is pretty spacious.

    However, I'm losing hope for the 5:30pm arrival. 79 and 89 are now heading right towards it and someone will have to take the siding....and that is without knowing what freight traffic is out there.
     
  10. Nov 2, 2019 #10

    mmatarella

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    In situations like this almost every seat is taken but it should be just enough. See you there, we are on today’s too. Looks like is just south of Rocky Mount now.
     
  11. Nov 2, 2019 #11

    Dakota 400

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    Dakota 400

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    Thanks for posting a photo of the Lorton Auto Train terminal's interior. I wonder if anyone has a photo of the interior of the Sanford terminal for Auto Train.
     
  12. Nov 3, 2019 #12

    Thirdrail7

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    This should help

    It would be nice if you departed by 10:30pm. CSX traffic is usually lighter on Saturdays and Sundays. Additionally, the clocks go back an hour. Perhaps you can make up 2 hours on the run.
     
  13. Nov 3, 2019 #13

    mmatarella

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    Still waiting to board. A further delay came when they apparently switched out and misplaced some car carriers from the arrived train. Took at least an hour and I believe two blocks of car carriers brought up to the ramps before they found them. The train arrived at 6 and the last batch just got their cars.
     
  14. Nov 3, 2019 #14

    lordsigma

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    I’ve been quite early with auto train in the past on a good run with few bottle necks. However there’s currently some slow orders on the A line in Florida so even when it’s not in the dead zone it’s in now it’s usually running a little bit behind by the time it gets in. On my trip a couple weeks ago also had to flag a couple crossings in the slow order area on my southbound trip. And further north in Virginia just after departure if I recall there was something going on with a couple of the track circuits they kept getting a restricting on the cab. At one point I think they found an obstruction on the tracks that had to be cleared. Lost a little time in that area too.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2019
  15. Nov 3, 2019 #15

    lordsigma

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    Speaking of the auto train does anyone know if the entire auto train route has I-ETMS active now?
     
  16. Nov 3, 2019 #16

    mmatarella

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    We finally boarded at 10 pm, train pulled out at midnight. But hey, coming north the day before Southwest cancelled my 9am flight less than 12 hours before boarding. I had to switch to a flight that required me getting up at 3am so it has just been one of those trips!
     
  17. Nov 3, 2019 #17

    Thirdrail7

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    I everyone is still chugging along and you didn't make up as much time as I hoped. This, of course, reminds me of a post I made in the Auto Train Coach Food Being Removed 1/14/2020? thread:


    Assuming you have to check-in at 6p, will the food trucks be around to offer food? After all, they've taken your car and snacks aren't going to cut it. Now, you've eaten from the food truck at 7pm and the train doesn't leave until 1130pm, will the cross country lounge remain open later?

    Not quite.
     
  18. Nov 4, 2019 #18

    Flotsam

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    Funny, I was also on this cursed train on Saturday. (My second Amtrak trip in 20 years)

    This was really a comedy (tragedy?) of errors. I was flying to VA to buy a new car Saturday morning, and taking the train back to Orlando where I needed to be on monday. Luckily I wasn’t “in a hurry” but it felt like so many things were done poorly.

    - I also received an automated voicemail and email around 7:30 am Saturday telling me the train would be delayed, and that I needed to check in by 5:30, not 2:30. This actually worked out great for me as I had time to meet a friend in DC for lunch, so an extra 3 hours in my day was a win.

    - Around 11 am I called Amtrak’s customer service line to try to verify the situation. The guy who answered clearly had exactly as much information as I had gotten in that email. I asked specifically when the train would arrive in Orlando, and he said “oh probably by 9 or 10 am Sunday” (HAHA)

    - I arrived at Lorton at 4:00 on the nose and was told they had no more room to accept cars as their lot was full. So I got my # and sat in the incoming parking line.

    - I will say all of the staff at Lorton were friendly enough - but either didn’t have any real information, weren’t willing to share real information, or just didn’t know what they were doing. For example, at 4:15 I asked if I could leave - they said sure, but to make it back into the car line by 5:30. I also heard them tell someone else 3 times “not to leave the property” as if the train could show up at any moment. In retrospect, this made no sense whatsoever.

    - The incoming train arrived around 6 pm - so I’d been waiting at the station for 2 hours at this point and felt like real progress, surely we’d board soon enough. (HAHAHAHA)

    - As mentioned above, the car unloading was a bit of a zoo, passengers were angry, and by the 2nd time they pulled up an empty set of cars to unload, they actually had to call in the Amtrak police as one inbound passenger was yelling at the staff. (Keep in mind, their trip from station to station, as mine was, was effectively 25+ hours)

    - Sometime around 7pm, what must have been a hundred cheese pizzas were delivered to feed the 300 people in the station.

    - What was most frustrating is that everything felt like it was happening incredibly slowly. If you’ve ever watched a late plane arrive, there’s a flurry of activity to turn it around. For whatever reason, it took SIX HOURS to prepare the train. Why? I have no idea. The same people cleaning the train weren’t the ones loading/unloading cars. The people in the station would pop in and out with status updates but it was always “well hopefully” this will happen and “soon” was heard a lot.

    - 7 turned to 8 turned to 9:00 with the process just slowly grinding along. They finally unloaded all the cars, and started loading new ones. Again - once this was done we STILL found ourselves standing around for over an hour. This made no sense.

    - Finally around 9:30 I found myself on the train. This STILL felt salvageable - maybe they’d be able to go faster. Maybe travelling overnight on a weekend, we could avoid some stops on the route. Maybe I’d only be a few hours late. (HAHAHAHAA)

    Nope. As far as I could tell, the train started rolling around midnight. And at 7 am, I was woken up by a 3 minute rambling discussion of times. Breakfast, they said, was going to be served at 7:30 am. Train time. But it was daylight savings last night. So 7:30 really meant 8:30 on your cell phones. But the train doesn’t change times, so it was 7:30 train time. And it would be available until 8:30 train time, which was really 9:30 on your cell phone. Wait no 7:30 on your cell phone. Whichever it was, breakfast was starting in 20 minutes and would be available for an hour. Repeat 3x in confusion.

    Anyway, now I’m up at 7:30 train time, or real time, I don’t even know which and I check my GPS thinking surely we’d be in florida by now and make it by lunchtime. Not even close. I think we were in the middle of South Carolina. Actually maybe not even that far, because at 8 or 8:30 we stopped for the crew change/resupply.

    To make a long story short(er) the rest of the trip was uneventful, but we rolled into Sanford at 5pm, so a solid 7-8 hours late, and for people who had followed a reasonable schedule, that meant from station to station they were probably on the journey for 27 hours.

    Why? I have no idea. If that very first email had said “you know what, we’re not gonna make it on time, please show up at the station at 7pm and plan on arriving in Orlando late afternoon” it still would have been miserable but not AS miserable. I can’t come up with any excuse for the train turnaround to have taken so long - that feels like it could have been reduced to 3 hours with just a little bit of hustle.

    Most people on the train lost an entire day of their itinerary at whichever end. The folks arriving in Lorton were hopping mad, the ones on my train seemed to be in slightly better spirits, but I imagine there were a LOT of unexpected hotel rooms booked etc etc.

    To be clear - even if I had driven down to Lorton at 4 pm and AT THE GATE they told me the actual schedule of events that was going to unfold - I would have had time to go back to DC, see the monuments, buy a tee shirt, see a movie, and then drive back to Lorton to still catch my train on time.

    The Amtrak folks were handing out customer service numbers for irate people to call, claiming they’d “take care of you.” I’m curious if anyone went down this route and what you’d get? I just don’t have it in me to call them today.

    PS: Do folks on the train itself really have no idea what the status is? Even as the journey was wrapping up they were announcing things like “we’re passing Jacksonville, this IS A SIGN that we may have about 3 hours to go” - like there was no one in charge who had an actual ETA that could share it with the staff?
     
  19. Nov 4, 2019 #19

    MikefromCrete

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    MikefromCrete

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    The progress of the train is under the control of the CSX dispatcher. All kinds of things could impede the progress of the train, i.e., a car or pedestrian could drive or walk in front of the train or a previous train shutting everything down. The train really can't run any faster, since it probably scheduled at the maximum operating speed. There's only one scheduled stop for the auto train, Florence, N.C., to change operating crews, so not a lot of time could be saved there. As far as how long it takes to turn the train, I suppose there isn't a lot of leeway in that. Unfortunately, every thing takes time. I'm not sure why the previous train was so late. The could have an effect on the turnaround time.
     
  20. Nov 4, 2019 #20

    Flotsam

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    Hey Mike - I understand some things you just can’t control. But I don’t know why it took 3+ hours to prep the train for passengers and leaving at midnight (SIX Hours after inbound arrival) was insult to injury.

    To make matters worse it just felt like everybody working at the station was along for the ride. They were all nice enough and were dealing with the situation professionally but didn’t see a single person who looked like they were in charge and coordinating the events, and certainly didn’t see anybody hustling to get things done faster.

    Thankfully I wasn’t in a hurry but the folks who were, had their weeks pretty badly disrupted.
     
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  21. Nov 4, 2019 #21

    mmatarella

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    [QUOTE="Flotsam, post: 822818, member: 15287"

    - As mentioned above, the car unloading was a bit of a zoo, passengers were angry, and by the 2nd time they pulled up an empty set of cars to unload, they actually had to call in the Amtrak police as one inbound passenger was yelling at the staff. (Keep in mind, their trip from station to station, as mine was, was effectively 25+ hours)[/QUOTE]

    Yes, I saw one passenger getting pretty upset yelling at the fellow who keys in the car numbers as they come off the carriers. I went in and suggested to the Amtrak Police they might want to make the presence known out there near that employee. The fellow was getting a bit over the top and I was concerned he might escalate.

    I've been riding the Autotrain for decades. I've had similar length delays on the Autotrain before, but more often when flying. I fly between DCA & Tampa on American a few times a year too and I've 6+ hour delays and cancellations in fair weather which feels worse because they have several non stops a day between the two. I expect such things I just wish they (both) would communicate more.
     
  22. Nov 4, 2019 #22

    Thirdrail7

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    ***Disclaimer***

    The following is an operational tidbit that may or may not shed light on the situation. It is not meant to assuage the length of the delay but hopefully, it will help people understand some of the things that can occur with a train. If you are offended or these types of posts rub you the wrong way, please do not continue reading.


    There is only so much the station personnel (the people that are inside the station) can do until the train is ready for passengers...and that doesn't happen until mechanical releases the train. There isn't much hustling in the station since there is nothing they can do.

    Mechanical, on the other hand, has quite a bit to do. Once the train gets spotted (and the T&E crew apparently loses two drafts of cars), the engines are cut off and serviced. Car inspectors begin their work and perform the various federally required tests for this particular type of train. That means they have to work underneath the train, without power, so the train sits in the dark. Brakes and other undercarriage components are inspected and if necessary, changed, replaced, swapped out, etc. The interior crew probably does as much as it can while the HEP is down, (such as dumping the toilets, getting the old linens out, etc) but some of the serving will generally occur under power (such as loading the food.) The auto train usually has 40+ cars so it will take time to perform these tasks. It typically takes 4 to 5 hours to turn this train. This is why it takes time to load the train and get it underway.

    When you lose two drafts of cars and have to find them....it will naturally take longer
     
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  23. Nov 5, 2019 #23

    Flotsam

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    Hey Thirdrail -

    I appreciate the commentary. I suspect you’re well informed and the truth is somewhere between your description and my frustrated observations. I can say that I was watching the whole process, much like I’d watch an aircraft ground crew while waiting for a late flight, and from my vantage point it looked like a lot of room for improvement but there were doubtless also things going on behind the scenes.
     
  24. Nov 5, 2019 #24

    jis

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    As a matter of full disclosure Thirdrail works for Amtrak. He usually does not post random railfan style speculation without identifying them as such. Usually the information that he posts about operational matters is quite accurate.
     
  25. Nov 5, 2019 #25

    daybeers

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    I believe the main overarching issue here is communication. Many public transportation companies in the U.S., including Amtrak, are absolutely terrible at it. They create many more "never again" riders than they need to if they would just give a little bit of communication, even if there is no update, status, or progress. People talk, especially if they have had a bad experience.

    This, along with customer service consistency closely followed by on-time performance, is the issue that should be of utmost importance and priority to Amtrak. Unfortunately, even with the new regime, it seems that is not the case.
     

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