Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Auto Train gives motorcyclists a fun way to ride

Motorcycles are unloaded from enclosed Auto Train cars.
The romance of riding the rails is second only to the thrill of riding cross country on a motorcycle. But you can combine the two.

Save the wear and tear on your motorcycle by riding the AMTRAK Auto Train between Central Florida and Northern Virginia. I recently rode the Auto Train to deliver a car to my daughter in Washington, D.C. and was interested to see motorcycles being loaded aboard.

Boy, does that seem appealing. I could imagine riding the Blue Ridge Parkway without having to subject my Royal Enfield Bullet to Interstate 95. Alternately, if I was a motorcyclist from the Frozen North, I could ride the train to Florida and back to enjoy riding in our perfect winter weather.

You get the experience of seeing America from a railroad passenger car. You also get dinner, a good night's sleep and breakfast. When you arrive, your motorcycle will be right there waiting for you.

There is only one Auto Train in the United States. It runs daily between Lorton, (Washington, D.C. area) and Sanford (Orlando, Fla. area). The overnight "nonstop" trip (there is one short stop to refuel the locomotives and change crews) takes about 18 hours. You check in by 2 p.m. and arrive at 9 a.m., regardless of which way you're traveling.

Going my way? There is only one Auto Train in the U.S.
The cost is less than food, lodging and 900 miles worth of gas and oil would be if you attempted to ride the whole way. Checking the website for a random date, I see that a one-way ticket for an upper level seat (for the best view) on March 3, 2018 would be $112 for the rider, plus $141 for the motorcycle.

Prices are subject to change of course, and with only one train a day, you must make reservations well in advance.

There are special rules for motorcycles: "Standard factory-model two-wheel motorcycles. Maximum length: 102 inches from front to rear tire edges. Maximum tire wheelbase: 51 inches. Maximum height: 72 inches to top of handlebars/windshield. Ground clearance: at least 5 inches. Tire maximum: 7 inches wide, 2 1/2 inches deep. Check-in is required by 2 p.m."

Auto Train banner advertises appeal to motorcyclists.
For some reason only Harley-Davidson three-wheelers are accommodated — yet the website says there is some space for sidecars: "For small trailers, jet-skis, trikes (three-wheeled vehicles), sidecars, choppers call 1-877-754-7495."

Your motorcycle will ride in an enclosed double-decker train car. My car arrived just as clean as it was when loaded.

AMTRAK "Roomettes" are available but I found the standard seat very comfortable. You sit two-by-two, there's plenty of legroom and the seats recline and have a Lazy Boy style footrest. Bring your own pillow and blanket.

The train rocks from side-to-side a bit but is otherwise smooth and very quiet inside. Too quiet? If someone uses their cell phone you will hear every word of their conversation even if they whisper.

AMTRAK tries, but the meals are average fare and the plates are plastic.
Meals are included and are served in the dining car. Not quite so much room here; if you are traveling alone you will sit with the people at whatever table has a spare seat. AMTRAK tries to make this a stylish experience, with a choice of entrees and wine is available. Realistically, however, this is at best airline quality food.

The view out the big windows is wider than the view from an airplane, especially if you reserve a seat on the upper level. You're looking out at America's back yard, which can be boring or fascinating, depending on your interests. I find rusty pick-up trucks, ancient factories and little town squares interesting.

The view out the train windows is distinctly America's back yard.
At one point the Auto Train rounds a curve so tight you can look back and see your own train out the window. It's announced before you get there, so you can get the photo. I shot this short video to give you the idea.

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