Driving 850 miles on I-95 is the ultimate test of patience even for a road trip enthusiast. Thanks to 21st-century transportation, there's a way to travel between Virginia and Florida that doesn't require spending 12 hours straight in a car.
Sure, a flight would be quicker, but the Amtrak Auto Train allows people to bring along their vehicles without having to physically drive that far. The car-carrying train that runs through five East Coast states is the first of its kind in the nation.
It's equipped with two engines and more than 40 passenger rail cars and vehicle carriers, making it the longest passenger train in the world. Even the boarding platform at the station in Lorton, Virginia, is longer than the height of the Sears Tower in Chicago, spanning across 1,480 feet.
The auto train can accommodate cars, vans, motorcycles, SUVs, small boats, and jet skis. Reservations are required and are only available to those who are traveling with a vehicle.
Station in Lorton, Virginia
The Amtrak Auto Train's northernmost station is in Lorton, Virginia, 20 miles south of Washington, D.C. Its central location—within about a 4-hour drive of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh—makes it a convenient starting point for northerners traveling south and vice versa.
Station in Sanford, Florida
Ticket Options and Travel Time
Ticket prices vary in accordance with comfort levels. The most basic fare will get you only a coach seat, but spend a bit extra and you'll be sleeping in a bedroom suite with a private bathroom. Special accommodation is offered for families and people with disabilities.
Keep in mind that bringing a vehicle—which is required for all passengers—is an additional charge. The nonstop trip takes just over 17 hours, slightly longer than the time it would take to drive the 850 miles without stopping (and without traffic). The train departs daily.
Tips for Traveling on the Auto Train
As with any booking, it would be wise to read the fine print. Remember that you must obtain your Auto Train tickets before you board the train, regardless of whether you have an electronic ticket or a paper ticket. A photo ID is required to pick up tickets on the day of departure.
Check-in times vary depending on the type of vehicle you'll be traveling with, so find which window applies to you and get there ahead of time.
Pack a small carry-on bag for your overnight stay on the train and leave nothing you may need in the car because you won't have access to it at any point on the trip. Each passenger is allowed two carry-on bags and veteran Auto Train travelers have recommended making room for a pillow and blanket, especially if traveling in coach. All other luggage must remain in your vehicle.
Car alarm systems should be deactivated to avoid the risk of having a dead battery upon arrival. Dinner and breakfast are included in the price of your ticket, and snacks are available for purchase in the lounges. Passengers may also bring their own food and beverages if they prefer.
Once you arrive at your destination, retrieving your vehicle can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours, so plan accordingly. For an extra fee, you can upgrade to a Priority Vehicle Offloading ticket, which will guarantee that you're one of the first 30 out the door.