Auto Train Platform, Sanford, Florida

I have always appreciated trains.

When I was growing up, I watched them build the PATCO High-Speed Line from Philadelphia through to Lindenwold, NJ.  The tracks ran along a disused track that went to Atlantic City, NJ in a more Mass Transit oriented day.  I remember seeing the last freight train on that line, then the work cars coming through and laying the Third Rail for electric power.  After that, the whirr of the High Speed Line was a companion through my youth.

I took that train, and the SEPTA Regional Rails most of my work years in Philadelphia.  Made a lot of sense to do so, you could use them, leave the car at home, and not have to pay for parking.  Since Philly has a compact central business district, I took on the stereotype of a Philadelphian – I walk everywhere.

I even got to take the Auto Train as a child, and enjoyed the experience.  When I returned to it as an adult, I found that my 6′ 4″ frame simply could not sleep in the so-called recliner seating that they had in Coach.  It was either upgrade or drive.  I’ve been told that the seats have been upgraded to make it more comfortable, but I haven’t had a need to leave the state let alone South Florida since arriving here in 2006.

Looking at this picture of the platform, I had two thoughts.  One was the excitement of the vacation.  The anticipation of going somewhere far away, to meet friends and family, see new things, get caught up on old times, and generally have a blast.

The other was my time waiting for the R7 or the R8 to arrive to get me either home or to work.  They ran well when they ran.  At least they did.  Being away from the trains for all these years, I have heard that Septa got very expensive lately and also very crowded.

It’s all a matter of finance.  It is difficult to get a transport system to generate a profit.  Too many other ways to go from point A to point B, and most of them are financed and subsidized better.  Cutting corners is always noticed, whether it be lower quality seating or more infrequent service, all of which are a symptom of shortsightedness in those decide where tax dollars go to support infrastructure.  If the train doesn’t go to your area, then you will not be interested in supporting it and the Corridor services of the Northeast and California are both poster children of that sort of funding neglect.

But rails do have their target audience.  Bulk.  Any time you can send bulk cargo somewhere, it normally is cheaper by rail.  Whether that bulk is Oranges, Coal, or just our collective back-sides along with our cars going on vacation. The virtue of a dedicated road bed makes for more efficient traffic.

When railroads were originally built, the Federal government gave large tracts of land to the railroad companies in order to subsidize their construction.  While it opened up the country, it also made for profitable railroads since the land was basically free to the rails.  You could sell that land off at a premium and fund the construction of tracks.

That business model worked well through the 1940s.  When the suburbs were being built in the 1950s, the local street-car routes weren’t able to keep up with the building pace, and it showed the need for more roads to be laid.  Since roads were local, and railroads were regional, the politicians shifted funding to the competing street network and the railroads began their decline.

It became dis-economic to run a rail network against a free interstate road system, and by the 1970s, the big railroads of the past were dying on the vine.  There are a few left, as evidenced by the FEC tracks that run near my house serenading my neighborhood with their whistles, and where appropriately funded, they thrive in concert with the road networks.  With the idiocy of adding toll lanes to the interstates that your tax dollars have already paid for, I suspect that mass transit may start to get better funding.  That is if the greed of the politicians can be stopped so that the right thing can be done with that funding source.  After all, those toll lanes on the free interstate system will slow down everyone else who isn’t using them.  May as well take the regional train system since you have to pay to go anywhere.

After all, if you need to go somewhere that the trains go, it’s much easier to let them drive you there instead of having to find parking, get gas, and so forth.  Eventually it will all swing back to a new balance.  For now, if you want to bypass 900 miles of driving, you have to get to a platform like this.

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Standing on the Platform at the Auto Train

I’m a big fan of travel and public transportation.  I’m a green even if I do drive a Jeep that gets 18mpg city, and I justify it by riding a train when I am able.  I was able to only put 4000 miles a year on the thing when I lived in Philly because I rode the SEPTA Regional Rails everywhere. 

The R7 is where I met some wonderful people when I learned how to share the seat. 

In the case of this picture, it brought back that flood of memories, joining up with Velma and the morning crew and riding to work every day for 7 plus years.  The platforms are pretty standard, even though this one is for the Auto Train in Sanford Florida.

Kevin’s taking a trip to visit Mom, and will be arriving in Lorton Virginia this morning.  Onward to Pennsylvania afterwords. 

I took the Auto Train way back in the 70s when it had first started up with my family.  We rode to Sanford and took a grand tour of Florida, first heading to Tampa area, then Fort Lauderdale, and back to Orlando to see the Rat.   After all we kids, Pat and I and Cousin Darlene, were not yet teens and it was a chance to see all the fun at Disney World while it was still exciting.

Back then, we rode coach.  It was uncomfortable then with seats that didn’t recline and blankets that weren’t quite warm enough in the Air Conditioned “comfort”. 

Later, I tried it again in Coach and found that the seats were a little better but not suited to my 6’4″ frame and thought only in an emergency. 

Kevin tried an “Individual RoomEtte” and liked it.  They’re not quite four feet wide, have a teeny table and two chairs in them.  When you’re ready, the porter pulls down a berth for you to sleep your way through some rather unexciting scenery in the deep south and you wake up in Virginia.  North Florida if you’re coming down from Snowbird Land.

Much more comfortable than trying to pretend that sleeping in a stiff backed and semi padded chair that is semi reclining is a good way to spend a night.

Theoretically the costs work out fairly even, you can go the distance in about the same time and expense as it would be to drive.  Certainly safer since I know that in the middle of that first day drive, I’ll start getting white line fever and need a good time out of the Jeep.