Railroads are the most civilized way to travel, proven once again by my recent trip to Florida via Amtrak’s Auto Train. Instead of my white knuckles gripping the steering wheel along an over-crowded I-95, the 900 miles effortlessly floated past the windows of our roomette. My friend Joan Datesman and I loaded her car onto the train in Lorton, VA, enjoyed a lovely dinner on the train, and slept the night away until our arrival in Sanford, FL, near Orlando. The Amtrak engineers and planners have created an elegant process for handling all the cars and people with tender loving care, so kudos to them.
The Lorton station reminds you constantly that you are headed towards palm trees.
We drove our car under a canopy, where an Amtrak employee put a magnetic ID number on the driver’s door of each vehicle and then video-taped the condition of the car. Drivers loaded each car onto covered rail cars,
while we enjoyed the air-conditioning inside the station until our 3 pm boarding time.
Intrepid children could have played outside on a train set, but the summer heat and humidity kept us all safely inside.
At the appointed hour, all 500 passengers boarded to find their assigned seats or roomettes, and Amtrak did some advertising while everybody loaded.
Our reserved roomette testified to clever, thoughtful ergonomic design. The entire room measured 81” wide by 113” long, and broke into two separate area – the sitting/bed room and the private dressing/toilet area.
By day we enjoyed two seats by the window, with a pull-down table top. Joan used her time to work on her website http://www.merrywalk.com for her antique French Quimper pottery sales. I, however, kept looking out the window to enjoy the passing scenery. In Virginia the train passed inland lakes, the Atlantic Ocean, the US Marine base at Quantico, small towns, and a predominantly hardwood forest.
As soon as we took our seats, our concierge Sallie plied us with free bottles of water, and gave us a printed paper menu from which to choose our dinner. Joan enjoyed the chicken dish, and I the steak entrée. Both tasted and looked great, putting us in a good mood for the evening.
Come twilight, Sallie transformed our seating area into the upper and lower berths. She flipped the tables and chairs around into this bed configuration, with each bunk sized 78” long but a mere 30” wide. As the person in the upper bunk, I can tell you that the stepladder is safe but daunting, and the safety straps made me feel much more secure. Thankfully, I don’t toss and turn in my sleep, so settled down for a refreshing night.
In the morning Joan and I took turns in our private dressing area, and in the main hallway an enclosed shower stall was available to everybody in our car.
About 7:30 am Sallie served us yet more water with a light breakfast of corn muffins, coffee, and juice. Right on schedule at 8:30 the train pulled into Sanford, FL, where the hardwood forests of the mid-Atlantic had given way to Spanish moss, palm trees, and sandy soil.
Amtrak had made our journey south into a time of peace and quiet surrounded by elegantly designed, compact solutions to the needs of its passengers, both human and automotive. Their process made our journey serene, and it is my intent that all your interactions with Niermann Weeks should be so delightful.
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