The original Auto-Train began operating on December 6, 1971 with service between Lorton, Virginia and Sanford, Florida. Vacationing travelers could take the family and the car on a train ride to Florida, without the hassle of driving the I-95. The founder, Eugene K. Garfield brought his novel idea to the marketplace on the east coast when he formed the Auto-Train Corporation, purchased the equipment, and aquired the trackage rights from the major railroads. The Auto-Train enjoyed several years of lucrative operation and then extended the concept to Louisville. Despite popularity of the service on its primary route, the company began to lose money following its expansion into less profitable markets, costly derailments, and taxes. The service stopped in April of 1981. The Auto-Train was a remarkable success in a time when train travel in the U.S. had dropped to a level where the railroads could no longer sustain their passenger operations. Amtrak eventually picked up the Lorton to Sanford auto-train route, and it continues to operate.

The Auto-Train Corporation acquired a fleet of thirteen General Electric U36B diesel-electric locomotives. These were very similar to ones used by Seaboard Coast Line Railroad, the host railroad for most of the route's length. The passenger railcars, including coaches, dining cars, sleeping cars, and dome cars, were acquired from various major railroads, including Santa Fe, Union Pacific, and Western Pacific. The Auto-Train's first autoracks were
75 ft. bilevel models with end doors, carrying eight automobiles each. The cars were originally owned by Canadian National Railway, the railroad that had pioneered the use of autoracks in the North American freight rail industry beginning in late 1957.

A typical Auto-Train consisted of 30 to 64 cars, pulled by two or three locomotives.


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