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Motorcylists can ride the rails on Amtrak's Autotrain

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Yes, Virginia, there is an Auto Train, an actual locomotive that will haul you and your favorite ride. And guess what: it doesn't only haul cars and trucks, either. The auto train folks will be happy to load your motorcycle for a trip on the rails.

The Amtrak Auto Train runs from Sanford, Florida to Lorton, Virginia and back. The primary target customer for the train is obviously north easterners trekking to or from Florida. This particular train is the only auto train of its kind and it only runs this east-coast route. Well, sort-of the only one. There are actually two trains, but they're running in opposite directions. When one's heading south, the other is northbound.

Folks who take this splendid form of transportation, spend the extra coin to ship their vehicles along with them, so rental cars aren't necessary. Others ship cars up and back and motorcycle riders enjoy the convenience of travelling by rail to the northeast. Laconia New Hampshire's motorcycle week is a popular motorcycle destination for Florida motorcyclists who don't want to ride or trailer their bikes that far.

The train stops in Lorton for a very good reason. Further north, the trestles, tunnels and other railway features aren't tall enough to handle the massively tall cars. So it stops in VA and that's it.

The train takes around 18 hours to make the trip, not counting boarding and other non-movement related preparation, like loading all those cars, trucks and bikes. Once the wheels start turning, start your clock. It'll be arriving before you know it, especially if you're able to catch some Z's overnight.

There are a number of comfort options for the motorcyclist. Coach is the cheapest, but you won't have a designated sleeping area or a bed. Relining in the coach seat is your best option. The next click up is the roomette, an up to two-persons berth with seating that converts to beds. At the top of the list is the bedrooms. The price jumps significantly from coach to any sleeper option but may be well worth it for the motorcyclist. Being exhausted the following day from too little sleep is dangerous especially for motorcycle operation in the congested DC Metro area.

Motorcycles are loaded onto the train via special rolling pallets where they're strapped down with the rider's help. The rider simply rides onto the pallet and the straps go on. Unload your junk for the train part and go check-in.

A few tips to make the journey pleasant:

- keep the luggage light on the train. There isn't much room, even in the roomette. Take only what you need and leave the rest on the bike.

- bring comfortable shoes, something easy on/off. Motorcycle boots are cumbersome in close-quarters. Something closed-toed preferred like Crocs. Sneakers are fine too. Doff the clodhoppers and take light footwear aboard the train. Leave the boots on the bike.

- bring cash. Although your meals are included in the fare, the bar and snack areas take greenbacks only. Plus, it's nice to tip the staff.

- once the bike is loaded on the train, you cannot access it until reaching the destination. Make sure to have any medications, personal hygiene items and such with you on the train. This includes your cell phone charger, etc.

- enjoy the experience! The train is an experience in itself, not just a means of transportation.



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