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TIMELINE for the 1971 - 1981 auto-train
 
 
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DATE
EVENTS
1965
US Congress authorizes $3 million three-year study to determine if auto-ferry service could be successful in the US as it had been in Europe. The answer was "yes" and Congress decided it should be pursued by private industry. Subsequently, the results of the study were made public.
Early 1969
Mr. Eugene K. Garfield and a group of investors formed the Auto-Train Corporation. Operating agreements for trackage rights were signed with the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad (Sanford, FL to Richmond, VA) and the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac RR (Richmond, VA to Lorton, VA) providing for operation of the Auto-Train from the Washington, DC metro area to within 25 miles of Orlando, FL.
July 15, 1971
The Auto-Train Corporation went public by offering 700,000 shares at $10 each. Seven million dollars was raised to purchase equipment. It is the first new common-carrier railroad in over 50 years.
December 6, 1971
Just four and a half months after its IPO, the first Auto-Train departed Lorton, VA for the fifteen and one-half hour 856-mile trip to Sanford, FL.
December 7, 1971
Daily service begins in both directions. Crews are supplied by the SCL and the RF&P and occur at five points -- Richmond, VA, Rocky Mount, NC, Florence, SC, Savannah, GA and Jacksonville, FL.
December 1, 1973
A schedule change takes place. Daily service in both directions (Train #3 southbound, and #4 northbound) will depart at 4PM, arriving at 7:30AM. A third auto-train will depart at 8PM, arriving at 11:30AM. This "third" auto-train goes southbound one day (as Train #1) and northbound (as Train #2) the next.
March 13, 1973
A major accident. A truck driver failed to stop at a grade crossing in Hortense, GA. The truck struck the lead auto-train locomotive and caused a derailment of the train's two locomotives and 27 of its 30 cars. The two locomotives, 4001 and 4004, were scrapped.
October, 1974
A promotional train of one auto-carrier, two short domes, and a locomotive was sent to St. Petersburg, FL for a few days.
May 24, 1974
Service between Louisville, KY and Sanford, FL begins. The trip is 988 miles. It's a weekend service, departing from Sanford every Friday and from Louisville every Sunday. The trains run on the SCL between Sanford and Montgomery, AL, then over the Louisville & Nashville Railroad to Louisville. Crews are supplied by the SCL and the L&N and occur at five points -- Nashville, TN, Birmingham, AL, Montgomery, AL, Thomasville, GA, and Jacksonville, FL. The service is short-lived. For a while, Amtrak's Floridian and the Auto-Train combine on the trip from Louisville to Sanford.
January, 1975
Expansion plans called for the creation of a truck-train ferry service between Lorton and Sanford, doing for over-the-road trucks and their drivers what the auto-train did for automobiles. Plans also called for a franchised auto-train service between Nuevo Laredo on the US border and Mexico City, a 15-hour 762-mile overnight trip. Contracts for the Auto-Tren de Mexico were signed in 1979, but ultimately neither expansion plan grew to fruition.
1975
The Lorton - Sanford route has become so popular that in peak periods the train is run in two sections five minutes apart -- one section all passenger cars, one all car carriers.
1976
A tough year for Auto-Train Corporation -- two derailments. The first was on March 7 when auto-train #3 left the rails at Quantico Creek. Fourteen auto-carriers derailed and six of them fell into the creek. The second was May 5 when auto-train #3 left the rails at Jarratt, VA. Twenty four auto carriers derailed. The cause of both accidents was determined to be cracked wheels on auto-train equipment.
1977
Auto-Train was the official sponsor of the Walt Disney World Railroad.
September, 1977
Louisville-Sanford service ceases.
February 24, 1978
Another derailment. Auto-train #4 left the rails at Florence, SC. One locomotive and 19 passenger cars derailed due to a broken axle on the locomotive. Some passengers were injured.
Late April, 1981
Auto-Train Corporation ceases operations. Amtrak resurrects the Lorton-Sanford route 22 months later.
October 30, 1983
Amtrak's Auto Train begins service along the former Auto-Train Corporation route.
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