Zugspotting: The Amtrak Auto Train

Less than two miles from The Place Where Gemütlichkeit Happens

The first time I ever rode on a train that wasn't called "Monorail" or "Walt Disney World Railroad" was for a short trip in 1991 from Jena, Germany to the small nearby town of Stadtroda. There were schoolchildren riding home on that train (which is why it stopped about every five minutes), and naturally they were curious about our little group of exchange students who were very obviously not from 'round those parts. One of the kids started interrogating me, and at some point I revealed to him that at the age of 25, I was riding on a real train for the first time in my life.

He absolutely refused to believe me.

I tried to explain in my third-semester German why we didn't generally need trains in Florida, but to a kid in the former East Germany, life without trains didn't seem like a realistic concept. I would eventually come to better appreciate his perspective, because I ended up spending over a year altogether in Germany - school that summer, a long vacation a few years later, and then working in Munich as a translator - and I never once drove a car.

Zug means train in German, by the way. In case you were wondering about the "Zugspotting" thing...

In fact, I spent more time on trains in Germany than I did in Biergartens (which is saying something...) I didn't miss having to drive one bit, I got to work on my laptop on the train or just enjoy the scenery while sipping on a bottle of fine German beer, I could get around just about anywhere relatively cheaply...it wasn't long before I realized what my German friends already knew: train travel is wunderbar!

And more and more travelers in this country are apparently starting to feel the same way, judging by the increasing popularity of Amtrak's Auto Train and other services. I've been working at the Willow Tree (if you can call it work) for over seven years, and I couldn't even count the number of guests I've met who were having lunch here before their Auto Train trip from Sanford to Virginia, many of them snowbirds who are regular guests of ours while in Florida. Having a big filling German meal before a long trip is no problem when someone else is doing the driving. :)

Did I mention we're only two miles from the Auto Train?

Did You Know...?

  • Amtrak recently announced a series of enhancements to its Auto Train service, to be rolled out in the next few months

  • Amtrak's Auto Train runs daily between Sanford and Lorton, Virginia near D.C. and is the only service of its kind in the US.

  • The trip is non-stop, 855 miles and takes 17 hours, 30 minutes.

  • According to the 2019 U.S. Department of Energy Data Book, Amtrak is 47 percent more efficient than traveling by car and 33 percent more efficient than domestic airline travel on a per-passenger-mile basis.

  • In 2018, Amtrak carried 31.7 million passengers and had $3.4 billion in revenue, while employing more than 20,000 people

For more about trains and the other forms of transportation in the Historic Downtown Sanford area - and, more importantly, how to get to Hollerbach's! - visit our Travel Guide.


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