How to Transport a Car by Train

If you have an urge to ship your car across the country by train, it can be done. But options are very limited. In fact, there’s only one company, Amtrak, which ships privately-owned cars by train. All the other train companies only ship cars for commercial customers, such as new cars moving from the factory to the dealership.

And Amtrak only has one route available to ship a car by train. It’s somewhat unoriginally-named Auto Train has daily bi-directional service between Washington, D.C. and Orlando, Florida. If that route isn’t convenient to your car shipping needs, you’ll have to choose another option, such as transporting your car via a truck, or paying to have it driven across the country for you.

Why Transport a Car by Train?

If you hate long drives, but want your car to be available to you on vacation to Disney World or the nation’s capital, the Auto Train is a good solution. Since you ride the train with your car, there’s almost no hassle involved in retrieving your ride at the end of your rail journey.

How to Ship a Car by Train?

Amtrak’s Auto Train takes bookings on their website. Simply fill in the details of what kind of vehicle you’re shipping, then choose seating for yourself and pick a date to get started.

You’ll need to keep some requirements in mind for the vehicle you’re shipping. If your car’s more than 16 feet long, you have to book it as an “extended” vehicle. If it’s more than 18 feet long, you’ll need to contact Amtrak (1-877-754-7495) to arrange for special vehicle shipping. And if you’re lucky enough to own an exotic with scissor or gull-wing doors, the downside is that you can’t ship it via the Auto Train.

Once you’ve got your car booked, you need to select accommodations for yourself. Coach is the cheapest option, sometimes adding less than $100 to your trip’s bill. You’ll get a forward-facing seat, plus access to a cafe where you can buy dinner and snacks. A continental breakfast the next morning is gratis. The main downside to a coach seat is that this is an overnight train, so you’ll have to sleep in your chair, if you can.

There are much more comfortable options available if you’re willing to spend a lot more money, starting with a “Roomette.” A private, though narrow, room with seating for two that converts into bunk beds, the Roomette is the lowest cost option if you want to sleep lying down. You’ll get access to a shared bathroom in the sleeping car, including a shower.

Moving up from the Roommette is the Bedroom. That’s a larger private space, with similar bunks as in the Roomette, but also an armchair and sofa. Best of all, there’s a shower, sink, and toilet in the room, so you don’t have to share with the unwashed masses.

If you need even more space, you can spring for the top option, the “Family Bedroom,” which gives you two sofas, and sleeps 2 adults and 2 kids. You’ll lose the private bathroom, however.

Once you’ve got your trip booked the process is pretty easy. The Auto Train uses the same schedule for both directions. On the day of your trip, you must have your vehicle at the station by 2:30pm. If you’re transporting a motorcycle, you need to be there by 2. Check in opens at 11:30, though, so if you can, it’s a good idea to give yourself extra time. Once you’ve checked your car in, you can board the train at 2:30pm. It’ll leave at 4pm after which you’ll roll through the night with a scheduled arrival just before 9am.

How Much Does it Cost to Ship a Car by Train?

Pricing for rooms is dependent on time of year, and how far out you book. In general, expect to pay around $100, or sometimes less, for a coach seat, all the way up to over $1,200 for the top-end private room. You’ll also pay for your vehicle’s transportation, which will depend on what kind of car you’re shipping. Note that you have two options for pricing. There’s the value pricing, which charges a 25% cancellation fee if you change your mind less than 15 days before your trip, or the flexible option which will offer you a full refund, as long as you cancel before the train departs. We priced the value option as it can be less than half the price of the flexible choice.

Here’s a sample chart of what you’ll pay for a trip from Washington, D.C. to Orlando. We got a quote for a trip 2 months out which at press time would put our travel at some time in November.

AccommodationRoomVehicle Charge (Standard)Total

A larger vehicle would add $39 to the vehicle charge, while a motorcycle would bring that charge down to $146.

Considerations for Shipping a Car by Train

The main consideration if you’re thinking about car transport by train is whether or not the single available route makes sense for you. Folks living in California won’t get much advantage from it. On the other hand, anyone living anywhere near Washington or Orlando, and who want to travel to one of those cities, might find the Auto Train concept hard to beat. Especially if you can put up with sitting in a coach seat for 17 or so hours, it’s pretty hard to beat the price of transporting your car, and you, 900 miles away.

Pros and Cons

  • Someone else drives.
  • Train travels overnight, so you don’t waste much vacation or moving time.
  • Trains are fun! Who doesn’t like trains?
  • There’s only one route available.
  • You have to travel with the vehicle, making it a poor choice if you’re sending a car to someone.

Preparing a Car for Transport by Train

It’s a good idea to clean out any valuables from your vehicle before you ship it by train. Amtrak won’t be held responsible if they disappear while they’re riding the rails. However, the train doesn’t check bags, which means if you have large luggage, it must ride in your car. Amtrak recommends you lock it in the trunk to keep it safe.

While the company won’t help if your belongings disappear en-route, Amtrak will take responsibility for damage to the vehicle itself, if you catch it before you leave the destination terminal. It’s a good idea to wash your car before you ship it. That makes it easier to find and document damage that’s there before it gets on the train. Then, once you arrive, inspect the car carefully before you leave and let a worker know if there are any new dings.

Before you turn your car over to Amtrak staff, disable its alarm if it has one, especially if it has a shock or impact sensor. If the alarm goes off en-route, no one will be able to turn it off, and your battery could die before you arrive.

Recommended Companies for Shipping by Train

There’s only one company we can recommend for shipping a car by train, because there’s only one company in the USA that does it for private vehicle owners, and that’s Amtrak. And as we’ve covered, we can only recommend that option if you live in either Washington, D.C. or Orlando, and want to travel between those two cities. But if that describes you, Amtrak’s Auto Train is a compelling option for getting you and your car to your destination without having to drive the 900 miles yourself.

For more information on car shipping and other, more common alternatives to shipping by train, check out our Best Car Shipping Companies.

FAQ

How do you transport a car by train?

Visit Amtrak’s Auto Train website and book your trip. It’s that simple!

Is it cheaper to ship a car by train or truck?

Assuming your origin and destination is either Washington, D.C. or Orlando, it’s probably cheaper to ship by train. Otherwise, it’s generally not even an option. Shipping by truck, in an open carrier transport, is the cheapest option.

How much does it cost to put your car on the Auto Train?

$258 plus passenger fare for a standard vehicle. $297 plus fare for a larger vehicle, and $146 plus fare for a motorcycle.

How long does it take to ship a car by train?

About 17 hours, beginning at 4pm and arriving around 9am the next day.

What is the cheapest way to transport a car?

If your origin and destinations line up with Amtrak’s Auto Train route, the Auto Train is likely by far the cheapest option if you travel in the coach section. If not, then the answer is shipping open transport.

How much does Amtrak charge to ship cars?

$258 base price for a regular vehicle. A little more if you drive something larger, like a van.

What is the cheapest way to ship a car across the country?

Amtrak’s Auto Train is one of the cheapest ways to ship a car across the country, as long as the travel is along the Eastern Seaboard. Otherwise, transporting it by an open semi trailer is usually the cheapest.

Can I put my vehicle on a train?

Yes! If you live near Washington, D.C. or Orlando, Florida Amtrak’s Auto Train will take you and your vehicle between those two cities. If you are not going to those two cities, then you cannot ship by train.

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