Car Transport by Train – How It Works and the Pros and Cons

On the Rails: Navigating Excellence in Train Car Shipping Services and Cost

You can choose between several transport options when moving your car from point A to point B. Car transport by train has recently been making waves in the global auto transport industry, primarily due to its cost-effectiveness. But is shipping a car by train a viable option for every customer?

As with any other transport, certain limitations dictate whether this shipping mode is the way to go. Let’s dive deeper into how rail car transport works, how much it costs, and if it’s worth considering for your vehicle shipping.

Car Transport by TrainHow Does Car Transport by Train Work?

Shipping a car by train is straightforward and functions much like transporting any other rail cargo. In other words, your vehicle is loaded on a train, transported to your destination, and then unloaded.

However, it’s worth noting that most major railroad companies don’t deal with customers wishing to ship individual cars directly. Instead, they typically partner with auto shipping companies and fill available spaces on their carrier cars with their clients.

Only Amtrak currently provides train auto transport services for private individuals. But, these services are limited to two terminals. Both are located in somewhat smaller cities, with the route running from Sanford, Florida, to Lorton, Virginia, and vice versa.

If you’re lucky enough to find this route convenient for your needs, you can see to your car transport yourself. If not, you’ll need to hire a reliable vehicle shipping company to transport your car. Although this might be your only option in many cases, it can also be the best option. After all, the company will handle the extensive behind-the-scenes work and help you properly prepare your vehicle for pickup and drop-off.

When arranging the details with your chosen company, you’ll need to provide the following information:

  • Vehicle registration and title
  • Insurance documentation
  • Photo identification

Depending on these details, you might be able to decide on the shipping date independently or choose from the available options.

How to Prepare Your Car for Train Auto Transport

Your chosen shipping company should brief you on all the particulars regarding adequately preparing your vehicle for transport. Here’s what this process typically entails to help you get a clearer idea in advance.

Check if Your Car Is Operable

One of the essential steps is inspecting your car and ensuring everything is running smoothly. After all, you wouldn’t want your car to reach its final destination only to remain stuck at the train station. Most importantly, check the car’s tires and battery to confirm it will be operational once it arrives at its end terminal.

Remove All Valuables

One of the advantages of shipping a car by train is the possibility of transporting your belongings with the vehicle. Still, it would be best if you didn’t risk leaving any valuables behind, such as essential documentation, medications, and items with sentimental value. These should always be on your person, regardless of if you’re riding the same train or arriving separately.

Document the Vehicle’s Condition

Before the vehicle departs, you must draft a Bill of Lading with your chosen carrier. This document proves the vehicle’s condition before being loaded on the train. It usually occurs in front of both the carrier and the customer.

Drafting this document can last upwards of an hour, after which your car is transported to the train station.

Disable All Anti-Theft Devices

A train doesn’t always have the smoothest of rides, so it’s crucial to disable any system that might go off during transport. This includes all alarm systems and anti-theft devices. Also, don’t forget about the GPS systems.

Rail Car Transport CostHow Much Does the Rail Car Transport Cost?

With rail car transport, several factors will influence the final cost, including:

  • Distance – the longer the distance, the higher the fee.
  • Route – popular train lines are usually more affordable than the less-used alternatives.
  • The size and the weight of the vehicle – larger vehicles cost more to transport.
  • The model and make of the vehicle – classic and luxury cars might cost more to ship due to additional attention, protection, and insurance.
  • The functionality of the vehicle – inoperable vehicles cost more to ship.
  • Shipment type – enclosed rail transport is pricier than open-air transport.
  • Season – transporting a vehicle during high-demand seasons like summer often costs more.

On average, shipping a car by train costs between $600 and $1,200.

Does Shipping a Car by Train Make Sense?

Whether train auto transport makes sense for a car should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Generally speaking, car transport by train isn’t suitable for quick and last-minute moves. In these cases, truck transport is by far superior. Also, the rail infrastructure might limit the practicality of this shipping method. It might not make sense to ship your car by train if your point of departure or final destination is too far from the train hub.

On the other hand, this option can be practical if you have more than one vehicle to move. For instance, you and your family can drive in one car while the other vehicles are loaded on a train. You can load another car, a boat, or an RV, which makes this option ideal for holidays. In addition, you might find rail car transport the best option for buying or selling a vehicle in another city or state.

The Pros of Shipping a Car by Train

Several benefits of shipping a car by train might make this a favorable option among the other carrier shipping services a company provides.

Lower Cost

The lower cost of rail transport is undoubtedly the most significant advantage of this shipping method. In fact, it’s frequently the sole reason customers choose to ship their vehicles by train.

Few transport options can compete with the cost of shipping a car by train, and none can match the lower end of rail car transport pricing. These pricing differences become even more evident when you have more than one vehicle to ship.

Although several factors influence the final transport cost, the rate of shipping a car by train will rarely fluctuate with gas prices. The same can’t be said for most road transport options.

Lesser Environmental Impact

Trains have a significantly lower carbon footprint, making this auto transport option much better for the environment. Besides the continuous electrification of freight trains, they can fit substantially more vehicles than a single truck carrier. If you’re environmentally conscious, you can also be a passenger aboard the train transporting your vehicle, thus reducing your carbon footprint while moving.

Personal Belongings

Most auto carriers strictly enforce the rule forbidding personal belongings when transporting a vehicle via a truck due to security and liability issues. However, when transporting your car by train, you can choose to leave your personal belongings inside the vehicle.

This way, your car can serve as an additional suitcase, lowering the overall cost of moving. Depending on the number of items you own, this method can even spare you the truck rental expense.

Also, you can select this shipping method for a vacation. In that case, all your belongings will safely arrive at your hotel while you can simply fly light and meet them there. Of course, be careful not to overstuff your vehicle, especially if you plan on driving back.

Arrival at the Destination

If you don’t want to separate from your belongings, the good news is that it’s not necessary. The train auto transport is the only shipping method that allows you to closely follow your car and personal belongings by riding in the same train. Depending on the train, you’ll have the option of choosing premium seats for maximum comfort.

This unique opportunity allows you to arrive at the destination at the same time and have the convenience of accessing your vehicle immediately. Furthermore, you’ll avoid toll fees, a stressful journey, potential accidents, and the ever-growing fuel cost.

Available Transport Options

Despite a common misconception, trains offer both open and enclosed transport options.

As the name suggests, open transport involves shipping the car in an open-style train car. Since this method allows more vehicles to be loaded on the same train, it’s cheaper than the alternative. It’s also safe; bar a bug or two in your wipers.

Still, this method means your vehicle is exposed to the elements, so enclosed transport is recommended for classic, luxury, rare and collectible vehicles. It’s also a better option if you’ve modified your vehicle. Only enclosed train cars can provide these vehicles with the extra protection they require. Plus, you can arrange to ship other items in the same container. Naturally, this service comes with a higher price tag.

The Cons of Shipping a Car by Train

Like other shipping methods, car transport by train isn’t smooth sailing all the way through. Here are some disadvantages of this shipping method that might dissuade customers from going the train route.

Rail Limitations

For the most part, the U.S. railway system is extensive and well-connected. Still, it’s substantially more limited and less flexible than its highway counterpart.

For starters, trains run on unchangeable routes, significantly limiting how you can transport your vehicle. The rail stations along the line predetermine your pickup and drop-off points. On top of that, trains usually only go through major cities, making this shipping method too impractical for people living in smaller towns.

Besides the rail line limitations, trains can impose specific requirements limiting the number of customers using this service. Namely, some trains won’t ship vehicles that are too tall, too long, or have low ground clearance. To be fair, your auto transport company might be able to negotiate these limitations. Still, it would be best if you didn’t rely on a positive outcome in all cases.

No Door-to-Door Service

By default, car transport by train eliminates the possibility of your car coming to your door. As a result, you’ll have to drive to the designated station to pick up your vehicle. Depending on the location of the final destination, this can be inconvenient and time-consuming. Plus, you’ll have to cover the cost of gas when driving away from the station.

Some auto shippers offer additional services, including picking up and dropping off your vehicle to and from the train station. Of course, this will increase the overall cost of the service. The increase will be even more notable if you live far away.

Basically, whatever choice you make, you’ll have to compromise. If you drop off or pick up the car alone, you’ll save money but waste valuable time. Alternatively, you’ll spend more money to have a carrier drive your vehicle to the desired location but avoid inconveniencing yourself.

In some cases, your auto transport company can also cover short-term storage. This service is invaluable when the final destination isn’t ready to receive your vehicle immediately upon arrival.\

Longer Transit TimeLonger Transit Time

Under the right circumstances, trains can transport your vehicle faster than other road methods since they sustain regular speed and don’t encounter barriers like traffic and accidents. Unfortunately, this is only the best-case scenario.

In most other cases, your vehicle will likely travel longer when shipped by train. Depending on the distance, it might take up to a few weeks for your car to reach its final destination. Trains typically won’t depart until they fill up all the available space, significantly contributing to these long waiting periods.

So, if you need quick transit, shipping by truck or driving the car yourself is the better option. But, if you aren’t in a hurry and want to save some money on transport, these waiting times shouldn’t affect your decision.

Choose the Best for Your Car

As outlined in this article, train auto transport has its pros and cons, just like any other shipping method. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which transport option is the most beneficial for your car, journey, and budget. Regardless of your choice, the most crucial aspect is hiring a reliable auto transport company.

Working with Ship Vehicles allows you to safely transport any vehicle to any address in the U.S. and internationally. Give us a call anytime to receive a free quote for an affordable yet top-notch quality service.