Riding in Style, Feeling Like Royalty.
Every so often, you’ll spot one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains with one or more vintage railroad cars hooked onto the end of the train. Most of those wonderful old cars are owned by private individuals, most of whom belong to an organization called the American Association of Private Railcar Owners.
Last April, when I was in Washington, DC, attending the annual Spring meeting of NARP—as most of you know, that’s the National Association of Railroad Passengers—AAPRCO very graciously hosted a reception for us one evening aboard a couple of those wonderful old cars which were parked in Washington’s Union Station.
(By the way, the insider term for these vintage cars is “private varnish”, alluding to the beautiful wood trim and paneling that is common in the interiors.)
As you can imagine, owning and restoring and maintaining one of these old rail cars is a very expensive hobby and, to offset some of the costs involved, many of them are leased out to companies that put together rail tours. They’ll work up an itinerary involving several of Amtrak’s long-distance routes, charter two or three of these wonderful old cars, and sell space to individuals — folks like you and me.
Amtrak has a whole list of charges for hauling these cars around the country, but the base rate is currently $2.75 a mile. Of course, the very last thing Amtrak needs is for one of its trains to be delayed because of a mechanical problem with a private rail car, so every private car has to meet a long list of mechanical and safety standards before Amtrak will agree to haul it.
But the beauty of the whole idea is that travel in one of these wonderful old rail cars is actually affordable for ordinary folks like you and me. Several years ago, I rode from Washington overnight to Chicago in a sleeping car and a lounge car that were attached to the rear of the Capitol Limited. It was great fun, and you really do feel like royalty riding along in such splendor. I will admit, however, that one of the unexpected and almost unseemly pleasures occurred when we pulled into one of the stations along the route and would wave rather grandly at people on the platform who were gazing up at us, wondering who those important people were.
There are several companies that organize these special rail excursions. My Washington-to-Chicago ride was organized by a young man named Adam Auxier, who is an active member of NARP. He does a great job and I am happy to give Adam and his company, Altiplano Rail, a plug here.