- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

In an attempt to increase ridership, Amtrak is reaching back to the luxurious train journeys of the past.

Beginning this fall, travelers with an extra few days and money to spare will be able to climb aboard seven richly equipped vintage Pullman cars attached to Amtrak trains on three routes.

The promotion is a test of a partnership between District-based Amtrak and GrandLuxe Rail Journeys, an Evergreen, Colo., company formerly known as the American Orient Express.

It is the first time that the national passenger-rail service will be an active participant in promoting luxury travel, said Cliff Black, an Amtrak spokesman. Although Amtrak has partnered with private companies as a vendor in the past, this is the first time it will be involved in a joint marketing plan.

During the test period from October until January 2008, the service will be provided on Amtrak’s Silver Meteor, which travels from Washington to Miami through West Palm Beach, Fla.; the Southwest Chief from Los Angeles to Chicago; and the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco.

During the fall and winter seasons, traveling becomes a hassle as snowbirds migrate and families reunite for the holidays, but the traveler looking for a unique experience can bypass the headache, said Christina Messa, vice president of marketing for GrandLuxe.

“Amtrak already has demonstrated that people are interested in an alternative to the high-stress, high-hassle factor of other modes of travel. Aviation might be fast, but it’s frustrating,” Mr. Black said.

The luxury cars will be attached to the back of each Amtrak train, which will continue to make regular stops. Conductors will be able to walk between the two segments of the train, but passengers will not, and each segment will be treated as its own separate train, Miss Messa said.

Reservations specialists warn riders of the possibility of delays, but Miss Messa said she is not worried about complaints.

“If there’s a delay, that just means you get to be pampered for that much longer,” she said.

The trips’ prices will range from $789 to $2,000 per person for one- to two-night journeys. The new price makes luxury train travel more accessible to a larger audience of train fans who cannot afford the traditional GrandLuxe nationwide tours that cost up to $7,000 per person, Miss Messa said.

Luxury sleeping cars equipped with hotel-like comfort, a lounge with a live pianist and a dining car that offers five-course meals are just some of the amenities of the seven-car train set. Each combined train can carry up to 47 GrandLuxe passengers.

Both Amtrak and GrandLuxe expect to profit from the partnership by expanding their market reach, company officials said. Amtrak would not be involved if officials didn’t think it was profitable, Mr. Black said.

Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said that as long as the federally funded Amtrak makes a profit, there should not be any criticism from Capitol Hill. Amtrak has an incentive to make a profit because taxpayers fund it, he said.

“Anything that gets people on the trains is a plus,” he said.

Amtrak executives have been discussing this sort of partnership for the past year, but GrandLuxe could not schedule the test promotion until this fall. The companies plan to evaluate the test program’s profit and overall appeal before deciding whether to continue the service, Miss Messa said.

“We’re looking for market acceptance,” she said. “Our product isn’t about speed or low cost. It’s about luxury, enjoying the experience, and being pampered.”

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