RAILROAD Classic train cars take a trip into past
Companies woo travelers with rail cars of yesteryear.
CUMBERLAND, Md. (AP) -- There's something special about the mahogany paneling and brass fittings in a vintage railroad dining car. And when the occasion is special as well -- the Kentucky Derby or the Masters Tournament -- railroad giant CSX Corp. has often turned to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad to supplement its own rolling VIP accommodations.
The tourist railroad's two diners and a "coffee-shop" car, all built in the early 1950s, are among the relatively few food-and-beverage cars with luxury features that remind passengers of the golden age of train travel. Such cars are leased for thousands of dollars a day by corporations and political campaigns seeking to impress their guests and audiences.
This year, CSX has approached the Cumberland-based railroad about leasing its cars for the Super Bowl, said James Stafford, president of the WMSRR board of directors. The game will be played Feb. 6 in Jacksonville, Fla., the company's hometown.
"It's kind of an honor for our scenic railroad," Stafford said. "We bought these cars years ago when the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad came into existence in 1990, and we've kept them up and restored them."
CSX spokesman Gary Sease wouldn't discuss the Super Bowl train, citing security concerns. But he acknowledged that CSX sometimes leases restored dining cars to supplement its fleet of "office cars" -- rail cars outfitted like motor homes that are used mainly by the company's senior executives for track inspections.
"They're old, classic rail cars that were manufactured with some very nice appointments," Sease said. "It's a long-honored tradition among railroads to have these cars available primarily for business, but for some entertainment as well."
The Kentucky Derby train is another tradition. For years, CSX has leased dining and lounge cars from numerous sources, including the WMSRR, for round-trips from the Kentucky state capital in Frankfort to Louisville on race day, rail car owners said. The Kentucky state government pays for the trips to entertain economic-development guests.
"We do the Kentucky Derby with CSX every year," said Jan Andersen, marketing vice president for RailCruise America, a St. Louis company with nine vintage dining cars. The company also has its own locomotives and puts together chartered trains, including a Kerry-Edwards whistle-stop tour during the 2004 presidential campaign.
In Johnson City, Tenn., the Watauga Valley Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society has leased its vintage dining car to CSX on several occasions, President Mike Tilley said. That car, built in 1950 for the Atlantic Coast Line, seats 36 at 12 tables. It can be seen online at the site of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, www.aaprco.com.
The Washington-based group lists more than 60 passenger cars for lease, but only 11 are diner or lounge cars.
"They don't make things like that any more," Andersen said.
XFor more information, visit Railcruise America at www.railcruiseamerica.com or call (314) 231-9500. Regularly scheduled excursions from St. Louis, Mo.; check Web site for schedule. For more information on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, visit www.wmsr.com or call (800) TRAIN-50.