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Travel by train
WASHINGTON -- Mahogany interiors, five-course meals and personal butler service will be available on several Amtrak routes starting this fall, as the national passenger railroad embarks on a new partnership with GrandLuxe Rail Journeys.
The companies have teamed up to attach seven special GrandLuxe cars to regularly scheduled Amtrak trains. More than 90 departures are scheduled from November to early January.
The new service, dubbed GrandLuxe Limited, will be available between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area; Chicago and Los Angeles; and Washington and Miami. Limited trips are also scheduled between Washington and Chicago; from Denver to San Francisco; from Denver to Chicago; and from Chicago to Albuquerque.
For Amtrak, the partnership will be a moneymaker, company spokesman Cliff Black said. He declined to say exactly how much privately held GrandLuxe is paying the government-owned corporation.
The project marks the first time Amtrak is providing regularly scheduled private rail services.
"We like the opportunity to experiment with creative marketing approaches," Black said. "Anything that elevates the profile of passenger-train service is beneficial to Amtrak."
The arrangement allows Evergreen, Colo.-based GrandLuxe, formerly known as American Orient Express, to bring its brand of luxury to a wider group of potential customers in a more affordable format.
Tickets for the two- and three-day GrandLuxe Limited trips will range in price from $789 to $2,499. In contrast, GrandLuxe's regular tours take seven to 10 days and range in price from about $4,000 to $8,000 per person.
For its longer trips, GrandLuxe operates one 21-car train that consists of old passenger cars from the 1940s and 1950s -- a time when train travel had not yet been overshadowed by the interstate highway system and commercial aviation. The cars have been refurbished to conform to modern standards and to add "a level of luxury that never existed," said Christina Messa, vice president of marketing for GrandLuxe.
For the Amtrak partnership, GrandLuxe will split its train in three. Each segment will have a dining car and a lounge car and have room for 47 passengers, Messa said. It will operate completely separately from the Amtrak portion of the train.
GrandLuxe passengers will not be able to get off at intermediate stops because of limitations such as platform length, though the companies said that could change in the future.
Amtrak will operate the same number of cars it normally would, but in some cases it may have to add an extra locomotive, Black said.
The companies said they could continue and expand the partnership if it is successful.
GrandLuxe trains tend to appeal to older travelers, and Messa said she expected the new Amtrak routes to do the same.
Tom Weakley, 64, has ridden GrandLuxe trains 16 times since retiring from a job in the drug wholesaling industry. He said he relishes being pampered on board the train. A butler brings coffee in the morning. In the afternoon, there are cocktails in the lounge car.
The lounge cars themselves vary: One features a baby grand piano; another, used for particularly scenic routes, is surrounded by glass.
Dinners are long and unhurried -- an opportunity to make friends with fellow passengers, said Weakley, of Indianapolis.
"Did I mention the complimentary wine?" he added. "And they don't limit you to one glass."