Sunday, September 9, 2007

Luxury Rail Service comes to Amtrak!

In an unprecedented move, the National Passenger Rail Corporation--better known as Amtrak--on September 6 announced a partnership with privately held GrandLuxe Rail Journeys.

GrandLuxe, which formerly operated under the name American Orient Express, is legendary for providing service and accommodations on refurbished and restyled trains that echo the splendor of the railroad's golden age. Private butler service, five-course menus, and luxury furnishings are all part of the GrandLuxe experience, which can be compared to a cruise on land.

Now, to be clear, Amtrak has always provided locomotives to pull GrandLuxe trains on that company's special routes. What makes this partnership new and exciting is that we're talking about attaching multi-car GrandLuxe trains to existing Amtrak routes and offering these luxury accommodations as an alternate form of booking--much more comfortable than standard Amtrak sleeper cars, to say the least!

The first routes that will offer GrandLuxe service will be the California Zephyr (Chicago-San Francisco), the Southwest Chief (Chicago-Los Angeles), and the Silver Meteor (Washington, D.C.-Miami). Additional itineraries will be offered from D.C. to Chicago (the Capitol Limited) and with Denver as an optional destination along the California Zephyr route.

How much will it cost? The word is that service will start at under $800 one-way, including all meals and accommodations--about twice as expensive as booking a standard Amtrak sleeper berth for the same itinerary. Two-night routes will be more expensive, going as high as $2500, but even then we're talking about a big difference compared to GrandLuxe's typical 10-day excursions.

GrandLuxe isn't for everyone. But with Amtrak starved by funding shortfalls and suffering from outdated equipment on many of its long-haul routers, this partnership offers a rare opportunity for anyone looking to experience the joy of luxury rail travel.

One caveat: this is a pilot program that may or may not continue beyond January 2008. If you're interested in giving it a try, don't wait too long.

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