Monday, September 1, 2008

GrandLuxe, no more.

GrandLuxe, the luxury passenger rail service formerly known as American Orient Express and renowned for its restored vintage rail cars and first class service, reportedly ceased operations effective August 29th. The collapse of America's largest private rail service follows more than half a dozen airline bankruptcies so far this year.

Ironically, the news also comes alongside news of continued record ridership on Amtrak routes around the country. But in truth, GrandLuxe--which relaunched its service in conjunction with a new Amtrak partnership in 2006--is nothing like the National Passenger Rail Corporation. Amtrak is a de facto public sector entity financed by the U.S. governmvent; GrandLuxe operated solely on private money. And while Amtrak fares have ticked up a bit oer recent months as fuel prices have risen and its capacity has filled, even its most expensive accommodations were in a different league from GrandLuxe, which sought to provide a level of luxury that Americans had not seen on trains for more than half a century.

When I read the news about GrandLuxe, I lamented its loss both because it offered interesting and rare itineraries such as travel through Mexico's Copper Canyon and because I had never gotten to travel on any of its routes. But there, too, there is a message: I am an avid traveler who makes space in my budget for trips worldwide, yet a GrandLuxe trip nonetheless would have remained out of my price range for at least another decade.

In company's announcement, it was unclear whether GrandLuxe passengers who had already paid for upcoming trips would receive refunds.

As for luxury rail options left to us in the United States, enthusiasts may be interested in looking at Train Tours Unlimited (covered in my last post) and the new GoldStar service on the impressive Alaska Railroad. You'll be pleased to know that even if their services can't quite compare to GrandLuxe, they do both outdo Amtrak, and their prices will be easier on your wallets.

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