Union Pacific Cars on American Orient Express
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This page was last updated on October 31, 2023.
(The purpose of this narrative is to tie together the timeline histories of the former Union Pacific cars involved with these trains, and the companies operating the trains.)
Research has found that American Orient Express owned at least 33 cars, 18 of which were former Union Pacific cars.
Available information suggests that American Orient Express operated from the early 1990s to 2006, operating two train sets after 2003. After AOE's bankruptcy in 2006, the trains were operated as GrandLuxe Rail Journeys, until the end of the 2008 season. In 2010, American Railway Explorer made plans to take over the operation, but those plans fell through, and the cars have all been sold to other owners.
Ted Brumberg wrote the following on May 27, 2014, on the Railway Preservation News forum:
This would also include predecessor American-European Express and related operation Montana Rockies Rail Tours. MRRT was operated by BKS (Beaver-Kirkwood-Steplock) Limited, or BKSX, as the Montana Rockies Daylight through 1998 when MRRT was sold to AOE, which changed the name to American Spirit. MRRT was sold to a new company, Rail Quest America (RQAX) in late 2000/early 2001, at which point the name returned to Montana Rockies Daylight. Was the predecessor to the BKS version of Montana Rockies Daylight known as Trans Rocky Mountain Tours?
Cars were leased by AOE over the years from various private owners and leasing groups, which are included in the listings as well.
I'm a little fuzzy on the exact timeline/ownership history of the AEE/AOE operation, but I know AOE was for a time owned by Henry Hillman's Oregon Rail Corporation, and that in 2006 it was bought out by Tom Rader, of Colorado Railcar, at which time the company changed names to Grandluxe Rail Journeys.
AOE also moved the car shops from Colorado to outside Olympia, WA, in 2001 under Hillman's ownership.
Grandluxe Rail Journeys was in turn acquired by ANSCO-Xanterra for the planned American Railway Explorer and/or a reboot of the Ski Train, which was later mothballed and the cars either transferred to GCRY or dispersed, some of which were acquired by Ross Rowland for the planned Greenbrier Express.
The following comes from the September 2016 issue of Trains magazine.
Q - What happened to the 'American Orient Express'? It appeared on several railroad videos from the 1990s. — Frank Klos, San Diego, Calif.
A - The genesis of the American Orient Express was the American European Express, which begin operation in February 1989 between Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The service operated with a pair of consists each including a diner, lounge with grand piano, and three sleepers coupled to Amtrak's Capitol Limited. Later, the service operated Chicago-New York as part of the Broadway Limited. Later yet, the two five-car consists were combined and an 11th car was added, former 20th Century Limited observation Sandy Creek. The service shut down in October 1991.
The equipment came to life again in 1994 as the American Orient Express, purchased by venture capitalist Henry Hillman in November 1997. The service would run under that name until spring 2006 when, under legal pressure from Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in Europe, it was rebranded as GrandLuxe Express, and sold to Colorado carbuilder Tom Rader.
GrandLuxe Rail Journeys, which left the cars largely as they were, declared bankruptcy in August 2008. Twenty-five of its 31 cars were purchased by Philip Anschutz's Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which operates the Grand Canyon Railway. With the goal of starting the American Railway Explorer, an AOE-like operation but even more upscale, Anschutz began a multi-million-dollar conversion, which included gutting the cars for asbestos remediation. Floor plans were created, schedules planned, and brochures printed. Then, in August 2011, with most cars gutted, work stopped and never resumed.
Fifteen of the cars were acquired by the Greenbrier Presidential Express, a luxury parlor car train slated to run between Washington and the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulfur Springs, W.Va. The train was the brainchild of Ross Rowland, who hoped to use former Chesapeake & Ohio 4-8-4 No. 614 as motive power, and Jim Justice, the coal magnate who had acquired the resort. These cars were moved to the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Pottsville, Pa., but little work was done before the project stalled. In September 2014 nine of these cars were sold at auction. — Karl Zimmermann
American-European Express (1989-1991)
September 7, 1989
The following comes from the New York Times:
A trip on the American-European Express, as the train will be called, will cost $695 for a single traveler, about twice the highest fare over the same route in an Amtrak sleeper. The luxury coaches - three sleepers, a diner and a club car - are tentatively scheduled to begin running in mid-November with up to 58 passengers on each trip. They will be attended by a staff of 13.
The project was conceived by a Florida entrepreneur and a group of European businessman. They have contracted with Amtrak to begin pulling the five rebuilt first-class coaches behind its Capitol Limited, which operates both ways daily between the two cities.
William F. Spann, president of the American-European Express Railroad Company, says he believes there is an unsatisfied demand for luxury travel.
Mr. Spann, who is president of the Bay Point Yacht and Country Club, a resort in Panama City, Florida, has embarked on the venture with Nostalgie Istanbul Orient Express, a Zurich company that operates luxury charter railroad trips in Europe.
Tim Hackler, a spokesman for American-European Express, said the reconstruction and refurbishing of each of the luxury cars cost about $1 million. He said 14 of the cars, built from the 1930's to the 1950's by the Pullman Company, have been refurbished. (New York Times, September 8, 1989)
November 15, 1989
American-European Express began operations. (New York Times, May 5, 1990) (See also: Railroad Retirement Board Decision BCD 01-20)
Operations were between Washington and Chicago, as part of Amtrak's Capitol Limited. The initial operation used a pool of 10 refurbished cars. (Trains magazine, February 2000, page 60-61)
"American-European Express Ltd., a five-car, six-day-per-week "Orient Express"-style accommodation on the back of Amtrak's Washington-Chicago Capitol Limited. The company has not made public its total investment, but it is known to have spent at least $1 million on each of 10 first-class cars in its fleet." (Trains, January 1990, page 88)
Three-page article in Trains magazine, March 1990, pages 19-21.
American-European Express' first train included four cars (Paris, Berlin, St. Moritz and Zurich). The second train included four cars (Washington, Istanbul, Bay Point and Chicago). Two other cars (Monte Carlo and Vienna) that were not yet ready for service. Two cars, Bella Vista and Yerba Vista, were being leased from Rail Ventures of San Francisco, mostly for use as crew quarters when the regular cars were full. (Trains, March 1990, page 25)
The Washington-Chicago was reduced from six-nights-a-week to tri-wwekly. A new train was added between New York and Chicago, as part of Amtrak's Broadway Limited, operating twice-weekly. (Trains magazine, February 2000, page 60-61)
May 3, 1990
The first train of the new American-European Express left Pennsylvania Station in New York City, bound for Chicago. The first train's 54 guests boarded the train, whose cars were attached to the rear of Amtrak's regular "Broadway Limited" train between New York and Chicago, by way of Philadelphia. The train was operated by the American-European Express Railway Co., a private company based in Panama City, Florida. (Tyrone [Pennsylvania] Daily Herald, May 5, 1990)
March 1, 1991
Both trains, Washington-Chicago and New York-Chicago, were suspended and the routing was changed to a single, independent train known as the Greenbrier Limited, operating from Washington to Chicago via CSX's route that took the train past The Greenbriar resort at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Individual cars were also used on various additional runs between New York and Washington. (Trains magazine, February 2000, page 60-61)
June 11, 1991
The company's entire 11-car fleet was part of a special train for stockholders that hit a truck at a road crossing south of Monon, Indiana, at 79 mph. Ten of the 11 cars derailed, with only the observation car at the end remaining on the rails. Four cars sustained heavy damage and had to be replaced by leased cars. (Trains magazine, September 1992, page 25)
September 12, 1991
A special press train promoting the upcoming Royal Floridian train between New York and Miami, fatally injured two girls outside of Philadelphia. The Royal Floridian service was to start on November 19, 1991. After the two accidents, investors lost interest, and over $1 million had to be refunded due to canceled reservations. The company's financial future was further damaged when an expected insurance payment from the accidents was not received. (Trains magazine, September 1992, page 25)
October 14, 1991
The American-European Express arrived at Chicago Union Station, and the train ceased operations. The cars were moved to storage in CSX yards in Waycross, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida. (Trains magazine, September 1992, page 25)
October 25, 1991
The following comes from The New York Times:
Troubled by a decline in ticket sales, the train, the Greenbrier Express, last week canceled its twice-weekly service between New York and Chicago and shelved plans for New York-to-Miami service that had been scheduled to begin Nov. 19.
"I thought I had the little train that could," said William F. Spann, founder and president of American-European Express, the Chicago company that operated the train, in an interview from his offices in Panama City, Fla. "And then all of a sudden someone pulled the rug out from under me."
Mr. Spann said sales shriveled after a derailment in Indiana on June 21, when five of the Greenbrier Express's cars were badly damaged. Then, on a Sept. 12 preview run of the New York-to-Miami service, the train struck and killed two women on the tracks in Philadelphia.
In shutting down, the company has agreed to refund $1 million in tickets that were bought for runs that have now been canceled.
The Greenbrier Express got its start when Mr. Spann, convinced that Americans longed for the lost romance of railroad travel, spent $10 million to refurbish Pullman cars built in the 1940's.
The train was modeled on the Orient Express. Indeed, the company's majority owner is Nostalgie Istanbul Orient Express, which operates luxury trains in Europe and Asia.
The American-European Express made its inaugural run from Washington to Chicago in November 1989. It was renamed the Greenbrier Express when service was expanded to include stops at Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.; Indianapolis; Baltimore; Wilmington, Del.; Philadelphia, and New York. (New York Times, October 26, 1991)
October 31, 1991
American-European Express ceased doing business at the close of business on October 31, 1991. (Railroad Retirement Board Decision BCD 01-20)
More information about the shut down of American-European Express comes from the New York Times:
American-European Express, which operated a luxury train service between Chicago, Washington and New York and planned to switch the service to New York-Miami this winter, has ceased operations and says it cannot make immediate refunds. The two-year-old company cited the cost of repairs to rail cars damaged in a derailment in Indiana in June when it announced cessation of operations on Oct. 15. The president, William Spann, in "a notice to passengers and travel professionals" issued on Oct. 18 said, "Because of the company's current financial condition, we are unable to make immediate refunds for travel and other services booked with our reservation office." (New York Times, November 3, 1991)
The idea of a deluxe train for North America came from Swiss investors more than a decade ago. They bought vintage rail cars from museums, private collections and Amtrak and had them refurbished, starting operations in the early 1990's. That train, called the American-European Express, stuck to a Chicago-to-New York-to-Washington route as an alternative for business travelers. But low ridership and an accident with a dump truck caused the company to shut down soon after. For four years, the train was used only for charter trips. (New York Times, August 30, 1998)
In 1994, the cars of the former American-European Express were used in a special "Branson Limited" train operating between San Antonio, Texas, and Branson, Missouri. A test run and a single revenue run were made in 1994. Service was to resume in April 1995. (Trains magazine, February 1995, page 67)
Montana Rockies Railtours (1995-2004)
(Research suggests that there was little, if any crossover or sharing of equipment between the national American Orient Express, and this short-lived (two seasons: 1999 and 2000) American Spirit affiliate operation. No documentation has been found that shows AOE cars on the American Spirit routes, or American Spirit cars in regular service on the AOE routes.)
Montana Rockies Rail Tours operated the "Montana Daylight" train starting in 1995, marking that year as its inaugural season. Operations were usually from late June through late August/early September. The company's founder, chairman and president was John Kirkwood, who would later be elected to the board of American Orient Express. Kirkwood also owned Rail Ventures, a company that owned several deluxe rail passengers cars that were available for charter.
The following comes from Trainorders.com, November 19, 2010:
Montana Rockies Rail Tours began as an LLC with four partners in 1995. In 2000 the company was purchased by RailQuest America, which is a corporation formed by a small group of investors and the management team to operate the Montana Daylight. The original route was from Sandpoint, Idaho to Livingston, Montana. In 2002 the train had 26 departures (13 east and 13 west). The rail route covered the original Northern Pacific Railroad tracks through southern and western Montana and northern Idaho. It was not only a very scenic route, it is a historic route that no other passenger trains traversed. Along with their rail tours, the company offered fully escorted motorcoach tours to Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
MRRT was the longest multiple day scenic rail journey in the U.S. The route was 478 miles long, operating from Sandpoint, Idaho to Livingston, Montana or reverse. The rail portion was daylight travel only, which provided each passenger with never-ending views of the spectacular scenery of Montana and Idaho. The tours were offered with three levels of service: Discovery, Big Sky, and Montana Gold.
Montana Rail Link provided the diesel locomotives and the engineers, and MRRT operated and staffed the fleet of passenger cars and streamlined vista domes, mostly built by the Budd Company from 1947-1955.
"Montana By Rail, Join us for an unforgettable journey..." first ad in Trains magazine, March 1996, page 81.
On August 16, 1996, Brian Ambrose rode the Montana Daylight train, and shared the train's consist:
- MRL 652 and 651 (SD19-1 locomotives rebuilt from SD9s)
- MRL boxcar
- Two Montana Daylight baggage cars
- Missouri River (Seaboard diner)
- BKSX 9407 (ex-NP dome)
- BKSX 9410 (ex-GN dome)
- Columbia River (ex-UP dome)
- BKSX coach 9734
- BKSX coach 4001
- Sleeper Monterey
- Yerba Buena (last car)
In 1998, at the end of the season, Montana Rockies Rail Tours was sold to Henry Hillman, Jr.'s Oregon Rail Corporation. The same company had purchased the American Orient Express the year before, in late 1997. Although Oregon Rail Corp. bought Montana Rockies Rail Tours at the end of the 1998, it continued to operate the Montana Daylight train through the 1999 season.
August 24, 1999
The following comes from TravelWeekly.com:
Rail company changes name of train -- Montana Rockies Rail Tours said it will change the name of its train, the Montana Daylight, to the American Spirit and next year will quadruple the number of its itineraries, to 12.
The Portland, Oregon.-based company also said it will upgrade and purchase rail cars for the new trips, many of which highlight the route of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and visit several national parks in the West. (TravelWeekly.com, August 24, 1999)
For the 2000 season, plans for an American Spirit train were announced that would add a new train between Portland, Oregon, and Whitefish, Montana, by way of BNSF. This would have been in addition to the Montana Daylight between Sandpoint and Livingston, over the separate Montana Rail Link route over which the existing Montana Daylight was running. The two trains were to connect at Sandpoint, and the combined operation was to be marketed as the American Spirit. There were to be several connecting motorcoach routes, spreading to all the well-known national parks and other destinations such as Astoria, Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, Jackson Hole, and the destinations around Rapid City, South Dakota. But reality got in the way, and Hillman's expanded plans did not work out. The Portland to Whitefish route was not well received, reportedly due to a shortage of cars, or at least reliable cars, since some of the cars were leased from Amtrak and others were leased from private owners, with a mixture of quality and reliability that was not well received by the upscale paying passengers. Word soon spread and there were a number of canceled reservations in the later part of the 2000 season. At the end of the season, plans to continue the combined trains were put on a shelf, and the existing Montana Rockies Rail Tours company was sold.
(See also: Karl Zimmerman's book "GrandLuxe Express," on pages 62 and 63)
Based on advertisements in Trains magazine for Montana Rockies Rail Tours, the actual "American Spirit" was never promoted as such. The only reference found was a planned series of trips by rail throughout the west sponsored by Trains magazine as part of its 60th anniversary celebration. The trips were planned for August 16th through September 8th, and were promoted in the February, March, June and September 2000 issues of the magazine. The August 27th through September 5th leg of the trip was from San Francisco to Seattle, and included "American Spirit Montana Rockies Rail Tour."
In January 2001, a group of investors that included John Kirkwood and a group of management employees, under their newly created RailQuest America company, bought Montana Rockies Rail Tours back from AOE, and continued to operate the train as the Montana Daylight (until its last season in 2004).
January 11, 2001
The following comes from Sandpoint.com:
SANDPOINT, Idaho- The Montana Daylight, the multiple-day long-distance daylight tour train operating since 1995 in the Rocky Mountain region of Montana and Idaho, and its parent company Montana Rockies Rail Tours, was purchased by RailQuest America, Inc., of Sandpoint in late December.
Seller was Oregon Rail Corp., of Portland, Oregon, which bought the operation in November 1998. The purchase price, which was not disclosed, includes four coach cars, three dome cars, lounge car, dining car, power car, and crew car. The consist will be pulled by locomotives from Montana Rail Link.
The new ownership is composed of Montana Rockies Rail Tours employees and unnamed investors.
Marcia Pilgeram, former vice president of operations will serve as president and CEO. Ken Keeler, who was in charge of transportation services, including maintenance of the train consist, is the new vice president. Both have been with the company since its inception. During the 2000 season, the train ran a limited schedule as the American Spirit.
We’re thrilled to be returning to our roots with the original name of Montana Daylight and the unique signature tours that made us successful,” says Pilgeram. “Montana Rockies Rail Tours and its owner-employees are committed to returning our product to its previous level of consumer confidence, and to making improvements as well.” Initial plans call for exterior painting of the cars in Sandpoint during the spring. For 2001, the Montana Daylight will operate July 12 through Sept.1 on four itineraries that range from three days, two nights to eight days, seven nights.
Travelers spend their days on the train and nights in deluxe hotels and resorts. Prices begin at $499 per person double occupancy; $479 triple occupancy. (Sandpoint.com, January 11, 2001)
Montana Rockies Rail Tours operated it last run, using former SP 4-8-4 4449 as motive power.
Montana Rockies Rail Tours sold its cars.
The following was posted to TravelMT.com: "Montana Rockies suspended our operation for the 2005 season. We took this time to evaluate our plan to deal with rising fuel and insurance rates and are unable to overcome our many obstacles. We will not have new products in place for 2006, and unfortunately there will be no future operations utilizing the model as in previous years."
American Orient Express (1995-2006)
The following comes from AmericanOrientExpress.net web site (inactive since 2010):
The American Orient Express rail cars, which recall a rich history of mid-twentieth century train travel, have undergone a $22 million refurbishment that ensure these cars offer the finest modern features while retaining their rich interiors and luxurious appointments that harkens back to the golden age of train travel.
Started in November of 1989 by a Florida entrepreneur, William F. Spann, and backed by the operators of the Nostalgie Istanbul Orient Express, the American Orient Express was originally named the American-European Express. It started as four vintage rail coaches rebuilt by hand and coupled to the rear of Amtrak's Capitol Limited train. The operation closed after one year.
In 1991 the train began operating as a passenger train offering a deluxe journey from Chicago to New York via New River Gorge with optional overnight stays at the Greenbrier resort. Although ridership increased over its past venture the train was again taken out of service in less than a year's time. A train derailment on June 21, 1991, which shattered nearly half of its eleven car-fleet, caused the American-European Express to cease operations.
The renamed American Orient Express was leased to TCS Expeditions of Seattle and marketed as a unique alternative to ship cruising. TCS operated several transcontinental trips between Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. as well as trips to America’s Southwest and the Aspen Music Festival.
1997 was the year TCS spun off American Orient Express to Henry Hillman Jr., founder of the athletic apparel company Avia. Hillman formed Oregon Rail Holdings, LLC of Portland, Oregon and his idea was to showcase National Parks in the United States by train. The train was taken as close to its destination by rail, and then passengers boarded motor coaches for the final leg of the tour. Throughout the years several itineraries to National Parks where offered.
In May 2006 the American Orient Express was purchased by Tom Radar, who changed its name to GrandLuxe Rail Journeys. Operating much of the same itineraries as well as introducing new itineraries including a trip into Mexico, GrandLuxe closed its operations in August of 2008.
The first American Orient Express, under the name of the Branson Limited, made its first trip, from San Antonio, Texas, to Branson, Missouri. The American Orient Express was organized by George Pierce, who had just sold his Texas Dinner Train, operating between San Antonio and Hondo, Texas. Pierce had been impressed by the potential of a luxury train between San Antonio and Branson, Missouri, a developing center of entertainment. After being stored on CSX tracks for almost three years, since October 1991, the former American-European Express cars were moved to San Antonio in February 1994 to be put back into service. A total of nine trips were made during 1994, along with three excursions between San Antonio and New Orleans. The train was chartered by Neiman Marcus for the Christmas 1994 season, operating as a traveling version of the high-end retailer's annual catalog. (Trains magazine, February 2000, page 62-63)
August 18, 1994
The unique American Orient Express logo, with its facing lions and ornate AOE initials, and single-line name, was trademarked on August 18, 1994. Its first use was on the same day. The trademark was assigned to TransTexas Rail, Inc. on November 14, 1994. The trademark was suspended on March 3, 1996 due to lack of response, and after not responding to inquiries throughout 2004-2008, was officially marked as "abandoned" on November 12, 2008.
TCS Expeditions was a Seattle tour operator owned by T. C. Swartz, and specialized in unusual deluxe tours, among them around-the-world tours by private jet, icebreaker voyages through the Arctic, the Nostalgic Istanbul Orient Express from Beijing to Moscow and the Anatolian Express from Istanbul to Damascus. (Chicago Tribune, October 22, 1995)
American Orient Express' first train departed Sacramento, California in late July 1995, on its first eastbound trip, passing through Denver, Colorado, on July 27, 1995. (Trains magazine, December 1995, page 35)
On July 26, 1995, the American Orient Express was in Salt Lake City.
The first transcontinental westbound trip departed from Chicago and was routed through Denver and Salt Lake City to Sacramento. (Knight-Ridder News Service; published in Baltimore Sun on October 8, 1995; Chicago Tribune on October 22, 1995; Orlando Sentinel, November 19, 1995)
August 27, 1995
The following comes from the Chicago Tribune:
TCS Expeditions of Seattle wants to bring some of that elegance to the United States by sponsoring transcontinental rail tours aboard the American Orient Express.
The American Orient Express is the only privately owned-and-operated transcontinental train in the United States. It's an 11-car train whose 1940s and 1950s carriages, most of which were built by the Pullman-Standard Co. in Chicago, were completely rebuilt and refurbished in 1989. It's in this Pullman luxury that TCS Expeditions is offering two tours in the spring and fall of 1996: the Great Transcontinental Journey, and the National Parks of the West.
The nine-day 3,800-mile Great Transcontinental Journey begins either in Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles, with stops in Charlottesville, Va.; New Orleans; San Antonio; Santa Fe; and the Grand Canyon. The Great Transcontinental Journey costs $4,990 per person double occupancy for a deluxe sleeper, $5,990 for a single sleeper, $6,990 per person double occupancy (single supplement $5,592) for a parlor suite, and $7,450 per person double occupancy (single supplement $5,960) for a presidential suite. Tour dates for 1996 from Washington are March 23-31, April 6-14, April 20-28, Oct. 5-13 and Oct. 19-27; from Los Angeles, tours are March 30-April 7, April 13-21, April 27-May 5, Oct. 12-20 and Oct. 26-Nov. 3.
The National Parks of the West costs $3,990 per person double occupancy for a deluxe sleeper, $4,990 for a single sleeper, $5,990 per person double occupancy (single supplement $4,792) for a parlor suite, and $6,450 per person double occupancy (single supplement $5,160) for a presidential suite. Tour dates for 1996 from Santa Fe are May 4-12, Sept. 7-15 and Sept. 21-29; from Denver, tours are May 11-19, Sept. 14-22 and Sept. 28-Oct. 6.
The prices include one night in the Stouffer Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., and one night in Los Angeles at the Century Plaza for the Transcontinental Journey, and one night's stay in Santa Fe and one night in Denver for the National Parks of the West. (Chicago Tribune, August 27, 1995)
Dallas-based retailer Neiman Marcus leased 12 of the American Orient Express cars for a 27-day, 10-city tour to serve as a rolling retail store for both new and existing customers of the store's luxury items. The train was labeled as the "Holiday Express" and the trip in 1995 was the second time the Holiday special had been operated. At the end of the 1995 tour, Neiman Marcus representatives remarked that the idea was no longer new and fresh, and would likely not be repeated. The 12 AOE cars were noted as being leased "from the San Antonio-based luxury charter train." Neiman Marcus also leased a baggage car and a diner from Amtrak to provide food service and storage for train staff, and two F40 locomotives from Amtrak, which also operated the train throughout the tour. After arriving in Dallas, five cars (two diners, two club cars, and the single round-end observation) had their interior furnishings such as tables and chairs, removed and stored in a local Neiman Marcus warehouse, and the car interiors were converted to display space for items to be sold. The train staff included 50 Neiman Marcus employees and 26 AOE employees, and all were boarded in the train's sleepers. The trip began on November 19 at San Antonio for three days, then proceeded to New Orleans for three days, then to Jackson, Mississippi, for one day (November 27), then to Memphis, Nashville, Louisville, then to Cincinnati for three days (December 5-7). After Cincinnati, the train was moved to Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Indianapolis, after which the train deadheaded back to Dallas. (Trains magazine, March 1996, page 30)
The American Orient Express cars were leased to a joint venture by TCS Expeditions and Trans Texas Rail Corporation that ran five transcontinental trips in the first half of 1996. (Trains magazine, February 2000, page 63)
January 7, 1996
The following comes from the New York Times:
The American Orient Express, which begins its second year of transcontinental rail trips between Los Angeles and Washington in March, will add a series of eight-night national park excursions and an eight-night opera trip in the West.
The train, made up of coaches from the 1940's and 50's, has six sleepers, two dining cars, two club cars and the observation car New York, which served for 20 years on the 20th Century Limited. Stops on the transcontinental trips include Charlottesville, Va., New Orleans, San Antonio, Santa Fe, N.M., and Flagstaff, Ariz.
Eastbound transcontinental departures are March 23 and April 20. Westbound departures are April 13 and April 27. The national park excursions begin in Santa Fe on May 11, May 29 and Sept. 6 and in Denver on May 19, Aug. 28 and Sept. 29. The opera trip, Aug. 11 to 19, departs from Los Angeles and takes in performances in Aspen, Colorado, and Santa Fe. The fare is $3,850 to $5,300, depending on sleeping accommodations.
Fares for the transcontinental trips are $4,990 to $7,450 a person in double occupancy, including side trips and most meals. Fares for the national park excursions are $3,990 to $6,450. The train, represented in the United States by T. C. S. Expeditions of Seattle, is owned by the Swiss company Reiseburo Mittelhurgau, which also owns the Nostalgic Istanbul Orient Express but is not connected with the Venice Simplon Orient-Express. (New York Times, January 7, 1996)
March 23, 1996
American Orient Express began its second season. (Los Angeles Times, March 10, 1996)
November 14, 1997
The American Orient Express was purchased by Henry Hillman, Jr., a venture capitalist, after having good experiences in ocean cruises, and an Amtrak's Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, and Auto Train. In June 1999 Hillman bought the American West Steamboat Company, which operated week-long cruises along the Columbia, Willamette and Snake rivers.
August 30, 1998
The following comes from the New York Times:
Operated by the Oregon Rail Corporation, the Express is the only fully private passenger train running on the main rail lines in the United States, said Henry Hillman Jr., the company's president and owner.
The train carries 15 cars built 40 to 50 years ago: seven sleeping carriages, two dining cars, two club cars, two crew cars, an observation car and a laundry. The cars were reconstructed, their mechanical systems upgraded and their interiors refurbished for about $1 million each.
The line came under its current ownership just last fall [in 1997], when Mr. Hillman said he and other "venture capitalists willing to take a flier on a new idea" bought the train and its operations.
Oregon Rail pays Amtrak and other rail lines for use of the track, and contracts for the use of Amtrak and Canadian Northern locomotives. The company aims to attract the richest 10 percent of travelers -- people who might take cruises and who relish a relaxed pace.
The train travels from March through October, rotating among eight scenic and historical tours around the continent, including a "Jazz and Blues Express" from Chicago to New Orleans, an "American Heritage" run from Montreal to Washington, a "Rockies and Yellowstone" tour from Portland, Oregon, and another national parks trip, from Denver to Santa Fe, N.M.
Nine routes are scheduled next year, and one more will be added in 2000: a fall foliage tour of Vermont, New Hampshire and upstate New York.
Because of start-up and capital costs, the company is running at a loss, but Mr. Hillman said he was confident that the train would eventually be able to turn a profit, even at prices teetering toward $1,000 a night. Indeed, he is assembling a second train of vintage cars to run similar routes.
The Express carries up to 104 passengers, and, depending on the route, has been running from 75 percent to 100 percent of capacity, Mr. Hillman said. Several trips on the West Coast are already nearly filled through 1999, he said. (New York Times, August 30, 1998)
Starting in late 1998, and continuing through late 2000, American Orient Express and Montana Rockies Rail Tours were under the same ownership, lead by Henry Hillman, Jr. An attempt to bring an AOE-style luxury train to the Montana route, using the name "American Spirit" did not go well, and in late 2000 or early 2001, Montana Rockies Rail Tours was sold back to a group of its original owners and management employees.
Full page ads were run in the November 1998 through March 1999 issues of Trains magazine.
Quarter-page ads were run in the April through November 1999 issues of Trains magazine.
Car maintenance for American Orient Express was done at the company's facility in the Denver suburb of Englewood, Colorado, at a site once owned by General Steel. The facility had two 50-ton overhead cranes, and cold hold 12 cars under one roof. (Trains magazine, February 2000, page 64)
A 7-day, 6-night trip aboard the American Orient Express was the Grand Prize of the Trains magazine sweepstakes for 2000. (Trains magazine, December 1999 through February 2000)
American Orient Express moved it shops to Washington Junction, near Tennio, Washington, in a facility leased from Tacoma Rail.
AOE purchased the cars needed to operate a second train, informally known as American Orient Express II.
As early as 2004, there were complaints about the reliably of the cars, such as non-functioning air conditioning, and problems with hot running water for showers. The space in the bedrooms was the same as standard Pullman bedrooms from the 1950s, and many after spending $11,000 per couple, expected more space. Although each bedroom had its own shower, the small space was shared with the room's toilet, and the separate rooms seemed to suffer from problems with water pressure. Each car had a larger public shower, but travel writers all seemed to comment on the challenges of taking a shower in a moving rail car. Many seemed to expect all the amenities of a five-star hotel, transplanted to a rail car, and unfortunately, the trips were heavily promoted as such.
In April 2007, American Orient Express lost its case before the Railroad Retirement Board, seeking to overturn the RRB's determination that AOE employees were railroad employees. AOE contended that its employees were not railroad employees, and therefore were not subject to RRB jurisdiction. The RRB had deferred to the federal Surface Transportation Board in determining AOE's status as a railroad carrier. AOE contended that it did not own any railroad tracks, and was not a railroad, and not subject to STB jurisdiction.
In its decision on December 27, 2005 (STB Finance Docket No. 34502), the Surface Transportation Board cited public law, saying that a rail carrier may use tracks owned by another entity, but operated under an agreement. The STB determined that AOE offered itself to the general public and provided common carrier railroad transportation, and was therefore subject to all requirements of a company providing rail transportation. Included in the STB decision was this quote, "The argument not only defies common sense -- if the Orient Express is not providing railroad transportation, what kind of transportation is it providing? -- but also confuses the use of “railroad” as a noun with its use as an adjective."
In its determination on April 18, 2006 (B.C.D. 06-15), the Railroad Retirement Board concurred with the Surface Transportation Board. This decision resulted in AOE being liable retroactively for all contributions under the Railroad Retirement Act, and the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act. By the time of the April 2007 determination, American Orient Express had sold all of its assets, but the company was still liable for the contributions.
GrandLuxe Rail Journeys (2006-2008)
GrandLuxe took over the operation of the former American Orient Express.
August 8, 2008
GrandLuxe made its last trip, and the train was placed in storage at Tacoma, Washington. Bob Harbison shared the consist of that final train upon arrival at Tacoma:
- Los Angeles
- Yellowstone Park
- Grand Canyon
- Monte Carlo
- Bar Harbor
- Santa Fe
- Great Dome, pretty sure it's Copper Canyon, but hard to read...
- New York (Round End Obs)
August 28, 2008
GrandLuxe Rail Journeys, and its American Orient Express partner, formally shut down their operations due to the bankruptcy of GrandLuxe.
The following comes from River-Rails.com:
GrandLuxe Rail Journeys, formerly American Orient Express is not in business anymore. Both companies went bankrupt after only a few years of operating the trains. The train cars themselves have been sold and are now being operated by the Greenbrier Resort as a special train from Washington D.C. to the resort.
The American Orient Express offered deluxe passenger train programs since 1997 when they bought the trains from the American-European Orient Express Company. Most of the itineraries are rare and unusual rail track routes to the most fascinating places in the United States and also Mexico, from the Deep South to the spectacular Pacific Coast, national parks and the Rocky Mountains, just to name a few.
GrandLuxe Rail Journeys was owned by the same interests that also owned Colorado Railcar Company in Fort Lupton, Colorado.
"Formation of US Railcar -- In January 2009 a small group of private investors led by Barry Fromm, chairman of the Value Recovery Group, Inc. (VRG) of Columbus, Ohio acquired the assets, including the intellectual property (manufacturing documentation, engineering drawings, software, patents, test plans) along with existing inventory, tooling, fixtures, jigs, and equipment from the former Fort Lupton, Colorado based, Colorado Railcar Company. The former Colorado Railcar Company engineered and manufactured the first and only Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) compliant, self-propelled Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) passenger rail car in the American market since the departure in the 1980s of the Budd Company. The Budd Company was the last U.S. passenger rail car builder in this county. The Budd Company made the “RDC” cars (rail-diesel cars), similar in functionality to the DMUs developed by the Colorado Railcar Company (and now US Railcar). " (USRailcar.com)
American Railway Explorer (2010)
The following description of American Railway Explorer's planned excursions comes from TravelForSmallBiz.com:
New Luxury Passenger Train - American Railway Explorer - To Offer Western and Transcontinental Excursions
Beginning in summer, 2011, the Denver-based American Railway Explorer (ARE) will offer a luxury train experience showcasing much of the country and several national parks. This exclusive "rail cruise" experience combines world-class food, comfortable accommodations and memorable on- and off-train experiences while traveling through spectacular scenery throughout the US.
ARE will operate four-, eight- and 11-day tours featuring accommodations, meals, entertainment, off-train transportation and interpretive guides. The train will travel mostly at night which will allow guests to disembark for day-long excursions; at each stop passengers will have opportunities to participate in various guided tours or to explore on their own.
For example, the eight-day Southwest Explorer itinerary will operate between Napa, California. and Santa Fe, N.M. with stops at Yosemite National Park; Santa Barbara, California; Grand Canyon National Park; Williams, Ariz.; Albuquerque, N.M. and Santa Fe, N.M.
The Northwest Explorer, also an eight-day trip, will travel between Napa and Jackson, Wyoming. with stops in Crater Lake National Park; Glacier National Park; Helena, Mont.; Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. This itinerary also include a narrated daytime run through the Columbia River Gorge along the Oregon-Washington border.
The Transcontinental Explorer will feature an 11-day itinerary operating twice in 2011 between Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. with stops in San Francisco, Sacramento, Denver, Chicago, Niagara Falls, Shenandoah National Park and Washington, D.C. There will also be narrated daytime runs through the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the Rocky Mountains through Utah and Colorado and along Lake Erie.
Meanwhile the four-day West Coast Explorer will operate between Napa and Los Angeles includes Napa Valley winery tours and stops at attractions along the way including the Hearst Castle and Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Last year the American Railway Explorer purchased 1950s-era vintage railcars that are undergoing a comprehensive transformation to restore and improve upon the high standards of the original cars. With a maximum capacity of 130 passengers, the train will consist of 11 sleeper cars, one lounge/piano car, two dining cars, two dome cars and an observation car. An executive chef will prepare meals on board using sustainable and locally produced ingredients.
August 8, 2010
The following comes from NationalParksTraveler.com:
If you had your heart set on spending upwards of $1,500 a day on a luxury train tour of national parks next year, you'll have to settle for either Amtrak or your own rig. It turns out that this project isn't leaving the station.
Backers of the American Railway Explorer had expected to begin riding the rails between Crater Lake, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton national parks, among others, next year, with packages proposed to start at roughly $900 a day and which could have quickly climbed to $1,500 a day.
What would you get for those costs? The Denver-based railroad was promising "world-class food, comfortable on-board accommodations, and memorable on- and off-train experiences."
Initially bankrolling the project was billionaire Philip Anschutz, whose company in the fall of 2008 bought Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which operates lodgings in Yellowstone, Death Valley, Crater Lake, and Zion national parks, as well as the Grand Canyon Railway that runs from Williams, Ariz., to Grand Canyon National Park.
However -- and perhaps not too surprisingly, in light of the fares -- the company has derailed the project. Without explanation.
Perhaps the writing was on the wall, though. The American Railway Explorer had purchased some of its rolling stock from The American Orient Express, which also offered luxury train travel to national parks but which reached the end of the line in August 2008 when its owners filed for bankruptcy. Its rates, for comparison's sake, ranged from $620 to $927.50 per person per day for an eight-day journey to Mount Rainier, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton national parks. (NationalParksTraveler.com, August 8, 2010)
America Railway Explorer attempted to re-establish the western rail tours provided by GrandLuxe Rail Journeys, bankrupt in 2008, and prior to 2006 operated by American Orient Express. ARE contracted with Wasatch Railroad Contractors to repaint and rename 21 of the cars, as of April 2010. The project was canceled after 15 cars were completed. Some of the car names listed below were not actually used, including Petrified Forest and Death Valley, due to their unappealing names.
After the project was canceled in 2010, the former GrandLuxe/American Orient Express cars were set aside and offered to other interested companies. Some of the cars were transferred to Anschutz Corporation's Xanterra Parks & Resorts company, which has owned and operated the Grand Canyon Railway since 2007.
"The Biegerts sold the Grand Canyon Railway (GCRY) to Xanterra Parks and Resorts in 2006. Xanterra is a major National Park Service concessionaire that handles lodging and other services. Xanterra (previously known as Amfac) was created from the remnants of the Fred Harvey Company. Anschutz acquired Xanterra in 2008, two years after they acquired the GCRY. While the Grand Canyon Railway is part of Xanterra, it is a smaller piece of a very large tourism business." (Trainorders.com, March 14, 12018)
Xanterra traces its beginning back to Amfac, Inc., and 1968 when Amfac bought the Fred Harvey Company. Frederick Henry Harvey was the head of the Fred Harvey Company. Harvey himself died in 1901, but his hotel and restaurant chain continued under the leadership of his sons and grandsons until 1965. It was sold in 1968 to the Hawaii-based hospitality industry conglomerate Amfac, Inc., which traces its beginning back to 1849 as H. Hackfeld and Company, one of the largest producers of sugar from Hawaii. The company became American Factors in 1918, which was changed to Amfac, Inc., in 1966. In 1968 Amfac became a diversified corporate holding company, and between 1968 and 1972 purchased 42 different companies. One of the first acquisitions in 1968 was the Fred Harvey Company. In 1987 Amfac sold all of its non-Hawaii assets, and in 1988 was sold to JMB Realty, a group of Chicago investors for a reported $920 million. As its diversified businesses declined, and to continue in its core business, Amfac began slowly selling its assets. The company entered formal bankruptcy in 2002, but retained its core business, known as Amfac Hotels and Resorts, made up of the former Fred Harvey Company. Amfac Hotels and Resorts was the most profitable assets and was separated from the bankruptcy in 2002, and was renamed as Xanterra Hotels and Resorts. In 2006 Xanterra bought the Grand Canyon Railway, and as mentioned above, in 2010 bought the remnants of GrandLuxe Rail Journeys, and its American Orient Express partner.
Mike Palmieri's research indicates that a total of 25 cars were sold to Xanterra (America Railway Explorer). Fifteen were sold to Greenbrier Express; five were retained for Grand Canyon Railway service; three were sold to private parties; and two are inoperative and are for sale (likely located on Grand Canyon Ry. property).
American Railway Explorer is currently (2015) still in business and provides charter services using three refurbished passenger cars. Service began in September 2012, operating from a central location in Los Angeles. ARE is owned by Ansco, a unit of the Denver-based Anschutz Corporation. The three cars being operated are "Utah," "Kansas," and "California." All three cars had previously been used as part of "The Ski Train" operating west from Denver to Winter Park, Colorado, during the winter season, and were originally officer cars owned and operated by Rio Grande Industries and its two railroad subsidiaries Denver & Rio Grande Western and Southern Pacific.
Greenbrier Express (2011-2014)
Fifteen former GrandLuxe/AOE cars are known to have been sold for use on a planned Greenbrier Express at Pottstown, Pennsylvania. This latter project failed to get established and the cars were auctioned in September 2014.
The cars were moved from Denver, Colorado, to Pottstown, Pennsylvania, in February 2011 in preparation for the planned Greenbrier Express train. After the failure of the project, an auction was held in Pottstown on September 18, 2014, at the Pottstown Industrial Complex (just west of the Home Depot), which has its own rail spur.
Of the 15 cars at auction, two were immediately sold to Norfolk Southern. The remaining 13 cars were listed in the auction documents as follows.
Nine were listed as “tunneled”, with bare interiors:
Bar Harbor (800753)
Monte Carlo (800231)
Rocky Mountain (800311)
Santa Fe (800768)
While four were still unaltered:
Grand Canyon (800668)
Although photos included with the auction documents, as well as descriptions of the cars themselves, show the cars as "Tunneled, Interior is Bare", it was reported on September 22, 2014, also on Railway Preservation News discussion forum that the nine cars shown above as being "tunneled" were in fact not completely stripped inside.
"These cars weren't tunneled, but due to the ridiculous asbestos abatement undertaken while the cars were in Denver, in general these cars were missing most if not all bedroom and hallway ceiling panels; ceiling and hallway light fixtures; upper berths; and some lower berth sofas. The missing parts for each car were nowhere to be found at the auction. Someone evidently bought a few containers full of parts a few months previous, and that may be where the parts ended up. Istanbul and Grand Canyon were also missing all the HEP and most if not all of the electrical locker components."
The following comes from the Charleston Gazette for September 14, 2014:
“What we’re going to do is sell nine cars and keep four others, to finish out,” said Ross Rowland, president and CEO of the Greenbrier Express Co. “[Greenbrier resort president] Jim Justice will initially use the four cars — a dining car, a tavern/lounge car and two parlor cars — as showpieces at a new siding at White Sulphur Springs, but on certain limited occasions during the year, the cars will go out on the road and ride behind Amtrak trains,” along with leased private passenger cars, “to bring guests to The Greenbrier from different places,” including Cincinnati and, possibly, New Orleans, in conjunction with the new Saints training facility at the resort.
The railcars Justice bought for the project have been at a former Bethlehem Steel shop in Pottstown since 2011. A 38-person crew gutted the interiors of the cars, began bringing their mechanical components up to Amtrak standards, and started re-fitting work, only to be laid off when it became apparent that the project would be delayed extensively because of federal regulatory issues.
“The federal government imposed a number of regulations on re-built passenger cars that never used to exist,” Rowland said. “For instance, we need to use custom-built furniture that can pass crash tests, and then we have to fasten it down so it won’t move.”
To operate once-weekly 16-car trains between Washington, D.C., and White Sulphur Springs, as originally planned, the resort also needed to obtain use agreements to travel over segment of busy single-track rail line stretching from Clifton Forge, Virginia, to Gordonsville, Virginia, about 100 miles to the east.
Under initial plans, the cars’ interiors were to be designed by Greenbrier curator Carlton Varney, and come equipped with wi-fi access and swiveling armchairs. After arriving at The Greenbrier’s rail station, guests would travel in Clydesdale-powered coaches to the resort’s main entrance.
As of 2012, $15 million had been committed to the project.
The following comes from the Charleston Gazette for September 18, 2014:
The dream of establishing luxury rail service between the nation’s capital and the storied Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia — and of building that train in Pottstown — died on the auction block Thursday.
Ross Rowland, president and CEO of the Greenbrier Express, said the auction of the nine passenger cars, equipment, tools and railroad ephemera marked “the end of the Greenbrier project.”
The project was bankrolled by Appalachian coal billionaire Jim Justice, the owner of the resort, as a way to attract more high-profile visitors to the resort and restore some glamour to rail travel.
“The essence of the project is to move the front door of the Greenbrier 253 miles from White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia to Washington, D.C.s Union Station,” Rowland told The Mercury in February, 2011 when he brought the project to Pottstown.
The work, which at its peak employed 48 people here, was undertaken in one of the buildings of the former Bethlehem Steel plant, now named the Pottstown Industrial Complex.
And that’s where its assets were sold.
With names like “Istanbul,” “Monterey” and “Grand Canyon,” the cars sold for as much as $135,000 a piece to as little as $10,500.
Some of the cars had been gutted, “tunneled” in train lingo, down to the aluminum and steel floors and arched roof, while others still had elements of dining cars and sleepers.
What killed the Greenbrier Express was economics, said Rowland.
When the recession combined with the fall in the price of coal — due to Chinese competition, environmental regulations that closed older coal-burning power plants and competition from cheaper natural gas — the cash Justice had available to continue the project dried up, said Rowland.
Ross Rowland wrote on the Railway Preservation News forum on September 20 and 22, 2014:
The auction went very well and I'm grateful to report that it raised sufficient funds to allow the project to end on a positive note.
Until the very last minute the plan was to save 4 of the 13 cars for a small starter train but the man behind the project decided that he was not in a position to fund that so he ordered us to sell it all.
Of course the team that worked hard on this were sad to see it end but on the other hand pleased that the 13 cars are going to good new owners where they will get the TLC they deserve.
The correct facts are that 4 cars were bought by the UPRR, 2 by the State of NC and 7 went to individual private buyers.
After Greenbrier Express
After the auction in 2014, four cars returned to UP and were stored at Council Bluffs:
- AOE "Rocky Mountain" (AOEX 800311; ex-UP Coach 5556; 1954)
- AOE "Santa Fe" (AOEX 800768; ex UP Sleeper "Star Crest"; 1956)
- AOE "Seattle" (AOEX 800310; ex UP Coach 5548; 1954) (returned to service in 2023 as UPP 5548 "Lake Mead")
- AOE "Vienna" (AOEX 800109; ex UP Sleeper "Placid Waters"; 1956)
|AOE Name||ARE Name||Type||Car Number||Original Owner||Notes|
|Bar Harbor||Great Smokey Mountains||Sleeper||800753||Union Pacific||to Greenbrier Express; to North Carolina DOT|
|Charleston||Mesa Verde||Sleeper||800754||Union Pacific||to Greenbrier Express; to North Carolina DOT|
|Chicago||Zion||Dining||800308||Union Pacific||to Grand Canyon Ry.|
|Copper Canyon||Grand Canyon||Great (full) Dome||800743||CB&Q||to Grand Canyon Ry.|
|Denver||Yosemite||Sleeper||800740||Union Pacific||to Greenbrier Express; to Norfolk Southern 15|
|Grand Canyon||Glacier Bay||Crew Sleeper||800668||Union Pacific||to Greenbrier Express; to Morristown & Erie Railroad|
|Istanbul||Olympic||Sleeper||800297||Southern Pacific||to Greenbrier Express; to Genesee Valley Transportation|
|Los Angeles||(none)||Baggage||800715||Southern Pacific|
|Monte Carlo||Petrified Forest||Sleeper||800231||Baltimore & Ohio||to Greenbrier Express; to BNSF|
|Monterey||Denali||Crew Sleeper/Diner||800246||Chesapeake & Ohio||to Greenbrier Express; to Western Maryland Scenic Railroad (RPCX 800246)|
|Montreal||Glacier||Sleeper||800757||Union Pacific||to Greenbrier Express; to Morristown & Erie Railroad|
|New Orleans||Yellowstone||Great (full) Dome||800742||Great Northern||to Grand Canyon Ry. "Fred Harvey"|
|New York||Shenandoah||Observation||800321||New York Central||to Wick Mooreman|
|Paris||Kings Canyon/Sequoia||Sleeper||800298||Southern Pacific||to Greenbrier Express; to Morristown & Erie Railroad|
|Portland||Bryce Canyon||Sleeper||800218||Chesapeake & Ohio||to Grand Canyon Ry.|
|Rocky Mountain||(none)||Sleeper||800311||Union Pacific||to Greenbrier Express; to Union Pacific|
|San Antonio||Death Valley||Baggage Dormitory||800643||USAX||to Ross Rowland|
|San Francisco||(none)||Diner Sleeper||800050||Nickle Plate|
|Santa Fe||Rocky Mountain||Sleeper||800768||Union Pacific||to Greenbrier Express; to Union Pacific|
|Savannah||Grand Teton||Sleeper||800741||Union Pacific||to Greenbrier Express; to Norfolk Southern 14 "Missouri"|
|Seattle||Mount Rushmore||Club Car||800310||Union Pacific||to Greenbrier Express; to Union Pacific|
|Vienna||Isle Royale||Sleeper||800109||Union Pacific||to Greenbrier Express; to Union Pacific|
|Washington||Mount Rainier||Sleeper||800258||Chesapeake & Ohio||to Grand Canyon Ry.|
|Yellowstone Park||(none)||Sleeper||800755||CB&Q||to Michigan Dinner Train|
|Zurich||Crater Lake||Dining||800301||Union Pacific||to Greenbrier Express; to an undisclosed buyer|
Amtrak 800000-series numbers
As early as June 1991, Amtrak required that an Amtrak-assigned 800000-series number be applied to every operating railroad private passenger car. Its Standard Maintenance Practice (SMP) 28603 for June 1, 1991 reads as follows: "Private cars when on Amtrak trains or Amtrak property must display Amtrak I.D. number (800,000 series) as per Amtrak Drawing Number A-002-5079."
The same SMP revised to March 4, 2011 reads: "A private car when on Amtrak trains or Amtrak property must display its assigned Amtrak car identification number (800000 series) per Amtrak drawing A-002-5079."
Stan Garner's listing of all Amtrak 800000 series numbers (MovieTrains.com web site no longer available; link is to the page on the Wayback Machine at Archive.org)
Railway Preservation News discussion forum
Numerous internet searches, mostly on defunct and inactive web sites, including some at Archive.org (The Internet Archive).
Comments and corrections to several discussion groups by anonymous persons. (If you are going to hide behind a pseudonym, I can't give you credit.)
Car histories compiled by Mike Palmieri, received by email dated November 1, 2015.
Car histories compiled by Ted Brumberg, received by email dated November 2, 2015.
American Orient Express
American Orient Express at Railway Preservation News -- a forum discussion of the history of the cars and the operation (served as the basic initial source for much of this page's information).
"The GrandLuxe Express: Traveling in High Style" by Karl Zimmermann -- This excellent book includes history and photos of each of these companies. (ISBN 0253349478; published by Indiana University Press in 2007)
"Rail Travel 2000: Cruisin' On The AOE", by Karl Zimmerman, Trains magazine, February 2000, page 58
Colorado Railcar - GrandLuxe Rail Journeys
AEE/AOE Car Listing
Total of 33 cars; 18 were former Union Pacific cars.
|Bar Harbor||Sleeper||AOEX 800753||Built in 1964 by St. Louis Car as Union Pacific 5539, a 44-seat Coach. (Read more about UP 5539, as part of the larger 15-car UP 5528-5542 group)|
|Berlin||Sleeper||AEE 13||AOEX 800255||Built in 1956 by Pullman as Union Pacific "Placid Lake", an 11 double bedroom Sleeper. (Read more about UP "Placid Lake" as part of the larger 10-car UP "Placid" series of sleepers)|
|Charleston||Sleeper||AOEX 800754||Built in 1960 by St. Louis Car as Union Pacific 5494, a 44-seat Coach. (Read more about UP 5494, as part of the larger 20-car UP 5488-5507 group)|
|Chicago||Diner||AEE 08||AOEX 800308||Built in 1959 by St. Louis Car Co. as Union Pacific 5014, a Lunch Counter Diner. (Read more about UP 5014, as part of the larger 10-car UP 5007-5016 group)|
|Copper Canyon||Great Dome Lounge||AOEX 800743||Built in 1955 by Budd as Chicago, Burlington & Quincy 1395 "River View." To BN 1395 at merger, then Amtrak 9365 in 1971. Rebuilt with HEP and renumbered 9302 in 1984, sold to AOE in 2001. Lounge and table top seating in the dome area, small bar, lounge seats, and office in lower level. To Xanterra for their American Railway Explorer. To Grand Canyon Railway, in service as "Grand Canyon."|
|Denver||Sleeper||AOEX 800740||Built in 1960 by St. Louis Car Co. as Union Pacific 5490, a 44-seat Coach. (Read more about UP 5490, as part of the larger 20-car UP 5488-5507 group)|
|Diamond Lake||Diner Lounge||AEE 12||800018||Built in 1954 by Pullman as GTW 898. To CN/VIA 898. To Trans Rocky Mountain Rail. Leased to AEE.|
|Grand Canyon||Crew Sleeper||AOEX 800668||Built in 1956 by Pullman as Union Pacific "Placid Scene", an 11 double bedroom Sleeper. (Read more about UP "Placid Scene" as part of the larger 10-car UP "Placid" series of sleepers)|
|Istanbul||Sleeper||AEE 03||AOEX 800297||Built in 1950 by Pullman as Southern Pacific 9119, a 4-2-2 Sleeper. To Amtrak 2831 in 1971. To American-European Express "Istanbul". Car has 2 Presidential suites, 2 Parlor suites, and 2 Classic Pullman bedrooms. To Xanterra (American Railway Explorer) in 2010. To Greenbrier Express in 2011. Sold at auction on September 18, 2014 to Genesee Valley Transportation.|
|Jasper||Dining Car||AOEX 800765||Built in 1953 by ACF as the Dining half of Union Pacific 5106 (with "Vancouver" below), a drawbar-connected Dining Kitchen Dormitory combination. Cars renumbered in 1956 as UP 5112 and UP 5113 (this car). (Read more about UP 5113, as part of two-2-car sets UP 5110-5113)|
|Los Angeles||Service/Laundry||AOEX 800715||Built in 1950 by Budd as Southern Pacific 3103, a Baggage Dormitory car. Transferred to SP subsidiary T&NO 301, then back to SP before going to Amtrak 1531. Rebuilt to HEP 1622 in September 1980. To American Orient Express "Los Angeles" (AOEX 800715) in January 1994. To GrandLuxe Rail Journeys in April 2006, stored after August 2008. To Xanterra (American Rail Explorer) in 2010, out of service, stored at Burnham Shops in Denver, Colorado on temporary shop trucks, HEP intact and serviceable. Sold to Bill Wherry (date?, ca. 2011), made serviceable including trucks from a former UP car. Wherry passed away, and in January 2015 his daughter sold the car to Jon Clark, car was moved to Los Angeles during summer 2015.|
|Monte Carlo||Sleeper||AEE 11||AOEX 800231||Built by Pullman in 1950 as Baltimore & Ohio 7054 "Opequon," a 10-6 Sleeper. To a private owner. To American-European Express (AEE 11). To American Orient Express "Monte Carlo" (AOEX 800231). To GrandLuxe Rail Journeys in April 2006, stored after August 2008. To Xanterra (American Railway Explorer) in 2010, name changed to "Petrified Forest." To Greenbrier Express in 2011, interior completely stripped. Sold at auction on September 18, 2014 to BNSF.|
|Monterey||Crew Sleeper/Diner||AOEX 800246||Built in 1950 by Pullman as Chesapeake & Ohio 2507 "Wolverine Club," a 5-double bedroom Buffet Lounge Observation car. Blunt-end observation car set up to run mid-train. Has sleeping quarters on one end, and galley/lounge/dining area on the obs end. To the B&O 7501 "Wawasee". To Amtrak 3250 in June 1972, retired by Amtrak in November 1977. Sold to Gordon Ingram (La Jolla, California), named "San Diego Club". Sold to the Genesee & Wyoming (GNWR 3250) "Pride of Genesee". Sold to John Kirkwood (Rail Ventures, RVIX). Sold to American Orient Express "Monterey" (AOEX 800246). To GrandLuxe Rail Journeys in April 2006, stored after August 2008. To Xanterra (American Railway Explorer) in 2010, name changed to "Denali." To Greenbrier Express in 2011. Sold at auction on September 18, 2014 to Western Maryland Scenic Railroad (RPCX 800246).|
|Montreal||Sleeper||AOEX 800757||Built in 1956 by Pullman as Union Pacific "North Platte", a 5-bedroom Lounge car. Rebuilt in 1965 as 11-bedroom sleeper "Star Scene". (Read more about UP "Star Scene" as part of the larger 7-car UP "Star" series of sleepers)|
|New Orleans||Great Dome Lounge||AOEX 800742||Built in 1955 by Budd as Great Northern 1392 "Mountain View." To BN 1392 at merger. To Amtrak 9362, rebuilt with HEP 9301 in 1985. Renumbered 10030 in 1997, retired by Amtrak in November 2001. Sold to American Orient Express "New Orleans" (AOEX 800742), rebuilt with lounge and table top seating upstairs. To GrandLuxe Rail Journeys in April 2006, stored after August 2008. To Xanterra (American Railway Explorer) in 2010, name changed to "Yellowstone." To Grand Canyon Railway, entered service as "Fred Harvey" in September 2012 after a complete refurbishment that took a full year.|
|New York||Lounge||AOEX 800321||Built in 1948 by Pullman as New York Central 10571 "Sandy Creek," a Buffet Parlor Observation for the 20th Century Limited. Renumbered to NYC 10634. Privately owned until sold to American-European Express "New York". Sold to American Orient Express "New York" (AOEX 800321). To GrandLuxe Rail Journeys in April 2006, stored after August 2008. To Xanterra (American Railway Explorer) in 2010, name changed to "Shenandoah." Sold to Wick Moorman, Norfolk Southern's CEO, painted in February 2014 in NS Tuscan Red, named "Sandy Creek" (RPCX 800321). Car personally owned by Wick Moorman, retired as Norfolk Southern's CEO on October 1, 2015.|
|Pacific Star||Crew Sleeper||AOEX 800742||Built in 1956 by Pullman as Union Pacific "La Grande", a 5 bedroom Lounge car. Rebuilt in 1965 as 11 bedroom sleeper "Star Range". (Read more about UP "Star Range" as part of the larger 7-car UP "Star" series of sleepers)|
|Paris||Sleeper||AEE 04||AOEX 800298||Built in 1950 by Pullman as Southern Pacific 9120, a 4-4-2 Sleeper. To Amtrak 2382 in 1971, retired by Amtrak in July 1981. Later purchased by American-European Express and rebuilt with 2 Presidential suites, 2 Parlor suites, and 4 Single sleeper bedrooms. Sold to American Orient Express "Paris" (AOEX 800298). To GrandLuxe Rail Journeys in April 2006, stored after August 2008. To Xanterra (American Railway Explorer) in 2010, name changed to "Kings Canyon." To Greenbrier Express in 2011, interior completely stripped. Sold at auction on September 18, 2014 to Morristown & Erie Railroad.|
|(Placid Bay)||Sleeper||AEE 06||800249||Built in 1956 by Pullman as Union Pacific "Placid Bay", to UP 1501 in August 1969. (Read more about UP "Placid Bay" as part of the larger 10-car UP "Placid" series of sleepers)|
|Portland||Sleeper||AOEX 800218||Built in 1950 by Pullman as Chesapeake & Ohio 2800 "Homestead," an 11 bedroom Sleeper. Sold in 1970 to Seaboard Coast Line 6110. Sold to Amtrak 2242. To G&W, then sold to Rail Ventures as "Bella Vista" with 9 bedrooms and a lounge. Sold to American Orient Express "Portland" (AOEX 800218). To GrandLuxe Rail Journeys in April 2006, stored after August 2008. To Xanterra (American Railway Explorer) in 2010, name changed to "Bryce Canyon." To Grand Canyon Railway "Bryce Canyon."|
|Rocky Mountain||Club Car||AEE 10
(as St. Moritz)
|AOEX 800311||Built in 1954 by ACF as Union Pacific "Alpine View", a 14 section Sleeper. Rebuilt to 44-seat coach as UP 5556 in 1965. (Read more about UP 5556, as part of the larger 14-car UP 5543-5556 group)|
|San Antonio||Baggage Dormitory||AOEX 800642||Built in 1953 by St. Louis Car as US Army hospital car 89523 (may have been 89558). To Amtrak as Baggage Dormitory 1408, converted to HEP 1613 in December 1979, retired by Amtrak in January 1994. Sold to American Orient Express "San Antonio" (AOEX 800642), converted to Baggage Dormitory. To GrandLuxe Rail Journeys in April 2006, stored after August 2008. To Xanterra (American Railway Explorer) in 2010, name changed to "Death Valley."To Greenbrier Express in 2011. Sold to Ross Rowland.|
|San Francisco||Crew Sleeper/Diner||AOEX 800050||Built in 1950 by Pullman as Nickel Plate 150 "City of Cleveland," a Sleeper Lounge car. Sold to Norfolk & Western 150, then Amtrak 3253, 5 double bedroom sleeper, same name; retired by Amtrak in November 1977. Later named "Montecito" in private ownership. Sold to John Kirkwood (Rail Ventures, RVIX), leased to American-European Express, and later American Orient Express. Sold to American Orient Express "San Francisco" (AOEX 800050), rebuilt to 2 Presidential suites, 2 Single bedrooms, a crew lounge and kitchen. To GrandLuxe Rail Journeys in April 2006, stored after August 2008. To Xanterra (American Railway Explorer) in 2010, not serviceable. To Grand Canyon Railway, not serviceable.|
|Santa Fe||Sleeper||AOEX 800768||Built in 1956 by Pullman as Union Pacific "Cheyenne", a 5 bedroom Lounge car. Rebuilt in 1965 as 11 bedroom sleeper 1702 "Star Crest". (Read more about UP "Star Crest" as part of the larger 7-car UP "Star" series of sleepers)|
|Savannah||Sleeper||AOEX 800741||Built in 1960 by St. Louis Car as Union Pacific 5500, 44-seat Coach. (Read more about UP 5500, as part of the larger 20-car UP 5488-5507 group)|
|Seattle||Club Car||AEE 09
(as Bay Point)
|AOEX 800310||Built in 1954 by ACF as Union Pacific "Alpine Meadow", as 14-section Sleeper . Rebuilt as 44-seat coach UP 5548 in 1965. (Read more about UP 5548, as part of the larger 14-car UP 5543-5556 group)|
|Tallahassee||Crew Sleeper||AOEX 800028||Built in 1956 by Pullman as Seaboard Air Line 75 "Tallahassee", an 11 double bedroom Sleeper. To Seaboard Coast Line 6104 in 1965. To Amtrak 2234, retired by Amtrak in November 1977. Sold to Starlight Rail Co. (private) "Bluebonnet". Sold to American Orient Express crew car "Tallahassee" (AOEX 800028), rebuilt to 9 bedrooms, with a maintenance room in place of the other 2 bedrooms; sold to GrandLuxe Rail Journeys in April 2006, stored after August 2008 at Colorado Rail Car at Fort Lupon, Colorado, seen en route at Cheyenne on June 19, 2009 (with "Pacific Star"). Sold to Iowa Pacific "Baton Rouge", painted in IC chocolate and orange, used in Pullman Rail Journeys charter service as San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad (SLRG) 9115/800028.|
|Vancouver||Galley||AOEX 800764||Built in 1953 by ACF as the Dormitory Kitchen half of Union Pacific 5106 (with "Jasper," above), a drawbar-connected Dining Kitchen Dormitory combination. Cars renumbered in 1956 as UP 5112 (this car) and UP 5113. (Read more about UP 5112, as part of two-2-car sets UP 5110-5113)|
|Vienna||Sleeper||AEE 05||AOEX 800109||Built in 1956 by Pullman as Union Pacific "Placid Waters", an 11 double bedroom Sleeper. (Read more about UP "Placid Waters" as part of the larger 10-car UP "Placid" series of sleepers)|
|Washington||Sleeper||AEE 02||AOEX 800258||Built in 1950 by Pullman as Chesapeake & Ohio "City of Staunton" (C&O 2613), a 10-6 Sleeper. Sold to Iron Horse Restaurant (Steamboat Springs, Colorado); other history unknown until sold to American-European Express "Washington" (AEE 2; AEE 800258), rebuilt with 2 Presidential suites and 8 Vintage Pullman bedrooms. Sold to American Orient Express "San Francisco" (AOEX 800258). To GrandLuxe Rail Journeys in April 2006, stored after August 2008. To Xanterra (American Railway Explorer) in 2010, renamed as "Mount Rainier". To Grand Canyon Railway "Mount Rainier".|
|Yellowstone Park||Crew Sleeper||AOEX 800755||Built in 1956 by Budd as CB&Q 454 "Silver Pelican," a 6-5 sleeper. Sold to Amtrak 2204, rebuilt by Amtrak as 11-bedroom sleeper, converted to HEP 2222 in October 1983, retired by Amtrak in December 1995. Sold to American Orient Express "Yellowstone Park" (AOEX 800755). To GrandLuxe Rail Journeys in April 2006, stored after August 2008. To Xanterra (American Railway Explorer) in 2010, declared surplus and sold to Michigan Dinner Train.|
|Zurich||Diner||AEE 07||AOEX 800301||Built in 1949 by ACF as Union Pacific 5004, a Lunch Cafe car. (Read more about UP 5004, as part of larger 7-car UP 5000-5006 group)|
|(no name)||Dome||AOEX 700001||Built 1954 by ACF as Union Pacific 7000. (Read more about UP 7000, as part of the larger 10-car UP 7000-7009 group)|
(The above list is greatly expanded and updated from a similar list taken from the Ultradome web site, inactive since July 2010.)
AOE Car Data Sheets
The following list is compiled from the data sheet available on each car in the train's consist on one particular trip:
All built by the Pullman-Standard Co. of Chicago between 1950 and 1956.
-- Paris (#800298) and Istanbul (#800297) were ordered in 1947 and delivered in 1950. They were built for the Southern Pacific Railroad and used on its Cascade route.
-- Vienna (#800109) was ordered in 1954 and delivered in 1956 for the Union Pacific’s city service. Original name: Placid Waters.
-- Washington (#800258) was ordered in 1946 and delivered in 1950. It was used on the Chesapeake & Ohio’s George Washington, Sportsman service. Original name: City of Staunton.
-- Monte Carlo (#800255) was ordered in 1946 by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, but later purchased by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1950 for the Capitol Limited. Original name: Opequon.
-- Charleston, Savannah, Denver and Bar Harbor were all built in 1960 by the American Car & Foundry of St. Louis for Union Pacific RR. They were fully refurbished by Colorado Rail Car in 2000.
-- New York Observation Car (#800321) was delivered in 1948 to the New York Central Railroad for the 20th-Century Limited between New York and Chicago. It was dedicated by Dwight D. Eisenhower and comedienne Beatrice Lillie, and features wrap-around windows, a bar and plush seating in its observation lounge. It is the last car on the AOE.
-- Seattle Piano Club Car (#800310) was built as a 14-section sleeper by American Car and Foundry and delivered to the Union Pacific Railroad in 1954. In 1965 it was rebuilt as a 44-seat leg-rest coach. Original name: Alpine Meadows.
-- Rocky Mountain Piano Club Car (#800311) was built as a 14-section sleeper by the St. Louis Car Co. and delivered in 1954. It was rebuilt as a 44-seat leg-rest coach in 1965.
Great Dome Cars
-- Copper Canyon and New Orleans were built by the Budd Co. of Philadelphia in 1950 and 1951 for the Great Northern Railroad. They are fluted stainless steel and are painted in the AOE’s signature blue, gold and cream. The interior reflects the style of the 1940's and early 1950's. Seventy-six passengers can sit in each of the cars’ second level dome areas in one seating. Both cars were refurbished at AOE’s own facility in 2002.
-- Chicago Dining Carriage (#800308) was built by the St. Louis Car Co. for the Union Pacific in 1959. It was originally an eight-seat cafe with a 24-seat diner and 16-seat lounge.
-- Zurich Dining Carriage (#800301) was delivered by American Car and Foundry to Union Pacific in 1949 and was originally designed for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. It was built as a 24-seat diner with 29-seat lounge.
About the restoration
The cars were purchased in 1988 and sent to either Northern Rail Car Co. or Kasten Railcar Services, Inc., for mechanical reconstruction where they were outfitted with new air-conditioning and heating systems, electrical and plumbing systems, and additional safety features. Next, they were shipped to Panama City, Florida, for interior reconstruction. Total cost of the restoration project was approximately $15 million.