40th Annual AAPRCO Convention


The time has finally arrived!

On 09/14/2017 the AAPRCO annual convention begins with its special train, The Green Mountain Flyer, departing from Rensselaer, NY.  This year’s train has 18 cars and will be touring central NY with the final destination of Burlington, VT.

We will be departing Rensselaer, NY at 0730 (7:30AM) and head west to Schenectady, NY and then onto Utica, NY.  At Utica the train will move onto the Adirondack Scenic Railroad and travel to Thendara, NY.  The train will turn at Thendara and after a short layover will return to Utica where it will tie up for the night.

On 09/15/2017 we will be departing Utica at 0400 (4:00AM) to Schenectady, NY onto the Norfolk Southern Line and heads towards Binghamton, NY on the former D&H track.  After Binghamton we will go to Corning, NY and finally to Geneva, NY where will stop for the night.

On 09/16/2017 will be a “mini-excursion” with the entire train going to Solvay, NY and back to Geneva on the Finger Lakes Railway (known for their NYC themed locomotives).

On 09/17/2017 we depart Geneva at 0400 (4:00AM) and retrace our route back through Corning, Binghamton, Schenectady, and Rensselaer.  There is a crew change at Rensselaer and the train will head to Springfield, MA.  We move onto the Vermont Rail System at Bellows Falls, VT and finally to Rutland, VT for the night.

On 09/18/2017 is a short travel day starting at 0900 (9:00AM) out of Rutland to our final destination of Burlington, VT.

There are three days of convention activities and then the train will depart Burlington on 09/22/2017 0230 (2:30AM) back to Rensselaer arriving late in the evening.

As always, if you are out photographing or viewing the train please stay safe and don’t trespass.

I also want to give a special thank you to the Amtrak staff at Rensselaer.  They were all exceptionally friendly and helpful in getting our train ready.  I was thinking maybe there was something in the water that makes them so happy but on second thought I’m sure it’s just having all these dome cars and heavy weights in their yard.

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2017 Mid-Year Meeting Now Open

The 2017 AAPRCO Mid-Year Meeting registration is open.

Register today and make plans to join us at this year’s Mid-Year Membership and Board of Directors Meeting in Kansas City, Missouri.



The conference hotel is the Westin Kansas City at Crowne Center, 1 East Pershing Road, Kansas City, Missouri.  The AAPRCO room rate is $149 per night.  You must be an AAPRCO member to attend the meeting and get any AAPRCO benefits.


Don’t forget the best part about an AAPRCO convention – the convention special train.

This year’s Mid-Year Meeting special train is the Kansas City Rocket.  The train will originate at Chicago Union Station on Thursday May 18, 2017 and will depart at 5:00 AM.   It will be a 570 mile journey to Kansas City that day.  The membership meeting will be held on May 19th and the Board of Director’s meeting will be held on May 20th.  The cars will depart on the 21st.



2017 Convention Keynote Speaker Announced


The 40th Annual Convention Keynote Speaker will be the President and CEO of Amtrak, Wick Moorman!

Wick Moorman, President & CEO of Amtrak

This very special guest will be exclusively speaking to AAPRCO members and convention goers at the 2017 AAPRCO Convention.

He will be speaking on Tuesday September 19, 2017 at the Hilton Burlington, Burlington Vermont.

You must be an AAPRCO member to register for the convention.   The dues for an associate member is only $90.

Don’t forget there be a convention special train, The Green Mountain Flyer will several great stops and rare mileage.   Don’t miss out!

2017 AAPRCO Convention Update

The Hilton Burlington will host the 2017 AAPRCO Convention from September 18th – 22nd.

Hilton Burlington
60 Battery Street
Burlington, Vermont 05401

As usual, the Convention Committee has selected a great venue for the convention.  The Hilton Burlington sits near beautiful Burlington Bay

It is recommended that if you plan to stay in the convention hotel to make reservations in advance as the fall season in Vermont is a tourist season and it could sell out.

Outside view of the Hilton Burlington.

Lobby of the Hilton Burlington.


Outdoor amenity at the Hilton Burlington with a view of Burlington Bay.


Room with a view!



See you at the Convention!





Destination Spotlight: Seattle, Washington

One of the things I am going to do with this blog is some brief overviews of destinations you can visit by private rail car and what types of tourist and recreational activities that are available.  I’m calling it Destination Spotlight.  The theme of the destinations is certainly railroad oriented but I will try to mention some of the non-railroad highlights at a location.

On this first installment of the Destination Spotlight is an easy one for me, because I live here, in Seattle WA.

Rain City, Emerald Gateway, and the Pacific Northwest (PNW) are names synonymous with Seattle.  When many people think of Seattle they often associate it with its famous (or maybe infamous?) wet weather, Boeing, Microsoft, Pike Place Market, and the Space Needle.  What many don’t associate Seattle with is that through and through, it’s a railroad town.  At one point the city streets in the now more commercialized SODO District (South of Downtown) was an epicenter of railroad operations in the pacific northwest.  There were so many tracks in laid the city streets that crossing one road you would encounter as many as 4 or 5 different railroads.  All parallel and fighting for customers on the same block.  Seattle even boasted two train stations literally next door to each other.  The King Street Station housed the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads while the other hosted the Oregon and Washington Navigation Company (Union Pacific) and the Milwaukee Road.  Both stations remarkably still stand.  They both have even been restored showcasing most of their stunning original architecture.  King Street Station is still in operation and is the base of operations for Amtrak’s Cascades service, The Empire Builder, The Coast Starlight, and Sounder Commuter Rail (Sound Transit) trains.  Union Station remains mostly intact and is the headquarters of Sound Transit.  The lower track level was turned into a bus/light rail station while the Great Hall of Union Station was fully restored and is available to rent for events.


Union Station Great Hall – Joe Mabel Photo

King Street Station

King Street Station Waiting Room – Zheng Zhou Photo

It’s hard to put into terms how hideous King Street was before it’s restoration/renovation was.  In 1960s the hand carved coffered ceiling of the waiting room, balcony, and second level arcade was covered by an awful drop ceiling.  The marble was removed from the columns and the ornamental plaster was sheared off around the drop ceiling.  For years the upper floors were used as office space by the freight railroads and lastly as a division office for the BNSF Railway which sold the station to the City of Seattle for $10 in 2008.  After $47 million was spent on restoration and upgrades the project was completed and King Street Station was rededicated on April 24, 2013.

While the train stations themselves are now a pleasing destination for rail travelers, King Street itself is ideally placed in downtown.   You walk out the main doors of the station and you are greeted by the sight of Century Link Field, home of the NFL football team the Seahawks.  Right next door is Safeco Field, home of the MLB baseball team the Mariners.  You are also nearly in the center of the hotel, bar, restaurant and International district.  If you like a wide variety of great foods, you won’t have to go far to find a welcoming place to suit your needs.  About one mile away is the Pike Place Fish Market and Seattle Waterfront.  The Pike Place Fish Market is well known for the tossing of large fish.  I know this may sound ridiculous but the employees put on fairly entertaining, and free, show.

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market

The waterfront hosts a pleasant view of Puget Sound.  You can further enjoy this view by taking a harbor dinner cruise or a spin on the Seattle Great Wheel.  Also found on the waterfront is the Seattle Aquarium.  Let’s not forget BNSF’s Scenic Subdivision double track mainline also passes by.

A little further north is the Space Needle and the famous monorail to nowhere.  The 1.4-mile line was built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.  Many attempts were made to extend the line and to put it into use as a viable public transportation service but nothing ever came to fruition.  You can still ride the monorail complete with its retro stainless steel skirts and large windows for a one-way fare of $2.25.


Photo:  Seattlemonorail.com

While taking an excursion on a private passenger car is an experience all by itself, your destination and intermediate stops are part of that adventure.  Seattle, despite its notoriously gloomy winter weather, is the complete opposite in the spring and summer that are full of dry, warm, and cloudless blue-sky days.  This overview only scratches the surface of what you can do in Seattle.  With two long distance Amtrak trains beginning or ending their journeys makes it a superb rail destination city.

City of Spokane – 2016 Convention Special

AAPRCO has completed running its special train running between Denver, CO to Spokane, WA for the annual convention.  I was able to join the train on September 14th when the train laid over in Missoula, MT.  It was my first venture on a AAPRCO special and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience.  I had accommodations on the LA Rail car Pacific Sands which was paired with the Tioga Pass, which is also part of the LA Rail group.

The Pacific Sands at Missoula, MT
The Pacific Sands at Missoula, MT.
The Tioga Pass at Missoula, MT.
The Tioga Pass with the Burrard at Missoula, MT.

On Sunday evening, September 15th, I managed to capture a rather stunning photo of the sunset that silhouetted part of the 21 car train in the Montana Rail Link Missoula Yard.

The sun sets on the AAPRCO 2016 Convention Special: City of Spokane.
The sun sets on the AAPRCO 2016 Convention Special: City of Spokane.  The Wisconsin is the car in the foreground.

On September 19th the train departed the Missoula yard bound for Spokane with a scheduled stop in Sandpoint, ID.  One of the highlights of this segment is when the train crossed over Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced pond-er-ray) on the 4,769 foot trestle on the BNSF.

2016 AAPRCO City of Spokane crosses lake Pend Oreille. Jesse Tinsley photo.
2016 AAPRCO City of Spokane crosses Lake Pend Oreille.  Jesse Tinsley photo.

During this segment I was also able to take a few minutes and speak with the Pacific Sands owner, Doug Spinn, and he gave me a little insight about car ownership and operations.   I was curious about LA Rail and he explained that it was four car owners with a total of five cars that have combined their resources to operate the cars more efficiently.  The marketing multiplier has been very successful for them.

I asked Doug how long had been a car owner and he answered that he had bought the Pacific Sands in 2003 and was able to start running it in 2004.  The car itself was Amtrak approved when made the purchased, but it needed improvements and some upgrades.  He primarily worked on the car himself and said that he had to keep his focus on one small part at a time and not be overwhelmed by the overall project.

I next asked what his favorite part of being a car owner was.  “It’s a love-hate relationship sometimes.  When you’re riding the car you don’t want to be anywhere else and when you’re parked working on a project, you wonder what you’re doing sometimes.  The best part is meeting the people and have them ride the car.  When you know that you made their vacation or trip memorable, it’s a great feeling.”

Naturally, I then asked what he least favorite part was.  He answered, “Mechanical failures can be very stressful.  You try to get everything right for a trip but Murphy’s Law will still pop-up.  You just have to work through it.”

I have to agree with Doug.  The people have been a great part of this trip.  I joined the train as a last minute arrangement and was brought into a car of total strangers.  However, we are all there for the same thing and I found the other passengers and staff to be exceptionally friendly and welcoming.  The City of Spokane ends its journey but the people will continue and come back for another one.  The AAPRCO convention activities will fill up the rest of the week before the cars return to their home terminals or travel to their next destination.

While the train was in Spokane it was unfortunately not be open to the public for tours or rides.  Membership with AAPRCO and and convention registration are required in order to ride on the special and attend the car parties during the convention.

I would also like to thank all the car owners for their hospitality during the car parties and the staff that supported this train.  It was an amazing experience and I’m looking forward to the next one.

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A Golden Opportunity

I received an email today about travel by private rail car from the nice people at The Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.  It was completely out of the blue but is precisely what I hoping to find.  They have been offering private rail charters for a while  but recently added a new service.  At first, these were common styled trips that cost quite a bit per person but were all inclusive and totally worth the expense.  The trouble with this kind of travel is convincing people to take the plunge and spend the money.  What these folks are tying is low cost day trips for segments of their longer trips.  For example, if a car was going from Los Angeles, CA to Portland, OR on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight you could book a bedroom for the entire trip of two days with one night.  This is a great getaway that includes a private bedroom, all meals, liquor, and snacks.  However, if you are finding such a cost not affordable, or unsure if it’s worth it, space has been made available on a lounge car for shorter day time segments.  Instead of a multi-day commitment you can, for example, take a ride from Los Angeles, CA to Oakland, CA and have lunch and dinner on the train for a couple of hundred dollars per person.

I spoke with Tim Tennant, the President and CEO of the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, that is sponsoring the excursion.  He explained that they were trying to attract new guests that hadn’t tried this kind of travel before and were hesitant to make such a large purchase without some kind of first hand account.  I personally think this is brilliant and is exactly what anyone should do if they have any doubts about private rail car travel.  Tim said that the single most used word to describe these trips is, “Wow.”

On this excursion in particular, travel will be on the former Milwaukee Road business car Montana and the former Santa Fe coach Acoma (pronounced Ack-i-ma).  Bedroom accommodations will be on the Montana and the day trippers will be on the Acoma.  The cars are actually making a large circle around the country starting and ending in Los Angeles but are going through Portland, OR, Chicago IL, and back to Los Angeles.

There are lots of opportunities to ride and at the time of writing this there is still space available for the September trip for the day time segments.  If you are interested all the details can be found here (The link is a PDF),

The proceeds of this excursion go to the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad for the support of their museum and operations.

The Santa Fe Palm Leaf, Acoma, and MILW Montana.
From leading car to back:  Former Santa Fe Palm Leaf and Acoma, trailed by the Milwaukee Road Montana.    Robert Morris Photo.
Interior of the Santa Fe Acoma
Interior of the former Santa Fe Acoma.
Interior of the former Santa Fe Acoma with passengers Tim & Judy Tennant.
Interior of the former Santa Fe Acoma with passengers Tim & Judy Tennant.
Interior of the former Milwaukee Road Montana.
Interior of the former Milwaukee Road Montana.


The 2015 Spirit of St. Louis – Thanks to one and all!

Monday, October 5th, 2015 was the last day aboard the Spirit of St. Louis as the convention train headed home from St. Louis to Chicago.

The Spirit of St. Louis leaving West Quincy, MO heading for Chicago.

The Spirit of St. Louis passes Downers Grove, IL en route to Chicago along the former CB&Q.

The video above shows the 2015 AAPRCO Convention train, the Spirit of St. Louis arriving into Chicago.

Thanks to everyone who shared images and video from along the way. Also a thanks to everyone who made the trip possible including the host railroads, Amtrak, the AAPRCO staff, the individual private car owners and the passengers who rode the train. You all made this happen. From those of us who could not be there in person, everyone of you deserves our thanks!


Spirit of St. Louis, the road to Louisville, Kentucky


The Spirit of St. Louis, seen crossing the trestle at Salvisa on its way west toward Louisville. Photo courtesy Gage O’Dell.

Tuesday, September 29th saw the Spirit of St. Louis travel from Cincinnati, Ohio to Louisville, Kentucky. There were many brave individuals out in the rain long the way. Captions and images courtesy Gage O’Dell, who was one of them.


NS 951 crosses the RJ Corman Diamond in Shelbyville in the pouring rain with a pair of Amtrak P42DCs leading 20 passenger cars on the AAPRCO St Louis Convention Charter.

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Amtrak Phase I heritage leads NS 951, the AAPRCO St Louis Convention Charter, through the Southern Searchlights at Avenstoke.


Amtrak 156, the Phase I heritage unit, leads NS 951 through the searchlights at Salvisa.


On a gloomy and grey day, a pair of Amtrak P42DCs lead the AAPRCO St Louis Convention Charter through the tight confines of Harrodsburg.


A shot that will never be duplicated ever again. NS 951, the AAPRCO Saint Louis Convention passenger train, rolls under the Southern searchlights at Delaplain on a gloomy and rainy fall day with the Amtrak Phase I heritage unit leading.

The searchlights expiration date looms in the next couple weeks as the Rogers Gap extension project nears completion. As well as rare mileage of Amtrak power on the CNO&TP. Only once, if not just a handful of times, has Amtrak power ever led on this line, and that was back in the 1980s when they ran a test train down the Central Division for a potential passenger route that only went as far as the testing.


For the first time in well over 30 years, a pair of Amtrak GEs lead a passenger train on the Norfolk Southern Central Division as they take the AAPRCO Saint Louis Convention Charter across the Ohio River Bridge and into the state of Kentucky.