Things You Should Know

While a trip aboard a private rail car seems to the passenger to be a magic carpet ride, a great deal of hard work and advance planning goes into making the magic possible. Few aspects of the transportation industry are as specialized and unique as private car travel.

When you have reviewed the following information about chartering a private car, please fill in the AAPRCO Charter Information Request.  While your Information Request will be emailed to all of the AAPRCO Members who charter their private cars, expect a response from only those charter operators who feel they can best fit your desires.

The right mix of car, route, service and of course, passengers, create a lifelong memory for all involved. Many call it a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience, but many know better. After one dose of this kind of magic, few hesitate to enjoy the adventure again.

Generally speaking, private cars can easily go anywhere Amtrak goes. There are some ideas for unique or popular destinations located here. As a general rule, cars can be added to or removed from trains only at major stations where schedules allow time and/or physical arrangements exist. They can be parked at many major terminals during stopovers. Montreal and Toronto can be reached from New York on Amtrak day trains. Other destinations in Canada can often be accommodated, but will require operating a Via Rail Canada special train dedicated to your use. These are things that will be researched by a charter operator, and they will be a part of the final agreement for operation and cost.

It may sometimes seem frustrating to the first-time client at the length of time that it takes to get an answer to what seems to be a simple request for a price quote. Private car operators must work with and get pricing and approval from a number of parties to arrive at a price and a schedule.

After determining the availability and pricing of the car or cars of your choosing, the operator must then determine if Amtrak is able to accommodate the addition of these cars to its trains on the dates desired. This may be a simple matter of contacting Amtrak’s System Special Movements Bureau. However, in the case of several trains that run near their full length at all times, Amtrak may have to contact local operations personnel in the affected cities to determine the demand on a particular train, and thus its expected length on the date or dates of your proposed trip.

Travel by private rail car is not inexpensive, but often compares favorably with the cost of cruising by ship. How much does it cost? This is probably one of the most common questions that charter operators receive. Because each trip is unique, it’s not easy to come up with a “standard” cost. Typical pricing for a trip is along the lines of a high-end cruise. On average, the all-inclusive costs typically can run between $2,500 and $7,000 or more per car per day. But remember, a rail car may accommodate 6, 8, 10, 20 people or more. Broadly speaking the factors that influence cost include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Crew Costs: Labor and expenses related to the crew of the private car.
  • Amtrak/VIA costs: Mileage, switching, parking and servicing charges assessed by the carrier to the car owner.
  • Positioning Costs: Costs to get the car from where it is based to where your trip will start; costs to get the car from where your trip ends back to where it is based.
  • Food and Beverage Costs: Catering and costs for raw food and beverages consumed.

Depending on how each owner operates their car, their charges could be either a flat fee or priced individually. In many cases, where the operator runs over a route with some frequency, these charges are usually known in advance. In cases that involve more than one car or multiple routes, it may take a number of days to get pricing and availability from all parties. Other factors that effect cost include special menu selections, special requests and larger groups of passengers. For example, the cost structure for taking 60 people from Los Angeles to Oakland on two cars is different than taking two or three couples on a business car from Los Angeles to Oakland. Again since each trip is unique your charter operator should be able to give you some more specific guidelines once they get an idea of your planned itinerary, number of guests, and any special services desired, etc.

Most private car operators require a non-returnable deposit to confirm a movement. This is to reserve the rail car and cover expenses incurred by the owner and operator to put everything in motion. Amtrak and the freight railroads work strictly on a cash basis, with services being paid for well in advance. For this reason, car operators normally require final payment 30 days or more in advance of a trip.