MADELEINE BRAND, host:
You can spend a hundred bucks on gas for your road trip or take the train. But you might spend more than a hundred bucks, especially if you want to ride in style. The ultra-luxury train has sofas, fireplaces and marble sinks. The cost? A mere $40,000. Ann Thompson of member station WYXU in Cincinnati reports.
ANN THOMPSON reporting:
In the early 1970s, as railroads were getting out of the passenger business, they sold off their cars relatively cheaply. About 200 of these luxury cars have been retro-fitted to hook up to the back of Amtrak trains. Rail owners often lease the luxury cars to help cover their high upkeep costs. A number of companies rent those cars for high-end rail travel, and they take pampering to a new level. As private chefs use mixers to stir up home-made treats...
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THOMPSON: ...diners sit at linen-covered tables and use fine china to eat. DeWitt Chapple's private car was originally owned by E.F. Hutton; yes, that EF Hutton. It has a dining room for 10, a lounge, four bedrooms, a bathtub, shower, crew quarters, and of course a private chef.
Mr. DeWITT CHAPPLE (Private Rail Car Owner): Well, you have to have an appreciation for luxury and good food, scenery. It is not a means of going from Point A to Point B. People call it a land cruise.
THOMPSON: Chapple, who started the American Association of Private Car Owners, has leased his car to Michael Jackson and other celebrities. Other luxury-rail fans include Barry Manilow and Bill Gates.
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THOMPSON: Today Donna Cochran(ph) is riding the rails in luxury from Cincinnati to northern Michigan.
Ms. DONNA COCHRAN (Passenger): My husband is a train lover and I'm not really a train lover. Amtrak wasn't really my cup of tea because it didn't have all the amenities, and we don't really have an Orient Express in Florida. So he decided to compromise and find a form of train travel that I would love.
THOMPSON: The Cochrans flew to Cincinnati, where the Cincinnati Railway Company stores four luxury cars. The company's Brian Collins says private railroaders have a lot of influence and have lobbied lawmakers on Amtrak's behalf to help secure railroad funding. But he concedes that the hook-up with Amtrak cars means extra work for some Amtrak employees who may think it amounts to little more than rich guys playing railroad.
Mr. BRIAN COLLINS (Cincinnati Railway Company): Is there some truth to it in their minds? Maybe. But we never hear that from the people that realize what it is we're bringing to the table.
THOMPSON: A short trip on one of these trains can cost more than $10,000, but movie produce Ted Hutton paid only $1,000. He rented one room on a sleeper train that has 21 beds and travels with another car for eating and lounging. On this trip, he's treated to the same good food and fine china as people who rent an entire car.
Mr. TED HUTTON (Movie Producer): It's like going back to when trains were really good in this country, and it's a journey back in time. It's a combination of luxury plus memory.
BRAND: Whether renting an entire car or just a room in one, those who travel by luxury rail say it can make first class plane accommodations look shabby by comparison. For NPR News, I'm Ann Thompson in Cincinnati.
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