Dome cars, lounges, observation and sleeper cars, many painted in the livery of their former railroads, gathered at the Rensselaer rail station Wednesday, preparing for a multi-day journey that will wind through the Adirondacks, the Southern Tier, the Berkshires and Green Mountains.
They’ll end up in Burlington, Vt., for the 40th annual convention of the American Association of Private Rail Car Owners.
Before then, the owners of these cars, the oldest of which dates from 1911, will see a considerable amount of the Northeast. Hauled by two Amtrak locomotives, they’ll travel to Utica and then to Thendara, back to Utica and onto Geneva, then head east to Springfield, Mass., and Rutland before arriving at Burlington.
The owners, rail enthusiasts all, can talk about the history of their individual cars. They’ve often spent years restoring them. Former association executive director Borden Black has just acquired a car from Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, which has ceased operation.
Dick Johnston of Phoenix travels in a dome car built in 1955 by The Budd Company, once a major U.S. railcar manufacturer, and used on the Empire Builder, which runs between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest.
Amtrak took over the route, and the equipment, in May 1971, and used it until it was replaced by newly manufactured bilevel Superliners in the late 1970s.
Coordinating a trip like this can be a challenge. Taylor Johnson, the association’s vice president of transportation, had planned a stop in Saratoga Springs and a trip via Whitehall to Rutland. But when the Canadian Pacific balked at hosting the train, Vermont rail officials and the Finger Lakes Railway stepped up with an alternate routing.
The private rail car owners support the continued operation of Amtrak, and Johnson said their train “is a reflection of American history.” The owners often make their cars available to passengers looking for a unique travel experience.
Some of the cars have private bedrooms, dining rooms and kitchens, as well as showers and flat-screen TVs.
The organization hopes to draw attention to plans by New York state to remove the tracks from Thendara north to Lake Placid, a move it opposes.
Robert Donnelly, the association president, said the private rail cars often are owned by groups of shareholders.
Among the cars participating in this year’s convention is the Georgia 300, a platform observation car that once operated on the Crescent Limited between New York and New Orleans.
The car has been used by Jimmy Carter, George H.W. and George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and by Kerry/Edwards campaign, said another association member, LeAnne Feagin. The Obamas boarded it in Philadelphia, picking up Joe Biden and his wife in Delaware, to travel to the 2009 inauguration.