Thursday, October 13, 2011

Private Railway Cars for the Rich!

Recently my employers purchased tickets for a journey on the world-famous "Orient Express" from Paris to Istanbul - and we're all thrilled of course to get rid of them for awhile. But did you know that some rich people have their own private railway cars?

If you have around a million dollars to spare you can purchase a private railway coach (also called a Private Varnish) that includes a sitting parlor, a full kitchen, a dining room, bedrooms (called Staterooms on a train or ship), an observation platform on the back of the train, and even bunk-beds for servants - someone like me.

The luxury of a Private Varnish is limited only by the imagination. You want a baby-grand piano in the sitting parlor? Tiffany stemware in the bar? Fine Italian Pratesi sheets in the staterooms? Whatever you wish.

In addition to the interior design and the purchase price of the car itself, it'll cost you another $15,000 - $20,000 a year for storage, insurance, and maintaining the car to Amtrak standards. And then, it costs anywhere from $500 to $1,500 to have it pulled from storage and added to the make-up of a scheduled train or locomotive.

As of this writing (2011) Amtrak charges about $2.10 per mile to pull a private coach. That would be roughly $6,000 just for mileage from New York to Los Angeles. But double that amount if you want to get back home, right? Then, there are other charges such as over-night parking on Amtrak property, septic services, coach washing and cleaning, crew charges, and so on.

While having your own private varnish is a huge status symbol of course, you don't actually have to own one to enjoy the luxury and leisure of  private-car travel. There are companies out there that will rent private cars for family reunions, business meetings, and for eager politicians going on the stump, trying to recreate Lincoln's and FDR's famous cross country "whistle stops", giving speeches from the observation platform at the back of the train. These rentals can cost you an easy ten-thousand a day, and up.

Having said all that about owning a private coach and attaching it to a scheduled train - there's always one step above in the world of the rich. Get this: there are some rich people in this world (a few at best) who own not only a private car but also their own Locomotive. Which just blows me away.

Mercifully, my employers do not have their own private coach, and thank God! I would HATE being trapped with them for days on end in such close quarters. I'm sure you understand.

Thanks for dropping by this evening,


  1. Hi Andrew-

    I'm really glad to see you posted today as I've been looking forward to it all week (this blog is one of my favorites!). As always, great information on the lifestyles of the rich and richer (lol). Just a question, does this Mrs. ever visit couture shows and fashion shows like NY fashion week and Paris fashion week? I always wonder this when I read your posts about her.

  2. I was so glad to you posted today ! It always brightens my day . You give us the best information ! I also have a question about the Mrs . Just what does she do all day ? kek

  3. Hi Cicely! The answer to your question is that yes she does attend couture runway shows. It's a big thing to do with her and her girlfriends. But mostly in Milan, where she has an apartment.

    If I'm not correct, I believe Milan is third on the list for Fashion Week -- after New York and London. Paris is fourth.

    Thanks for suggesting a topic for a future essay!


  4. Hello KEK! The Mrs stays busy all day in her office organizing fund-raising and charity events, which takes an enormous amount of time and effort.

    When she's not doing that, she's off to the beauty salon, or lunch with friends -- but more importantly, a shopping spree at Neimans! Ha!

    Thanks for asking.


  5. Very well Andrew, you have twisted my arm to post the following comment that, hopefully, your readers will enjoy:

    This recent posting hit especially close to home as I have been privileged to experience both the scenarios you mention. First and foremost, in 1985, I was designing European rail packages for American travel agencies to sell to their customers. While attending the ASTA convention in Rome that year, I was invited by the Venice Simplon Orient Express to travel from Venice, Italy to London, England which OF COURSE I accepted to do. It was in November and I enjoyed the first class accommodation, the piano bar in the evening, and having afternoon tea in Agatha Christie’s car enroute from the coast to London. This was before the Chunnel thus we took the train to the coast, boarded a ferry, and resumed the Express into the city for an evening arrival. To this date, I cannot remember enjoying finer cuisine than what I experienced onboard that train. (sigh)

    BUT my railroad experience doesn’t end there…

    Also during the 80s, I had a friend out of Indianapolis who owned his own car that once served the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. He would often rent it out to celebrities who would attach it to the rear of an Amtrak “string” and ride it through the country. On one such occasion, I was privileged to ride it from Indianapolis to Chicago and on up into Grand Rapids, Michigan. We would sit out on the rear vestibule sipping drinks handed us from the porter and watch the countryside whizz by. It was heaven. I’m not sure if he still rents it out or not. His name is David McClure, an attorney in Indianapolis, and the car is #500 – the Indianapolis.

    But wait! There’s more!

    About 25 years ago, my father came into an inheritance and sold off his business. With the receipts, he purchased a short line railway running north and south located approximately 30 miles east of Indianapolis. He and my mother formed the “Carthage, Knightstown, and Shirley Railroad” (CKS) and they have been running a full string of passenger cars on the five-mile line between Knightstown and Carthage, Indiana every year between May and October. During this time, I also became certified as a diesel locomotive engineer in order to assist with various “runs” when my father was unable to run them himself. When not running the engine, I would often serve as conductor and brakeman or assist with guest relations in the depot. As evidence of this unique hobby, I have attached a photo of me during my engineering days for your entertainment.

    Whew! In summary, I loved your recent post as it brought back many a fond memory. Also, I am that much closer to “dipping my toe into the domestic service pool.” Indicative of most “Type A” personalities, patience is not one of my virtues thus I am quite eager to begin this new career. Your blog is most cherished by me and I thank you for sharing the myriad of experiences with us all.

    I sincerely hope all is well with you and I eagerly await your next news. Cheers!


  6. To my readers:

    The above comment was originally sent to me in an email. And I did indeed beg Lynn to post it here in a comment, to share it with you!

    Her life experience directly relates to this post about Private Railway Cars, and to the previous post about the Orient Express train!

    Lynn has been reading and commenting for quite a while, and this aspect of her life is absolutely delightful! What an amazing coincidence!

    Hope you enjoy!



  7. Hi Andrew. I've been reading for a while but never commented. But this particular post really pulled my strings. Just wanted to say thank you for getting Lynn to post her experiences in life. I'm an accountant, sitting in an office all day. But since I was a little girl I've had dreams about being a railroad engineer. LOL! (My brothers had the most beautiful train sets, and I was hooked.) So congratulations to her for such a fulfilling and varied life.


  8. I agree with Maggie! Thanks for getting Lynn to share with us. I'd die to see the Orient Express, much less ride on it! LSM

  9. Does Lynn have a blog?

  10. Thanks so much for all the comments tonight about Lynn's railway adventures!

    To my knowledge, she does not have a blog at this time. But maybe she should! She's a good writer, and has lots to share. Don't you think?


  11. Thanks for making Lynn share with us Andrew. She does have a lot to offer, like you said. We love your blog and check in all the time. In fact, as we read, we're having a few gin martinis tonight, like you. lol! Love hearing about how rich people live! Hope you keep it up.