Amtrak lets railcar owners hitch a ride to its trains — for a price

Amtrak lets railcar owners hitch a ride to its trains — for a price

Looking to reroute your lifestyle? Amtrak has just the ticket. 

This month, many internet denizens learned a fun fact about the passenger-rail provider: For a small fee, the company will let railfans attach their private cars to Amtrak trains.

“[Today I learned] you can own your own private rail car & attach it to an Amtrak train,” investor Sheel Mohnot wrote in a viral tweet. “Only ~100 private cars in operation in the US, they are extremely expensive (~$300k+) + Amtrak charges ~$5/mile. But there are 100 rich train lovers out there!”

The program has existed for years, and it’s not a lack of marketing that keeps it lesser known: The prohibitive cost of acquiring a private rail car, as well as a 2018 policy change impacting private owner-run charter services, makes those who utilize their ability to attach to an Amtrak train an extremely select bunch. 

“Our membership has dropped by a third from 2018,” Tony Marchiando, a 1948 Pullman sleeper car owner and president of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, told CityLab in 2019.

amtrak private railcar
Chuck Jensen, right, demonstrates the lower berth sleeping bed of his train car with crew member Rudy Garbely, left, while on a trip from New York to Washington, D.C., on May 4, 2011. Jensen owns his own 1923 Pullman sleeper passenger car that he uses to cater events and charters.
The Washington Post via Getty Images
Very few utilize the program due to cost restraints.
Very few utilize the program due to cost restraints.
AFP via Getty Images

Despite the numerous obstacles to making the grade for this mobile club, Amtrak continues to publicly advertise it on its website. 

“Amtrak provides the ability for rail/train car owners to have their privately-owned rail/train cars attached to our trains between specified locations to see North America in an extraordinary way,” begins a page on the company’s website explaining specifics for joining the well-wheeled club.

For collectors and train aficionados who do make it work, the experience is wildly rewarding. 

“It’s almost like riding in a time capsule,” Bob Lowe described to CityLab of hitching his cars — he owns a Salisbury Beach sleeper and a Colonial Crafts — to one of Amtrak’s. “There’s people who want to do that and watch the U.S. go by, and that’s why I do it.” 

Not looking to sink hundreds of thousands into being your own personal passenger service? Perhaps considering chartering a private Amtrak train.

“We can arrange a charter train for any kind of group, including corporate meetings, incentive trips, sports teams or rail fan excursions,” the company advertises online.