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Riding the rails in style ... aboard a private car.

Riding the rails in style . . . aboard a private car Like rolling mansions, private rail cars let you travel in stylish exclusively on package tours for individual trevelers or for groups. generally, the cars are linked to the back of a regularly scheduled train (Amtrak or stone-owned Alaska trains) that can take you anywhere they go.

Some of the cars--ranging from domes to diners--date from the 1920s and '30s, railroading's heyday. Most have retained period decor, though a few have been remodelled in contemporary fashion.

If you choose this method of travel, there are a few things to consider. Private car fares are more expensive than Amtrak's. And riding in a private can be be confirming: on most Western routes, you must stay in your car because the floor level of most vintage stock is lower than Amtrak's, preventing passage between cars.

Eight major operators

Finlay Fun Time Tours, (213) 877-7759. This outfit runs five routes a year, using a dining car, an observation car, and five sleeping cars remodeled so each compartment has its own bath. Next trip is a Mexico tour running round-trip between L.A. and the Yucatan (no date set at our press time)> $3,698 per person double occupany includes 15 nights on train, hotels, meals, and transfers.

Gray Line of alaska/Westours, (206) 281-3535 or (800) 544-2206. This company runs a totally remodeled 1950s dome car (no sleeping cars), the McKinley Explorer, mid-May through September. Bench-style seats are set in booths. A first-class chef prepares Alaskan specialties. Trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks costs $175 each way> a Denali National Park package, with overnight park lodging, starts at $239.

Key Tours, (800) 327-7776, and Rail Ventures, (415) 763-1337, offer the most luxurious (and expensive) trips. Four cars run throughout the U.S. on tours or on your own custom schedule. Cars are from the 1920s> interiors include mahogany paneling, silk shades, Hepplewhite chairs.

You can charter a car anywhere Amtrak goes for roughly $3,800 per day (lodging, meals, and transportation to and from train included> cars hold 5 to 18 passengers) or join Key Tours' five-day one-way rail trip from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale ($2,195 to $3,195 per person), departing March 10.

At our press time, Rail Ventures is expecting to start the Pacific Overland Express weekly between Seattle and Chicago, June 5 to September 30, with cars pulled by Amtrak's Empire Builder. Choose an overniht from Seattle to Glacier park ($495) or a three-day Chicago run ($1,250), both with meals. To reserve, call (800) 677-4233.

Princess Railtours, (800) 835-8907. In Alaska, Princess Railtours runs modernized glass-domed Pullman cars daily in summer between Anchorage and Fairbanks ($159 one war)> a two-day Denali National Park package begin at $279. Meals are outstanding, but cost extra.

Railflite, (801) 583-4544. Two routes are available, with leased equipment including renovated 1950s California Zephyr dome cars, 1920s Rio Grande rear observation cars, and (for overnights) a restored 19-passenger sleeper. Runs are now through March 31, June 15 through September 15.

Between Denver and Oakland, one-way fare ($599) includes one night in San Francisco (or Denver), transfers, meals, beverages. Between L.A. and Salt Lake City ($479), fare includes overnight in Pullman sleeper, meals, beverages, return by air.

Sentimental Rail Journeys, (714) 2402101. This operator packages 24 Western trips per year on various cars. Prices include hotel. Each trip offers several boarding locations. Choices range from a one-day Los Angeles-San Diego round trip ($95) to a four-day San Francisco weekend by rail from Los Angeles ($625).

With these one-way rail trips, you sleep on board some nights: a 10-day Canadian Rockies trip from Los Angeles to Calgary ($2,275) including VIA Rail to Jasper and Banff> and a 7-day trip between L.A. and New Orleans ($1,775), including plantation tours.

Slotsy Tours, (800) 336-2844. This company runs charters throughout the U.S. and Canada, operating two 1950s Union Pacific dome dining cars appointed with brass, oak paneling, and etched glass, and some leased cars. Trips from Los Angeles to San Francisco begin the first Friday of each month--$200 one way, $365 round trip including on-board meals. An eight-day Colorado Rockies tour runs L.A. to Denver (from $2,100) departing June 22.
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Article Type:Directory
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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