The One That Got Away… 39971

by Bob Brewster

Sleeping car passengers on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight are familiar with the Pacific Parlour Car, a first class lounge car originally built for the famed Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in 1956. Of the six lounge cars built, Amtrak still rosters 5 for the Starlight, which is an added attraction for that 36-hour Los Angeles – Seattle coastal route. The car remains a popular enticement to ride the train and special activities further enhance the experience. Swivel parlor chairs complement the lounge-style and table seating offerings. The car is a respite from the confines of tiny roomettes and bedrooms and the overhead dome glass brings the outdoors inside.

However, one of those original lounge cars (39971) was sold many years ago, and it now sits forlorn in a used rail car mecca in Madison, Illinois, awaiting an uncertain future, along with its companion coaches and diners. Originally tagged the Santa Fe Hi-Levels, the bi-level concept led to today’s Amtrak Superliner fleet, the more efficient mainstay of most long distance trains, particularly in the west.

Santa Fe parlor car 39971

Former Pacific Parlour Car 39971 from the Santa Fe Railway. Could this become a Winter Park parlor car?

Though 60+ years old, the Budd Company’s stainless steel construction techniques make them a timeless rail vehicle. The Hi-Level coaches even have the potential to be starter vehicles for other rail services in Colorado – at a far more affordable price than brand new equipment, despite extensive rehab costs. Front Range Rail? NW Rail?

Now, the audacious proposal: Might the 39971 become a first class parlour car for the newly minted Winter Park Express? This would most certainly require private sector participation, likely in exchange for naming rights and other promotional benefits. Perhaps “Google Parlour Car,” “Silver Bullet Parlour Car,” “Winter Park Parlour Car,” “Mary Jane Parlor Car”……..

The car would require extensive mechanical upgrades and interior restoration, requiring likely at least 1/2 to $1million. Would it pay for itself over several years? Financially, probably not. But from a marketing standpoint? Maybe. But the car would offer an upscale experience and amenities such as meals, snacks, beverages and a more sociable and scenic atmosphere would make it an attractive option for special celebrations and events. The critical concern is that it contributes to Amtrak’s bottom line in operating the WPE.

For more background, Google Gateway railcar, Santa Fe Hi-Levels, and Hi-Level 39971.

ColoRail is aware that food and beverage offerings were a major request during the WPE’s first year of operation, and it is hoped that such services will be a part of the 2nd season. But what about an enhanced F&B, especially for those who patronize the WPE for its scenic attraction rather than its recreational purpose?

ColoRail is not shy about throwing out wild proposals, such as in ColoRail Passenger Issue #76 (see ColoRail.org) where it was suggested that Amtrak would be a likely operator of a renewed Ski Train. We know how that wild proposal went.

ColoRail is under no illusions that it would be an easy or even practical task to bring 39971 back to life, but could it do for the Winter Park Express what its sister parlour cars are still doing for the Coast Starlight? Would it make the journey to Winter Park just that much more of a special experience?

Bustang gallops from the gate

by Bob Brewster

CDOT Bustang bus

CDOT’s Bustang bus

Congratulations to CDOT’s Transit and Rail Division for its 50% Bustang ridership increase from fiscal year #1 to #2! Transit and Rail leaders are no strangers to ColoRail – they’ve made numerous presentations at our meetings – and ColoRail values their enthusiasm in expanding Bustang routes statewide, filling a void that has existed for far too many years. For example, a 40-year span between the last Colorado Motorway bus that left Ft. Collins for Denver and the first Bustang bus to do the same!

The three routes connect Ft. Collins, Colorado Springs, and Glenwood Springs with Denver Union Station, with some intermediate stops. Service to Broncos games commenced last season and the North and South routes have joined the West route with weekend service. Visit www.ridebustang.com for full fares, schedules and route details.

Naturally, ColoRail has a bus wish list as well as a train wish list. And we have it on good authority that the Bustang team concurs with many of the items on it! While ColoRail views some Bustang routes as paving the way and creating a market for future rail services, many are warranted as standalone routes serving particular markets. Bustang routes could also extend the reach of rail routes where tracks don’t go.

ColoRail recommends that Bustang take over operation of Amtrak’s Thruway Bus to Raton, NM, as well as launch a new Thruway route to La Junta, via Pueblo, possibly as a precursor to the speculative “Thru cars” off Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between La Junta and Pueblo. Maybe even service to Cheyenne, connecting with the California Zephyr? Intermediate stops will bolster the demand.

Services to Alamosa, Durango, Trinidad, and Grand Junction are very worthy considerations. Our state and its residents and visitors desperately need alternatives to driving. And the need is now, not later! It is not unreasonable to suggest hourly service all day and evening along the I-25 routes, with peak hour expresses. Attractive fares would no doubt fill those buses, perhaps with some bus-on-shoulder advantages.

Please request greatly expanded funding for Bustang and rail services in Colorado from your local, state, and federal representatives. Colorado needs transportation choices and we have much catching up to do. Our booming economy deserves and demands no less!

New Rail Commission Meets in Denver

The SW Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission held its organizational meeting July 31st. Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace was elected as Chair, and the Denver Regional Council of Government’s Jacob Riger as Vice-Chair. The Commission formed two committees representing the legislatively directed mission: sustaining and improving SW Chief service in Colorado; and, facilitating the development of Front Range passenger rail. The next meeting will be announced shortly.

Three immediate objectives were adopted by the 13 member Commission. Develop draft legislation for the General Assembly by December 1, 2017; adopt a charter to guide its operations: and, prepare an application for federal funding under the TIGER Grant program (Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery) administered by the US Dept. of Transportation. The Charter will outline additional objectives once approved.

SW Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission Formed

The Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission members have been named.  The Commission will hold its first meeting at Colorado Department of Transportation headquarters July 31st from 2 until 4 pm.  CDOT is located at 4201 East Arkansas Avenue.

The members, and the interests they represent, are:

Salvatore Pace, Pueblo (D)
public rail transportation advocate

Sara Rae Thompson Cassidy, Edgewater (U)
Class I freight railroads that serve Colorado

James Martin Souby, Denver (U)
public rail transportation advocate

Peter James Rickershauser, Denver (U)
Class I freight railroads that serve Colorado

Richard Guy Klein, La Junta (D)
resident of Huerfano, Las Animas, Otero, Prowers or Pueblo counties

Jill Gaebler, Colorado Springs
Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments

Jacob Riger, AICP
Denver Regional Council of Governments,

Terry Sears, Trinidad
South Central Council of Governments

Terry Hart, Pueblo
Pueblo Area Council of Governments

Bill Van Meter, Asst. GM
Regional Transportation District

Mark Imhoff, Denver
Dept. of Transportation, ex-officio, non voting

Ray Lang, Sr. Dir., Govt. Affairs
Amtrak, ex officio, non voting