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?