The GrandLuxe Express, Traveling in High Style, by Karl
A visit to the GrandLuxe Train
in the heart of California’s
world-famous Napa Valley wine country.
December 3, 2008
Report and Photos by Carl Morrison, Carl@TrainWeb.com
Hicks, AOE and GrandLuxe Trainmaster, walks away
believing he had just
given me his last train tour, since the bidding process had closed.
As of this writing
I do not yet know who purchased the GrandLuxe
Express Train. However,
I have heard some rumors as to who might
have put in a bid for the whole train or some of the
cars: Amtrak, VIA, and various tourist and private train
owners. When I asked how many bids they received before the
closing date, I was told, "Five or six."
I will post a new
story at TrainWeb.com when I learn the name of the purchaser(s).
If all else fails, and I have not posted the answer by the first of
2009, or if you learn of the buyer before I do, contact me at
Carl@trainweb.com, and I will give you credit for the 'scoop.'
I used the following book for my desk research for this
Before you leave this page to
go to any of the following links, please bookmark this page so you can
return to it easily.
Karl Zimmermann's name showed up when I was doing desk research for
this report. He lead tours on the GrandLuxe. One of his tour
ads (Which never took place), complete with pricing for the various
rooms, is located at:
Articles about the GrandLuxe
Sale found on the Internet, with URLs to the original articles:
When I visited Bob Hicks,
he mentioned that this was the most recent article, written for the Napa Valley Register, he said it
was 99% correct:
A grand train
buyer in American Canyon
By KERANA TODOROV Register Staff
A train with a grand history has
found a temporary home in American Canyon, near a hub that once served
passengers from Calistoga to Canada.
The GrandLuxe Express will remain in
American Canyon while it is on the market. GrandLuxe Rail Journeys LLC
of Evergreen, Colo. folded in August after running the luxury passenger
train for three years. Bob Hicks, the trainmaster, used to
travel on the train during its journeys in the United States, Canada
and Mexico. A retired train engineer with CSX Transportation, Hicks
loves trains. The GrandLuxe Express, once known as the American Orient
Express, is no exception.
“When it’s running, it’s a beautiful
train,” said Hicks, as he walked toward the 20 midnight-blue vintage
cars where passengers could relax as they watched the world go by. The train took travelers on scenic
trips to places including the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Coast,
antebellum mansions of the Deep South, and yes, wineries of the Napa
“It’s like a beached whale sitting
here,” said Hicks, 61, as he walked past more humble freight cars at
the fenced-off rail yard. The entire train is for sale: the
locomotive as well as 12 sleeper cars, three dining cars, observation
and lounge cars dating from the 1940s to the 1960s.
The GrandLuxe’s trips came to a halt
in late August, when GrandLuxe Rail Journeys ceased operations.
“(The company) ran into cash flow
difficulties and was unable to continue,” said Thomas Kim, a consultant
for GrandLuxe Rail Journeys.
The train arrived in American Canyon
in October, where the weather is favorable, according to Kim. The
company, which employed about 100 people, wants to sell the entire
train to the best bidder, he said. New York investment bankers are
coordinating the sale, he said.
“There is an active process going on
right now,” Kim said, though he declined discuss the number of bids he
The baby grand
As Hicks walked along the corridors
on the train, he pointed to the bar where passengers relaxed while they
nibbled on hors d’oeuvres, listened to the baby grand piano or lounged
on the observation decks. Up to 145 passengers could eat, sleep and
dine on board.
Everything was first class, Hicks
said proudly, including the buses chartered to transport the passengers
to visit the sights along the way.
Fares for a week-long trip from
Denver to the Bay Area ranged from $4,300 to $7,100 per person.
Among those who have seen the train
is American Canyon resident Lavern Wilson.
“I’ve never been on a train that
beautiful,” said Wilson. “I’m sure somebody will buy it.”
Neil Thompson, a Madera-based
developer with interests in American Canyon, noticed the train when it
first arrived a few weeks ago. A self-described train buff, Thompson
said he’s been receiving the American Orient Express and GrandLuxe
Express tour brochures for years.
“Rats!,” said Thompson, when told the
train is dormant.
When he first saw the train, he
wondered if it was parked there while passengers explored the Napa
Valley. But when the train remained week after week, Thompson figured
something was up.
Christopher Kyte is chairman of
Uncommon Journeys, an Oakland-based travel company that sells train
tours of the United States and Canada. He said that train travel is
appealing to many, and is more relaxing than other modes of
“Who wants to take a bus anywhere for
a long time?” he said.
But the longer the trip, the less
likely people are willing to travel by train, Kyte acknowledged. Very
few people will find the idea of taking four days to travel from the
Bay Area to Atlanta appealing, he said.
Kyte also said the market of possible
buyers for the GrandLuxe is limited.
While the effort to sell the train
continues, Hicks keeps an eye on the GrandLuxe.
He said he heads to town when he
wants a break from his menu of microwaved pasta. He has stayed on the
train but now checks into local hotels for a warm shower and a good
The train’s metal creaks at night
when the temperatures cools down. It’s quite scary, he said.
Yet Hicks is not complaining about
his stay, which could stretch a few more weeks. “Being in Napa is quite
a deal,” he said.
These articles, written in September,
give some more details
about the end of the GrandLuxe:
Wednesday, September 17, 2008 GrandLuxe to sell train cars Denver Business Journal
GrandLuxe Rail Journeys LLC said
Wednesday it will sell off the luxury train it operated until last
month as GrandLuxe Express.
The Evergreen company said it’s
retained Libra Securities LLC to sell the train, which includes 20 cars
operated as GrandLuxe Express and another 11 cars not currently in
service. The train was known as American Orient Express before 2006.
The company offered 10 different
four- to 12-day trips aboard the GrandLuxe, but shut down operations in
late August because of financial concerns.
Potential buyers can take a virtual
tour of the train cars at luxuryrailcars.com [ This is the
website I used at the beginning of this report as was still online at
the writing of this report in early December, 2008] or visit the cars in person later
this month in Napa Valley, Calif.
“This is a unique opportunity for a
sophisticated investor to acquire a train comprised of restored, 1940s
and ’50s-era luxury train cars,” Thomas Kim, manager of GrandLuxe Rail
Journeys, said in a statement.
End of the line for rail tour operator
By SARAH KARUSH, AP
03 September 2008 @ 03:04
- A company that offered luxurious rail tours aboard refurbished
vintage cars and was a major charter customer of Amtrak has gone under.
GrandLuxe Rail Journeys abruptly
ceased operations last week.
"We are financially unable to
continue operations," the company said in an Aug. 26 note to people
booked for upcoming tours. It said it did not know whether people would
get their money back.
It is unclear what caused the
collapse. Phone calls Wednesday to GrandLuxe headquarters in Evergreen,
Colo., were greeted by a message saying the mailbox was full.
Bob Whitley, president of the U.S.
Tour Operators Association, said other luxury tourism companies do not
appear to be suffering, despite a soft tourism market overall.
"The only area doing really well is
the luxury side," he said. "It's less affected by the economy and the
GrandLuxe was not an association
For Amtrak, the closure of GrandLuxe,
formerly known as American Orient Express before it came under new
ownership in 2006, means the loss of several million dollars in an
annual revenue, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said. He declined to be
GrandLuxe relied on Amtrak to pull
its train on various scenic routes. The national passenger railroad
provided locomotives and engine crews for the trips, which lasted seven
to 10 days and cost upward of $4,000. Amtrak did not provide onboard
staff or marketing for those tours, Black said.
Last year, the companies attempted a
closer partnership, announcing with much fanfare that GrandLuxe
cars--including spacious sleepers, dining rooms and lounge areas--would
be attached to certain regularly scheduled Amtrak trains during the
holiday season. The idea was to offer a shorter, less expensive option
with the same five-course meals and other luxury amenities as
GrandLuxe's usual tours. Amtrak helped market the service, dubbed
GrandLuxe Limited, through its loyalty program, Guest Rewards.
However, the service, originally
planned for three routes, was scaled back to just one train, the
California Zephyr between Chicago and Emeryville, Calif. The
partnership was not renewed this year.
Tom Weakley, an 18-time GrandLuxe
passenger from Indianapolis, said he was extremely disappointed by the
company's closure. He had trips booked for November and March, but has
been assured by his credit card company that he'll get his money back.
It's unclear what will become of the
company's 1940s and 1950s passenger cars and whether another company
will try to operate the train. Amtrak is unlikely to be interested,
Whitley said he knew of no other
companies offering high-end rail journeys in the U.S. Succeeding with
such a service would require skilled marketing, Whitley said.
"It's not been extremely popular in
the U.S. because it's unknown," he said. "Rail in the U.S. is not like
in other parts of the world."
This older article from July, 2007, talks of the experiment
between Amtrak and GrandLuxe:
Amtrak, GrandLuxe team up on private rail
By Sarah Karush, The Associated Press 10:39 AM PDT, July 11, 2007
Mahogany interiors, five-course meals
and personal butler service will be available on several Amtrak routes
starting this fall, as the national passenger railroad embarks on a new
partnership with GrandLuxe Rail Journeys, formerly known as American
The companies have teamed up to
attach seven special GrandLuxe cars to regularly scheduled Amtrak
trains. More than 90 departures are scheduled from November to early
The new service, dubbed GrandLuxe
Limited, will be available between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay
area; Chicago and Los Angeles; and Washington and Miami. Limited trips
are also scheduled from Washington to Chicago, Denver to San Francisco,
Denver to Chicago and Chicago to Albuquerque.
The project marks the first time
Amtrak will provide regularly scheduled private rail services.
Tickets for the two- and three-day
GrandLuxe Limited trips will be priced from $789 to $2,499. In
contrast, GrandLuxe's regular tours take seven to 10 days and run about
$4,000 to $8,000 per person.
For the Amtrak partnership, GrandLuxe
will split its train in three. Each segment will have a dining car and
a lounge car and have room for 47 passengers, said Christina Messa,
vice president of marketing for GrandLuxe. It will operate separately
from the Amtrak portion of the train.
GrandLuxe passengers will not be able
to get off at intermediate stops because of limitations such as
platform length, though the companies said that could change.
Amtrak will operate the same number
of cars it normally would, but in some cases it may have to add an
extra locomotive, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said.
For information and reservations:
[Of course this website and phone number is not valid] GrandLuxe, www.grandluxerail.com, (800)
320-4206 or Amtrak Vacations, www.amtrak.com, (800) 872-7245.