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Rail Ventures - Travel Review

Recapturing the Golden Age of Rail — Privately

by Alain Gayot

The Bella Vista train from Rail Ventures

Luxury Train Travel

From the Pony Express to telegrams to email. From feather pens to Remingtons to laptops. Most consider such evolutions progress. But when it comes to travel, there are some things best left unchanged. Train travel is at the top of that list.

During the first half of the previous century, long before the age of private jets that rival luxury boutique hotels, presidents, tycoons and society's crème de la crème journeyed with their feet planted firmly (relatively speaking) on the ground. Gone may be the days when railroads were their own meandering kingdoms, and railroad barons their undisputed kings, but nostalgic globetrotters will be happy to know that there is a small principality that is graciously preserving the tradition of private, exclusive rail travel.

Rail Ventures is the inspiration of its president, John Kirkwood, whose grandfather was on the board of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Kirkwood recalled spending time on the cars with his grandfather when he was a child, and it was these memories that served as the catalyst for his refurbishment of four magnificent Pullman rail cars from the 1940s and '50s.

These historic trains are truly a labor of love for Kirkwood, who had each one pulled apart and completely refurbished, from mechanics to aesthetics. Each restoration took up to two years and 25,000 hours of man power. The result of such care shows in the details, such as gleaming teak and mahogany accented with polished brass. Among the fleet of distinctive cars that roam the rails of North America is the Yerba Buena (a traditional business car with diner, lounge and sleeper) and the Bella Vista (a dome lounge dining and sleeper car). We had the pleasure of traveling on the four-bedroom Bella Vista, a dome sleeper and diner. This car first caught Kirkwood's eye in 1965, and his attachment to it paid off. He purchased it and had it completely rebuilt just after the turn of the millennium.

Cozy accommodations for guests with Rail Ventures Dining with Rail Ventures
Cozy accommodations for guests
Dining with Rail Ventures

Rail Ventures' commitment to the Golden Age of Travel does not stop with the décor. The cars are staffed with personal chefs and private stewards; the latter are also the highest ranking officers on board. Offered singly or in combination anywhere in the U.S. and into Canada served by Amtrak and Via Rail, the cars are available only for customized private charters. Each car can accommodate from eight overnight and sixteen for daytime travel. Once on board, everything is included: gourmet meals, afternoon tea and fine wines and spirit. And you should see the kitchens — they feel as if they're out of a time-travel, sci-fi movie.

And the Bella Vista is perfectly accessorized with updated amenities so you don't have to miss anything. Satellite TV, GPS, Blu-ray player for the under the stars movie nights with popcorn. Play station 3 or Wii are available for the little family games along with a karaoke system to have a great presentation or just plain fun.Also don't forget the platform on either car which is nostalgic and a perfect place to let the world go by, smoke the well deserved cigar or hear the click clack of the rails go by.

Perhaps you'd like to take your clients to the Super Bowl, want a unique venue for a family reunion or need something special for an on board meeting. Whatever your excursion, you'll enjoy the services of a concierge, who will help you plan your journey. In a day and age when travel means getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible, be prepared for a slower pace. It takes up to six months to simply develop your itinerary and prepare your trip so that it meets your needs. And once on board, the objective is clear: relax, indulge and enjoy the scenery as it passes by along the way.

Call 888-533-7245 or visit

The Bella Vista train from Rail Ventures
The Bella Vista

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