Private Car Ownership


Notice to Private
Car Owners

This information has been prepared to assist those who have questions about Private Car ownership.

If you have any comments, corrections, suggestions or anecdotes to add please send them to me at and I will either incorporate them in the narrative or append them as additional information. With your assistance, we can make this page a useful reference tool for all interested in Private Cars.

Thanks to all who have offered suggestions.


I am frequently asked what it’s like and what it takes to own and operate an Amtrak approved private railcar. Owning a private railcar can be the fulfillment of a dream and a dreadful nightmare, all at the same time. Before you even think about buying a private car you owe it to yourself to take a trip on a private car. Talk to the car owner and his/her crew. Observe the routine and you will begin to understand what it takes to operate a private car.

Owning a car is expensive, especially if you want to operate
on Amtrak. For married people a tolerant and understanding spouse
is a must.

There are two ways to get into the private railcar business.
Purchase a car that is already Amtrak approved and start to use
it right away. Or, purchase a car that needs to be brought up
to Amtrak standards and refurbish it. The cost difference depends
on the type and quality of car you buy, what you have to do to
it and how much work you do yourself. Regardless of which way
you go Rule No. 1 says: hire a qualified inspector to go over
the car with a fine tooth comb before you buy it. This inspection
won’t find every problem, but it will give you a heads up if
there are any obvious problems.

Private Car Owners Associations

There are currently two Private Car owners associations –
AAPRCO, American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners and
RPCA, Railroad Passenger Car Alliance. Both provide their members
with important information and the benefits of mutual interest
and assistance. Join one or both of them as part of your Private
Car adventure.

Types of cars. There are three basic types of
car which can be operated in Amtrak service.

Heavyweight steel cars – built by Pullman, ACF and CC&F
between 1910 and 1931. Most railroad business cars are of this
type. They are solidly built, ride well and can be structurally
refurbished using standard welding and fabrication methods.

Heavyweight Business Car

Lightweight steel cars. – built by Pullman, ACF and CC&F
between 1935 and 1956. These cars are of carbon steel construction
with smooth sides or with fluted stainless steel siding. Smooth
side cars can be structurally refurbished using standard welding
and fabrication methods. Cars with stainless steel siding over
carbon steel frames are subject to severe electrolytic corrosion
and are generally to be avoided.

Lightweight Sleeper Lounge

Stainless Steel cars – Two styles: all stainless steel cars
built by Budd and carbon/stainless steel cars built by Pullman
and ACF.

Built by Budd between 1935 and 1956. These cars are of all stainless
steel construction. While they are not as susceptible to electrolytic
corrosion as carbon/stainless steel cars they may experience
fatigue problems that require specialized repair techniques best
left to a qualified shop (generally no welding is permissible
on structural members).

Budd stainless steel Coach

Built by Pullman and ACF between 1937 and 1956. These cars
are built with carbon steel frames and structures with stainless
steel sides, ends and roofs. They are very susceptible to electrolytic
corrosion requiring extensive disassembly, structural refurbishment
using standard welding and fabrication methods.and reapplication
of carbon or stainless steel sides, ends and roofs.


Interior Configurations

Business Car – Originally intended for use by railroad officials.
Usually has an observation room with open platform, staterooms,
bathroom with shower, dining room, kitchen and crew quarters.
Sleeps 5 to 8 plus 2 crew. Interiors are frequently paneled in
Mahogany, Oak or other hardwoods and comfortably furnished. Many
heavyweight business cars do not meet dimensional clearance requirements
for operation on the Northeast Corridor.

Sleeping Car – Can be all bedrooms or bedrooms and roomettes,
or a combination including open sections, Many have been modified
with dining rooms and/or lounges. Some have had vestibules turned
into open platforms. Sleeps 15 – 21. Interior is usually painted
steel although some have had wood paneling added. Former Amtrak
owned cars frequently have carpeting on the walls. Bedrooms sleep
2, Roomettes sleep 1.

Sleeper/Lounge – Usually has 5 or 6 bedrooms, small kitchen/buffet
and a lounge. Sleeps 10 – 12. Interior is usually painted steel
although some have had wood paneling added. Former Amtrak owned
cars frequently have carpeting on the walls.

Lounge – Has a large, comfortable lounge area with full bar.
Seating for 30 – 50 depending on car. Usually has a crew room
and sometimes a shower. Typically used in conjunction with sleeping
cars. Full lounges usually do not have vestibules.

Dining Car – A full service dining car is typically half kitchen
and half dining room. Seats 36 (4 x 2 seating) or 48 (4 x 4 seating.
Some have modified as combination diner/lounge cars. Typically
used in conjunction with sleeping cars. Diners usually do not
have vestibules.

Dome Cars – Introduced in the 1950’s Dome cars provide an
upper lounge/dining area with a glass dome that provides a glorious
view of the countryside. The lower levels can be lounges, coaches,
diner/lounges or sleeper/lounges. Designed for use in the west,
they do not meet dimensional clearance requirements for operation
on Amtrak between Boston and Washington DC. Dome cars originally
intended as diners or lounges do not have vestibules.

Baggage/Express Cars – A few baggage/express cars have been
modified as Bar/Lounge/Dance cars. They are ideal for large party
groups traveling on day trips or on longer trips with sleeping
or business cars. These cars usually do not have vestibules.

Purchasing an Approved Car

A recently approved car has been subjected to several inspections
by Amtrak inspectors using the latest criteria and has the benefit
of having operated in Amtrak service. This doesn’t mean there
are no problems that need correcting, it just means the car is
a known entity and any problems should be relatively easy to
identify and correct.

A car which has been in service for nine or ten years was
probably refurbished to an earlier standard and may have hidden
problems that will need immediate correction. These problems
can be significant and expensive to correct.

Cost of an approved car – $150,000 – $400,000 and up, way

Purchasing a car for refurbishment

If you purchase a car with the intention of refurbishing it
you will need to decide how and where. There are two ways to
refurbish a car. Do it yourself with the assistance of skilled
and qualified craftsmen; or, hire a qualified car shop to do
it for you. Doing it yourself means finding a suitable place
to the work, doing a lot of research and design, acquiring a
good set of specialized tools and being prepared to spend a lot
of time. When you start out the rules seem simple and straightforward.
As refurbishment progresses you learn that the rules aren’t as
clear as they first seemed. In process inspections reveal that,
that which was believed to be OK is not. Just as you put one
appliance back on the car, it has to be removed again to correct
something else. The process seems endless and takes far longer
than expected. The end result is a car that you have the satisfaction
of knowing what it is and how it got that way.

Having a qualified shop do the work may cost more, but if
you’re not equipped to do the work yourself it’s the only way
to go. It does require you to spend a good deal of time at the
shop, usually some distance from where you reside. It’s extremely
important that you understand what is going to be done and what
the end result is going to be. The shop can usually get the job
done faster than doing the work yourself. Faster is relative,
a typical refurbishment will require from one to three years,
depending on circumstances.

Rule No.2: just when you think you’ve solved the last major
problem another reveals itself.

Cost to purchase a car suitable for refurbishment – Sleeper
$25,000, Dome $85,000 plus.

Cost to refurbish a car yourself – $150,000 – $500,000 plus,
plus, plus. I know of a handful of cars that have $1.5 – $2.5
million invested in them.

A fellow car owner offers the following insight. “Car
owners need good, sound project management skills in any contract
work–rebuilding a railroad car is like building a house from
scratch, and the people who do it successfully–with success
APPROVED 1ST TIME AROUND need to manage their contractors extremely
This applies whether you are doing the work yourself
or having a shop do it for you. It is equally important to realize
that any changes made in design or scope of work once the project
has started will likely increase both time and cost.

He also recommends you start to develop an extensive contact
directory of Amtrak personnel, railroad personnel, contractors
and service providers in all parts of the country at the very
beginning of the thought process. This list will grow and grow
as you work on the car, then place it in operation. From my own
experience I have found such a directory becomes an invaluable
resource, especially when you have a problem on the road and
need help fast.


Every car approved for operation by the Amtrak Mechanical
Engineering Department must have a set of documentation on file
with Amtrak and on board the car.

Documents include:

PC-2 – Private Car 40 Year or Older Inspection form signed off
by Amtrak approved PC-2 inspector.

PC-1 Private Car Annual Inspection Report signed off by Amtrak
approved PC-1 or PC-2 inspector.

PC-1A Private Car Data.

PC-3 Route / Mileage Log.

PC-5 Private Car Clearance Form accepted by Amtrak Clearance
Bureau. (Dimensional Clearance).

PC-4 Shop Report with complete record of mechanical and electrical
repairs, refurbishment, modifications, engineering drawings and
photographs documenting the refurbishment process.

An approved car should have all of these documents in a folder
on board the car. Amtrak Mechanical Engineering should be contacted
to verify the status of the car prior to finalizing the purchase.
If the car owner cannot or will not provide this documentation,
FIND ANOTHER CAR TO BUY or treat it as a non-approved car and
price accordingly.

A car you are refurbishing will have to have these documents
generated and submitted to Amtrak Mechanical Engineering as part
of the approval process. Any reports of prior work should be
obtained and kept on file.

Amtrak Mechanical Engineering is to be provided with follow
up reports anytime changes or modifications are made after initial
approval has been given. PC-1, PC-3 and PC-4 reports are submitted


Amtrak requires car owners to maintain an insurance policy
complying with their minimum requirements and naming them as
additional insured. There are currently two primary sources for
these policies. One is AAPRCO affiliated other is RPCA affiliated.
The choice is yours.


Now that your car is approved you are ready to put it in operation.
Here again there are several issues to resolve.

How do I get my car on a train?

You fill out a form, of course! This form will detail the
dates, trains, car(s) and destination(s) you wish to visit, and
what services you require at your stopovers. When it’s filled
out it may be mailed or faxed to Amtrak for review and (hopefully)
approval. When approved, it must be paid in full before the move

Amtrak can provide you with the names and numbers of personnel
responsible for coordinating Private Car moves. Either of the
two car owner associations will provide additional information
you may require. Plan ahead. Amtrak usually requires 30 days
advance request for a car move. Cars operating on the Northeast
Corridor (Boston to Washington, DC) must have an A Clearance
(the most restrictive) on file. Propane is not allowed on any
car operating in and out of New York City (because of the tunnels
under the Hudson River).

Amtrak charges:

$2.10/mile to operate one car on one of its trains. There is
a $1,000.00 minimum charge for any move.

A second car traveling on the same request form costs $1.60/mile

Amtrak I know charges an annual Activation Fee of $250.00 per
car This fee is due and payable with the first move request
following a car’s PC-1 Annual Inspection.

A daily fee to lay over at an Amtrak controlled station (ie.
stay in Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle is $100.00
per day, depending on services. A premium will apply for other
locations such as Boston and New Orleans. Washing, sewage holding
tank servicing are extra.

Where are you going to park your car and what are the implications?

Most private car owners park their cars on industrial sidings
located as close to their home Amtrak terminal as possible. Getting
to and from the Amtrak terminal requires a switch move by a freight
railroad. A few Amtrak stations have facilities for parking private
cars. Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS) is one.

Cost to park on a private industrial siding – $100 – $400/month.

Cost of freight move to or from siding/Amtrak station – $$650
– $2,400 ea. way.

Cost to park at LAUS $1,000/month for a 6 month commitment,
$2,000.00 on a monthly basis.. Not all Amtrak facilities offer
long term parking.

If you plan to operate your car more than once or twice per
year it may pay to keep it at the closest Amtrak terminal which
offers Private Car parking. There are two factors at work here.
First, the cumulative cost of off line parking and freight moves
to and from Amtrak may exceed the cost of Amtrak parking. Second,
freight railroads don’t move a lot of passenger cars anymore
and it’s important that everything on the car be stowed and secured
in order to minimize damage. Most freight railroads do not allow
a crew member to ride on a Private Car moving in freight service,
for obvious safety reasons. This makes it difficult to monitor
the cars’ status during the freight move. This means that the
car’s status must be monitored by telephone during the move.
An alternative is to have some one follow the route of the car
in a vehicle, if circumstances permit, checking in with yard
masters at various locations along the way. This enables the
RR to connect the car with a face, and establishes a presence
to help the car move through terminals, etc. as well as a direct
contact in the event of a problem. This person must be familiar
with the car AND have a good understanding of freight RR operations
and protocol. Freight moves may take several days to complete,
even if traveling only a few miles.

What kind of services are available at the parking site?

Most industrial sidings don’t have 480v – 3 phase power available.
A few owners have added this feature to their sites, but most
don’t. This means you have to run the generator a lot if you’re
doing maintenance or service work on the car. It also means that
the site should ideally be accessible to large trucks for refueling.
Water is usually close by. Amtrak’s Los Angeles Union Station
facility provides electrical hook ups (at extra cost), water
and sanitation services (at extra cost).

How many people does it take to operate a Private Car?

At least one person who is familiar with the cars’ electrical
and mechanical operation should accompany the car on every trip.
This person may also cook, serve meals/beverages and make the

Most business cars are set up for two crew members. One is
the cook/chef, the other the steward. Most sleeping cars are
set up for one crew member. The car owner can perform these functions
themselves if qualified and they so desire, but most employ one
crew member.

A car operator made the following observation: Car attendants
will place on-board services second if they are required to attend
to watering/trash removal while stopped at a station or if they
are fixing a problem such as a non-functional toilet.


Amtrak generally provides water, ice and sanitation services
at specified stations. If you need diesel fuel special arrangements
must be made (at extra cost). Otherwise you are on your own.
If traveling across country you need to make arrangements ahead
of time for any laundry services, food deliveries or other necessities
you may require. Intermediate stops may allow time for a food
delivery, but not much else.

What cities can I visit and have my car taken off a train
and parked for a while?

One of the benefits of traveling by Private Car is the ability
to have your car set out at certain designated stations. This
is especially convenient if arrival time is in the wee hours
of the morning. Your guests can keep on sleeping and not worry
about getting up, gathering their belongings and standing on
a platform in a strange city.

I am compiling a complete list of cities where you can have
a private car set out and parked while you visit the city. So
far these are the cities I am sure of. I know there are many
more and will update the list as I confirm them

1. Los Angeles, CA

2. Albuquerque, NM

3. Portland, OR

4. Denver, CO

5. Seattle, WA

6. Reno (Sparks), NV

7. Salt Lake City, UT

8. Chicago, IL

9. New Orleans, LA

10. Birmingham, AL

11. Washington, DC