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About Private Rail Cars - USA

United States

About Private Rail Cars

There are various types of rail cars. Here are examples of the main categories, to which you should refer when reading the following pages. Please be aware that there are many rail cars that do not sit well in any category – often the product of a wealthy individual’s imagination! You are strongly advised to ask for assistance if your particular requirement does not seem to fit the descriptions below.

The Business Car

There are two basic build types

1. Heavyweight steel cars - built by Pullman, ACF and CC&F between 1910 and 1931; a solid construction that is relatively easy to remodel.

2. Lightweight steel cars. - built by Pullman, ACF and CC&F between 1935 and 1956. Some of these cars can be subject to corrosion.

The business car typically consists of 2 – 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, dining room, kitchen for a full meal service, dining area / observation lounge and an open rear platform. Capacity varies but is generally about 20 passengers by day and 8 by night.

The Sleeper

Stainless Steel cars - Two styles: all stainless steel cars built by Budd (1935 – 1956) and carbon/stainless steel cars built by Pullman and ACF (1937 – 1956).

There are various structural issues requiring expert engineering advice.

The Sleeper Car comes in two versions – a high-capacity car for about 22 passengers and a combined Sleeper/Lounge Car that we prefer to call the Business Car.

The high capacity sleeper car generally has cabins with upper and lower berths, an opportunity to sleep on a train in classic style. There will also be a cabin steward who will serve light meals / drinks as required, as well as some bathroom facilities.

The Lounge Car

A typical lounge car contains reclining seats in one section, washrooms, kitchen and lounge seating including tables in an observation section. Capacity is generally between about 20 – 56 passengers, allowing for spacious relaxed travel.

This Lounge Car has six rooms, a lounge and a bar.

The Diner / Lounge Car

The Diner / Lounge Car is a combination of the Lounge Car (above) and the Coach Car (below) that allows chef-prepared, steward-served dining in comfort for up to 56 people.

The Coach Car

The Coach Car is a high capacity car designed for between 50 – 66 passengers in armchair comfort.

Dome Cars

Dome cars have an upper lounge/dining area with a glass dome. The lower levels can be lounges, coaches, diner/lounges or sleeper/lounges. Designed for use in the west, they cannot operate on Amtrak between Boston and Washington DC.

The Road to Ownership

Firstly – be aware that ownership is time- and cash-consuming! You would be advised to consider using the management services of a competent rail car depot or, if you have the means, a contracted, part-time rail car manager.

Whichever car is presented to you for purchase and whoever does this, engage a full, in-depth inspection from an independent inspector.

The easier and cheaper way to proceed is to buy a car that is already certified for use with Amtrak. You can internally refurbish it cosmetically to your standards, but be careful not to structurally modify it without being aware of the certification consequences.

Price guide for an Amtrak-approved car $150,000 - $600,000

Alternatively you can buy a rail car and bring it up to Amtrak running standards. You will enjoy this if you are a real enthusiast; if you simply want to enjoy the privacy and luxury of the best way to travel on earth, get yourself a dedicated team – manager, engineer and decorator.

Price guide of a car to be refurbished - $25,000 - $100,000

Refurbishment cost - $150,000 - $750,000. Some cars have cost up to $2,500,000.

There are of course a number of other considerations such as Amtrak charges, certification documents, insurances etc.

Join an Association

Lots of useful advice here!

American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners


Railroad Passenger Car Alliance


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