Former Rio Grande business cars find a haven at Grand Canyon

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Passenger cars at Williams, Ariz., from nearest, Utah, California, and Kansas.
Alexander D. Mitchell IV
WILLIAMS, Ariz. — In a sign that Amtrak's recent changes to private car operation requirements may be having an effect on such cars' operations and viability, three private cars that formerly served as Denver & Rio Grande Western business cars, and were later marketed for private charters, arrived this week in Williams, Ariz., for long-term storage on the Grand Canyon Railway.

American Railway Explorer/D&RGW executive car Kansas (rebuilt from a coach by the D&RGW and originally named Wilson McCarthy), dome-sleeper California (originally Spokane, Portland & Seattle dome-sleeper 306, later Amtrak 9211), and diner Utah (originally a Rock Island car) had gained prominence for bringing up the rear of the D&RGW Ski Train in the 1980s. The trio had been stored in Los Angeles for occasional charter service since the abandonment of the planned American Railway Explorer cruise train project in 2010. The proposed cruise train would have used the cars along with former GrandLuxe/American Orient Express cars which later found their way to several other projects. Philip Anschutz, the former owner of the D&RGW and Southern Pacific railroads, is a primary stakeholder in both ARE and Xanterra, the operator of the Grand Canyon Railway and a National Park concessionaire.

According to GCRY officials, the cars will be stored in a secure carbarn being constructed adjacent to the railroad's shops. However, it's uncertain if the cars can or will operate in Grand Canyon Railway service. For example, the GCRY has expressed a desire for a fifth "short dome" to augment its four regular domes and two full-length domes, but dome California is a dome-sleeper not suited for GCRY operation without an extensive retrofitting or rebuild of the interior. The companies are jointly "exploring options" for the cars, according to officials. For example, one suggested plan, chartering the cars for overnight stays at the South Rim, would fall afoul of National Park Service regulations regarding overnight lodging in vehicles.

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