TUCSON, Ariz. — Want your private railway car gussied up?
No problem. All you have to do is hitch it to the end of an Amtrak train anywhere in the nation and explain that you want to go to Tucson.
Once here, the car will be hauled by a Southern Pacific switch engine to the rear of Rail Passenger Services Inc., a growing local enterprise. Its employees do the rest.
That's how the Philadelphia Star, a passenger car owned by a Philadelphia telecommunications tycoon, recently got a glistening new exterior paint job, a new sanitary system and water tank. Work was also done on its wheel assembly.
A specialty shop like RPS's may seem rare--and it is. There are only four other companies in the United States that do custom work on private railroad passenger cars, said Robert Stout, vice president of the Tucson company.
Founded here in 1981 by Peter Robbins, the company is a relative newcomer.
After the company completed work on the Philadelphia Star, the car and owner Robert L. Starer traveled behind an Amtrak train to Washington, D.C. They were headed for the latest annual convention of the American Assn. of Private Rail Car Owners.
The Philadelphia Star, probably worth at least $1 million, was built in 1912 for the president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, said Ed Jarvis, one of the car's two crew members.
The car eventually became the property of the Penn Central Railroad, which spent more than $1 million modernizing the interior, Jarvis said. After Penn Central went bankrupt, he said, the vehicle turned up on the private car market.
Starer uses the car mainly for entertaining business acquaintances and prospective customers, Jarvis said. In the past year, the crewman said, it has ridden the rails to New Orleans, Dallas and Atlanta on Amtrak's southern route, as well as to Portland, Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
Amenities inside the Philadelphia Star are fit for a railroad mogul: an observation lounge at the rear, a dining room with a teak table, several paintings, four staterooms, three showers and five toilets.
Private railway cars are a growing phenomenon in a market of buyers who, in most instances, can easily afford them. Most purchase a car as a hobby or for business as well as pleasure, according to Stout. He said there are about 100 "active" private rail cars and many more that need mechanical work to meet Amtrak standards.