Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Adirondack Railroad To Offer Pullman Service

The Adirondack Rail Preservation Society (ARPS), operators of current tourism rail services on the Adirondack Railroad, and Iowa Pacific Holdings, operators of the Saratoga & North Creek Railroad, have partnered to offer  high end excursion passenger service between New York City and Lake Placid, utilizing restored Pullman railcars and sleeping cars.

“This MOU has been the subject of several months of effort as our two organizations established the basis for a working relationship and as Iowa Pacific fully assessed the potential of the Adirondack Railroad as the next in their continuing series of successful rail service developments across the country,” states Bill Branson, President of ARPS, in a statement issued to the press.

Iowa Pacific Holdings is based in Chicago and is the parent company of several passenger and freight railroads around the U.S. and internationally. These include the Saratoga & North Creek Railroad in the eastern Adirondacks and the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, the Mt. Hood Railroad, High Iron Travel, the Texas-New Mexico Railroad, and the West Texas & Lubbock Railway, as well as the Machuu Picchu Train in the Andes in South America.

In addition, Iowa Pacific owns the Pullman Sleeping Car Company. Pullman is working to acquire and restore historic Pullman passenger, dining and sleeper cars, with approximately 70 currently in various stages of restoration . This year, they announced Pullman Rail Journeys, operating high end overnight excursions similar to those operated in many areas of Europe such as the famous Orient Express. The first tours are scheduled to begin in early November from Chicago to New Orleans.

“We are grateful to ARPS for the opportunity to work together on a project that can bring a dramatic rail service improvement to the Adirondacks,” Ed Ellis, President of Iowa Pacific Holdings said in the company’s press statement. “Iowa Pacific has been working to revive rail corridors across the US and in other countries for freight and passenger service for over a decade, and our recent success with the Saratoga and North Creek is an indication of what can be done in the Adirondack market. We believe the higher-end travel audience in New York City is ready to respond to a first-class overnight experience on historic Pullman cars through the Adirondacks to Lake Placid. While we are quite aware of the structural challenges involved in developing this kind of service, we believe we are uniquely qualified to assist ARPS and this agreement is a first milestone in working toward the vision.”

According to ARPS, the MOU states that “Iowa Pacific Holdings, Pullman Sleeping Car Company and the Saratoga and North Creek Railroad also concur with ARPS and the other parties that, based upon our broad national experience, the Adirondack railroad offers numerous opportunities for rail service development in the future in addition to the Lake Placid-New York City operation, including other expanded tourism rail operations along its length, rail access to trailheads and waterways, and future freight potential. The parties therefore also commit to the joint identification and shared exploration of these and all other forms of rail activity which appear achievable as a part of the future of this singular and irreplaceable infrastructure.”

“This interest by one of the nation’s premier rail companies in resuming service along the Utica-Lake Placid rail corridor is very exciting news,” Kate Fish, Executive Director of the Adirondack North Country Association, said in a prepared statement. “ANCA has been a long time supporter of retaining rail infrastructure in the Adirondack North Country region as a vital component for our economic future. We applaud the commitment of Iowa Pacific, the Adirondack Railway and other important partners in this significant initiative.”

“The revival of rail as an engine of tourism is evident across Europe and now all over America,” states Garry Douglas, President of the North Country Chamber of Commerce. “People are hungry for new kinds of experiences, and new ways to see and enjoy spectacular areas like the Adirondacks. Hopefully everyone will come to the table to do all that we can to move this venture forward and then to develop all of the other possibilities waiting to unfold. Onward, upward and on track!”

Under the agreement, the parties are expected to work together on the full development of a joint plan that can be submitted to the New York State Department of Transportation and form the basis of business discussions with Amtrak and other stakeholders. Iowa Pacific will bear the equipment and operating costs and risks, and will be open to partnering in the costs of capital improvements required on the rail line, to be defined as part of the full plan. According to Branson and Ellis, the full plan will also include outreach to several of the major hotels and resorts in Lake Placid to determine their interest in becoming partners in hosting future visitors.

Photo provided.


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44 Responses

  1. MSLK says:

    Why a pullman service? How about a real commuter rail that more people could afford to use? I would love to commute between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid by rail, or even ride the train to Albany…if the tracks could be traveled at commuter speed.

    • Eric says:

      Park and ride at North Creek. You can get a Iowa Pacifc train from there with connections to Albany. There’s a train at about 7am. Check with Saratoga and North Creek. The food is cheap and great! Have breakfast on board. Bring your cell phone, computer, newspaper. Just relax! As tracks get better the ride will be faster.

  2. Jim R says:

    I will be interested to see ARTA’s response to this. This is the disputed corridor, correct?

  3. Stevo says:

    It says here that they “will be open to partnering in the costs of capital improvements required on the rail line”.

    What does this mean? Does it mean that the $43 million or so to improve the rail won’t need taxpayer money?

    • Eric says:

      You want real savings. Cut the EAS program. The Essential Air Service program. It keeps 140,000 flights in the air ayear to small cities. Many of the planes are empty. Sometimes no one shows up. The day a program like this is cut. I’ll worry about pennies spent on train service for millions on sold out trains across the country. You better worry about the $8 gas that’s coming. Or the bad storms that are the result of all those billions of cars and trucks on the roads around the world now.

  4. Charlie Siwik says:

    Is there any news about reopening the railroad between North Creek and Newcomb ?

    • Buck Jordan says:

      The railroad has cleared the brush and trees out 20 feet on each side of the tracks all the way to Tahawus Yard. They even have run a test train up to Blue Ridge Rd.

      • Charlie Siwik says:

        thank you.. been wondering what’s going on .. haven’t heard a thing since the initial story..

  5. Tony Goodwin says:

    Given that ARPS doesn’t have any capital to add to this project, Iowa-Pacific’s only possible partner would have to be the taxpayers of New York State. Since ARPS President Bill Branson told me several years ago that it would be a 10-11 hour trip from NYC to Lake Placid, Pullman accommodations would seem to be the way to go. The original announcement included a diagram of one of the restored cars, and it appeared that it only transported 12 passengers. This would be truly “high-end” service, and there was no mention how much this would cost. Even a 10-car train wouldn’t bring that many to the area, and how often could the operator actually fill one of those trains up?
    The service to trailheads that was also mentioned has been mentioned before, but I have yet to see a list of the trailheads that would be served and some idea of the timetable by which that service would be provided.

    • Eric says:

      Sleeping cars on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited sell out often. Fares are high. But it’s the most comfortable way between two points. They make travel a dream! Amtrak has been breaking ridership records for years now. Iowa Pacific also is doing very well. I know I will be on the New York to Lake Placid train often. I just hope the Chicago to Lake Placid sleeper is restored soon too.

  6. Pete Nelson says:

    As always, rail service is wonderful, romantic, appealing, all of that. A restored Pullman car sounds like fun.

    None of that changes the fact that the economic benefit or a recreational trail is both orders of magnitude cheaper to do and orders of magnitude better at generating revenue for the Adirondack economy.

    That’s orders of magnitude, not some small difference.

    I continue to fail to understand why, when the stakes are so high and towns are hurting, so many insist upon taking sides for reasons that may be romantic but rationally make no sense at all.

    Do we want to hold to our romantic notions or do we want to make a difference to the economies of the towns in question that is so profound that, as Jim McCulley said, it is the greatest economic opportunity for the park in a century?

    How serious are we about making the park vibrant? Are we more serious about winning an argument because trains are quaint?

    • Paul says:

      Restoring the tracks for this purpose would also allow other trains to utilize the tracks right? Maybe three different trains running on the line? The rich guy Pullman line, the hiker and canoe car train I described as well as a another type of ski train or other “commuter” type train.

      But Pete I agree the economic models should be used to determine the best use of the corridor. As I understand it only the rail to trail model has been analyzed on the economics of it. I read that a bike trail alone from Placid to Tupper would draw 240,000 users per year. So about 1400 users per day for a 6 month bike season. So about 1400 riders per day on average sharing a narrow path of about, what is it 40 miles? Are these “orders of magnitude” estimates at all realistic??

      • BarbO says:

        Paul, whether it’s elite train service or regular folk service, the numbers are not there. How many people want to drive their car to a train and then sit there for hours and hours just to arrive at a train station with no means of transportation? We are not Europe thank god). If it were an economically feasible solution REAL investors would be flocking to it. The train brains would hot have to make up stories in order to fleece the public to pony up more taxes to pay for their dream. They have enough trouble giving away rides between LP and SL which is about as long as the novelty lasts. But even that can’t turn a profit.

        • Eric says:

          Gee BarbO, How uninformed you are! There is a boom in travel by train. Sleeping cars on the Chicago-Boston-New York corridor sell out alot of the time today. Gas can be $4, will be $8 soon. Air service is disappearing. The only fleeceing is the trillions spent on highways and airports over the years. While railroads which had to pay their way went bankrupt. You seem to like a socialist highway transportation system. Planned, designed, built, and maintained FOR YOU. By the government! The record breaking intercity rail ridership is no dream. But you wouldn’t know that. Since you want an other trail the state can’t afford to develop. You seem to want us to depend on energy wasteing, government road system.Or a failing,old,bankrupt air service.

    • Paul says:

      Pete, also what you describe as “insist on taking sides” is often folks just offering an alternative idea. It is not really taking sides. I support a bike trail I just think that a more unique use of the corridor should be considered. Why not?

      • Renee says:

        I have to agree, the rails are a part of our heritage in New York…why not make a go of it. A few months of biking will hardly bring in a ton of revenue, certainly not enough to discard 12 months of possible rail revenue to upstate economy. Commuter services would open up possiblities for many folks. The “High end” statement is a little elitist…offer other possibilities as well. Marketing, marketing, marketing, outside of New York and “the City”.

        • Dave says:


          Part of the problem here is that they HAVE been making a go of it. It hasn’t been going. When you read the history of this, it feels like the same conversation keeps happening over and over. The train folks try to make it happen, sometimes with tax payer dollars, it never really takes off… others suggest alternatives, people say “trains are cool” and “part of history” so “let’s try it!”… and so the train folks try to make it happen, sometimes tax payer dollars…. rinse, repeat.

          • Paul says:

            Dave I agree to some extent. But the problem may be that they have only tried the same thing like you say. Once the rails are gone. They are gone. This bike trail is no more of an Adirondack economy savior than the ACR is for Tupper Lake. The rail alternatives have to happen first, what is the rush?

          • Renee says:


            Agree to some extent….Not the right people, vision, not the right time? Would I take my hornebeck, maybe plan a hike…do some fly fishing in some of the best waters in the country…hop off at small depots placed just right along the way…maybe stay at a motel or bed and breakfast at small depot and move onward and upward along the line… up to lake placid or Saranac for a few days of R and R? Heck yeah! I have never come across marketing that speaks to me in this regard. Rinse,repeat…still dirty.

        • Paul says:

          Renee, you have it right. A train that can serve hikers and paddlers on remote flag stops is a very unique idea for this area. I think it should be considered.

          • Renee says:

            Call me the dreamer…there has to be money to be made here to help this upstate economy. Instead of poo pooing one or the other idea we should be melding the possibilities. The small North Creek community seems to be up for the challenge, they seem to be uplifted and regenerated. Where are the entrepreneurs and forward thinkers????? Instead of selling off our resources to those who covet Mcmansions in pristine environments we should be showcasing what we have to the nation… a major destination! There is money to be made from all outdoor enthusiasts, it will take entrepreneurs to take a chance and build what the tourist needs, unused visually poor land to be used as hold over lots for vehicles (the white water rafters do…how many out of stater plates do you see there on a weekend?)Those owners would make $ charging for lot space and keeping them secure and with shuttle service to the nearest depot or bike trails…eateries, motels and bed and breakfasts along the line showcasing the heritage of the north woods. Artist communities within walking distance of the line. Guide services and supply stores associated with the line each with their own unmanned sheltered depots maintained by the local folks, teens with nothing to do…college interns in forestry and the like. Most places up north are run down, and chochky type establishments. It will take forethought and good timing to place all in the right allignment. Think small….be small…LET HER ROLL!!!

    • Eric says:

      I would like to see a study done on the effects on your trail with $8 and $20 gasoline. Or total loss of air service to upstate New York. If Cinncinati a city of millions can lose half their air service. I would bet the Adirondacks can lose theirs. Those quaint trains provide transportation for people like me that can’t drive long distances. People like me also want a break from high gas prices, traffic and the government road system.

  7. Moose says:

    Great Idea! Sign me up!

  8. Tony Goodwin says:

    The railroad recently commissioned a study by Stone Consulting that put the cost of restoration unrealistically low (based on both the money spent to date and the cost of the Big Moose restoration this summer) at $16 million. The study estimated the restored rail service would bring 7,000 new visitors annually. Even if the rail to trail study is off by a factor of ten, it still brings in nearly four times the number at much less cost. And that study didn’t count the additional snowmobile traffic given a longer season – or in the case of many recent winter any season at all. Pete is right that people should not make economic decisions based on nostalgia rather than economic and physical realities.

    • Paul says:

      Tony, Like I said I agree with you and Pete that the decisions should be based mostly on economics. The comparison that you describe only factors in one relatively boring use of the rail line.

      I am curious what did the Big Moose restoration cost? Why is basing the estimates on an actual restoration project on this specific rail line that was just done unrealistic?

  9. Big Burly says:

    @Pete Nelson
    Usually you offer more balanced views.
    IMO, the most recent economic studies sponsored by ARTA are heavily preordained results biased. The latest uses examples of conversions that have little resemblance to conditions in our region.
    Forecasts of an additional 1/4 million users per year are hugely fanciful.
    To include new snowmobilers in the calculus of new users seems to me to presume that global climate change will abate, assuring snow in winter, and that gas prices will stop rising. That business model doesn’t make sense for investment. With all the current hiking opportunities throughout the ADKs, will there be that many new users for a trail along or on the ROW?
    Rail transport is the most fuel efficient land transport mode. The proposed plan as I understood it when attending the event in SL last week includes a renewal of the infrastructure that would support both freight and passenger services. I specifically heard that minimal investment of taxpayer dollars is a given in the development of the plan.
    In any event, what everyone needs to keep in mind in the conversations going forward is that NYS would have to decide to abandon this operating line and alter the classification as a state and federal historic site; a next step would be to apply for abandonment to the Federal Railway Administration. The hearings would examine how abandonment would affect current and potential users of rail services, NOT what might be alternative economic uses of the ROW. These hearings are complex and fact filled on transportation issues, not recreation uses.
    Given that the regional economic development councils support retention of the existing rail infrastructure throughout the ADKs, it behooves all of us to work together to find a way to assure dual use of this important economic and historical asset. This is not a romantic notion, it is economic reality.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Big Burly:

      I truly appreciate the compliment.

      I’m an advocate of this recreational trail, a member of ARTA and have done work in support of it, all for good, rational reasons. I am not anti-train or taking the side of the trail because it matches my environmental or political portfolio.

      For example I support the redevelopment of the Iowa Pacific spur to Tahawus even though emotionally I wish the McIntyre furnace were still isolated like a Mayan ruin. I support that project for some of the reasons you gave. In this case the removal of tailings and/or rock from the area will be much more efficient by rail than by truck. Furthermore I see a tourism opportunity that could benefit Newcomb. The Adirodac historic district has potential as an unique and compelling destination. Add to that the new lands about to open up and I think there is a marketing opportunity for a passenger run.

      What’s different about this versus the line ARTA wants to use? For one thing this will be already be upgraded and running a profitable freight service. But the primary difference is that it is a dead end, it is not a corridor connecting Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper lake and on. That corridor is extremely valuable and would be coveted by all sorts of recreational users.

      Meanwhile I have written enough in favor of the recreational trail several times and will not repeat myself here, but suffice to say it is a really really good idea. Even if the 250,000 number you brought up is inflated five to one by idealistic thinking (and it won’t be if the trail is correctly marketed) it absolutely dwarfs the train benefit, if there even is a train benefit.

      There is no evidence whatsoever – historical or otherwise – that a freight benefit is to be had; the costs of getting the tracks to that level of use are huge. Meanwhile the existing tourist run brings in a smidgeon of revenue. The evidence is the evidence.

      An upgraded train service would provide a draw to some, no question. But a recreational trail through that corridor, unique in America, is a NATIONAL marketing opportunity, a draw from around the country. If you don’t think so you need to look at the evolution of recreational trails across the United States. If it weren’t I would not be having had in-person conversations with a major bicycle manufacturer based far from New York about backing the Great Adirondack Recreational Trail. We’re talking a completely different level of economic benefit. With the Olympic cache, the Ironman and connections to other major trails in the conversation the Adirondacks are this close to being a world class biking destination. Remind yourselves that biking is at the top of American’s recreational pursuits, and growing. I’ve called this project a no-brainer for good reasons.

      Finally, while I am with you all the way in my concern over global warming, it is unsupportable to suggest that there will be no snow, especially in the central and western part of the park. No one know for sure; many models show an increase in heavy snows. At any rate, we’ll have more than most places, supporting a snowmobile industry that is also healthy. Jim McCulley, where are you?

  10. Tony Goodwin says:

    This is not a new “hiking opportunity” it’s a totally different non-snow opportunity to bike through scenic territory on an easy grade free of motor vehicles. As far as the Federal Railway Administration.Surface Transportation Board is concerned, they approved abandonment of this line 50 years ago when the Penn Central requested it. The first attempt to revive the line for the 1980 Olympics failed miserably, and subsequent operations have not produced anything approaching “transportation”. Yes, rail service is more fuel efficient when one can assemble a long train, but the current and any future freight needs would produce only a few cars per week, and that’s not fuel efficient. If freight service is actually contemplated for this line, that would end snowmobiling. I doubt any retail businesses would approve of losing that traffic. Furthermore, in this whole debate, I have yet to see any business joining in to plead for continued rail operations.

    • Eric says:

      The business is called Iowa Pacifc! As a customer of them. I can tell you the service is good, and low cost. They are excellant. And very successful at what they do. You need a ride on Saratoga and North Creek.

  11. Stevo says:

    Both sides have good arguments. Reviewing and updating the management plan is a good process to sort out the facts, instead of the usual anonymous comments on articles like this.

  12. Paul says:

    What is actually unique about this rail-to-trail idea? It looks like there are boatloads of these around the country including some pretty close by?


  13. Lee Keet says:

    As a private equity investor for 28 years, I have never seen a deal more leveraged in favor of private investors at the expense of taxpayers. We pay the costs, investors get the rewards.

    Why is this deal being touted now? Because town after town has indicated that it’s time to take a close look at all the options for optimum use of the old rail bed. The announcement of this new “partnership” gives ARPS an excuse they needed to resist the alternative use of the corridor as a rail-to-trail conversion that could attract a quarter-million new biking and other tourists to this region.

    Twenty years ago ARPS sent a letter to the DOT/DEC planning team and promised to restore the railroad from Utica to Lake Placid to Class III condition at no cost to the State. So far, only the nine miles between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, and the section between Utica and Thendara, have tracks capable of handling even slow-speed tourist trains. As noted, the proposed partnership between ARPS and Iowa Pacific would foist the multi-million-dollar cost of restoration onto the taxpayers. Meanwhile, we continue to lose the $400,000 per week (!) in tourist revenues that a recent Rail-to-Trail Conservancy study says could flow to the Tri-Lakes Area.

    • Big Burly says:

      From this it seems the definition of optimum use will be the most important.
      Hopefully the next round of studies, economic impact and others will not be as directed in the outcomes as those sponsored to date by ARTA.
      I’m all for having the plan revisited and getting an update on the capacity of the line and what it will take to bring it not to Class 3 (an unnecessary upper limit), rather to the condition needed to take bulk freight off the region’s roads and accommodate freight and passenger traffic. For those reading and wondering what Class 3 represents, the FRA defines it as 60 MPH +. Not the same standard as needed for the super fast passenger trains that we read about and travel on in Europe or Japan and China, but way faster than needed in our ADKs and a too expensive upgrade of the roadbed.
      The optimum use IMO is to find a way to keep this economic system AND accommodate whatever new number of enthusiasts might use a trail — non-motorized users most welcome of course.

    • Eric says:

      $400,000 a week? Sounds like what the Post Office pays today to TRUCK the mail in the Adirondacks! It used to go by passenger train. But postage was only 3 cents then! Yes, they said it “Could” flow to the Tri-Lakes area. The word is COULD! If this is true, why are there so many unfinished trails across the state? I’ve seen some these trails. Overgrown, with nothing on them.

  14. Hope Frenette says:

    The numbers of people sind up on ARTA’s website speak volumes to the demand for this type of recreation. Currently over 9000 signatures with several more hundred yet to be added from this past weekend’s Outdoor Expo event. Over 400 signed up in 2 days of the Outdoor Expo in Saratoga Springs. People were very excited about wanting to know when they could come and ride. These folks are not very far away and really enthusiastic about this idea. One young lady, in a motorized wheelchair, was so excited she came by our booth multiple times to tell us she loved railtrails and loved to be able to go camping at places where she could use her chair and a special bike she had. She had been to Dillon Park and loved that too. I’d never seen anybody as excited about this as she was. It just reafirmed to me that this was the right thing to do in this corridor and that we have broad base support.

  15. Jim McCulley says:

    This is just more empty promises,the question is why are they excited about this news, the years of broken promises from the ASR is as long as the 118 mile corridor itself. It started 20 years ago with we will pay for all cost to rehabilitate the tracks ourselves, no taxpayer dollars will be used. Forty five million taxpayer dollars later they still can’t pay to maintain their own operations. And what is the benefit of this alliance the ASR gets no new revenue stream the taxpayer has to pay for the track reconstruction. Other than propaganda this is a loser for all parties involved especially the business owners along the corridor.
    ASR promises are a dime a dozen, from if the taxpayer spends ten million to allow us to go between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake we will increase our ridership by 50,000 per year now they count the same passengers in both directions and still only manage 22,000, 11,000 in the real world. They promised Tupper Lake if Tupper Lakers built them a station they would start tourist ride, until ARTA was formed there was no effort other than lip service to this end. A stop in the spring and fall in Tupper Lake so children an local rail fans could blow the whistle as they brought the train to and from Lake Placid was it. Two years ago it was the Army is going to come rebuild the tracks and stay the summer in Tupper Lake, we have yet to see any indication of the military rolling into rebuild the tracks. Now, if the state spends the 43 million (2009 dollars) “we THINK, there will be a market for Pullman car service from New York City to Lake Placid.
    This is just another sad example of big plans with taxpayer dollars and no chance of success. How many more years a we going to keep the taxpayer dollars and a dream railroad a float. No more funds especially after Sandy will be spent on this for good reason.

  16. Ayn Rand says:

    Whichever group can put up a performance bond to cover the cost of implementing their plan without TAKING taxpayer dollars and complete their project within 6 months (starting this spring)should be granted the right to do so.

  17. As others have said, this is more smoke and mirrors from the Rail Fanboys. They have been going all out lately with their press outreach. Articles have been written by unsuspecting or lazy reporters touting this Pullman idea, or the train in general.

    The fanboys have also recently put YouTube videos up with shopkeepers who must have been asked “does the train bring you business”? Too bad they weren’t asking the shopkeepers “have you seen the studies that say the trail will bring many, many more customers to you?”

  18. Pullman cars,seriously? Iowa Pacific must be the” masters of the game” Paint a rosy picture, make all kinds of promises they can’t keep and then write checks we have to cash. Bottom line, you want economic benefits? The rails could be removed in about a year ( National Salvage and service, corp.) There would be a net gain on the salvage of millions, snowmobile tourism WOULD start immediately, maintain the trail ( cut trees, groom, sign, historically sign )and pay for their own administration. Old Forge has already started some seasonal rentals and we may get a foot of snow this week! With no rails, that would start it. The trail for bicycles and foot traffic…when ever it melts. VOTE,WRITE, Talk the Talk.

    • Eric says:

      Hey Scott, show us how to do it. I would like to see you walk Big Moose to Lake Placid.You can use the government taxpayer built road system.Plan the event next year 2013. Show us how easy it is to walk this distance. Lead the way, be apart of that new foot traffic.

  19. Eric says:

    Dear Beaver River guy, I’d like to see you lead the way. Plan to walk next year Big Moose to Lake Placid. Be apart of this new foot traffic. You can even use the NY State owned road system. The summer of 2013 is the time to do it. Show us how it’s done.

    • Absolutely, if you take your train to Long Lake or Childwald, Big Moose Lake, Fourth Lake or if everybody can run trains like they could use the trail or the roads, I’ll be right behind you. And I have taken fourty mile bike rides…Oh, I would have to rent a room in Tupper and take two or three days to do this ride. Hey, I could take the sleeper car for the scenic ride!

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