Craftsmen restore old train cars in Madison, Illinois for luxury travel on nation’s rails

December 28, 2015

MADISON • It looks like a cemetery for old passenger trains — tight rows parked along sidings behind a high fence. Faded plywood covers shattered windows. Nearby is a jumble of rusting wheels.Website Insert Start Here copy

It’s a different story inside the tidy workshops nearby, where skilled craftsmen meticulously restore old rail cars for private owners, from wealthy railroad enthusiasts to excursion lines. An occasional specialty job for major railroads helps pay the bills.

“Some people think we’re just a scrap yard,” said Roger Verbeeren, president of Gateway Rail Services. “Truth is, we don’t scrap anything.”

Since 2000, Gateway has operated on part of a former Union Pacific yard next to Illinois Route 203 near the heart of this old railroad town. The company has about 140 old passenger and baggage cars, a few from the 1920s, on its 10 tracks. Many are salvage from Amtrak, the nation’s passenger service since 1971.

Its dozen workers tend to the demand of a rarefied market. An owners association estimates there are only about 300 private cars that meet the standards for hitching onto Amtrak trains. Excursion lines of all sorts, from luxury trains to lumbering antiques, operate perhaps 2,000 more, but most of them aren’t Amtrak-certified.

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