American Orient Express History
Started in November of 1989 by a Florida entrepreneur, William F. Spann, and backed by the operators of the Nostalgie Istanbul Orient Express, the American Orient Express was originally named the American European Express. It started as four vintage rail coaches rebuilt by hand and coupled to the rear of Amtrak's Capitol Limited train. The operation closed after one year.
In 1991 the train began operating as a passenger train offering a deluxe journey from Chicago to New York via New River Gorge with optional overnight stays at the Green Brier. Although ridership increased over its past venture the train was again taken out of service in less than a years time. A train derailment on June 21, 1991, which shattered nearly half of its eleven car-fleet, caused the American European Express to cease operations.
The renamed American Orient Express was leased to TCS Expeditions of Seattle and marketed as a unique alternative to ship cruising. TSC operated several transcontinental trips between Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. as well as trips to America’s Southwest and the Aspen Music Festival.
1997 was the year TCS spun off American Orient Express to Henry Hillman Jr. Hillman, founder of the athletic apparel company Avia. Hillman formed Oregon Rail Holdings, LLC of Portland, Ore and his idea was to showcase National Parks in the United States by train. The train was taken as close to its destination by rail, and then passengers boarded motor coaches for the final leg of the tour. Through out the years several itineraries to National Parks where offered.
In May 2006 the American Orient Express was purchased by Tom Radar, who changed its name to GrandLuxe Rail Journeys. Operating much of the same itineraries as well as introducing new itineraries including a trip into Mexico, GrandLuxe closed its operations in August of 2008.