The Frill Ride: Riding in Luxury on the Greenbrier Presidential Express



Getting away from it all is apparently one of the perks of staying at the luxurious Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., a hotel that has been hosting the rich and famous since 1778. The out-of-the-way location, however, poses a problem for its wealthy guests. “Once you’re there, it’s the most wonderful place in the world,” promises Jim Justice, the local businessman who purchased the resort in 2009 with plans to restore the getaway to its former glory. “But how do you get there?”

Starting next year, one answer will be by rail. The Greenbrier Presidential Express will be able to haul up to 240 passengers from D.C.’s Union Station on a six-hour trip designed to live up to the experience of the destination.

According to plans, guests will be able to sink into swiveling armchairs and take advantage of the Wi-Fi and the extensive food and beverage service while sitting in the comfort afforded by a state-of-the-art HVAC system and UV-ray resistant glass. They can mosey over to the club car for a real rail drink in a cozy lounge with a baby grand Steinway piano. Or they can take in the view of the awesome Alleghenies from an open-air car.

Also on board: two baggage cars, a VIP presidential suite and a registered nurse (who can also explain the spa services available at the Greenbrier). When the train arrives at the depot, it’ll be met by carriages pulled by Clydesdales that will take riders on the last bit of their journey.

And the most critical amenity: “A thing called glamour,” says designer Carlton Varney, who describes the aesthetic he’s creating as a cross between the White House and Tara from “Gone With the Wind.” The ceilings will be painted a light blue with soft clouds, the carpets will have a rhododendron pattern as an homage to West Virginia’s state flower, and every piece of linen and china will be up to the highest of standards.

The price, not surprisingly, will also be quite high. Tickets are expected to go for $650 round-trip, which may be worth it to ride what the resort is calling “the world’s finest train.” But since I’m never going to pony up that much cash, I’m hoping Amtrak (and Metro, for that matter) take some inspiration from this project.

There’s no reason for train travel to be so “dreary,” Varney says. Why not opt for a whimsical interior that gives passengers something to gaze at on a long ride? It doesn’t have to cost a lot, and the results would be priceless.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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Clinton Yates | June 29, 2011