If you’re feeling nostalgic about those special trains that carried fans to Nebraska football games, you’re in luck.
An Omaha group is organizing a 10-car, 500-seat “Big Red Amtrak Special” that will travel the rails from the Durham Museum in Omaha to Lincoln’s Haymarket district and back for the Sept. 20 NU-Miami game.
You might become nostalgic about the price of train tickets, too.
A standard seat, with food and drink available for purchase in a nearby cafe car, will cost $200. The deluxe version aboard “heritage” dome cars with catered food and drinks will cost $500. Discounts for blocks of tickets are available.
Football tickets aren’t included in the price.
Steel company chairman Robert Owen, his train-loving business partner, Terry Peterson, and Owen’s son-in-law, insurance man Bob Harry, are organizers,
with Omaha travel agency Travel and Transport handling the bookings and website and Amtrak supplying the locomotive for a fee.
“I know it’s kind of expensive,” Owen said, because of the cost of arranging the locomotive, cars, crew and right-of-way. But riding the railroad to a game has “kind of a charm,” he said, and skips the hassles of driving and parking in favor of a relaxing social occasion in motion.
“My dream has always been to run the football train again,” he said. “It took us two years.”
Special trains have been hauling Husker fans between Omaha and Lincoln, off and on, for at least a century. About 700 fans boarded a special train for the Nebraska-Kansas game on Nov. 11, 1914, and hundreds more rode “regular trains” to the game, according to a World-Herald account at the time.
From 1958 to 1974, Omahan William Kratville, a Union Pacific and Amtrak photographer, saw to it that trains carried fans to the Nebraska home games and frequently to Big Eight road games, too.
Trains ran to games occasionally after that. The price of a round-trip ticket in 1975: $10.
Kratville died in 2011. Now the new team is at the throttle, with plans for the future if it works out.
“I’ve always been a railroad buff,” said Owen, whose Owen Industries is the parent company of three steel fabricating and processing companies — Paxton-Vierling Steel in Omaha, Missouri Valley Steel in Sioux City, Iowa, and Northern Plains Steel in Fargo, North Dakota.
His father and grandfather loved railroads, too. He remembers riding Union Pacific trains to Sun Valley, Idaho, where the family business supplied steel structures for ski lifts in the vacation resort’s early years.
The Nebraska-Miami game train will include two cars belonging to Owen and Peterson, partners in Zephyr Rail Services. They are inviting civic and political leaders, Amtrak officials and others who might support the idea of regular football trains.
The non-paying, invited guests will ride in Zephyr’s two private cars — “Promontory Point,” a Union Pacific business car, and “Suitsme,” a Pullman car built in 1928 for the president of the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad of Maine. They feature bedrooms, sitting rooms, offices and dining rooms, with chefs’ galleys.
Warren Lucas, a retired executive for Union Pacific and consultant on the trip, said the U.P. car’s history includes being used by Jimmy Carter during his 1976 campaign for president.
“We’re kind of the trial balloon,” Owen said. “Amtrak is always looking for additional revenues. They’d like to develop the concept of running trains from Chicago to the Big 10 games. They’re right in the middle of all that.”
Many of the Big 10 stadiums have Amtrak stations within walking distance.
This time, Owen’s group is taking the financial risk, promoting the trip and paying Amtrak to send the locomotive and the other cars to Omaha. Amtrak will operate the train, coordinating with freight traffic on the busy BNSF Railway line that runs between the two cities.
The $200 paying customers will occupy three regular Amtrak passenger cars. The $500 customers will occupy four dome cars rolled in for the occasion, with caterers on board. Passengers generally will remain in their price zones.
If this year works, next year may see a series of trips, Owen said, although probably not for every home game. In the future, perhaps a train could shuttle fans to Iowa City and back for the Nebraska-Iowa game.
The Sept. 20 trip might break even if 70 percent of the tickets are sold, he said. “If we sell everything out, we might make a buck or two, but nothing to write home about. We just thought it would be fun to do.”
The train cars will open for boarding at 2 p.m. on the Union Pacific track at the lower level of the Durham Museum in Omaha and leave at 3 p.m., switching to BNSF track. About 90 minutes later they will debark at the bustling Haymarket in Lincoln.
From there, passengers are on their own. They can relax on the train, try out Haymarket venues or tailgate parties around the stadium and stroll to the game, which starts at 7 p.m. A shuttle be available for handicapped passengers.
An hour after the game ends, the train will leave Lincoln, arriving in Omaha by about midnight.
Owen expects the trip to Lincoln to be festive and full of excitement, especially since this year being the 30th anniversary of the 1984 game when Nebraska failed on a two-point conversion attempt that would have sealed a national championship.
For the return trip, he said, the mood may depend on how the game turns out.
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