Private Commuter Train Collection Passes Through Somerville



Story contributed by John Roderick

Photos by Wayne Hills

It’s part of a very rare collection and

event in conjunction with the “American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners” who operates their special train, “The Pine Tree Limited” over Pan Am Railways.

It is one of 26 privately-owned railroad passenger cars that passed through Somerville on a special train from Portland, ME this past Thursday morning at 10:30 am.

The owner of this particular car is Tom Pearson who is originally from Somerville.

It’s route passed over behind Assembly Square via the Bridge over the tracks just north of Sullivan Sq. (Mystic Ave.) and then it drove over to Twin City Shopping Plaza where most got to catch a glimpse of it on the crossing at Medford Street @ Gore Street, right behind the towing lot.

To learn more visit their website at:

Riding the Rails through Somerville
By John Alan Roderick

“My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.”
-Edna St. Vincent Millay

A very rare event took place Thursday morning when the American Association of Private Railway Car Owners (AAPRCO), returning from their 4 day convention in Portland, Maine passed briefly through Somerville. The group’s 26 car train of privately-owned vintage luxury railway coaches, sleepers, observation and business cars came into Somerville by way of the Reading commuter line, ran through Sullivan Square, around the back of Inner Belt Road, under McGrath Highway and from there over to Beacon Park in Allston via the Grand Junction Railroad. The nearly half-mile long train snaked its way at 10 mph through Kendall Square and parts of the MIT Campus to the delight of onlookers and even some curious motorists used to seeing grungy, rusty freight trains on the line.

The various railroad passenger cars—referred to in railroad hobby circles as “Private Varnish”–were gathered from all over the United States over the past two weeks, consolidated in Chicago, and brought to Portland by way of the old Boston and Maine Railroad’s Hoosac Tunnel line through the Berkshires last Saturday and Sunday. The “convention” in Portland consisted of a banquet gathering of car owners and their guests as well as trips to local tourist railroads and other area attractions. The group holds this annual gathering at locations all over the United States. This was the first time it had ever been held in Portland and the first time the specially-chartered train had ever traversed the normally freight-only Boston and Maine (now Pan Am Railways) route across Massachusetts.
Among the more than two-dozen cars, many of which are literally Yachts on Rails, were several which have carried US Presidents including William Howard Taft (who summered on Cape Ann), Woodrow Wilson, George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama. Some served as rolling offices for railroad officials and some, featuring double-deck vista domes, ran on cross-country deluxe passenger accommodations in the 40s and 50s over the US and Canadian Rockies and other places.
Representing New England railroads of yesteryear was a former Boston and Maine 1954-built Pullman Stainless-steel sheathed sleeping car; “Salisbury Beach”. It carried its clientele from New York to Maine vacation points until the early 1960s, when it was sold to Canadian National Railways. It operated until 1982 before being placed in surplus storage.

In 1990 it was sold to Tom Pearson of Laguna Hills, CA. Tom undertook a complete restoration and modernization of the car which included making it Amtrak-compatible. This allows it to be operated over any route on which Amtrak trains run by coupling it to any of the carrier’s scheduled trains. There’s a further Somerville connection to the “Salisbury Beach”… Tom Pearson–a retired Electronics Engineer and former Navy flyer who served during Viet Nam–was born at Somerville Hospital in the early 40s and spent his young childhood growing up on Albion Street!

The train was split into two sections over in Allston; one headed west toward Chicago and the other south to New York and Washington, D.C. Along the way, certain cars will be set off or attached to other trains which will haul them back to their respective home rails.

And also check out their YouTube Vidio at: Here’s what the train looked like going through Fitchburg last week…








The train also featured several vintage “Vista Domes” which were built by the Budd Company in the 1940s. These cars operated on various western US and Canadian railroads during the post-War period and were a favorite of sightseeing travelers who wanted to take in panoramic views in air-conditioned comfort.

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