Vintage train gives BNSF employees, family members 2-hour taste of the good life

In the realm of company perks, a ride on a vintage train sure beats a coffee mug or a department store gift card.

Just ask any local BNSF employee boarding the 2015 Employee Appreciation Special on Sunday. The vintage train, featuring 11 1950s-era luxury passenger cars, was used to give local employees a treat this weekend — a two-hour free ride on the Stampede Pass Route, the first mainline rail route in state history, that now connects Tacoma, Auburn and eventually crosses the Cascade range.

Each trip — there were two Saturday and two Sunday — departed from the BNSF station in Auburn with enough seating for 350 employees, friends and family. The railway, which serves 28 states and parts of Canada, uses the train to honor its employees once a year in a different part of the country. This is the first time in a decade the special has visited the Northwest.

“It’s generating a tremendous amount of excitement,” said Gus Melonas, director of public affairs for BNSF’s Pacific Northwest Region.

The buzz began early during the U.S. Open when the luxury cars were parked on a side track near the tournament site, prompting speculation that company owner Warren Buffett was aboard entertaining high rollers.

Uh, not true, said Melonas. The marketing team was using the cars to entertain clients during the Open. And Buffett wasn’t taking tickets on Sunday’s trip either.

The lack of a billionaire didn’t quell the anticipation of Sunday’s passengers for riding in style. In fact, April Sanderson, who works in the company’s environmental remediation department, had never been on a train.

“I’m fairly new to the company, so this is my first opportunity,” said Sanderson, who brought her husband, David, and infant son, Clayton. “But I’m really excited to be out here, and the vintage train adds a special element to it.”

Although the passenger cars contain numerous ’50s-era features, the train has been fully modernized, including power provided by new GE diesel locomotives. Employees rode exclusively in observation cars for Sunday’s trip to Easton and back, but the luxury train also has dining and sleeping cars, a dance hall and a smartly appointed executive business lounge.

Simply sitting back and enjoying the scenery will be a welcome change of pace from working, said locomotive engineer Joe Jaeger.

“Why not enjoy the fruits of our labor?” he said. “It’s great. The old cars seem like they ride better than the new cars. They’re restored better, more comfortable, ride nicer than the new ones.”