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 Post subject: Charters
PostPosted: Sat Sep 07, 2019 9:09 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 12:32 pm
Posts: 111
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Hi All,
I'm doing some market research and looking to get an idea of what your railroad charges for group charters. Specifically:

Photo freights (steam or diesel)
Bus tours
Weddings
TV / Movie shoots
Single coach on a regular train or entire train (special run)

Do you rent out your shop / station facilities for special events?

I realize that some answers may be "it depends" so a price range is fine in those cases.
I just want to understand roughly what is out there and get an idea on what railroads charge. No need to identify your organization.

Thanks in advance for any information your can provide.

Jason


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 Post subject: Re: Charters
PostPosted: Sat Sep 07, 2019 9:52 pm 

Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2004 10:28 pm
Posts: 236
I'm not sure that a number can even be guesstimated for photo freights. I'm going to answer this from the standpoint of the hardcore photo charter with limited occupancy, high number of runbys and a decent price point that the participants are paying. The "railfan weekend" with 100-200 people is a totally different answer altogether....

Does the group/person/organization want one crew or two crews? How many engines? How many cars needed? Painting or readying of rarely used equipment required? Night session? If so, in the yard or out on the line? How many trains are on the line that day that you have to work around? Popular tourist season where you're short of crews already? Off day where things are ready to go, but otherwise not running anything? Dead of winter where you have to make equipment ready and then winterize everything after the fact? Do you even have enough crews and/or equipment to provide what they want?

Everything has a price, and everything has to be considered on a case by case basis
. The charge for a one crew and one engine for an 9-5 shoot is going to be wildly different than a pull from the yard at 5:30AM, get back at 9PM and then a night session after that. Perhaps they want to do two days of that schedule. Yes, those type of trips do exist, and they tax everyone.

By and large, the photo organizers work with the railroads that want to do photo specials. Otherwise, until you've done one, you have no idea what it entails, and you often end up with buyer's remorse and no one goes home happy. Rule #1 for steam charters---you go through far more fuel and water than you would ever believe possible for a one day operation. You also put far more miles and wear/tear on the engine to make it happen compared to normal operation doing a bunch of hard starts and stops and going back and forth and back and forth and.... You better have a crew up there that understands what the photographers want--and why--or your crew will start balking by lunchtime. Things can go downhill quickly.

I've seen some places that will do a photo special for basically cost. They want to do it, and figure the advertising as the photos get spread around will buy some goodwill. Or they make an agreement with the organizer to have use of the photos for advertising. There are all sorts of deals that can be worked out. Other places, you may end up with $10,000/day per engine, or even more. $25,000 for a one day special? It's been done before.

That said, there is a limit as to what people will pay and it has everything to do with what you can offer. If you have great scenery, a good looking and authentic freight consist of a proper length, authentic and good looking engines that you are willing to put into proper livery and run it in the peak of fall colors to where the photos are indistinguishable from those taken during the steam era, you can probably get away with a charging a little bit more. Authenticity sells. Big engines sell. Scenery sells--if you have appropriate locations that are cut for a group to stand in to take photos. A good decent length freight train that looks "right" for the era sells. On the other hand, if you have an engine that doesn't really fit your line, a few cars that are 1980s vintage, questionable "scenery", a lot of brushcutting expense to even run a trip and you won't let the organizer put magnets or something on the tender to cover up "Tourist Railroad X", that price is going to have to drop a lot or people won't even pay $100 for the day for the experience. It might not even be viable at all for that market.

Looking at it from the organizer point of view, photo specials are based on the locations you are planning to use. Count the number of people that can fit in the tightest location, and that's the crowd size. Spread all costs (both from the railroad and anything the organizer has to do to make the trip happen) and divide that by the number of people, and that's your ticket price. You may very well end up with an product that you can't sell because the price to break even is more than what people will pay for that particular railroad for that type of charter. You may be able to modify and get more people, but when you do that, the people that will pay more don't want to deal with the bigger crowds, loss of some of the really good locations and fewer runbys so now you're targeting a different audience altogether. Maybe there's too much brushcutting to get the group into enough locations to make a viable trip.

It's quite easy from a railroad perspective to price yourself out of the charter market altogether, be it intentionally or unintentionally. Having been on and organized a fair number of these things over the years, that point is getting there faster than we want to believe. The photo charter group is aging quickly, and the younger people don't have the $200-300/day to spend on a charter, if they could even get off work to make the trip. It's no surprise that most trips run on a weekday when you don't have to dodge normal operations. How fast are we to that point that these things wont even be able to operate? No one knows, but I feel that the day is coming. There just aren't enough young people coming in to take the place of the older generation that is aging out.

In the end, it boils down to one thing--do you want to do the charter? If so, you'll work with the organizer to figure out a mutually agreeable price point based on what they want to do and what you can actually provide, and that price will vary due to all of the above reasons and more.

Good luck,
Kevin


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 Post subject: Re: Charters
PostPosted: Sun Sep 08, 2019 7:30 am 

Joined: Fri Jul 24, 2009 5:51 pm
Posts: 117
Kevin Gilliam wrote:
In the end, it boils down to one thing--do you want to do the charter? If so, you'll work with the organizer to figure out a mutually agreeable price point based on what they want to do and what you can actually provide, and that price will vary due to all of the above reasons and more.

Good luck,
Kevin



Kevin, I think you’ve covered the photo charter angle quite nicely. Suffice it to say that there’s really no such thing as a one-size-fits-all price for that type of event. I suspect that movie shoots are very similar, if not more demanding. Weddings are probably a bit easier. Bus tours and car charters are probably the easiest to “can.”

One thing I would add is the preparation and contingency planning angle. A photo charter is a lot like a military mission. It has a well-defined time-line as well as back-up plans for weather. The ability of the railroad to carry it off depends upon planning, preventative maintenance and proficiency training on the part of the crew. Yes, maintenance issues happen, but the operations that prepare don’t have nearly the problems that are experienced by operations that expect to show up and “wing it.” Have the freight cars been maintained and tested? Have any deal-killer issues with the locomotive(s) been looked after? As they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression and if a railroad wants this type of business (and exposure), the last thing you want happening is to have a charter that’s supposed to depart at 0630 to not get out of the yard until 0800. Equally, you don’t want the train sitting for an hour or blocking the line for a hot-box that could have been foreseen. What will you do if THE steam locomotive can’t make the call? If it ends up being a diesel shoot and the price doesn’t change, don’t expect the patrons to return.

And one last thing..... When a patron has paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for a ticket on such an event, you don’t want to nickel and dime them to death. Stopping people who’ve gotten up at 4AM at the gate and charging them $5 additional to park when they are totally focused on being ready on time is just over the top.

/Kevin Madore


Last edited by KevinM on Sun Sep 08, 2019 10:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Charters
PostPosted: Sun Sep 08, 2019 9:36 am 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 474
“And one last thing..... When a patron has paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for a ticket on such an event, you don’t want to nickel and dime them to death. Stopping people who’ve gotten up at 4AM at the gate and charging them $5 additional to park when they are totally focused on being ready on time is just over the top.”

Amen Kevin. Amen. I paid well over $1,000 and when I saw that I was particularly annoyed as well.


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 Post subject: Re: Charters
PostPosted: Sun Sep 08, 2019 4:04 pm 

Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2004 10:28 pm
Posts: 236
One more comment I will add on the charter side of things since some of this isn't all that obvious if you don't do it on a regular basis....the price of the charter itself may be the cheapest part for a lot of people. Getting there may require an airplane ticket and rental car, food, hotels, etc and that one or two day event may easily approach $1000 by the time all is said and done. Then, the question becomes simple economics. Are you getting value for money? People may be able to afford that $300-400/day, but do they want to? Is it really worth it at that price? At a $1000 weekend, there are a lot of options available.

At a certain point, you can jump on a plane and go to the UK or Poland or Germany and see a bunch of steam for three or four days for the same price as a two day photo special here. Or you can spend a week in Colorado riding the narrow gauge. That's also about the price of a family vacation going to the beach or skiing for a week. As I said, it's really, really easy to price yourself out of the charter market altogether, and prices are getting very close to that point at some railroads.

and I will echo the other sentiment....if you are already getting a couple of hundred dollars per person for the event, wave the parking fee. Give them a voucher. They are already paying well above the normal tourist train ticket cost. The key is that you want them to enjoy their time, tell people how much fun they had, and then come back and do it again. It's oftentimes the little things that add up and make the difference between a good impression and a bad one.


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 Post subject: Re: Charters
PostPosted: Sun Sep 08, 2019 4:34 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:25 pm
Posts: 1892
Jason,

Here is a link to our full fee structure (admission, birthday parties, car charters and building rentals).

https://dctrolley.org/FEE_STRUCTURE.pdf

We do a healthy birthday business, sometimes two in one day. When we built the new visitor center, we designed the classroom with this in mind (tile floor, small kitchenette area). We do not get many traditional charter requests or building rentals, although for a while we were renting auditorium space for neighborhood community association annual meetings.

Good luck with your efforts. PM if you need additional info.

Wesley


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 Post subject: Re: Charters
PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2019 10:41 am 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 474
I think there can easily be too many charters as well.... I'm not a fan of Trains magazine doing their own charters and potentially taking away from other operators for example.

Photo charters need to be special... Nevada Northern sells out 2 weekends every year and they are in the middle of nowhere. Why? They offer something truly special!


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 Post subject: Re: Charters
PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2019 11:29 am 

Joined: Fri Jul 24, 2009 5:51 pm
Posts: 117
Crescent-Zephyr wrote:
I think there can easily be too many charters as well.... I'm not a fan of Trains magazine doing their own charters and potentially taking away from other operators for example.


"Event fratricide"......too many events competing for a relatively small clientele.....has happened occasionally in the past, but appeared to become more common in 2019. Several events planned for this year, which likely would have sold out in previous years, have died on the vine in 2019. It's not so much because the established charter operators are offering more charters, but rather, because other organizations are now getting more active in the game. Couple that with special events being offered by various railroads (UP Big Boy tours, Spike 150, upcoming C&TS 50th Anniversary, etc.) and there are a lot of events competing for the high-end railroad photography market.

Unfortunately, the number of folks who have the discretionary income to participate in such events is pretty limited. Most are older folks, who either have no kids, or who have kids who have long since left the nest. I'm sure there are younger people who would enjoy these events, but they just cannot afford the cost. Just as a guesstimate, there are probably 200-400 such people in the US (or willing to come to the US) who might be willing to do 1 or 2 such events per year. The number who can do 5 or 6 is FAR smaller. As has been noted in previous posts, the cost of these events for the participants, goes far beyond the charter fare. Figure 3-4x the charter price for the total cost to someone who has to fly, rent a car, stay in hotels, and pay T&L expenses.

Having a plethora of events to choose from sounds like great problem to have for an enthusiast photographer like myself, but it's really not. None of us can attend them all, so we "place our bets" on the ones we'd like to see, and hope those events sell enough tickets to be viable. This year, I've already lost my bets on three occasions....and in the meantime, missed out on other events, which sold out while I was reserving vacation days for events that ultimately failed to sell.

Eventually, I think this phenomenon will sort itself out. Charter operators and railroads that run very successful events, which produce stunning photography, will continue to survive. Operations that don't plan well, don't run efficiently or have lots of break-downs will not get repeat business. Equally, events that are not led by a true photographer often lead to sub-par results. In a world where quality seems to have lost its seat at the head table, this is one business where quality still matters. Photographers don't care so much about the train ride. It's the quality of the photos they come home with that makes or breaks the trip.

/Kevin Madore


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 Post subject: Re: Charters
PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2019 3:14 pm 

Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2004 10:28 pm
Posts: 236
KevinM wrote:
Crescent-Zephyr wrote:
I think there can easily be too many charters as well.... I'm not a fan of Trains magazine doing their own charters and potentially taking away from other operators for example.


"Event fratricide"......too many events competing for a relatively small clientele.....has happened occasionally in the past, but appeared to become more common in 2019. Several events planned for this year, which likely would have sold out in previous years, have died on the vine in 2019. It's not so much because the established charter operators are offering more charters, but rather, because other organizations are now getting more active in the game. Couple that with special events being offered by various railroads (UP Big Boy tours, Spike 150, upcoming C&TS 50th Anniversary, etc.) and there are a lot of events competing for the high-end railroad photography market.

Eventually, I think this phenomenon will sort itself out. Charter operators and railroads that run very successful events, which produce stunning photography, will continue to survive. Operations that don't plan well, don't run efficiently or have lots of break-downs will not get repeat business. Equally, events that are not led by a true photographer often lead to sub-par results. In a world where quality seems to have lost its seat at the head table, this is one business where quality still matters. Photographers don't care so much about the train ride. It's the quality of the photos they come home with that makes or breaks the trip.

/Kevin Madore


I too am of the notion that it will sort itself out given time. Yes, there are a few "new guys" on the block, but at the same time, some of the established operators are either totally out of the game or not running many trips (HTP surfaces every now and then, Goodheart is gone, Dave Gross has retired, Carl Franz isn't doing much). I haven't seen that much crossover on the Trains Magazine trips up to this point--by and large, they are drawing a different crowd since their mailing list has a lot of names that aren't on the normal "charter group" e-mails. It's no surprise that keeping some events low profile has its benefits--and drawbacks. Getting more people involved can only be a good thing if we want this to continue.

The issue that everyone continues to face is not knowing exactly what is planned for the coming year. It takes time to set this stuff up, and it takes time to sell a trip. No one has a crystal ball, and the best you can do is ask around and try and see what others have planned and when the railroad in question is willing to actually run the trip. That in itself often dictates when you are running--as does light and weather. If you want good sun angles, you aren't running trips in the height of the summer, so that means everyone gets to compete for the spring and fall. By and large, the rare and cool stuff sells out the fastest, and certainly the Golden Spike/UP 4014 debut affected some charters. That said, some of those events that fell by the wayside would have been cancelled anyways--like SP 18 at Durango due to circumstances with the operation of the engine and some massive snowfall earlier in the year.

Looking at the future, I can already see some of the same with all of the 2020 charters at the Cumbres & Toltec. You've got the Rotary run in March, the 19th Century Steam week in August and then a Lerro Productions week of charters in October. People will have to pick and choose, and that may have wide-ranging implications on other events in the pipeline.

As Kevin said, this stuff is run by reputation. Those that run subpar events will fade as the word gets around. If you can build a track record of running quality events, you'll be ok as long as you give people adequate notice of the trip so that they can plan vacation days and save up money. I know that is easier said than done because of the nature of the beast. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, and all we can do is hope for the best. These events are good for the fans, and if done properly, are good for the railroads as well.


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 Post subject: Re: Charters
PostPosted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 12:43 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 9262
Location: Somewhere north of Prescott, AZ on the Santa Fe "Peavine"
Jason Whiteley wrote:
Do you rent out your shop / station facilities for special events?


There is at least one museum facility in rail preservation that has been rumored to have marketed its main exhibit hall as an events venue to the point where it supposedly garners more revenue being rented for special events of the proper size in evenings than it does at the museum admission booth. Wedding receptions, banquets, charity balls, "Taste Of the Town" food-and-booze extravaganzas, etc. I'm skeptical that the rumors are true, but from what I know of the place (uniquely situated at a perfect size in a metropolitan area, with its own parking) it's hardly implausible.

I won't get into the argument that arises in many museum circles centered around "are we running a museum that happens to have space for events, or an events venue that happens to have a museum?" There are many museums and venues (zoos, aquariums, etc.) with this kind of situation. When I was in the Baltington-Washingmore area a while back, I once sarcastically asked folks if they had ever been to DC's National Building Museum when there WASN'T a big charity event, industry reception, or high-priced food-and-drink event going on. (I still haven't found one.)


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 Post subject: Re: Charters
PostPosted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 4:09 pm 

Joined: Fri Jun 01, 2018 12:05 pm
Posts: 76
The power used on a charter is a factor. Steam trips sell better than diesel or electric ones from what I've seen in terms of how many patrons will attend. Having a "new" (restored or repainted) engine is a bigger draw then the 'usual old number 97' too.

Another thing relates to what the line offers for scenery and the accessibility factor of same. It's much easier to get shots by vehicle of an eastern/midwestern line than of the Colorado narrow gauge for example. A photo charter that has easy access to many hard to access areas stands a better chance of success. Limiting the number of charters done on a particular line also helps keep it fresh / not so familiar.

The charter organizers are also a factor regardless if done by the railroad and/or an individual. I for one am up for any charter run by a certain organizer regardless of line or power used as it is always a well done fun time!

By same token there is another party who is not quite established yet (I've been on three of their events) whose charters aren't bad (a few minor bugs to work out) but the communication to potential patrons is awful from what I've seen. For example this past April a couple of charters were planned so I had some vacation time/money reserved for same but they never took place. I found out from a friend they were cancelled but despite having an email list the organizer never bothered to send an announcement about the cancellation. I should have been informed directly by the organizer and not second hand from someone else. Heard this same party is planning some new charters which I may or may not attend due to the poor communication involved with the cancelled charters. So right there that can be one less ticket sale - and my ticket could be the one needed to make it a go!

I like charters that have a limited number of patrons as it allows more photo stops/runbys despite the higher cost. More people mean more time to get on/off the train and less time for additional photos. (Almost all charters I go on use the train to transport patrons but there are some [Lerro] that make use of driving one's vehicle between photo locations as "transportation" to permit lack of passenger cars on a photo freight or get around lack of affordable insurance for riding train passengers.)

Providing drinks (water and soft drinks) throughout the day plus lunch during high noon sun is a nice feature to have on a charter. Have never been asked to pay to park at a charter but agree that sucks considering the price paid to buy a photo charter ticket.

Yes, it's a crap shoot when it comes to charters. I try to plan on having time/money set aside for ones that interest me but about half the charters proposed don't sell enough tickets by the go/no go date to become reality. I also can't afford to do all the charters that interest me as I only have so much disposable income to put towards them. I do note the prices creeping upwards in recent years which means I will attend less of them.


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 Post subject: Re: Charters
PostPosted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 5:55 pm 

Joined: Fri Jul 24, 2009 5:51 pm
Posts: 117
Robert J wrote:
Have never been asked to pay to park at a charter but agree that sucks considering the price paid to buy a photo charter ticket.


To be fair, the vast majority of railroads and museums have not asked patrons of expensive photo charters to pay for parking. I can think of perhaps 3 places where that either has happened or is about to. Two in the east, and one out west.

From my perspective, it's not the money, it's the inconvenience and the thoughtlessness. Most of these charters leave at 0-dark-30, so the patrons have to get up at perhaps 4AM in order to assure being on-site and geared-up in time to avoid delaying or missing the train. One site indicates they intend to charge patrons $5 at the gate for parking on the day of their event. While I can certainly understand their desire to keep the freeloaders out of a private event, stopping all 80 patrons at the gate for another cash transaction is going to add an unknown amount of delay for everyone and force attendees to get up even earlier. And what if the process bogs down and threatens to delay the train? Are we going to risk the sunrise shot to collect 5 bucks? Why couldn't the parking fee be built into the event price? It's practices like that which make me wonder whether the primary objective is to provide me with a great experience for my money.....or simply see how much money they can collect from me.

/Kevin Madore


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 Post subject: Re: Charters
PostPosted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 6:19 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 474
Agreed Kevin. Obviously I'm not going to decide not to go on a charter over $5. The cost of the charter, transportation to and from, and hotels during the charter make it an expensive trip no matter what. So if the railroad is being greedy the charter organizer (which is sometimes the railroad itself, sometimes not) should just include the parking fee in the cost.


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 Post subject: Re: Charters
PostPosted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 6:36 pm 

Joined: Fri Dec 22, 2017 6:47 pm
Posts: 205
Location: Philadelphia, PA
I suggest if there is a parking fee, then it be simply included in the price or sold at the same time, and that a parking chit be issued to each participant so they are not charged a fee on arrival at the venue.

That said, one advantage of a parking fee is there is one fee for each vehicle versus a fee for each participant. If you walk in, there is also a $5.00 fee

Strasburg is charging a parking fee for some of the 611 events; $5.00 for each vehicle for advance event ticketholders; $20.00 for non-ticketholders, but they have made it clear which events have a fee on their 611 page. The $20.00 fee includes a $15.00 voucher for one train ride or shuttle ride.

See https://www.strasburgrailroad.com/ride/ ... -of-steam/

BTW neither Strasburg R R nor RR Museum of PA is in Ronks PA, which is North of US 30. Both are East of Strasburg on Strasburg Road, South of US 30. They're about 4 miles from Ronks.

Phil Mulligan


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 Post subject: Re: Charters
PostPosted: Tue Sep 10, 2019 6:51 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 474
Are you trying to say they are or are not in Ronks PA? The wording is a bit confusing... both have addresses in Ronks PA.

And yes I was referring to Strasburg as one of the railroads that may or may not be charging parking for the photo charters. (the website seems to indicate parking will not be charged on the charter dates?).

Does Strasburg typically charge a parking / gate fee for Thomas the Tank Engine events?

I was particularly annoyed that they are charging a per car parking fee.. but if you don't have a car they are charging a per person gate fee.... I've never driven a car to Strasburg.. I take amtrak in and then stay close by in walking distance or stay in Lancaster and Uber over. I shouldn't have to pay a parking fee if I'm not parking and my ticket on the train should cover my gate admission... the nickel and diming is just annoying.

I'm sure seeing the 611 at Sunrise and Sunset will more than make up for it though... I know it's gonna be a truly special event. And hey... $5 is cheap by parking standards compared to theme parks etc.


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