A train from Chicago pulling 30 vintage private rail cars will roll into Portland in September for the annual gathering of some of the nation’s most passionate and well-heeled rail fans.

The special train, called The Pine Tree Limited, will bring about 250 passengers to the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners’ 2014 convention at the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel.

Conventioneers won’t have to worry about booking hotel rooms. They will relax in luxury on the waterfront in their own railroad cars, which come equipped with kitchens, bedrooms and lounges and are staffed by chefs and stewards.

The train will be parked in Yard 8, a state-owned rail yard off west Commercial Street between Cassidy Point Drive and the International Marine Terminal.

The Pine Tree Limited is scheduled to leave Chicago at 9 a.m. on Sept. 18 and arrive in Portland at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 21. It will leave Portland on Sept. 25.

Rail fans often enjoy building model railroads in their basements. The difference here is scale, said Taylor Johnson, president of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners. “This is a full-size model train,” he said.

Many of the cars once served as rolling offices for railroad presidents and their staffs.

The oldest car to visit Portland will be the Federal, a business car built for the Pullman Co. in 1911. Presidents William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson rode in the car while they were in office, and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson used the car for his whistle-stop campaigns in the 1950s.

The Federal has two master bedrooms, a large shower, a changing room, crew quarters and a full-service kitchen.

Another famous car is the Georgia 300, which was built in 1930 as a lounge car and later converted to a business car by Georgia Railroad.

Besides business cars, there will be coaches, sleepers and dining cars. All of the cars are 85 feet long and 10 feet wide.

The owners will pay about $13,000 each to have their cars hauled by four Amtrak engines from Chicago to Portland and then to Massachusetts, where the train is scheduled to end its trip in Springfield or possibly Boston.

The big appeal of a special train is the chance to ride on hundreds of miles of freight-only tracks, which rail fans call “rare mileage” because passengers haven’t traveled on those tracks in decades, said Borden Black, the association’s executive director.

Individual cars cost several hundred thousand dollars to buy, although a fixer-upper can cost less than $100,000, Black said.

The owners sometimes ride in their rail cars, but they often finance their hobby by taking passengers for all or part of a trip or renting out the cars entirely. Businesses that own cars often use them to entertain clients. Information about chartering a car can be found on the association’s website, www.aaprco.com.

The private cars will gather in Chicago to make up the train. They will come from across the country, hauled by regularly scheduled Amtrak trains.

The Silver Star, a sleeper built in 1950 for Union Pacific, will begin its 7,700-mile trip in Tucson, Arizona, and go to Los Angeles before turning around and heading to Chicago.

The rail car association holds its convention in a different city every year. Recent hosts include Napa Valley in California, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Kansas City, Missouri.

Black said Portland was chosen for the convention this fall because the train will pass through scenic countryside on freight lines that haven’t carried passenger trains for years, particularly the stretch between Chicago and Syracuse, New York.

It takes a couple of years to plan a special train because so many details have to be worked out, such as securing agreements with the freight railroads along the route, Black said. She said Pan Am Railways, which owns the track in New England, has been easy to work with.

Jerry Angier, a member from Cape Elizabeth, pushed for the group to hold its convention in Portland, Black said.

Angier, who is co-chairman of this year’s convention, said Maine has a lot to offer rail enthusiasts. He is organizing trips to Rockland on the Maine Eastern Railroad and a visit to Kennebunkport to see the Seashore Trolley Museum. He noted that Portland is also home to the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum.

Although Angier doesn’t own a rail car, he has made many trips since he first rode in a private car 15 years ago, between Chicago and Tampa, Florida. “It’s a great way to see the country, and a very pleasant way,” he said.

Johnson, the association’s president, said passengers get a view of America that’s rarely seen from highways.

“It’s an opportunity to see the country at ground level,” he said. “It’s like cruising on an ocean liner, but you are on land.”

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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