Winning the West 8-27-2003

Agents credited with Montana rail company's growth

By: Marty Wentzel

SANDPOINT, Idaho When Marcia Pilgeram was a girl, she traveled by train to visit relatives because she was afraid to fly. Now, as president of Montana Rockies Rail Tours, she’ll happily board a plane if the flight takes her to another train ride.

Pilgeram knows there are a lot of people who share her passion for trains, and her company’s success backs up her claim. The tour company’s business this year is more than double the 2002 figures, and Pilgeram credits travel agents for much of that growth.

“We’re building awareness among agents and developing relationships with group tour operators and travel consortia,” said Pilgeram, who was born near the route traveled by the company’s Montana Daylight tour train. “We’re educating agents through manuals and one-on-one contact, and we’re providing collateral materials and cooperative ads to help with agent marketing plans.”

By creating more packages, ground tour add-ons and special-event trains, the company now offers three times as many itineraries as in 2002.

Clients can ride the rails from early June to mid-September, but Pilgeram sees enough demand to expand the season. “My goal is to operate the train 10 months a year, with two months out for extensive maintenance,” she said.

Groups of up to 50 people are discovering the Montana Daylight, said Pilgeram. “We get retirement clubs, church groups, even wine tasters,” she said. “Families see it as a good way to spend quality time together.”

For its signature two-night Montana By Rail tour, the company offers daytime excursions on restored 1940s and ’50s streamliner cars, covering 478 miles between Livingston, Mont., and Sandpoint, Idaho. For clients who want to extend the tour, the company adds escorted motor-coach trips. For more independent travelers, it adds packaged self-guided rental car excursions, with detailed itineraries and documents.

Agents can experience the Montana Daylight firsthand with a 25 to 50 percent discount. The company’s agent manual is available online.

800-519-7245; www.