The International Steam Pages
Trains Unlimited Tours
Tour company problems continue, click here for the Globe Steam debacle (updated 18th January 2011). I continue to be amazed by the number of people who have good things to say about such companies. Of course if someone sells you a beer for USD 1 when it should cost USD 2 then you will be happy, but what about the other guy who has paid the seller the other USD 1 for a beer he will never get?
Two of my correspondents have pointed out that the website of 'Trains and Travel' (the successor to the failed Trains Unlimited Tours organisation) has several tours offered which coincide with those of Tanago, which is a linear descendent of the failed Globe Steam tours. Clearly "Birds of a Feather, work together!"...
"You know a man by the company he keeps" - I am not going to 'name and shame' every organisation that does business with this unholy alliance because I have no way to make it comprehensive and the connecting chain could be a long one, but again readers may care to send an appropriate email to those that do...
Chris Skow, former owner of the defunct TUT and now 'rail tours manager' of 'Trains and Travel' has circulated a document which gives a little more information on its demise. In particular, it appears that he had sold the company back in 2001 (to whom it is not revealed) and that he had loaned it a large sum of money which was lost in the bankruptcy. It's long and posting selective extracts might be misleading, but if you would like a copy please email me. (Added 7th November 2010)
TUT (updated 8th November 2009) has now undergone a full metamorphosis and re-emerged as 'Trains and Travel', the website has now become http://www.traintrips.biz/. The website is littered with links to the former operation's pages which seamlessly redirect you to the new site. Nice work if you can get it, but please read below if you are tempted to join a tour. And if you want to know why TUT went belly up, then read the official inside story here - http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?4,1858126 - I only just caught up with it, apparently like all the problems in the world today it was GWB's fault!
Steve Singer emails me (4th Mat 2009)
"You might be interested to know that Chris Skow, owner of the defunct TUT, has sold his client list to other tour operators, some of whom have been e-mailing me to join THEIR tours. Also, Mr Skow is now railroad tour director and 'experienced tour leader': for Travel Unlimited- same address as TUT, and they are planning tours (including to Cuba) for 2010. Wonder how those that Chris sold his list to feel now that he will be competing with them for clients?"
(To which I might add that I wonder what happened to the money from the sale of that list? RD)
TUT's website has announced (4th March 2009) that the company is filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and that two other operators are taking over some of the tours. A very cosy arrangement as it seems that TUT's former leading light Chris Skow will lead the Ecuador Tour! This will be small consolation for those who made payments which were not covered by credit card protection and Mainline Steam in New Zealand (see below).
Mainline Steam, operators of October 2008's New Zealand Tour have issued the following statement on the situation (12th January 2009).
(Note that Rail Romance advertised the tour on http://www.fahrplancenter.com/RRRNeuseeland2008.html, this link is now dead, their homepage is http://www.fahrplancenter.com/RRR.html, this is dead too. RD)
"With all the internet chatter circulating about Trains Unlimited Tours and Mainline Steam I would like to take this opportunity to put Mainline Steam’s side of the story.
In October 2008 we operated our New Zealand Steam tour. Trains Unlimited booked a total of 29 people on the tour, including a TUT tour guide, George Forero. Also among that number were a group of 11 booked with TUT by a Swiss tour company Rail Romance and led by Hans Peter Häberli the owner of the company. When the tour started in Auckland on the 11th TUT had not paid the account, however, we were not concerned as we had dealt with them on a number of occasions and they had always paid in full. It therefore, came as a complete shock to receive an email when we were 7 days into the trip telling us that they were having financial problems and were not going to be able to pay the full amount.
As you can imagine this put us in a very awkward situation. Advice from our lawyers was to immediately remove the Trains Unlimited passengers from the tour. However, both Ian Welch (The head of Mainline Steam) and I were reluctant to take that step. Chris Skow had assured us that he was having urgent meetings with his bankers and was sure he could sort it out. We did get about 25% of the money from him at that stage. Ian and I decided to keep the passengers on the tour in order to give Chris time to resolve the situation. It became obvious in the following days that this was possibly not going to happen and after discussing the situation with George Forero we called a meeting of the TUT passengers in Blenheim to inform them of the situation. At that meeting we offered them two alternatives.
1) To take them to Wellington, the next major city, at our expense. From there they could arrange their onward travel back to the USA.
2) They could agree to pay any outstanding money to us and continue on the tour. We evenly split the money received from Chris among the passengers and told each of them the amount still owing. We agreed that we would not take any money from their credit card until we were better informed on TUT’s position and any money we did eventually take would be held in a separate account for 3 months to allow TUT to come up with further funds. Also we assured them that we would refund them money in the future should TUT pay the account. In the event it was a couple of weeks after the tour that we decided we would have to try and recover some money from the passengers as no further money was forthcoming from TUT. All were informed before we debited their credit cards.
The only problem we have had is with Rail Romance, who despite assurances that they would pay, have now indicated that they are reluctant to do so. We hope that Rail Romance will reconsider. However, we are not hopeful.
We feel that we did our best for the passengers in a difficult situation and we certainly appreciate the support we received from them. I certainly felt sorry for George Forero who was the face of TUT. He was as devastated as the rest of the group and had as many sleepless nights as I.
Obviously this whole affair has hit Mainline Steam hard. We truly believe in what we are doing to preserve and operate steam locomotives on the mainline here in New Zealand for all to enjoy and intend to continue offering our steam excursions and tours. Steam is becoming increasingly rare around the world and we consider that, with its fantastic scenery, friendly people, and magnificent steam locomotives New Zealand is the place to ride and enjoy steam hauled trains."
The long established operator, Trains Unlimited Tours is in deep financial trouble and has advised clients by letter that it will cease running tours and is unable to return deposits. Despite this as of 30th December 2008, the website was still live and promoting tours, making no mention of TUT's problems, but by 8th January 2009, a 'closing down' statement had been placed on the home page. The unfolding story is given below in reverse chronological order and I will add to it as news becomes available.
Based on the information below and other emails I have seen, my advice is "DO NOT SEND ANY MONEY" to Trains Unlimited Tours under any circumstances.
As before, I will be more than happy to collate data on the amount owing to customers and put people in touch with each other so that they can consider the possibility of a 'class action'. Please email as below and put TUT in the subject line.
Alan Bevan writes (30th December 2008):
"I noticed in particular the comments attributed to Adam Burns, American Rails Forums. What is said there about the New Zealand tour is misleading.
I was one of about 26 on that tour in October who had booked through TUT (a lot more had booked direct with Mainline Steam, the tour operator, or through the UK's Railway Touring Company). Our TUT group were all told of TUT's default about 10 days into the tour while we were still on the South Island, but returning to Wellington the next day. Thanks to Mainline Steam's generosity, rather than asking us all to leave the tour there and then, we were given the option of leaving the tour when we arrived in Wellington, or if we wanted to continue with the tour, agreeing to pay Mainline Steam any outstanding sums in the event that TUT failed to pay the full amount owed to Mainline Steam. At that point, I remember that TUT had paid about 25%. I understand that it eventually managed to pay only about 50%.
I, and presumably each of the other TUT people on the tour, in the end had to pay about 5½ thousand New Zealand dollars to Mainline Steam, but only well after the tour had finished. TUT's default was a major financial blow to Mainline Steam, who may now be forced to rethink some of their future plans."
Click here for Adam Burns' posting.
I received this email from Steve Singer on 22nd December 2008. The original story follows:
"Thought you'd like to know we were booked on the 2009 Ecuador tour & today received a letter dated 17 December (added to this page 28th December 2008, RD) stating TUT is shutting down operations and NOT refunding deposits. Assholes! Now have to fight with my credit card company to get our money back."
As of 22nd December 2008, the website was still advertising tours, the Ecuador tour was given as modified that day even thought the letter says it is cancelled!
I cannot speak for the legal situation in the USA, but quite simply much of what is proposed in the December 17th letter would be against UK insolvency legislation as would soliciting business and payments through the website and otherwise.
On the TUT website 'Tours Unlimited', customers are advised - "IF YOU NEED INDIVIDUAL RESERVATIONS FOR AIR , TRAIN TRAVEL OR LODGING PLEASE CONTACT OUR SISTER COMPANY, TRAVEL UNLIMITED WHICH IS A FULL SERVICE AGENCY IN RENO." http://www.travelunlimited.net/ (link dead 29th October 2017). An email to this company asking for clarification brought the response "My information is limited. I spoke briefly to Chris on Tuesday Dec 23. At that time he confirmed that he has closed his doors. They were planning on operating several of the earlier trips. I am not sure which ones however. Chris Skow has always been a very reputable businessman in the 20 plus years I have worked with him. I'm sorry I can't give you more information at this time."
The long established US operator TUT is reported (14th November 2008) to be suffering from severe financial problems. These have been highlighted in several Yahoo news groups and also Trains magazine.
This has been acknowledged by at least one close associate of Chris Skow (the moving force behind the company); it seems that operational losses for 2008 amount to some USD 450,000. Tours are still operating but it seems that severe cash flow issues meant that the local operators of the October 2008 New Zealand tour are said to be still waiting to be paid for services provided. However, the more recent Eritrean tour is said to have run without a hitch.
The company blames the decline in the value of the USD and rising air fares for its problems. While these will have eased in recent weeks, the international economic recession will pose a further threat. It has been reported that new owners are being sought who will inject extra capital to keep it afloat.
Readers should exercise due caution in planning to join future tours. UK readers (and those elsewhere according to local legislation) should use a credit (not debit) card for any payments made as their card company will then be liable for the refund.
This was posted on the American Rails forum of 12th November:
"Trains Unlimited struggles, but isn't in bankruptcy
All the best, Adam Burns
Because our cash flow has run out and the fact that very few new bookings are
coming it will not be possible to give any refunds to those clients that
We are in negotiations with two companies that
are very interested in taking over most of the TUT designed 2009 tours and products and by early
Meanwhile, our Valentine Snowflake Express February 14-16, 2009 over the President's Day Weekend will be our
"Farewell Excursion". We
Teresa A. Skow, President/Owner