Meet Todd Powell, co-founder of Vacations By Rail and rail travel enthusiast. After years in various management and executive positions in the business and travel industries, his passions led him on a new adventure: forming his own company. Together with Cole Dannewitz, Todd launched Vacations By Rail into the North American tourism scene in 2004. His dedication over the last two decades has led the company to become one of the industry's top providers of rail vacations and train tours globally. And while this has been a great accomplishment, his desire to share his love of traveling by train with others is at the heart of it. And that love runs deep - radiating into every answer he provided for this interview.
What was the idea behind Vacations By Rail?
Rail travel was generally sold as transportation in the past, but it really is so much more. Rail travel is the journey, the local experience, and the adventure that occurs when boarding a train. Forming the company came from a place of wanting to create vacations with rail as the centerpiece, the highlight of a well-planned itinerary. Supported by outstanding customer service, these trips fulfilled the customers' needs and desires to plan and enjoy train travel easily.
What is your history with train travel?
When studying abroad in Rome in my early 20s, I fell in love with rail travel. It took place on my first long-distance train trip from Rome, Italy, to Interlaken, Switzerland, to go snowboarding. I fell asleep on the overnight journey and awoke as the train exited a mountain tunnel into the spectacular Swiss Alps. Valley views filled with incredible amounts of snow and charming Swiss chalets wisping chimney smoke into the air gave a magical start to a love affair that continues to this day.
Do you have a favorite train?
My favorite train is always the one I am riding. Each train has its own unique personality to experience.
Which country’s rail infrastructure has left the biggest impression on you?
Switzerland. Train travel is in the Swiss peoples' DNA, resulting in spectacular rail journeys throughout the country. These routes offer connections with equally stunning boat, mountain gondola, and post-train bus rides to shine a light on the country's grandeur. Add some Swiss chocolate and coffee in the dining car, and you will hope your train never reaches its destination!
Why is the United States a great place for rail vacations?
The United States is a fantastic country for long-distance rail travel. Traveling cross-country by train opens the travelers' eyes to the vastness and size of the United States, with its diverse and stunning topography. Train routes such as the California Zephyr, Empire Builder, and Southwest Chief, three of Amtrak's most popular long-distance trains, each run over 2,200 miles, yet are vastly different. Riders can look upon the waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest or the plateaus and deserts of the American Southwest. There is something particularly special about enjoying breakfast in the dining car with America's beautiful landscape acting as moving artwork outside the window.
Why are you passionate about travel?
The joy of travel lies in the constant opportunity to learn, whether about people, the world around you, or yourself. It is life-changing. When we receive notes from our customers about their vacation's positive impact on their lives, it reinforces my passion for this lifelong pursuit.
Through the years, trains have carried Todd to some of the most incredible places the United States, Canada, and Europe have to offer. He has experienced the splendors of overnight travel, the unique journey that modern high-speed trains provide, luxury trains, heritage trains, and those railways whose scenic routes leave riders in awe. Each itinerary from Vacations By Rail is built upon the shoulders of his expertise and that of the staff. His dedication to the industry has allowed him to become a respected authority on travel whose opinions have been recognized on television and radio and in written publications.
Despite all this, he continues to take to the rails each travel season, expanding his knowledge and reveling in the excitement of the unknown that greets visitors in new destinations. This fall, Vacations By Rail travelers can join him in unveiling hundreds of years of mining history in Colorado's boomtowns and in riding through mountains, gorges, forests, and deserts on the state's most impressive scenic railways on the Colorado Rail Experience.