Great Rail Journeys claims it is now the market leader for escorted rail holidays in the US, having signed a deal to acquire Chicago-based Vacations By Rail (VBR).

York-based Great Rail Journeys (GRJ) said the deal will enhance its position “as the world’s leading escorted rail company and is a key part of its plans to expand both internationally and into new product areas”.

The combined business will offer customers a global portfolio of escorted rail itineraries and a wider choice of independent rail holidays to customers in the UK and US.

UK customers will now have exclusive access to unique VBR products in North America’s national parks and Alaska.

Peter Liney, Great Rail Journeys’ chief executive, said: “This acquisition is the first step of many as we look to enhance our position as the world’s leading rail holiday company.

“At a time of market uncertainty, it signifies our scale and ambition within the market and at one stroke makes us market leader for escorted rail holidays in the US.

“Building on recently launched programmes such as ‘Rail River Cruise’ and ‘Small Group Tours’, this deal will present the trade with added benefits and an unrivalled rail portfolio range, giving greater choice for all of our customers.

“From product expansion to investment in technology and strengthening both our escorted and independent travel business, the combination of our two businesses is very exciting for us all.”

Heather Leisman, GRJ’s current president of North America, will lead the combined North American operation.

VBR co-founders Todd Powell and Cole Dannewitz will join the existing GRJ executive team, taking on new roles with a global remit.

Powell, co-founder and Vacations By Rail chief executive, said: “The combination of our two companies represents a significant opportunity to grow our footprint in the rail vacation sector domestically and internationally, as well as accelerate into new markets.”

GRJ said its commitment to its trade partners “will be stronger than ever”, with Lindsay Dixon, head of trade sales, continuing to provide support in the UK market.

GRJ employs more than 150 people, offering almost 400 itineraries to 50-plus countries.

Over the last five years it has developed new source markets for its rail tours including Australia and the US.

Established in 2004, VBR employs 30 people and carries about 9,000 North American customers per year on independent rail holidays and escorted rail tours in North America.

It specialises in the US national parks, Alaska, the Rockies and cross-Canadian rail journeys.

GRJ was acquired by UK-based private equity firm Duke Street in July 2018. Liney said at the time that the deal would enable the operator to invest in its US expansion plans.

Pictured from left: Heather Leisman, Todd Powell, Peter Liney and Cole Dannewitz.

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