Riding the Rails

Passengers aboard an Ontario County Chamber of Commerce excursion enjoy the scenery.

New Budd Car Joins Finger Lakes Railway Fleet

story and photos by Melody Burri

Five years ago, Vermont-based entrepreneur David Blittersdorf spent $5 million to buy a dozen 1950s-era self-propelled rail cars and several truckloads of replacement parts. 

Today, Finger Lakes Region visitors, businesses and residents are reaping the rewards.

Thanks to a visionary collaboration between Blittersdorf and Finger Lakes Railway Corporation (FLR), one of those 12 vintage Budd Rail Diesel Cars – lovingly restored and tastefully modernized – now travels throughout the Finger Lakes for public and private excursions, mobile business meetings, non-profit fundraisers and specialty tours. 

“The reason I bought them was I wanted Vermont to put them into passenger and community rail use,” said Blittersdorf during his inaugural ride out of Geneva. “I’ve had five years of fighting to get them into use (in Vermont), but we have a governor who doesn’t believe in rail. Luckily, Finger Lakes is the first to lease a car – with hopefully more to follow – and New York and other states are going to do what I wanted to do in Vermont.”

The Budd Rail Diesel Car, also known as an RDC, Budd car or Buddliner, is a bi-directional, self-propelled diesel multiple unit (DMU) railcar built in the mid-1900s by the Budd Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Designed for rural passenger service, Budd cars can travel independently in either direction, propelled by one of two diesel engines under the floors and controlled by one of two consoles at opposite ends of the car. This means only one operator is needed to run the car, which averages more than two miles per gallon. 

“After owning these for five years, the fastest I’ve gone in them is 10 miles an hour on some horrible track in Vermont,” says Blittersdorf. “These were designed to go 85 miles an hour at top speed.” 

CEO of AllEarth Renewables and AllEarth Rail in Williston, Vermont, Blittersdorf raves about the “really, really neat design” of the Budd car. 

“I’m a mechanical engineer by training and a business person for the past 40 years in wind and solar, so I wanted to do something that would basically reduce fossil fuel use and deal with our carbon problem,” he says. “This is the way you do it. These are a solution. We have to get back to transit that works.” 

FLR Manager of Business Development Bruce Habberfield said he’s confident the Budd car will help bring more visitors into the area.

“It’s taken a lot of vision, a lot of talk and a lot of planning to see if there was really a market for that in this region,” he says. “We believe with the wine industry and the breweries and general industry that there is.”

Habberfield said he looks forward to hosting corporate meetings on the car, among other events.

“Because the Budd car is so economical to run, it’s more accessible to all groups than our three car or five car trains,” he says. “There are a lot of new things we can do – all types of possibilities.” 

The Budd car carries 82 passengers, includes ADA compliant seating and accessibility and is the only one of its kind in the region, Habberfield says.

Ontario County Chamber of Commerce President Ethan Fogg calls the Budd car “a fresh, new addition to the region’s tourism and economic development landscape.” 

“It unlocks a market for small group excursions that would not have been viable before,” he says. “Now the rail company can offer more excursions that also consume less fuel, create less waste and require fewer staff.”

It paves the way for interest-oriented excursions that may not previously have made as much sense – the smaller the group you need, the easier it is to populate it.”The Budd car could become an ideal vehicle for economic development familiarization tours that give developers a front row seat to resources and opportunities along the rail corridor,” says Fogg.

Residents and visitors can also enjoy day excursions like one hosted in early summer by the chamber for its members, he says. The three-hour round-trip junket ran from Canandaigua to Clifton Springs and included a walking tour and hors d’oeuvres and drinks at Warfield’s on Main Street. 

“Excursions can be short, midrange or long, from as little as 30 minutes to as much as two hours point to point,” says Fogg. “They can be used for entertainment, as fundraisers, as a way to spend time with friends or to enjoy a rare experience and a great meal at an area restaurant.” 

The new car generated considerable buzz at road intersections during a recent tour, Fogg says.

  “People stopped what they were doing and grabbed their phones for pictures. The Budd car is a real head-turner.”

Blittersdorf couldn’t agree more. 

“I’m kind of a crazy guy who wants to do something to keep these cars running,” he says. “This is a way to do it, because they’re really, really good cars.”




• 82 to 94 passenger seating capacity

• Individual motorization (no locomotive needed)

• Two EPA-certified 360-horsepower diesel engines, one at each end

• Fuel efficiency of 2.5 miles per gallon

• 85 mph top speed

• 0 to 44 mpg in 60 seconds

• Safe, reliable and ready for rail use

Powered by two 360-horsepower diesel engines, the Budd car consumes only a gallon of fuel every 2.5 miles. Passenger locomotives have far more powerful engines and consume about four times as much – two gallons per mile. There are also plans down the road to convert the cars to run on electric, but the first hurdle beyond restoration and upgrade is putting them into use. 




Finger Lakes Railway Corporation is a short line railroad that owns and operates 167 miles of track from its Geneva headquarters. Launched in 1995, Finger Lakes Railway stretches across six counties: Ontario, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Yates and Schuyler. It employs more than 55 full time staff, maintains a fleet of 19 locomotives and leases more than 500 railcars. 

For more information, call 315-314-0436 or visit www.fingerlakesrail.com/Excursion.html

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