John Bailey was in charge of getting more than 1,500 people to Hersheypark last week from many parts of Pennsylvania, and he had a limited number of buses available to do it.
So he decided to go back to the roots of his family’s travel business: the train.
York-based Bailey Coach Inc. used Amtrak to help bring about 350 of the participants to a Commonwealth Connections Academy event at the Derry Township amusement park, said Bailey, the company’s president.
There potentially are other advantages to using the passenger rail line, including bypassing traffic that can snarl approaches and departures to major urban areas, he said.
There’s also no way to complete the journey on Amtrak to portions of the midstate, because it does not reach the Gettysburg, Hershey or York areas directly, leading to business opportunities, Bailey said.
In the right situations, and depending on costs, it could be a viable option a firm can capitalize on, he said.
Between the size of its own fleet and available coaches for lease during this particularly busy time of year, Bailey said he had to find more seats somewhere to get the job done for the academy.
Bailey said the idea to use Amtrak to get participants from Philadelphia to the Elizabethtown station in Lancaster County came to him because his mother lives in a retirement community in the area.
Coordinating that many seats on the rail line took some work, but if it were easy, someone else already would be doing it, Bailey said.
While the firm used available motor coaches for longer hauls, the company leased school buses for the relatively shorter trip from the train station to Derry Township, Bailey said.
Two groups of about 200 and about 150 people each came in at two times during the morning, he said.
Using Amtrak represents his family business coming full circle in a way, Bailey said.
His uncle, Glenn Bailey, started arranging group travel by train from York in the 1930s while he was a school teacher, Bailey said.
Bailey’s father, Fred Bailey, later joined Glenn Bailey in the business that today operates as Bailey Travel Travel Time, he said. Bailey Coach began in 1998.
Amtrak’s Group Department has recorded an increase in ridership and revenue in the fiscal year that began in October, spokeswoman Danelle Hunter said via email.
Amtrak can book groups from 20 individuals to 250 people, she said, and the types of groups include schools, Scouts, churches, fraternities and sororities.
The recent annual event for Commonwealth Connections Academy at Hersheypark was the cyber charter school’s third in a row at the park, said Jim Alex, supervisor of community involvement and a middle school assistant principal.
The statewide academy began about a decade ago and is a kindergarten-through-12th-grade public school — complete with its own school board, principals and teachers — with learning over the Internet, he said.
More than 6,000 students are enrolled and funding comes from the state Department of Education, he said.
The state allocates money to school districts each year for education costs, and the state money per pupil goes to Commonwealth Connections Academy when a student opts to attend, Alex said.
The picnics — the school hosts another, smaller one in the Pittsburgh area for Western Pennsylvania students — are a way for students to interact with each other in person, Alex said.
After the first year at Hersheypark, the school realized it should offer some kind of transportation to help some attendees get there, he said.
Alex said he coordinated last year’s transportation, which included some Bailey vehicles, and this year the academy decided it was better to let one carrier handle the work.
More than 11,500 people registered to attend the Hersheypark event this year, he said.
“I couldn’t see doing it without Amtrak now,” Alex said.