The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, based in Bryson City, North Carolina offers some of the best and most scenic views of the state's western mountainous regions. Since its creation in 1988 the railroad has steadily grown over the last 20 years to become a very popular tourist attraction. Depending on what you are interested in the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers excursions that feature a nearly five hour trip covering the full length of the railroad (about 44 miles) to Thomas The Tank Engine for the kids. Overall the railroad has quickly become one of the top tourist lines in the country and it's well worth the visit to Bryson City to board one of its trains. The information that is provided below is just a brief look at the tourist line, its history, operations, and what you can expect to find there.
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad has its beginnings dating back to 1988 after the Norfolk Southern had abandoned a branch line running between Andrews and Murphy, North Carolina originally part of predecessor Southern Railway's Murphy Branch (the line was initially built in 1880 as the Western North Carolina Railroad until it became part of the Southern's system). In 1999 the GSMR saw perhaps its biggest change to date when it was purchased by American Heritage Railways and renamed from Great Smoky Mountains Railway to Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. While the railroad's standard excursion takes you through the Nantahala Gorge and lasts nearly five hours it also has other trips operating throughout the year including "A Day Out With Thomas," "The Little Engine That Could," the "Pumpkin Patch," the "Easter Beagle," and the "Polar Express".
If you are curious as to where Bryson City is located, it is about an hours drive west of Asheville in the heart of the state's Great Smoky Mountains. While the railroad does host several special events during the year, like those mentioned above, its normal operating schedule is between March and October. During this time they run two different trains:
Nantahala Gorge Excursion: This excursion runs between March and late November with a final few runs in late December. The train takes visitors on a four and one-half-hour journey, and 44-miles, from Bryson City to Nantahala Gorge with a brief, one-hour stay at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.
Tuckasegee River Excursions: This train operates between mid-January and late February, and then picks up its schedule from late May through late October taking visitors on a four hour trip from Bryson City to Dillsboro, covering 32 miles along the way.
Additionally, fares for these trains (and all excursions the railroad offers) depend on what type of seating you would like. Traditional coach seating runs an adult around $50. However, if you would like first class accommodations (either in an indoor or outdoor setting) these range in price between $70 and $90. I cannot comment on the quality of their food. However, I do know that they offer a menu of fresh-made sandwiches, all of which are included on their website. Also, you can purchase packages in advance, such as whitewater rafting (a very popular activity) known as "Raft N' Rail Wildwater" and lodging through Bryson City's available accommodations (which currently include three hotels and a bed & breakfast).
For power the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad typically employs one of four GP9s (#711, #777, #1751 and #1755) along with its star attraction 2-8-0 Consolidation #1702 (this locomotive once operated on the Reader Railroad as well as being in the services of the US Army). Its GP9s have a heritage that date back to a number of different railroads; #711 is a former Union Pacific unit, #777 is originally of Chicago & North Western lineage, and #1755 is an ex-Southern Pacific unit. I believe that the railroad is also restoring a former Southern Railway 2-8-0, #722 (Class Ks), although a completion date is not known at this time.
For more information about these trains and riding the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad please click here to visit their website. Here you can learn more about everything they have to offer, which is much more than I have listed. Additionally, they provide information related to available lodging, directions on how to reach the railroad, exact dates their trains are operating, special group packages, and much more. If you cannot find an answer to your question directly on the website please feel free to contact them. If you would like to learn a little more about the Southern Railway, whose tracks the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad now uses please click here. Also, for more information about excursion trains like the GSMR you might want to consider the book Tourist Trains Guidebook, which is put together by the editors of Kalmbach Publishing's Trains magazine.