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.
|Another view of #722 next to the depot in Front Royal, Virginia during October of 1979.|
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.
|Southern #722 and 4-6-2 #750 double-head an excursion through Virginia on September 11, 1971. The Pacific was originally built for the Florida East Coast in 1910 by Alco and was later acquired by the Savanna & Atlanta Railway, a Southern subsidiary. Today, it is no longer operational.|
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