If you are interested in riding a train through Appalachia, Tennessee is a great state to do so as all offer stunning scenery of either rolling green hills, steep mountains, bucolic farmland, or winding rivers. You also have your choice of seeing live steam locomotives in action (such as at the Tennessee Central Railway Museum and on the Three Rivers Rambler) or enjoying fine dining during your trip. Most Tennessee train rides offer numerous special events throughout the year such as hosting "A Day Out With Thomas" (the tank engine so popular with kids) or featuring holiday specials (especially during Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas).
Like most other Appalachian states (notably West Virginia and Kentucky), Tennessee was important to railroads for its rich seams of bituminous coal. However, the state also offered railroads important cities like Memphis and Chattanooga and as such, several famous passenger trains passed through the state operated by railroads like the Louisville & Nashville and Southern Railway. Today, Tennessee train rides try to capture this bygone era by offering several different types of excursions like those mentioned above. If you truly want to experience the splendor of a rail excursion in the state plan your ride during the fall foliage peak of late October, as it's tough to beat the incredible beauty and vibrant colors afforded during such trips. In any event, to learn more about the state's tourist railroads please read on below.
Casey Jones Railroad Museum
This museum, located in Jackson, has a collection of artifacts and displays and specifically tells the story of Casey Jones who heroically died saving the passenger aboard his train on April 30, 1900. Additionally, there are a few pieces of rolling stock to see on the grounds.
Chattanooga Choo Choo
This tourist attraction is located inside the Southern Railway's former Terminal Station in Chattanooga. The grand building has been converted into a hotel, shopping center, restaurants, and more. While there be sure and visit the model train layout, rolling stock on display, and available trolley to ride!
Cookeville Depot Museum
This museum is located inside the town's restored Tennessee Central Railway depot built in 1909. Inside the brick building is a collection of artifacts and displays while outdoors are several pieces of rolling stock including Tennessee Central 4-6-0 #509 (built by Baldwin in 1909). The museum is open on select days throughout the year and is free of charge.
Cowan Railroad Museum
The Cowan Railroad Museum is housed at the town's restored Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis depot where several displays and artifacts are available to peruse, including an operating model train layout. On the grounds outside you can see a 2-4-2 #1, built for the Cherokee Brick & Tile in 1920 by H.K. Porter, along with other pieces of rolling stock.
Dollywood Express Train
One of the state's most popular tourist attractions located near Pigeon Forge features an operating excursion train on the grounds pulled by a 3-foot, narrow-gauge steam locomotive (four in all that trace their roots back to the White Pass & Yukon of Alaska). Also, be sure to see their operating garden railroad!
Little River Railroad
The Little River Railroad looks to tell the history of logging operations in the state and throughout the Smoky Mountains. It is based in Townsend and features a collection outdoor displays and rolling stock as well as exhibits inside. They have scheduled openings from April through November while during the cooler months please call for an appointment.
Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
This attraction is located at Chattanooga's Lookout Mountain. It has been in service since 1895 ferrying passengers up the side of the mountain and is a National Historic site as well as a Mechanical Engineering Landmark.
Lynnville Railroad Museum
This museum is situated inside a restored Louisville & Nashville depot located in Lynnville, which houses a collection of historic artifacts. Outside are pieces of rolling stock on display, including Republic Steel 2-6-2 #294 built by Baldwin in 1927.
Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Depot & Railroad Museum
This museum is located inside the NC&StL's restored brick depot at the town. Inside the building are several displays, artifacts, and a large operating layout while outside is a small collection of rolling stock.
Secret City Scenic Excursion Train
Part of the Southern Appalachia Railway Museum, the Secret City Scenic Excursion Train, based in Oakridge, operates a 14-mile round trip journey through the rolling hills of north-central Tennessee. For power the train using historic Alco diesel locomotives using climate-controlled passenger train cars. Along with its regularly scheduled excursions the railroad also hosts caboose rides, dinner trains, and offers available charters.
Southern Appalachia Railway Museum
This museum, located in Oak Ridge, attempts to preserve the history of rail operations in the Southern Appalachia region. The group also sponsors the Secret City Scenic Excursion.
Tennessee Central Railway Museum
The Tennessee Central Railway Museum based in Nashville is focused primarily on preserving the state's railroad history. However, it also operates excursion trains throughout the year offering trips that travel as far as 180 miles, round trip! Specials during the year including murder mystery dinner trains, train robberies, fall foliage specials, and hosting "A Day Out With Thomas" the tank engine.
Tennessee Valley Railroad
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is mainly a tourist railroad operating on ex-Southern Railway trackage which it originally purchased in 1969. Today, the railroad operates a six-mile round trip near Chattanooga and hosts numerous specials throughout the year including dinner trains, Halloween trains, fall foliage trips, and much more.
Three Rivers Rambler
The Three Rivers Rambler is based in Knoxville and offers an 11-mile round trip using both steam and diesel locomotives. The railroad also hosts numerous special and seasonal trains throughout the operating season between June and December.