The Thunder Mountain Line

The Thunder Mountain Line is a tourist railroad operating in western Idaho just north of Boise. The railroad operates over former Union Pacific rails, today part of the shortline system Idaho, Northern & Pacific Railroad. The line itself is very scenic as it travels roughly sixty miles north from Montour, following the Payette River to Cascade next to beautiful Lake Cascade. While you can take the full trip to Cascade the railroad offers five different types of excursions, along with a dinner train, murder mystery train, and numerous holiday and other specials happening throughout the year. All in all the Thunder Mountain Line is definitely a place you should consider visiting if you’re ever in Idaho and/or near Boise, as it is one of the best ways to see the state’s natural beauty.

Union Pacific GP38-2 #2263 and a mate have a mixed freight in Kansas City on January 20, 1995.

Soon after the Idaho, Northern & Pacific took over the Union Pacific’s Oregon Short Line Division in 1993 the railroad began operating its Thunder Mountain Line tourist trains, which quickly became very popular. There are currently a few other shortlines that operate similar excursions on their property, notably the RJ Corman's My Old Kentucky Dinner Train. Since its inception the tourist train has steadily added new services and options for visitors as more folks continue to ride the incredibly scenic line year after year. Today the railroad usually employs one or more of its EMD FP10 streamlined diesel-electric locomotives to pull its trains (they currently own five of these; #1105, #1106, #1108, #1112, #1150) which are typically made up of both enclosed, climate-controlled and open-air cars, depending on what you’re in the mood for.

Today, the Thunder Mountain Line offers three different excursions to choose from. These include:

Horseshoe Bend Route: This excursion travels between Horseshoe Bend (where travelers board at the local depot) and Banks. It is the longest operating train running between March and December and provides live music and refreshments during the journey.

Montour Route: This train operates between Montour and Horseshoe Bend. As with all of the railroad's excursions, it follows the Payette River and typically provides visitors a 1 1/2-hour journey. This part of the line also hosts the railroad's special trains, such as during the holidays.

Cabarton Route: This excursion runs between Smiths Ferry and Cascade, providing perhaps the most scenery for passengers, traveling across a steel trestle and through a short tunnel. Unfortunately, this excursion is currently not operating.

UP GP38-2 #2142, GP15-1 #1697, and other power lay over in Los Angeles on October 21, 1992.

Interestingly, despite the fact that the Thunder Mountain Line is located in Idaho it features trains running most weekends between May and December (the railroad only operates excursions between Friday and Sunday of each week during the year). If you are interested in riding one of the more affordable tourist trains in the country this is it, particularly considering that you will be riding in climate-controlled cars as aforementioned. However, they do offer some upscale amenities including their "Hobo Lunch" (which is extra). Also, if you would really like to ride in style consider booking their Executive Class Bar Car.

A quartet of Union Pacific SD40-2s rest at the Provo, Utah engine terminal on October 22, 1994.

In total, the railroad currently offers fourteen different excursions including dinner trains, brunch trains, rafting specials, aforementioned holiday specials, and much more. For more information about the Thunder Mountain Line please click here to visit their website. There you can learn more about all of the different trips they offer (including rates), how to reach the railroad, their operating schedule, and special large group charters.  If you would like to learn more about the Idaho, Northern & Pacific please click here. For more information about excursion trains like the Thunder Mountain Line you might want to consider the book Tourist Trains Guidebook, which is put together by the editors of Kalmbach Publishing's Trains magazine. 

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