The Wilmington & Western (reporting mark, WWRC) offers the only railroad attraction of any kind within the state of Delaware. Despite this the company is very popular and has a small fleet of steam locomotives, as well as diesels and even a restored "Doodlebug," with which it uses on public excursions. Aside from these trips, which operate during the warmer months of the year and include several specials (particularly during major holidays), the W&W also provides freight service on the 10 mile route that was once part of the historic Baltimore & Ohio's system until the much larger railroad offered it for lease in the 1960s.
The history of trains serving Delaware's Red Clay Valley begins with the chartering of the original Wilmington & Western Railroad in 1867, intended to push rails along the creek and handle freight to the Port of Wilmington. After only five years of construction the line was opened between Wilmington and Landenberg, Pennsylvania on October 19, 1872. While less than 20 miles in length the corridor provided connections with the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania railroads while offering a respectable level of freight. Unfortunately, bankruptcy still found the company in 1877 and it was later reorganized under new management as the Delaware Western Railroad (DWRR).
Soon afterwards it was acquired by the Baltimore & Philadelphia Railroad, a subsidiary of the burgeoning Baltimore & Ohio. The B&O, historically important as our country's first common-carrier railroad when originally chartered and organized in early 1827, grew into a very large eastern system stretching from New York City and Philadelphia to Chicago and St. Louis operating a 10,000+ mile network. Its control of the DWRR, which became the B&O's Landenburg Branch, proved a very profitable endeavor. At the time of its new ownership the short line moved a wide range of products including Kaolin clay, vulcanized fiber materials, snuff, iron and coal. The movement of so much freight was thanks in large part to having connects at either end of its route
For a time even passenger traffic was quite strong thanks to the opening of a popular resort at Brandywine Springs. The prosperous years, however, survived only until the early 1920s; in 1923 the resort closed causing a great loss of passenger business and the Great Depression ended all passenger trains after September 28, 1930. Alas, the line's biggest blow also came during the depression when the PRR elected to discontinue service to Landenberg resulting in a significantly less freight traffic. As a result, the B&O cutback the branch back to Southwood, Delaware by the early World War II years which left a route consisting of 11.3 miles.
Despite these reductions the branch still saw relatively good business with several customers. According to the B&O's "Official List" issued January 1, 1948 the railroad served nearly ten businesses along the branch including the E.J. Hollingsworth Company, Continental Diamond Fibre Company, Hercules Powder Company, The Crowell Company, Inc., George W. Helme Snuff Company, National Vulcanized Fibre Company, and the Hockessin Supply Company. In addition, the railroad also maintained livestock facilities at Marshallton and Hockessin for local farmers. However, with no customers beyond Hockessin the B&O abandoned the line back to that point in the 1950s bringing its length down to 9.7 miles according to the railroad's timetable.
The 1960s saw the beginnings of what later became today's popular Wilmington & Western operation. In 1966 the Historic Red Clay Valley, Inc., using the former W&W's name, leased part of the line to host steam-powered excursions during the weekend. This continued for about a decade until the Chessie System, a conglomerate comprising the B&O, Chesapeake & Ohio, and Western Maryland railroads, opted to abandon the line. Fortunately, thanks to local fundraising efforts Historic Red Clay Valley was able to purchase the entire line in 1982. Since then, the W&W has steadily grown in popularity although it has experienced its own setbacks thanks to Mother Nature's wrath.
Between 1999 and 2003 tropical systems (Hurricane Floyd and the remnants of Tropical Storm Henri) dropped heavy rain on the region. The later event was the worst, washing away six bridges and cutting the route to only 2 miles in length. The railroad worked quickly to repair the damage but it took considerable time to completely reopen the route, which did not occur until an official reopening took place on June 30, 2007. To learn more about riding the Wilmington & Western regarding its schedule, ticket prices, and special trips please visit their website.