Published: January 25, 2023
By: Adam Burns
Nestled between the Midwest and Deep South, Arkansas is an incredibly scenic state with the Mississippi Delta to the east, Ozark and Ouachita Mountains to the west, and home to five major rivers (Red, Arkansas, White, Mississippi, and Ouachita).
From a historic railroading perspective, Arkansas was served primarily by the Missouri Pacific. Its main line from St. Louis to Texas (formerly the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern) directly bisected the state from north-to-south operating through Little Rock and Texarkana.
Because of this, all of the railroad's first-class passenger trains served the state such as the Texas Eagle, Ozarker, Rainbow Special, Southerner, Southern Scenic, Sunshine Special, and Texan. The Texas Eagle was the railroad's premier service to the Lonestar State and one of its top trains.
It featured full Pullman sleepers, reclining seat coaches, full-course dining, and lounges. Like most long-distance trains from that era, if one was riding via a Pullman sleeper this car could potentially run through to cities outside of its stated route.
In the case of the Texas Eagle such sleepers connected to points as far away as New York, Washington, and Los Angeles. Today, Arkansas is home to two notable excursions open to the public hosted by the Arkansas & Missouri and Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway.
Because of the railroad's size and success as a regional freight line, the Arkansas & Missouri's excursions offer the closest experience to what rail travel was like the mid-20th century. Their climate-controlled cars, trips lasting for hours, and year-round availability make the A&M's excursions very popular.
The most popular scenic train ride in Arkansas is hosted by the Arkansas & Missouri, an operating freight line which also hosts trips for the public in the state's northwestern region. The railroad began in September of 1986 when it acquired over 130 miles of former St. Louis-San Francisco Railway ("Frisco") trackage between Monnet, Missouri and Fort Smith, Arkansas from then-Burlington Northern.
It began hosting excursions in a limited fashion during the 1990s and today sees over 40,000 visitors annually. Its rides range from a 134-mile roundtrip (Springdale to Van Buren) to a 70-mile round trip (running either from Van Buren to Winslow or Springdale to Winslow). There are three classes offered:
Springdale is home to the A&M's headquarters and also the point from which most excursions depart. You can find more than just their standard excursions available at their website, such as specials hosted for holidays. Be sure to check out their website and visit their calendar to learn more about these upcoming events.
The Eureka Springs & North Arkansas (ES&NA) offers dinner service aboard their dining car known as the Eurekan, with wine and champagne available. They provide dinner and lunch services in the car, which is offered from May through October.
The ES&NA is a small heritage railroad based in Eureka Springs that began hosting excursions over 2.5 miles of the old Arkansas & Ozarks Railway, which once maintained a system of 69.37 miles.
All trips are hosted behind a small diesel switcher locomotive, SW1 #4742, built by Electro-Motive in 1942 for the Chicago & Eastern Illinois (#98). The ES&NA is somewhat unique for its size as the tourist line focuses heavily on food service aboard its trains allowing it to draw in a greater number of visitors.
Do not be fooled by their small size and small operation; this organization hosts a fine excursion experience that is worth checking out! It has great online reviews and offers a fine dinner train.