The Branson Scenic Railway (reporting marks, BSRX) is a tourist line operated in conjunction with the shortline Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad between Galena and Self, Missouri (train departures are from Branson). As such, when the tourist train is not operating the rail line is being used as an active freight railroad. Depending on which line the railroad takes round-trips are usually 40 miles in length and last nearly two hours. While you might not think so, because the railroad operates through Missouri's Ozark mountains the line passes through and over several tunnels and bridges. Overall the railroad is quite scenic and well worth the trip through a region sometimes forgotten for its beauty and ruggedness due to its location in the Midwest.
The rails over which the Branson Scenic Railway operates date back to 1902 when the White River Railway was founded that year. The line eventually became part of the Missouri Pacific system, which was better known by railroaders and railfans as the “MoPac.” The Branson Scenic Railway itself came about in 1993 to operate an excursion train over the tracks of shortline Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad. Since its inception that year the railroad operates its trips either north to Galena or south to Self, depending on how the shortline’s freight operations are playing out that particular day.
For power the railroad employs two EMD diesel locomotives and for equipment it has the rare privilege of using all Budd-built stainless steel, streamlined cars (quite striking for an operation of its size!). These cars were all built in 1939 through the 1950s (quite new when one considers many of the last new passenger car orders by railroads were received during the 1950s) and include a 1939-built lounge-observation, a 1947-built dome-lounge, a 1949-built coach, a 1951-built buffet-lounge, a 1952-built dome-observation, a 1952-built dome-lounge-coach, and a 1956-built diner. More information on the locomotives can be found below:
· EMD F7A #98: Originally of Baltimore & Ohio Railroad heritage as #389.
· EMD GP30 #99: Originally of Baltimore & Ohio Railroad heritage as #6973.
Because of Arkansas's more southerly location and more suitable weather, the Branson Scenic Railway operates a much longer tourist schedule than similar excursion trains running between early March and early December each year. Of note, between November and mid-December the railroad runs a limited schedule as it plays host to the official Polar Express. Various tourist railroads around the country offer a version of this train around the country but only a handful feature the actual, registered Polar Express. It is quite an experience as host railroads treat kids to an official reading of the book, treats, singing, and plenty more.
When boarding the train visitors do so from the restored Iron Mountain Railroad depot in Branson that dates back to around 1905. While you can purchase your tickets there and the railroad uses the building for administrative purposes it also houses a small gift shop as well. For more information about the Branson Scenic Railway please click here to visit their website. There you can learn more about their schedule, pricing, and special events they host throughout the year. Finally, if you would like to learn a little more history and background of the Missouri Pacific please click here. For more information about excursion trains like the Branson Scenic Railway you might want to consider the book Tourist Trains Guidebook, which is put together by the editors of Kalmbach Publishing's Trains magazine.