Last revised: October 26, 2023
By: Adam Burns
If you were a railroad enthusiast 50+ years ago, Indiana was one of the great states to watch trains. All of the major eastern trunk lines (Baltimore & Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York Central, and Erie/Erie Lackawanna) all passed through the state.
In addition, there were numerous branch lines and secondary serving small towns like Crawfordsville, Shelbyville, Rosedale, Wabash, Rushville, and Kewanna.
For much of the general public, however, the main lines passed through Indiana on their way to Indianapolis, Chicago, or even St. Louis. All of the railroads mentioned above operated handsome trains to these destinations like the Capitol Limited, National Limited, 20th Century Limited, Broadway Limited, Spirit of St. Louis, Erie Limited, Lake Cities, and many others.
These services all provided top-level dining and some organizations attempt to recreate this experience with brief train ride, which lasts a few hours. The information below highlights the trips offered in Indiana.
~ Please note: The railroad has stated they are currently not offering dinner train excursions. ~
The Indiana Railway Museum operates the French Lick Scenic Railway, featuring a 20-mile round trip through the Hoosier National Forest.
They now offer a Dinner Train Special that includes a 2.5 hour trip through the Hoosier National Forest, 2200-foot Burton Tunnel, and several bridges. During your ride you can enjoy a complete meal with a full menu to choose from.
The history of the organization begins in 1961 when a group of locals from Westport launched a small tourist line using a diesel locomotive and three passenger coaches.
The museum moved operations in 1971 to Greensburg, then once more to French in 1978 when the Southern Railway offered 16 miles of a former branch between West Baden and Dubois (passing through French Lick). Today, the museum operates about 10 miles of this line between French Lick and Cuzco.
The organizers of this experience have worked hard to recreate rail travel as it was in the mid-20th century. Trips depart from a replica Southern Railway depot in Jasper (completed in 2004), traveling south to Huntingburg, crossing the Patoka River and Hunley Creek along the way.
The train also meanders its way past many local farms before entering Huntingburg. The company states "...the train will rest in rolling fields and woodlands just prior to entering Huntingburg, where a spectacular dinner will be served to passengers while they enjoy the scenery and conversation."
Among their available trips is dinner aboard the train. The Spirit of Jasper utilizes four beautifully restored cars (club #200, lounge #300, parlor #400, and the "Monon Car").
What would certainly be considered arguably Indiana's most popular excursion trains, the Whitewater Valley Railroad.
The tourist railroad does not feature on-board dinners but does offer the Twilight Limited Train to Dinner where passengers are taken to the nearby Laurel Hotel for dinner. They also host their "Wild West Train To Dinner" during the summer and early fall.
The Whitewater Valley maintains about 19 miles of the old "Big Four Route" (New York Central) from Connersville with Metamora with trains pulled by one of the railroad's diesel locomotives.
It is unique in that the property partially follows the Whitewater Canal, originally completed in 1845 to Connersville, via the Whitewater River. The present operation began in 1972 over what was then the Penn Central from Metamora to Brookville. Following a washout in 1974 the line largely removed between Brookville-Connersville, leaving today's 18-mile segment which was formally purchased by the Whitewater Valley in 1983.