Published: January 13, 2023
By: Adam Burns
In the great "Silver Age" of railroading, era of the streamliners, Minnesota was served by many of the Midwest's most famous trains thanks to the important Chicago - Twin Cities corridor served primarily by the Milwaukee Road, Chicago & North Western, and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy.
These large railroads operated crack trains over separate routes between the three cities with names like the Morning Hiawatha, Afternoon Hiawatha, Twin Cities '400', Morning Zephyr, and Afternoon Zephyr. These were all dayliners, which could make the 400+ mile jaunt in under 7 hours.
Because of the trip's length dining services were provided, which rivaled some of the nation's best restaurants. In addition, passengers were pampered to lounges, reclining seat coaches, parlors, and other services.
In the era before commuter flights and jetliners, rail travel was not only the way to reach far away cities but also reach intermediate points. The Chicago - Twin Cities was one such corridor and trains offered many of the previously-mentioned on-board services to satisfy and accommodate passengers.
The only true dinner train available in Minnesota can be found at the North Shore Scenic Railroad hosted by the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. In addition, the Minnesota Transportation Museum provides some food service with its excursions at the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway.
Operated by the Lake Superior Railroad Museum this excursion offers numerous events that include on-board food service such as the Elegant Dinner Train to murder mystery specials.
The Elegant Dinner Train is, of course, the railroad's premier trip offering a four-course meal and runs during select dates in August and September. It is hosted within the North Shore's restored “SkyView” dome car, affording passengers maximum views of Lake Superior while enjoying a meal freshly prepared onboard.
The railroad goes the extra mile by white linen tablecloths adorned with fresh flowers. The dinner trains depart from the historic Union Depot located at 506 West Michigan Street in Duluth and partake in a 34-mile round trip along the lake lasting 2.5 hours.
Other featured trains, which include either food and/or beverages, include the:
The North Shore Scenic Railroad operates 28 miles over the former Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range (DM&IR), the most famous iron ore railroad in the nation, between Duluth and Two Harbors.
The DM&IR operated nearly 600 miles of track in a concentrated area of northern Minnesota between Duluth/Two Harbors and Babbitt/Virginia/Hibbing. During its time in operation the railroad handled millions of tons of high concentrate iron ore.
In 1990, then General Manager and Vice President of the DM&IR, Donald Shrank, began hosting excursions over the Duluth-Two Harbors stretch of the network known as "North Shore Scenic Railroad." It ran for one season under the DM&IR's guidance using county and private funding. In 1991 a local family took over the operation which was transferred to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in 1996.
It continues to run today as a popular attraction for Duluth; the North Shore operates fine collection of locomotives and equipment, all of which are painted in historic liveries of railroads which served this region of Minnesota.
Operated by the Minnesota Transportation Museum this tourist train features available Pizza Trains during their operating season. According to the railroad: "Experience our classic 'Rock' commuter coach cars. Each passenger enjoys a personal pizza, brownie, soda and a 90-minute ride through the valley. Great for families!"
The train runs from early May through early September and departs from the historic brick depot (completed in 1916) of Soo Line heritage at 114 Depot Road in Osceola, Wisconsin.
The Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway (O&StCV) is part of the Minnesota Transportation Museum based just north of downtown St. Paul. Their Jackson Street Roundhouse houses an impressive collection of equipment that predominantly centers around the railroads which served the region.
The O&StCV is located just over 40 miles to the northeast and across the St. Croix River in Osceola, Wisconsin. The heritage railroad opened in 1992 over former Soo Line trackage, currently owned by Canadian National. Trains currently run from the depot in Osceola to Marine on St Croix, Minnesota via William O'Brien State Park. The museum has complete trackage rights between Withrow, Minnesota and Dresser, Wisconsin.