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Feast On The Move: Experience Massachusetts Dinner Trains!

Last revised: December 7, 2023

By: Adam Burns

From a railroading perspective, Massachusetts was situated directly in the heart of New England with lines radiating to the south, west, and north of Boston.   Historically, three large railroads served the state and offered trains connecting to practically any point in North America.

Today, one location hosts a dinner train experience, the Cape Cod Central Railroad in Hyannis.  The heritage railroad operates one of the finest such trips in New England with first class accommodations which truly harkens back to the "Silver Age" of rail travel (streamliners).  Their dinner train ride is briefly highlighted below.

With Boston as the epicenter, one could take trains of the New Haven south to New York City (via Providence, Rhode Island and New Haven, Connecticut), the Boston & Maine north to Portland, Maine (and even points further north via the Maine Central), or the Boston & Albany to western points.

The B&A was a New York Central subsidiary and travelers could take the railroad to reach all stops on the NYC as far west as Chicago and St. Louis.  In fact, the New York Central ran a popular train over the B&A, the New England States.

As a streamliner during the 1950s, this train's accommodations included an observation lounge-sleeper, standard Pullman sleepers (in various configurations), reclining seat coaches, a lounge coach, and full dining services. 

In 1949, the New York Central released a 16-page, color pamphlet highlighting all of the train's many features, including some of its dinner menu such as New England Clam Chowder, Broiled Scrod, New England Boiled Dinner, Chicken Pot Pie, and Indian Pudding with Ice Cream.

2i58128471261265465718962970209.jpgBoston & Maine E7A #3805 leads a Greenfield-Springfield train southbound through Chicopee, Massachusetts on May 20, 1956. Photographer unknown. American-Rails.com collection.

Overview

Cape Cod Central Railroad

(Hyannis):  The deluxe Cape Cod Central Railroad offers a handful of different trains which include some type of dining; food service is actually what this particular scenic train ride is centered around.  Currently, their two most popular include the Cape Cod Dinner Train and Cape Cod Luncheon Train.  Special events include the:

  • Easter Sunday Brunch Train
  • Mother's Day Brunch Train
  • Father's Day Brunch Train
  • Sunday Brunch Train
  • Cape Cod Luncheon Train
  • Jazz Sunday Brunch Train
  • Rails & Ales Beer Tasting Train
  • Gourmet Wine Tasting & Dinner Train

The Cape Cod Central is one of the few heritage railroads which actually specializes in dinner train and luncheon services.  They also how offer a full dome car during the trip.  Depending on the particular dinner train you may be interested in, the food-service varies from 3 to 5-course meals and the rides last roughly 2.5 hours.

The so-called "Cape Train" began hosting public excursion in 1999 over 33 miles of the former New Haven between Buzzards Bay and Hyannis, Massachusetts along central Cape Cod.  This line had originally been built as the Cape Cod Branch Railroad/Cape Cod Railroad during the late 1840s/early 1850s and continued under Old Colony Railroad ownership after 1872.


The line was eventually extended throughout Cape Cod, reaching as far as Provincetown on the eastern tip of the cape by the 1873.  The Old Colony system, which extended throughout southern and central Massachusetts, even reaching southeastern Rhode Island, was leased to the growing New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in 1893.

In southern New England during the heigh of rail travel, the New Haven was the railroad.  It dispatched hundreds of commuter and long-distance trains daily throughout its condensed network that served Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and extreme eastern New York. 

Through the 1950s, often considered the last great decade of rail travel before severe cutbacks were implemented by most railroads due to declining ridership and a severe recession, the New Haven hosted trains offering fabulous on-board services on its regional trains such as lounges, reclining seat coaches, and even dining options.

The Cape Cod Central Railroad does a fine job of recreating these old trains and even has a locomotive adorned in late-era New Haven colors.  Generally, however, its equipment is dressed in a handsome dark maroon and black paint scheme with yellow/gold trim.  

The railroad's seasonal excursions begin in May with some special events hosted between the Easter weekend and Christmas.  Please visit their website for complete details.

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