Published: December 16, 2022
By: Adam Burns
American railroads can trace their heritage back to New England where the first was placed into service in Massachusetts in 1826 (Granite Railway).
New Hampshire's first was not far behind. It is credited to the Nashua & Lowell Railroad (N&L), chartered in New Hampshire on June 26, 1835 to connect with the Boston & Lowell at Lowell, Massachusetts and extend northwesterly along the Merrimack River to Nashua, New Hampshire.
While the N&L was never completed as its promoters originally envisioned, it eventually wound up in the modern day Boston & Maine system (B&M). Through the mid/latter 20th century, New Hampshire was served almost exclusively by this single railroad.
Its lines offered spectacular scenery following the Connecticut and Merrimack Rivers, skirting the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, and passing through the White Mountains.
Most of the heritage railroads in New Hampshire, and those hosting dinner trains, utilize former Boston & Maine lines. The information here highlights those rides offering some type of meal service in the state.
One of the great dinner train experiences can be found at the Café Lafayette Dinner Train, based in Woodstock. This organization operates only dinner trains, which run on select dates from May through October.
They also leave their depot open from December through April as a restaurant where the public can enjoy a dinner and available wine bar.
Their popular dinner train trips feature a 2-hour ride during which time guests enjoy a five-course meal within restored, streamlined passenger cars from the 1950s. This also includes a dome car, something which the Boston & Maine never offered in this region!
The train's route begins at the depot in North Woodstock, travels south through Woodstock and the Jack O'Lantern Golf Course & Resort before reaching Thornton and returning northward. Along the way the train follows the Pemigewasset River and crosses three different railroad trestles.
The Conway Scenic Railroad, based in North Conway, New Hampshire is one of New England's most popular scenic train rides, offering first-class dining services through beautiful New England.
The attraction's first train departed on August 4, 1974 when Bill Levy and Carroll Reed acquired a 7-mile segment of Boston & Maine's Conway Branch from Conway to Intervale.
The operation was extended through Crawford Notch in late 1994 following Maine Central's abandonment of its fabled Mountain Division in 1984. This trackage is currently owned by the state of New Hampshire.
The Mountain Division was once a major component of the Maine Central system, running from Portland, Maine to St. Johnsbury, Vermont via Fabyans and Whitefield, New Hampshire. There has long been talk of reopening this entire corridor although it has remained closed as a through route since 1984.
Beginning in June, 2021, the Conway Scenic began offering dinner trains within their Rhonda Lee and Leslie Anne dome car. It is part of the railroad's longest excursion, the Mountaineer (formerly the Notch Train), which runs about 5 1/2 hours (50-60 miles in length).
Despite its name the Hobo Railroad, based in Lincoln, offers first-class accommodations aboard their trains, which include notable events like the Fall Foliage Special, hosted to coincide with the spectacular colors of autumn in New England.
Once you reach your destination at Common Man Inn & Spa, located in Plymouth, guests are served dinner. Also be sure to check out their First Class and Presidential Class accommodations which include light snacks and non-alcoholic beverages.
Their season opens in May with trips hosted through October and the fall foliage specials. There are also events hosted for the holidays, such as Santa Express Trains.
The Hobo Railroad pays tribute to the former railroad which operated this trackage, the Boston & Maine, as its equipment is painted in maroon and gold with a similar logo to that of the B&M.