Nevada Dinner Train Rides (2023): A Complete Guide

Last revised: May 31, 2023

By: Adam Burns

Nevada has never been a state saturated with railroads but it does contain two, key, transcontinental main lines linking Salt Lake City/Ogden, Utah with the Sacramento/San Francisco Bay Area. 

The most notable, of course, was the Central Pacific which constructed the western segment of the nation's first Transcontinental Railroading during the 1860s, in conjunction with Union Pacific.  In addition, the Western Pacific would later build its own competing line to Salt Lake City.  Both routes remain in service today under Union Pacific.

Dinner trains in Nevada are hosted by the historic Nevada Northern Railway while the equally historic Virginia & Truckee also hosts special events with wine tasting and light snacks.

In the immediate post-World War II era of privately operated passenger trains, the so-called "streamliner era," Nevada saw several famous names cross the Great Basin Desert such as the California Zephyr (original) and City of San Francisco.

Both of these trains offered spectacular food service with full-course meals prepared freshly throughout the trip. A selection from the City of San Francisco's 1960 dinner menu included the following:

  • Broiled Select Fresh Salmon Steak
  • Casserole of Choice Beef with Parisienne Vegetable
  • Select Young Chicken
  • Baked Hickory Smoked Ham with Spiced Bing Cherries
  • Charcoal Broiled Steak
  • Deluxe Dinner Salad Bowl

And this was only part of the menu options which also included fine wines, muffins, fresh desserts (such as blueberry cobbler), shrimp cocktail, and a soup of the day.  The California Zephyr's offerings were just as mouthwatering.  Its 1957 dinner menu included the following main course meals:

  • Fresh Monterey Abalone Steak with Sauté Meuniere 
  • Grilled Veal Chop, Hunter Style
  • Baked Young Duckling with Brown Rice Dressing
  • Roast Prime Rib of Beef au Naturel
  • Broiled Sirloin Steak (14 oz) with Salad du Jour
  • Golden Omelette with Seafood ala Creole

Some of the train's other menu options included old fashioned strawberry shortcake, spring vegetable soup, fruit cocktail Chantilly, tomato shrimp canape, Manhattan clam chowder, sugar cured ham with eggs, a salad bar, and various handmade sandwiches.   Long distance passenger trains hosted today by Amtrak are a far cry from those of the mid-20th century!

Guide Information

Nevada Northern Railway

(Ely):  The Nevada Northern Railway, a National Historic Landmark, hosts the "Taste of Italy" dinner train.  According to the railroad this event offers the following: "Your coaches will be pulled by one of our century-old steam locomotives for a trip on the Nevada Northern Railway mainline.   It will be our pleasure to serve you a classic, multi-course Italian meal, complete with flowing wine, and dessert." 

You also may be interested in another special train known as the Evening Champagne & Star Train where you can enjoy a glass of champagne while viewing the incredible night sky.

The Nevada Northern Railway is unique in that it is a living museum, similar to the East Broad Top Railroad of Pennsylvania, whereby the entire original route is preserved, some of which still hosts train rides for the general public.

The railroad's history can be traced back to 1905 and historically handled copper from mines located around Ely to connections with the Western Pacific (Shafter) and Southern Pacific (Cobre).  Freight service ended in 1983 although today, the entire 141 mile main line from Kimberley to Cobre is preserved by the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation. 

However, only a small section from Ruth to Ely is currently maintained for excursions.   Also be sure to check out their large collection of preserved steam and diesel locomotives at the historic shops in Ely.

Virginia & Truckee Railway

(Virginia City): The historic Virginia & Truckee Railway began with its 1869 chartering in 1869 to serve Reno and Carson City.

Today, about 15 miles are operable, much of which has been rebuilt since the early 2000's.  They have slowly added an increasing number of excursion options including "Toast of the Canyon Wine Tasting Train."

The V&T was chartered in 1869 for the express purpose of hauling ore, lumber and supplies for the famed Comstock Lode, the operation of extracting gold and, particularly, silver from beneath the mountains and hills of Virginia City.

During the 19th century the railroad was extremely wealthy in the movement of gold and silver ore; by 1878 it had handled $400 million in business.  In total, the railroad operated a little over 50 miles of rail line. While the mining operations around Virginia City signaled the peak years of the V&T's operations it remained a viable freight until service finally ended in 1950.

In 1974 the first efforts began to restore part of the railroad for public excursions although the project did not gain serious traction until 1991. Today, the railroad operates about 15 miles of track between Gold Hill (near Virginia City) to Carson City.

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