Last revised: January 20, 2023
By: Adam Burns
Pennsylvania has a long and fascinating history with the iron horse. The railroad named for its home state became the most powerful and successful in the nation by the early 20th century and is still well remembered today.
It was also at this time the state reached its peak mileage (11,551 miles by 1920) and every notable town was served by at least one railroad. Such a blanket of steel rails allowed one living almost anywhere in Pennsylvania to board a train locally and travel a place of their choosing in North America.
This also meant several first class services traveled through the Keystone State; most were provided by the Pennsylvania Railroad with names like the Broadway Limited, General, Jeffersonian, Penn Texas, Pittsburgher, Spirit of St. Louis, Trail Blazer, and others.
In the post-1980 era several heritage railroads have sprang up to offer a brief glimpse of what this kind of rail travel was like many years ago. This has been especially true in the last 20 years or so as more upscale accommodations and on-board services have been added at locations like the Colebrookdale Railroad and Strasburg Railroad.
The information presented here highlights those organizations that offer either dinner train rides or special events with some type of food service provided.
A relatively new excursion, the Colebrookdale Railroad, also known as the Secret Valley Line, began service in 2014 and operates 8.6 miles between Boyertown and Pottstown.
Since their opening the railroad has really grown into quite an upscale operation featuring upscale services and fine dining within their Garden Café Car and standard diner. Both cars are ornately decorated and harken back to the days of early 20th century rail travel.
The café car, as its name suggests, offers light snacks and brunch while the diner provides full-course meals in the afternoon. All food is freshly prepared on-board the train and served by white coat service stewards. Regular dinner trains typically last about 2 hours.
They host several specials with food and beverages involved including the Valentine's Day Train, Mother’s Day Tea Train, Father's Day Beef & Beer, Secret Valley Dinner Excursion, Stony Run Winery Wine Tasting, and Sundae Sundays Doodlebug Express.
The Middletown & Hummelstown is an operating freight railroad that also hosts excursion trains over 11 miles of track from May through October. Throughout the year the M&H operates a few rides that offer some type of food service on board.
Its most notable, and popular, is the Murder Mystery Dinner Train that runs on select dates throughout the year. There is a different murder mystery presented on each trip and all events must be reserved in advance.
In addition to these rides, the railroad hosts ice cream sundaes in their caboose during the summer and also a special dinner train for Mother's Day, which features live accordion music. The Mother's Day event also requires advanced reservations.
The New Hope Railroad, one of the more well known tourist lines in the country, offers its Grapevine Express where guests can enjoy gourmet cheese, artisan crackers, meats, fruit, and local wines. In addition, other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are available.
From May through September these trips last about 45 minutes while October through November rides cover about 1 hour.
Another notable event is their Wine & Tapas Pairing Train. As the name suggests, these trips, which last about 2 hours in the railroad's parlor car, visit local wineries in the Buckingham Valley. Finally, learn more about their private hosting available.
The Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad, based in Titusville, operates roughly 14 miles normally using a traditional diesel locomotive for power. During the latter half of their operating season they host Murder Mystery Dinners.
These "mysteries" are different with trip and do require reservations to attend. In addition, they sell out quickly so be sure to reserve your spot(s) well in advance! Meal service is a buffet style and provided locally by Stewart's Premier Catering.
Finally, the railroad hosts wine tasting trains on select dates with a different winery featured on each trip. One must be 21 years of age, or older, to ride. In addition to wine tasting, light snacks are also provided.
The second-most popular tourist railroad in the country that typically hosts around 400,000 riders annually, offers full course meals on select trains, along with other refreshments, including wine and alcoholic beverages.
The railroad can trace its heritage back to 1832 and operates about 4.5 miles of track within the heart of Pennsylvania's Dutch Country.
Its popularity has enabled the Strasburg Railroad to fully, and lavishly, restore several historic passenger cars both inside and out which are usually pulled by period steam locomotives.
They also provide light snacks, refreshments, and beverages within upscale services, notably the lounge and parlor cars. To learn more about all of their accommodations and seasonal schedule please visit their website.
The WK&S, based in Kempton
(eastern Pennsylvania), operates a unique blend of steam and diesel
locomotives. They do not host a dedicated dinner train but do offer the Wine & Cheese special on
select dates throughout the operating season.
The train features wine and cheeses from Pennsylvania's very popular Amish Dutch Country. Every trip features cheese from the BAD Farm and wine from the Stony Run Winery.
In addition, a seasonal treat is the Oktoberfest Beer & Bratwurst event. As the name suggests, locally crafted beer, as well as bratwurst, is served to patrons. This is held annually during a single day in October.
The West Chester Railroad does not offer a true dinner train. However, during most weekends throughout the summer they host a special picnic train by the same name, the Summer Picnic Special, from June through September.
The 90-minute trip features a packed lunch and stop at the Glen Mills train station picnic grove.
The railroad does have a dining car available for private charters and events. To book this car please visit the railroad's website to learn more.
Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad
Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad
Wanamaker, Kempton & Southern Railroad
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It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website.
It is quite staggering and a must visit!