Rhode Island Dinner Train Rides (2023)

Last revised: April 12, 2023

By: Adam Burns

Rhode Island may be the smallest U.S. state at only 1,545 square miles but during the height of rail travel (through the mid-20th century), the public had nearly endless options in boarding a train.

It was all thanks to the New York, New Haven & Hartford, the only a major, Class I railroad serving Rhode Island in years past.  Its main line from New York to Boston traveled directly through the state, via Providence and Kingston.  

It also maintained numerous secondary lines to various small towns such as Bristol, Newport, Valley Falls, Woonsocket, and Pascoag.  Today, one can still travel over Amtrak along what is the carrier's Northeast Corridor between Boston and New York, its busiest section of track.

The Newport Dinner Train is the only such experience offered in Rhode Island, running over the old New Haven line from Portsmouth (just north of Newport) to the northern tip of Aquidneck Island.  The train then returns to Portsmouth.

The history of railroads on this part of Rhode Island can be traced back to the Old Colony & Newport Railway Company which opened the line from Fall River, Massachusetts to Newport, Rhode Island on February 5, 1864.

Under the New Haven system it operated as one of its many secondary branches, ending passenger services quite early for even railroads of that period with the last trains running in 1938.

In 1969, the New Haven was included into the massive Penn Central Railroad, which promptly failed and entered bankruptcy in June, 1970.  The new company attempted to abandon the line into Newport as early as 1973 but was denied by the ICC.  

When Penn Central, and a number of other smaller bankrupt systems, were rolled into the newly formed Consolidated Rail Corporation, or Conrail, of 1976 the new carrier did not include the old Newport Secondary into its network, selling the line to the state of Rhode Island.

The information below briefly highlights the current Newport Dinner Train. To learn more about their experience please visit their website, included.

Guide Information

Newport & Narragansett Bay Railroad

(North Kingstown):  The Newport & Narragansett Bay Railroad (formerly known as the "Newport Dinner Train"), is one of New England's more popular such venues operating a former New Haven Railroad branch along Rhode Island's Aquidneck Island and Narragansett Bay.

As the name suggests its hosts full service meals on-board with but also offers other trains such as luncheons and murder mysteries.  These include the Grand Bellevue, Murder On The Bellevue Express, and Murder On The Bellevue Express.  They also have railbike adventures and boating trips, the latter operated as the Newport & Narragansett Bay Navigation Company.

After acquiring the line from Conrail, the state of Rhode Island soon leased the track on Aquidneck Island to the Old Colony & Newport Scenic Railway, a non-profit organization.  In 1988 the island's track became disconnected from the national rail network when flooding damaged the bridge over the Sakonnet River, which was removed in 2007.

In 1997, the state allowed a second heritage railroad to begin using the island trackage.  Known as the Newport Dinner Train, it hosted trains along with the Old Colony & Newport Scenic Railway. 

The two entities were struggling by the mid-2010s; the Newport Dinner Train had shutdown by 2012 and was sold, becoming the current Newport & Narragansett Bay Railroad.  It is also sometimes referred to as the "Grand Bellevue Dining Experience."

The Old Colony & Newport Scenic Railway stopped hosting trains in 2015 and was merged into the Newport & Narragansett Bay.  Today, all trains are hosted as simply the Newport Dinner Train excursion.

The dinner train runs with its own chef which, according to the railroad includes: "...[a] fully outfitted kitchen car, where food is prepared daily. Our menu includes dinner and lunch options. Beers, wines, and spirits are also featured on select trains."

Trains are usually pulled by a little 44-ton switcher locomotive, built by General Electric in 1951 for the Hampton & Branchville Railroad, a short line freight carrier that still serves South Carolina.

The dinner train's other equipment includes:

  • A pair of RDC cars (self-propelled rail diesel cars built by the Budd Company in 1956/1957 for Canadian lines, Pacific Great Eastern and Canadian National)
  • Dining car Aquidneck Spruce, originally built as a 54-seat coach for the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1946.  It has since been converted into a tabled dining car.
  • Theater car Atlantic Rose, originally a 54-seat coach built for the Atlantic Coast Line.  According to the railroad: "In 2018 the car was again rebuilt into a theater car with bistro seating facing a center stage. It now hosts weekly murder mystery performances as part of the Grand Bellevue."
  • Dashing Dan’s Clam Car, originally for the Long Island Rail Road in 1956 as coach #2943.  It was updated with modern heating and cooling systems in the early 1970s.  It was again heavily rebuilt in the early 2020s.  According to the railroad: "In 2021 the car was retrofitted with a kitchen, repainted to its original gray and orange, and parked at Portsmouth Junction, where it now serves as a classic seaside clam shack offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner."
  • Kitchen car, Bellevue Clipper: This car was originally built for the Chesapeake & Ohio in 1948 by the Budd Company as a lounge.  In 1987 it was rebuilt into a kitchen car and was again heavily modernized in 2016-2017.
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