Last revised: April 17, 2023
By: Adam Burns
There is currently one heritage railroad in South Carolina offering a dinner train experience hosted by the South Carolina Railroad Museum in Winnsboro.
Historically, South Carolina is significant in railroading as being home to one of the first, and longest, systems in the nation; the South Carolina Canal & Rail Road Company. By 1933 the SCC&RR had opened 136 miles from Charleston to Hamburg, South Carolina/Augusta, Georgia.
It was later acquired by other systems, which went on to join the classic Southern Railway. The Southern was one of three major railroads (Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line) which once served South Carolina during the mid-20th century.
All three provided exceptional rail travel service until Amtrak began on May 1, 1971 (the Southern was so proud of its trains the railroad did not give up its remaining passenger trains until 1979).
However, the Seaboard Air Line and Atlantic Coast Line particularly stand out in South Carolina. Their flagship services from Washington, D.C./Richmond to Florida passed directly through the state; names like the Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Orange Blossom Special, Sunland, Palmland, Champion, Everglades, Palmetto (Atlantic Coast Line's service from New York to Savannah/Augusta/Wilmington), and others.
Dining by train in the immediate post-World War II era was second-to-none as railroad's spared no expense in providing guests with the absolute best on-board accommodations. For instance, the Atlantic Coast Line's dining menu from its flagship train, the "Champion," during the 1960s noted the following main dishes:
And this was only a brief sampling of the entire menu, which included many side dishes, desserts, soups, appetizers, breads and various beverages.
The South Carolina Railroad Museum's heritage railroad attempts to recapture this experience with two different excursions offering dining during the trip in their restored dining car.
The South Carolina Railroad Museum, located just south of Winnsboro off Route 321, predominantly looks to preserve the state's heritage and has accrued a wide collection of equipment. They also host excursion trains during the warmer months known as the Rockton, Rion & Western Railroad.
Their regular trips include First Class accommodations that offer beverages and a light snack while private charters for large groups also have optional food service. In addition, dinner is served within their Lake Rion dining car. This car was built in 1924 with seating up to 4 individuals per table.
Their dinner train rides include the Valentine's Day Dinner Train, a one-time event hosted just before the holiday, and "BBQ Dinner Trains" which run on select Saturdays from April through October.
The museum's excursion train is colloquially known as the Rockton, Rion and Western Railroad. It was formed following the 1983 acquisition of the Rockton and Rion Railway from the Martin Marietta Aggregates, which used the system to haul locally quarried Winnsboro Blue granite.
Today, the museum owns the entire 11.5-mile right-of-way although only about 6.5 miles is currently in service, providing excursions lasting about 1.5 hours.
Also be sure and visit their many pieces of historic rolling stock, which the organization works to keep maintained and restored. Their train trips are typically pulled by one of several operation switcher locomotives (diesel-electric) originally built in the 1950s.