Tennessee train rides have so much to offer for anyone interested in an excursion along ribbons of steel with stunning Appalachian scenery of rolling green hills, steep mountains, bucolic farmland, and winding rivers. You also have a choice of witnessing live steam locomotives in action (such as at the Tennessee Central Railway Museum and Three Rivers Rambler) or enjoying fine dining during your trip. Most Tennessee train rides offer numerous special events throughout the year such as hosting "A Day Out With Thomas" (the tank engine so popular with kids) or featuring holiday specials (especially during Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). Also highlighted here are the state's many railroad museums (which comprise many attractions found within the Volunteer State). Please note! The guide here pertains to vacation/tourism train rides-only.
Like most other Appalachian states (notably West Virginia and Kentucky), Tennessee was mainly important to railroads for its rich seams of bituminous coal. However, the state also offered railroads important cities like Memphis and Chattanooga and as such, several famous passenger trains passed through the state operated by railroads like the Louisville & Nashville and Southern Railway. Today, Tennessee train rides try to capture this bygone era by offering several different types of excursions like those mentioned here. If you truly want to experience the splendor of a rail excursion in the state plan your ride during the fall foliage peak of late October, as it's tough to beat the incredible beauty and vibrant colors afforded during such trips. In any event, to learn more about the state's tourist railroads please read on below. Finally, if you are interested in Tennessee train rides that pertain to specific events, such as "The Polar Express," Halloween, Thomas the Tank Engine excursions, or fall foliage events please visit the main tourist trains section of this website.
A.C. Kalmbach Memorial Library - National Model Railroad Association (NMRA)
This is the NMRA's research library and is located in Chattanooga used for research proposes in modeling prototypical railroad scenes. They have a very large collection of material on-hand, ranging from books and periodicals to photos and videos.
Casey Jones Railroad Museum
This museum, located in Jackson, has a collection of artifacts and displays and specifically tells the story of Casey Jones who heroically died saving the passenger aboard his train on April 30, 1900. Additionally, there are a few pieces of rolling stock to see on the grounds.
Chattanooga Choo Choo
This tourist attraction is located inside the Southern Railway's former Terminal Station in Chattanooga. The grand building has been converted into a hotel, shopping center, restaurants, and more. While there be sure and visit the model train layout, rolling stock on display, and available trolley to ride!
Cookeville Depot Museum
This museum is located inside the town's restored Tennessee Central Railway depot built in 1909. Inside the brick building is a collection of artifacts and displays while outdoors are several pieces of rolling stock including Tennessee Central 4-6-0 #509 (built by Baldwin in 1909). The museum is open on select days throughout the year and is free of charge.
Cowan Railroad Museum
The Cowan Railroad Museum is housed at the town's restored Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis depot where several displays and artifacts are available to peruse, including an operating model train layout. On the grounds outside you can see a 2-4-2 #1, built for the Cherokee Brick & Tile in 1920 by H.K. Porter, along with other pieces of rolling stock.
Dollywood Express Train
One of the state's most popular tourist attractions located near Pigeon Forge features an operating excursion train on the grounds pulled by a 3-foot, narrow-gauge steam locomotive (four in all that trace their roots back to the White Pass & Yukon of Alaska). Also, be sure to see their operating garden railroad!
Little River Railroad
The Little River Railroad looks to tell the history of logging operations in the state and throughout the Smoky Mountains. It is based in Townsend and features a collection outdoor displays and rolling stock as well as exhibits inside. They have scheduled openings from April through November while during the cooler months please call for an appointment.
Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
This attraction is located at Chattanooga's Lookout Mountain. It has been in service since 1895 ferrying passengers up the side of the mountain and is a National Historic site as well as a Mechanical Engineering Landmark.
Lynnville Railroad Museum
This museum is situated inside a restored Louisville & Nashville depot located in Lynnville, which houses a collection of historic artifacts. Outside are pieces of rolling stock on display, including Republic Steel 2-6-2 #294 built by Baldwin in 1927.
Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Depot & Railroad Museum
This museum is located inside the NC&StL's restored brick depot at the town. Inside the building are several displays, artifacts, and a large operating layout while outside is a small collection of rolling stock.
Southern Appalachia Railway Museum
This museum, located in Oak Ridge, attempts to preserve the history of rail operations in the Southern Appalachia region. The group also sponsors the Secret City Scenic Excursion.
Tennessee Central Railway Museum
Arguably the most popular of all Tennessee train rides, the TCRM is based in Nashville and focused primarily on preserving the state's railroad history. However, it also operates excursion trains throughout the year offering trips that travel as far as 180 miles, round trip!
Tennessee Valley Railroad
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is mainly a tourist railroad operating train rides on ex-Southern Railway trackage which it originally purchased in 1969. Today, the railroad operates a six-mile round trip near Chattanooga and hosts numerous specials throughout the year including dinner trains, Halloween trains, fall foliage trips, and much more.
Three Rivers Rambler
The Three Rivers Rambler is based in Knoxville and offers an 11-mile round trip using both steam and diesel locomotives. The railroad also hosts numerous special and seasonal trains throughout the operating season between June and December.
To learn more about Tennessee train rides and railroad museums, Kalmbach Publishing/Trains Magazine releases their Tourist Trains Guidebook each year, which highlights most such destinations throughout the U.S. and Canada.