Tourist Railroads, Riding The Rails

One of the great pastimes is taking a train ride.  To truly experience this in its most enjoyable form find a tourist railroad near you.  While Amtrak still provides intercity rail travel and commuter services fill an essential need within metropolitan regions neither capture the magic of what once was.  More than a half-century ago one could board a flagship service like Pennsylvania Railroad's legendary Broadway Limited in New York and enjoy a lap of luxury into Chicago.  The mighty PRR spared no expense in stocking its top service with every amenity imaginable from freshly prepared five-star meals to full bedrooms while other perks included air-conditioning and a train fully staffed by the famous Pullman Company.  The PRR wasn't alone, other railroads offered their own level of opulence such as a secretary, nurse, domes for sightseeing, and even a barber.  Such indulgences would never be found under Amtrak today.  However, a few have made their way onto a tourist railroad including domes and freshly-cooked meals.  Within this section you can learn more about a few of these organizations and where they are located.

The tourist train concept is not new although it has certainly gained popularity over the last few decades.  The oldest organization in the country dedicated to preserving rail history is the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Inc. founded in 1921.  The R&LHS remains an active group; you can visit their website by clicking here.  Before the modern excursion train was born enthusiasts sponsored these trips directly on the railroads.  Many were happy to host such events before rising insurance premiums and the fear of ligation largely ended the practice.  The trips were not limited to big-name roads like the Southern Pacific or Santa Fe, small carriers such as Western Maryland and Virginian also did so.  It all began in 1934 when the first "fan trip" was hosted.  In his article from the September, 1969 issue of Trains Magazine entitled "Are These People Embalmers Or Enthusiasts?," noted editor David P. Morgan described the term "railfan" quite poignantly.  It carries a range of fields, from photography to modeling, but general refers to folks who simply enjoy the railroad subject.  Various clubs/organizations sprang up throughout the 1930s, '40s, and '50s.  

Excursions By State

Alabama, Riding The Rails Through The Heart Of Dixie

Alaska, Experience The Breathtaking Scenery Of The Last Frontier

Arizona, Reach The Grand Canyon By Train

Arkansas, Ride The Arkansas & Missouri And Other Excursions

California, Home To A Wide Range Of Steam And Diesel-Powered Excursions

Colorado, Go Back In Time On The Fabled Narrow-Gauge Cumbres & Toltec Scenic And Durango & Silverton

Connecticut, Home Of The Essex Steam Train

Florida, Home To Dinner Trains And Steam-Powered Trips

Georgia, Enjoy A Wide Range Of Train Rides In The Peach State

Hawaii, Keeping Alive The State's Narrow-Gauge Railroad History

Illinois, Home To One Of The Country's Largest, The Illinois Railway Museum

Indiana, Experience The French Lick Scenic Railway And Other Trips

Iowa, Ride The Popular Boone & Scenic Valley Railway

Kansas, Showcasing A Few Trips By Rail

Kentucky, Home Of The "My Old Kentucky Dinner Train"

Maine, Riding The State's Fabled Narrow-Gauge Railroads

Maryland, Enjoy The Steam-Powered Western Maryland Scenic Railroad

Massachusetts, Featuring Several Popular Excursion Trains

Michigan, Home Of The Popular Huckleberry Railroad And "The Polar Express" Steam Locomotive, Pere Marquette #1225

Minnesota, Preserving The State's Rich Rail History

Missouri, Home Of The Popular Branson Scenic Railway

Nebraska, Ride The State's Only Excursion, The Fremont & Elkhorn Valley

Nevada, Experience The Legendary Virginia & Truckee

New Hampshire, Enjoy The State's Gorgeous Scenery By Rail

New Jersey, Preserving Its Railroad History

New Mexico, Ride The Fabled Narro-Gauge Cumbres & Toltec Scenic

New York, Offering Numerous Excursions To Enjoy The State's Scenic Beauty

North Carolina, Home Of The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad And Other Trips

Ohio, Enjoy The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad And Other Rides

Oklahoma, Where You Can Enjoy A Few Trips By Rail

Oregon, Excursions On The Popular Mt. Hood Scenic Railroad And Others

Pennsylvania, Home Of The World-Famous Strasburg Railroad

South Carolina, Trips At The South Carolina Railroad Museum

Tennessee, Enjoy Train Rides Through The Appalachians

Texas, Home Of The Steam-Powered Texas State Railroad

Washington, Experience The State's Beauty By Rail

West Virginia, Through The Mountain State's Breathtaking Backcountry

Wisconsin, Enjoy The Ever-Popular Wisconsin Great Northern

Other State Train Rides

Notable Excursions

Easter Train Rides

Fall Foliage Excursions

Halloween Specials

Dinner Train Guide

Officially Licensed The Polar Express Events

Christmas/Holiday Train Rides

Thomas The Train

There were 65 such groups in 1934 and 96 by 1959 as noted by the "The Railfan, Inc.," edited by Rosemary Entringer from the June, 1959 issue of Trains.  The next important organization to appear was the National Railway Historical Society, formed in 1935.  The NRHS acted as a franchising operation with various chapters formed across the country, many of which are still around today.  But again, the modern movement of museums and tourist railroads sprang up in postwar times as nostalgia took hold when diesels replaced steam and railroads disappeared through merger.  The popular "fan trips" peaked after World War II when, as Mr. Morgan points out, some clubs tried to sponsor as many as five excursions at a time, all with different railroads.  One of the last great excursion adventures at this time were the popular Iron Horse Rambles hosted by coal-hauler Reading Railroad between October 25, 1959 and October 17, 1964.  The trips were pulled by one of the company's powerful 4-8-4's, listed Class T-1.  Three of these steamers participated in the events (#2100, #2102 and #2124) during a total of fifty rambles hosted over a five year period.  


Adirondack Scenic

Belfast & Moosehead Lake

Cass Scenic Railroad

Downeast Scenic Railroad

Durbin & Greenbrier Valley

East Broad Top

The "Essex Steam Train"

Green Mountain Railroad

Mount Washington Cog

Naugatuck Railroad

Potomac Eagle Scenic

Stewartstown Railroad


Western Maryland Scenic

Wilmington & Western Railroad


Arkansas & Missouri

Blue Ridge Scenic

Great Smoky Mountains

The My Old Kentucky Dinner Train - RJ Corman

Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad

Seminole Gulf Railway



Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad

Branson Scenic Railway

Hocking Valley Scenic

Huckleberry Railroad

Midwest Central Railroad

Whitewater Valley Railroad

Wisconsin Great Northern

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic


California Western Railroad, The Skunk Train

Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic

Durango & Silverton Narrow-Gauge

Georgetown Loop Railroad

Grand Canyon Railway

Fillmore & Western Railway

Sugar Cane Train

Leadville, Colorado & Southern

Manitou & Pike's Peak

Nevada Northern

Niles Canyon Railway

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad

Rio Grande Scenic

Royal Gorge Route

Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway

Verde Canyon

Virginia & Truckee


Black Hills Central

Mount Hood Railroad

Mt. Rainier Scenic

Napa Valley Wine Train

White Pass & Yukon Route

The 1960's signaled the last great period of fan trips as railroads focused their attention to discontinuing passenger service, the merger movement, and simply survival.  Over the next few decades a handful of memorable excursions were run from the American Freedom Train and Chessie Steam Special to Southern Railway's steam program, which carried into the Norfolk Southern era.  The truth is that while enthusiasts are sometimes looked down upon by society, without them there would be no Strasburg Railroad, one of America's most popular excursions located in Pennsylvania's Amish community, or the famous Durango & Silverton Narrow-Gauge in Colorado.  These folks, many working as volunteers, do it all for love of the hobby.  The Strasburg was originally built as a short-line freight carrier but shutdown in 1957.  In 1959 a group of railfans purchased the defunct short line and began operating excursions. Today, the railroad is a mostly all-steam with authenticity a key to its success.  In recent years it began hauling freight once more and also performs car and locomotive repairs.  

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