Published: January 20, 2023
By: Adam Burns
In spite of Virginia's rich railroading heritage and importance the state is home to only a few museums and even fewer excursions available to the public. Currently, only the Buckingham Branch Railroad offers the latter via its Virginia Scenic Railway.
The state's very first railroad was the Petersburg Railroad, which opened 70 miles from Petersburg to Garysburg, North Carolina in 1833. It would go on to become part of the classic Atlantic Coast Line system.
Because of Virginia's important port city of Norfolk, and close proximity to Washington, D.C. the state was vital for many southern railroads. It also played a very important role to the Confederate States during the Civil War.
For travelers, the Chesapeake & Ohio and Norfolk & Western offered first-class services across Virginia from Norfolk/Washington, D.C. to points west such as Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Chicago.
These trains included the George Washington, Fast Flying Virginian, Sportsman, Powhatan Arrow, Pocahontas, and others. Fine dining on all of these named services was, of course, standard along with several other accommodations such as reclining seat coaches, lounges, sleepers (in some cases), and taverns. It was truly a hotel on wheels.
In addition to the east-west trains, Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard Air Line, and Southern Railway all provided their own fine trains between Washington, Richmond, and points throughout the deep south such as Miami, Atlanta, Birmingham, St. Petersburg, and New Orleans.
All of these named trains are far too numerous to mention here but some of the more famous included the Crescent, Champion, Southerner, Silver Comet, Silver Star, and Silver Meteor. Because these trains served such warm climates most continued to see strong ridership well into the 1960s as travelers continued to go by train on vacation.
The Southern Railway, for example, was so proud of its trains that it continued operating the Southern Crescent, a carry over of the old Crescent until 1979 when the company finally handed the train over to Amtrak.
The Virginia Scenic Railway is a relatively new heritage railroad hosted by the Buckingham Branch Railroad, a successful short line carrier operating within the state's beautiful Shenandoah Valley.
Today, the company maintains 280 miles of track throughout central Virginia. Its corridors currently include the:
All of the railroad's excursions are hosted over the former C&O's 199 miles, the "Richmond & Alleghany Division" between Richmond and Clifton Forge via Charlottesville and Staunton. This is the most scenic stretch of the railroad, which operates within the Shenandoah Valley.
The Virginia Scenic Railway currently hosts two different excursions, the Blue Ridge Flyer and Allegheny Special. Because these excursions are hosted on a large short line freight carrier, the trips are offered year round.