Photo by Mitch Goldman, courtesy Wilmington and Western Railroad
Be warned: There’s no hurrying on excursions aboard dinner trains that relive the golden age of train travel. At times chugging along at about 15 miles per hour, the trains allow groups to enjoy the sights, from starched blue-and-white shirts swinging in the breeze on Pennsylvania Amish clotheslines to California vineyards bursting with purple and yellow fruit.
You won’t want to miss a minute of it.
Nor will you want to miss a bite of the dinner, and going any faster might make that tender filet mignon with mushroom burgundy sauce on your plate wiggle around and stain that starched, white tablecloth.
Wilmington & Western Railroad
A two-and-a-half-hour excursion on a steam-powered train of the Wilmington & Western Railroad takes groups from Wilmington to Hockessin, Delaware.
“We snake up through the New Castle County, following the Red Clay Creek, passing dramatic sights like the private land of the duPont estate. We travel from Delaware’s coastal plain to the Piedmont area, and witnessing the changeover between these two areas is an experience in itself,” said David Ludow, the train’s executive director.
Two types of dinners are offered on the scenic trail.
Ride to Dine aboard a restored 1929 railcar nicknamed the Doodlebug features hors d’oeuvres onboard and dinner at a restaurant that sits next to the tracks.
Ride and Dine offers groups a buffet dinner onboard while they travel in a classic parlor car.
Deemed Delaware’s only operating railroad museum, both the railroad and equipment are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cape Cod Central Railroad
Rated one of the nine most scenic trains by Parade Magazine, the Cape Cod Central Railroad takes groups through sand dunes, cranberry bogs and the Great Salt Marsh.
“We travel through backyards and backwoods with panoramic views. Sometimes, we even stop the train and watch the farmers harvesting crops,” said Dede Kiely, vice president of sales and marketing.
Kiely also described one train adventure as a wow experience. “On our journey from Cape Cod to the village of Buzzards Bay and back, we travel across one of only three vertical lift bridges in the country — a bridge that raises and
The vintage cars include a 1917 parlor car that once ran in New Orleans. “We consider her the queen of our fleet,” said Kiely.
Offering four entrees that change monthly, the executive chef prepares passengers a five-course meal aboard the train. Kiely noted, “To add even more to the scenic and delicious experience, groups may want to board one of our different event trains we offer throughout the year.”
Cass Scenic Railroad — Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
Cass, West Virginia
Three themes are possibilities for dinner train cruises on the Cass Scenic Railroad: Ribs and Rails, the Bluegrass Buffet and the Cass Murder Mystery. But before groups even board this steam-driven fleet, they feel like they’ve stepped into a time warp.
“This was a logging railroad built in 1901, and this old company town, surrounded by a national forest, has the same white clapboard houses and the same company store. The depot is reminiscent of the era when railroad was king,” said Gerri Bartels, group sales and programming manager.
The two-hour evening excursions begin by passing the water tower where the locomotive tanks are filled and the Cass Shop, where locomotives are serviced.
“Now, the laborious journey up the mountain is just ahead. This is not a fast ride. This is the first fleet of geared locomotives in the world, and passengers, many on refurbished flatcars, appreciate the clanking of gears and pistons,” said Bartels.
After arriving at Whittaker Station, a re-created 1940s logging camp, groups detrain and enjoy a buffet and the surroundings, which include a railcar-mounted machine that once carried logs on aerial cables for 3,000 feet.
Groups may choose to combine this adventure with a visit to the Green Bank telescope, the largest movable object on earth. “Only six miles away, this is where scientists listen 24/7 to deep space, hoping that E.T. will answer. It is really cool, and tours are free,” said Bartels.
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Strasburg Rail Road
The Strasburg Rail Road takes passengers from Strasburg to Paradise — and back. “Located in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, groups can travel in an open-air car, my favorite way to experience this trip,” said train spokesperson Hope Banner.
The scenery includes 1,000 acres of farmland and rural sights. “We travel through the backyards of the working Amish and see clotheslines and men plowing their fields,” Banner said.
The 54-seat wooden dining car, one of a few left in operation, offers different types of experiences, including wine and cheese, entertainment or a murder mystery.
At the platform, a variety of shops, model trains and even a pump car, where group members can use their own power to run the car on the tracks, offer more entertainment. A behind-the-scenes tour of the mechanical shop gives visitors a glimpse of one of the few shops in the country where steam engines are built from the bottom up.
My Old Kentucky Dinner Train
Since Bardstown is steeped in bourbon history, it’s only appropriate that travelers on My Old Kentucky Dinner Train not only get a view of the Jim Beam Co., the world’s largest bourbon distillery, but also have the opportunity to sample a taste in the bourbon barrel-smoked pork loin, one of the choices for the four-course dinner prepared by the onboard executive chef.
Constructed in 1860, the line continues to provide freight service to local industries. The depot, also built in 1860 of native limestone, and the four dinner cars also boast history galore. The steel-skirted cars were built shortly after World War II, and one was used in the funeral train for President Dwight Eisenhower.
Other views along the two-hour, diesel-powered excursion feature tobacco farms, a private nature preserve and two refurbished depots, including the old English-style depot at Limestone Springs Junction where the train stops before its return trip to Bardstown.
A ride across an 1860 timber trestle gives passengers an authentic clickety-clack experience.
More dinner trains: