Posts Tagged ‘Tourist trains’

Disappointment Quickly Turned to Joy

June 15, 2021

On Sunday Marty Surdyk picked me up just after 9 a.m. at my house. Our quest for the day was to photograph the excursion on the New York & Lake Erie (ex-Erie trackage) out of Gowanda, New York.

In the 1980s we rode and chased trips often during our younger days. This was to be a reprise of that era.

The NY&LE always had a special connection to us. In 1983, former Grand Trunk Western 2-8-2 No. 4070 traveled from Cleveland to the NY&LE for an important role in scenes for The Natural starring Robert Redford.

In 1987 the railroad had a special role in the filming of the comedy Planes, Trains & Automobiles starring John Candy and Steve Martin.

Also in 1987 and 1988, we participated in photo charters on the railroad when the locomotive and passenger cars were still wearing the fictitious Contrack livery for Planes, Trains & Automobiles.

We arrived on the NY&LE before noon and scouted the line to plot our potential photo locations. After having lunch in Gowanda, we ventured to the station there. Passengers were beginning to arrive.

However, our excitement changed to disappointment. An Alco FA was attached to the train but with its back end forward. The other FA was in the engine house.

We were thinking of riding the train because we weren’t too excited about photographing what appeared to be a boxcar leading the train.

We decided to still chase since the lone FA would being facing the proper direction on the return even though the sun angles would not be ideal.

We set up at East Hill Street just around a curve from the station area. At 2 p.m. a horn blow for departure sounded. Oh well maybe another time we’ll come back to get the back-to- back FAs.

Shortly the train appeared and disappoitment turned to “Wow!” There was the other FA. We never heard it coming out of the engine house.

We have no idea how we did not hear anything since Alcos definitely are not quiet. We were extremely delighted.

And with that the chase was on from Gowanda to South Dayton.

In the top image is the excursion train at East Hill Street in Gowanda followed by images made at Church street in Dayton, Markhams Road and at the South Dayton station.

Also shown is what we thought would be the motive power for the trip and a depiction in the Gowanda station of John Candy and Steven Martin.

The South Dayton station was used in the filming of The Natural and Planes, Trains & Automobiles.

A group photograph of Akron Railroad Club and Railroad Enthusiasts members was made at the South Dayton depot in 1987.

Article and Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

WMSR Resumes Excursions This Weekend

May 28, 2021

Excursions will resume this weekend on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad.

The 90-minute trips will be pulled by diesel locomotives and include a new open-air car and a dome car.

They will be the first excursions on the tourist railroad in more than a year with service having been suspended for most of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trips are scheduled to depart on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. Capacity for each trip is limited to 250 people.

Excursions pulled by former Chesapeake & Ohio steam locomotive No. 1309 will be announced at a later date.

Looking in on the Byesville Scenic

November 15, 2020

Keeping with our theme today of passenger trains we take a trip to southern Ohio to check out the Byesville Scenic Railway, a tourist train operation that bills itself as “the route of the Black Diamond.”

Trains traveled the former Marietta Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad for 2.5 miles between Byesville and Derwent over what is said to be the longest straight stretch of the branch.

SW1 No. 211 is shown pulling a pair of passenger cars in Byesville on June 15, 2007.

Operations of the Byesville Scenic were halted in 2011 and the railroad’s website indicated they have not yet resumed.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

NY&LE Resumes Excursion Trains

October 14, 2020

A western New York short line railroad has announced that it will resume tourist train excursions.

The New York & Lake Erie Railroad will run its first passenger excursions this Saturday, offering two trips celebrating the railroad’s 42nd anniversary.

Excursions had been suspended thus far this year due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

Also planned for the fall and winter are fall foliage, Halloween, Harvest Fest, and Santa Express trains.

The Class III short line is based in Gowanda, New York, near Buffalo.

R&N Announces New Destination for Tourist Trains

February 24, 2020

Pennsylvania-based Reading & Northern will return excursion train service to the 146-year-old depot in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania.

The railroad plans to build a new boarding platform at the station, a project that will be funded by a public-private partnership with the borough of Tamaqua.

Construction is expected to begin this spring with the first trains leaving the station in time for the community’s Summerfest on June 21.

R&N said it will also offer “ride-and-dine” trips from its new Reading Outer Station to Tamaqua. Trains will leave Reading in mid-afternoon and stop at the new Tamaqua train station, where riders disembark and dine at a local restaurant.

Cincy NRHS Chapter to Host Whitewater Valley Outing

January 15, 2020

The Cincinnati chapter of the National Railway Historical Society is sponsoring an outing on March 27 to the Whitewater Valley Railroad.

The event is being held in conjunction with the 2020 NRHS Spring Conference to be held in Cincinnati March 26-28.

The outing will begin with a bus ride from the conference hotel in West Chester, Ohio, the Marriott North, to the tourist railroad’s station in Connersville, Indiana.

Tickets are $95 per person and include transportation to and from the hotel, a six-hour one way train ride that will include photo runbys, and lunch.

To reserve a space or for further information call 513-729-1919 or send a check to treasurer Dave Price at 64 Hillcrest Drive, Springboro, OH 45066-8587.

The outing is open to the public. The registration deadline is Feb. 20.

Tickets are nonrefundable and passengers are advised that there are no restrooms aboard the train, which also is not handicapped accessible.

So What is a Tourist Train if Not Transportation?

October 26, 2019

Several years ago I was interviewing Wheeling & Lake Erie CEO Larry Parsons for a magazine article I was writing when the subject of excursion trains came up.

At the time the Wheeling hosted excursions sponsored by the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society and the Midwest Railway Preservation Society among others.

Parsons made it clear that he disliked passenger trains, particularly excursion trains.

“I mean, there’s no transportation function here,” he said about them.

That comment came to mind recently when I read about a fight in Pennsylvania involving the Reading & Northern and the borough of Jim Thorpe.

The R&N announced it would cease operating its Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway tourist train out of Jim Thorpe in the wake of a dispute over an amusement tax the municipality insists the railroad must charge per ticket.

R&N owner Andy Muller Jr. argues that the Lehigh Gorge is not an amusement and he refuses to collect the tax.

The mayor of Jim Thorpe, though, says the Lehigh Gorge is an amusement. “You go out and you come back,” said Mayor Michael Sofranko.

As the mayor sees it, that is entertainment and not transportation.

The news stories reporting on the dispute, which includes a lawsuit filed against the railroad by the borough and local school district to force collection of the tax, have not explicitly said what purpose Muller believes his tourist railroad serves. But a quotation from Muller offers a clue.

“I have offered passenger excursion rides to local communities as a way of thanking them for support over the years and to educate young and old in the glorious role railroads in this region played in our country’s industrial revolution,” Muller said.

Based on that, Muller thinks the purpose of his tourist trains is education and public relations.

As is often the case in any dispute, the way that the disputants frame what is at stake is not necessarily a complete picture of what led to the conflict.

There probably are underlying agendas and without knowing the participants I won’t speculate on their motives.

Whenever there is a dispute over taxes, though, it is because someone doesn’t want to pay it because it will result in less money in their pocket. Tax disputes also have roots in differing philosophies about the roles and purposes of government.

Yet the dispute in Pennsylvania also raises a question of what constitutes transportation and how it overlaps with such other functions as entertainment and education.

Closer to Northeast Ohio, we have the example of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which would not exist today were it not for public money.

Public money purchased the tracks when CSX abandoned them; public money has rebuilt the tracks and established an infrastructure of stations and repair facilities, and public money has rebuilt the tracks when flooding washed them out.

And where did that public money come from? Taxes.

The CVSR doesn’t receive a direct stream of public funding to pay for operations as does Amtrak, but it is a private-public venture that is supported by the National Park Service, which does receive such a funding stream.

But does the CVSR provide transportation, entertainment or education?

If we adopt the viewpoint of W&LE CEO Parsons and Jim Thorpe Mayor Sofranko, the CVSR is not transportation because its transportation function is ancillary to its other purposes. It is transportation as a form of enjoyable consumption.

Most CVSR passengers just happen to be riding a means of transportation, a railroad, as they view the passing wonders of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

They depart from point A and return there at the end of their ride even if they might get off at Peninsula for a layover to have lunch, browse some shops, or take a hike on the Towpath Trail.

But what about Bike Aboard? Much of the time, bicyclists are using the train to move from Point A , where they stopped or are started their bike trip, to Point B where they are ending or starting their bike trip.

That would seem to be a pure transportation function.

Yet, arguably, biking in the CVNP is still entertainment even if many would argue that it’s recreation.

Even if the CVSR provides a sort of transportation function, it differs greatly from hauling, say, raw steel, minerals, food products or containers with packages of auto parts that are used in business and commerce.

I haven’t seen any statistics about the matter, but I would expect the percentage of bicyclists who use Bike Aboard is a small slice of those who ride bikes in the park.

People would still ride their bikes in the CVNP even if the CVSR didn’t exist to give them a lift back to their cars.

But if railroads were to stop hauling raw steel, minerals, food products and containers of auto parts the economy of the United States would take a major hit that all of us would feel.

The transportation function that railroads provide is significant whereas by comparison the transportation provided by tourist railroads is minuscule. That is not to say it is meaningless.

Entertainment is significant, too, and provides its own substantial share of the U.S. economy. And entertainment makes our lives better although some would argue that it is subordinate to our purpose in life as worker bees.

Not all entertainment is the same, but that’s an argument for a different day.

Tourist railroads are a tiny fraction of the entertainment industry or for that matter the education industry.

Tourist railroads such as the Lehigh Gorge or CVSR do provide education. But is education their primary purpose? I rather doubt it.

I can understand why tourist railroads might want to emphasize their role in providing education. It comes across as serving a larger and more important purpose than entertainment. That could matter a lot when you have to argue for continued public money for support.

If the lawsuit against the R&N over its refusal to collect and pay the amusement tax in Jim Thorpe goes to trial, Andy Muller will have his day in court at explaining why his tourist railroad is not an amusement.

That might be a tough one to get a judge to accept.

One Afternoon in Sugarcreek

January 12, 2018

The Ohio Central began running its steam-powered Sugarcreek-Baltic tourist train behind former Canadian National 4-6-0 No. 1551 in 1989.

Although I moved to Northeast Ohio in August 1993, it would more than four years before I ventured to Sugarcreek to see that tourist train in action.

However, my first encounter with the 1551 had occurred two years earlier when I rode behind it on an Orrville Railroad Heritage Society excursion that originated in Beech City and ran to Coschocton. A diesel pulled the return trip.

What would turn out to be the last time that I saw the 1551 in steam would be on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon on Sept. 27, 1997.

I’m not sure how I learned about it, but the Ohio Central had two working steam locomotives in town that day.

The 1551 would be pulling the regularly-scheduled tourist train to Baltic and back. But also in town was the newest edition to the Ohio Central roundhouse, former Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 No. 1293.

OC owner Jerry Jacobson had acquired No. 1293 in 1996 from Steamtown and restored it to operating condition. It debuted in fall 1997 and would eventually take over the duties of pulling the Sugarcreek-Baltic tourist train.

My memory is a little hazy as to why the 1293 was in Sugarcreek on this day, but it probably had something to do with pulling an excursion train.

In the photograph above, the 1293 is idling on the siding as the 1551 prepares to depart for Baltic.

What is crystal clear in my memory was how I was thinking that on this day this was one of the few places in America that featured two operating steam locomotives. This remains one of my favorite Ohio Central steam memories.

Given that the Ohio Central steam program is a thing of the past, that makes those memories all the more special.

New Indiana Tourist Railroad Being Planned

October 27, 2017

A new Indiana tourist train operation is making plans to commence operations in spring 2018.

Known as the Nickel Plate Express, the trains will be operated by the Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad and use a former NKP branch line between Atlanta and Noblesville, Indiana.

The line once ran between Indianapolis and Michigan City, Indiana, but several portions of it have been abandoned.

The line in Hamilton and Marion counties has been inactive in the past year but had previously been used by the Indiana Transportation Museum.

The cities of Fishers and Noblesville want to abandon the tracks between the latter city and Indianapolis in order to create a hike and bike trail. That matter is now pending before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

Nickel Plate Express will be headquartered at the Arcadia Heritage Depot.

Although the tourist train operator has created a website, it has not listed any schedules, fare information or a service inauguration date.

However, the site said the trains will operate regular excursions Fridays through Sundays along the 12-mile track between Noblesville and Atlanta.

Departures will take place from Noblesville arriving in Cicero, Arcadia and Atlanta; to Noblesville from Atlanta; from Atlanta to Arcadia and the old spur or “Davon Y” between 216th & 221st Streets.

The website can be found at https://www.nickelplateexpress.net/

WMSR Head Expresses Regret about Taking on 1309 Restoration

August 3, 2017

The head of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad said steam may return to that line by the end of September, provided that a number of things fall into place.

Speaking during a radio program, John Garner said the cost of restoring ex-Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 has skyrocketed to $1.8 million and if he had been head of the WMSR in 2014 when the the locomotive was acquired he would never have agreed to acquire the engine from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum.

Instead, Garner said he would have favored putting money and effort into rebuilding former Lake Superior & Ishpeming 2-8-0 No. 734, which ran on the WMSR until April 2016 when it was removed from service for its federally required 1,472-day inspection. Restoration of the 734 will cost $1.2 million.

“1309 is a magnificent locomotive; however, I think it is way too much of a locomotive for us. I think I would have restored 734. It’s much more appropriate for us,” Garner said.

“The 1309 project has been a huge project that’s eating us out of house and home,” Garner told Trains magazine. “However unfortunate it may be, that’s the gospel truth.”

Nonetheless, Garner said the WMSR is going to see the 1309 project through.

During his radio interview, Garner said that boiler work has been completed and a hydrostatic test will be performed in the next two or three weeks.

Garner said restoration work was delayed after contractors found corrosion pits on the locomotive’s axles, meaning they will need to be turned on a lathe. Wheel boxes and crank pins will have to be rebuilt as well.

The WMSR is also rebuilding its passenger car fleet to make it compliant with Federal Railroad Administration regulations.

A $250,000 grant from the State of Maryland is helping pay for that work. Thus far six cars have been rebuilt.

“WMSR does not have the funds to do heavy rebuilds on passenger cars,” Garner said during the radio interview. “The days of 14-car trains, 1,000 passengers a train, those days are over for now. We know we can do better, and as time and money permit, we’ll acquire additional equipment and bring more riders to Allegany County.”

Ridership on the WMSR this year has been up by 42 percent from 2016, but is below the 2015 ridership numbers.

“We’re hanging in there, but with the additional costs of restoring the locomotive, insurance costs, and maintenance on equipment we have done a boatload of right-of-way maintenance,” he said.