Aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train
By Richard Jacobs
The Napa Valley Wine Train is a most unique and delicious dining establishment. It is a heritage train that runs on 25-miles of track in the heart of the Napa Valley.
The train has two former Montreal Locomotive Works FPA-4 engines (of Canadian National/VIA Rail Canada heritage), two kitchens on board, and a collection of early 20th century rail cars that are pure Americana. It offers great regional food and fabulous, hard-to-find wines.
Barbara and I rode and dined on the Napa Valley Wine Train on Sunday, October 10, 2010. We boarded at Napa, California, after a pleasurable wine-tasting party in the Napa Valley Railroad depot. We were escorted to a splendidly restored 1915 Pullman white-linen dining car.
The car had been reserved for our Collette Vacations tour group. We ordered a sumptuous meal from the menu; a tenderloin steak for me, and chicken for Barbara. It was elegant dining indeed, reminiscent of luxury train travel of past years.
After dinner, we were escorted to a comfortable lounge car with a wine bar for dessert. We traveled leisurely along through the Napa Valley where vineyards stretched to the distant mountains that enclosed the valley.
There were many wineries along the route and several small depots. People left the train at some of the depots to partake in a winery tour that was part of their combination ticket.
At St. Helena, the MLW FPA-4’s ran around the train for the trip back to Napa. We journeyed to the open-railed observation car to enjoy the scenery and snap a few photos.
After arriving back in Napa, I hiked to the head end of the siding to capture the beautiful locomotives and cars. It was a bit difficult for photographs, however, due to construction on the railroad overpass at that end of the siding. That beautiful train deserved a much more picturesque setting.
We boarded our motor coach for the journey to Fort Bragg to ride the “Skunk” train the next day.
About The Train
The Napa Valley Wine Train is operated by the Napa Valley Railroad The train is a privately operated excursion train that runs between Napa and St. Helena, California. Much of the rail line parallels California State Route 29. After leaving Napa, it passes the towns of Yountville, California, Rutherford and Oakville. The route skirts many of the region’s notable vineyards and wineries located in the picturesque Napa County.
The Napa Valley Wine Train has been in operation since September 16, 1989 and has now carried over 1 million passengers. This train has a capacity of 370 passengers and normally makes two runs on weekdays and three on weekends the train is normally pulled by two of the four late-1950s era Alco FPA-4 engines in the company’s inventory.
The engines have been modified by the railroad to run cleaner on a combination of natural gas and diesel fuel. NVRR currently runs nine cars on its passenger train consist. The cars include lounge, observation and dining cars originally built by the Pullman Company in the early-1900s for the Northern Pacific Railroad. These cars were later sold to Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad in 1960 and used for the Ski Train between Denver, Colorado and Winter Park, Colorado before the NVRR purchased them in 1987.
The cars were extensively refurbished and modified by NVRR before the railroad placed them back into service. Modifications included adding air conditioning and 4 inches of concrete to the car floors in order to stabilize the ride due to the train’s low speed. The interiors were remodeled using Honduran mahogany and plush fabrics.
The railroad added a vista dome car its fleet in 1997. This car was originally built in 1947 for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad and had logged over a million miles for that railroad prior being acquired by the NVRR. After the railroad bought this car, the exterior was was rebuilt by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus train repair yard in Palmetto, Florida, while the interior was restored, updated, and customized by NVRR.
The NVRR track sees occasional freight service. The rail line connects to the Union Pacific and Northwestern Pacific Railroad and has hosted special trains from Amtrak as well as private excursion trains.