Tracking the Mid-Atlantic’s family railroad experiences

Jane & Marvin Bond

Gathering steam for a trip on the Durbin-Greenbrier Valley Railroad.

The Mid-Atlantic is rich with opportunities to ride the rails — both literally and figuratively. You can travel on the historic first mile of commercial track, see one of the world’s largest model train layouts, check out the trolleys of bygone days, and visit the museums that preserve our railroad heritage. There are also scenic railroad excursions available in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of railroad adventures.

Here are some opportunities within a few hours of the Washington-Baltimore area.

SCENIC EXCURSION TRAINS

Everett Railroad

Hollidaysburg, Pa.

everettrailroad.com

814-696-EVRR

A recently restored 1923 steam engine powers most excursions along the 23-mile system, including an Easter “EGGspress” event April 8, 9, and 15. Other special event and basic excursions are available during the season.

Ma & Pa Railroad

The Ma & Pa Railroad’s motorcar experience southwest of York, Pa., is a bit different than the usual steam train excursion.

Airville, Pa.

maandparailroad.com

717-927-9565

Historic buildings in the Heritage Village and train rides along the old Maryland and Pennsylvania line, June through Labor Day, are only part of the story. There are plenty of special events like a World War I encampment in June, a World War II weekend in August, Milling Weekend, fall leaf excursions, and the special Christmas City Express. It’s all just 50 minutes from Baltimore.

Mountain Rail Adventures

West Virginia

mtn-rail.com

866-779-4828

Catch a ride on both Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad and the Cass Scenic Railroad with a single “Wild Heart of West Virginia” ticket from historic depots in Elkins, Durbin, and Cass. Chose from excursions or shorter sightseeing trips, dinner trains, holiday adventures, and special events beginning in April. You can even spend the night in the Durbin Rocket’s Castaway Caboose.

Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad

Titusville, Pa.

octrr.org

A standard three-hour trip on the OC&TRR makes a 26-mile round trip from Titusville down Oil Creek valley to the south tip of Oil Creek State Park near Rouseville and returns. Stops include stations in Titusville, Drake Well Museum, Petroleum Centre, and Rynd Farm.

On your trip, the only operating Railway Postal Office in the country doubles as a great spot to mail postcards or obtain snacks and souvenirs.

The Caboose Motel in Titusville features accommodations in 21 caboose cars, April 28 through mid-October.

Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad

Romney, W.Va.

potomaceagle.info

You’ll see eagles on 90 percent of the excursions through a pristine mountain valley known as the eastern home of the bald eagle. Experience “The Trough,” a spectacular valley through which the south branch of the Potomac River runs with water so clear you can see the fish below. An all-day excursion into Petersburg is also available.

Steam Into History

New Freedom, Pa.

steamintohistory.com

717-942-2370

Ride to Glen Rock or Hanover Junction behind a re-creation of the locomotive that took Abraham Lincoln to Gettysburg or a more modern diesel engine. The season runs March through December with weekend runs in April and May. Mid-week trains run June and July, with a heavy schedule in October. There is entertainment on most every run with musicians or living historians.

Cowboys and Civil War reenactors can even storm the train.

Strasburg Railroad

Ronks, Pa.

strasburgrailroad.com

866-725-9666

Take the 45-minute ride on the oldest continuously operated short-line railroad in America. Journey through the Amish countryside on a variety of accommodations. Easter bunny trains run April 14, 15, and 16. There are also three “Day Out With Thomas” events: June 17–25, Sept. 16–24, and Nov. 17–19.

The season begins March 11 and runs daily through October, with special event trains in November and December.

Tioga Central Railroad

Wellsboro, Pa.

tiogacentral.com

570-724-0990

Billing itself as Pennsylvania’s most scenic railroad, the Tioga Central runs a 34-mile route Thursday through Sunday from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October.

Dinner trains and ice cream social trains are among the special events offered.

Walkersville Southern Railroad

Walkersville, Md.

wsrr.org

301-898-0899

Travel over track originally built in 1871. The season opens with Easter bunny trains April 8, 9, and 15 and regular Saturday runs May through September, with Saturday and Sunday excursions in October. Round trip is about 70 minutes.

Special events include Jesse James Days, superhero trains, mystery dinner trains, and Santa trains in November and December.

Western Maryland Scenic Railroad

Cumberland, Md.

wmsr.com

240-920-6273

Special “Bunny Hop” trains April 1, 2, 8, 9, and 15 include a stop for an egg hunt. Despite a landslide, excursion trains will keep a schedule, departing from Cumberland and passing notable landmarks including the Narrows, Helmstetter’s Curve, and Brush Tunnel. Operations to Frostburg will resume when the area of the landslide has been stabilized.

Wilmington and Western Railroad

Wilmington, Del.

wwrr.com

302-998-1930

The Wilmington and Western operates both steam and early diesel locomotives traveling from the Piedmont to the Coastal Plain as Delaware’s operating railroad museum. Bunny trains are set for April 9, 14, and 15, and the schedule grows into July and features special trains in October, November, and December.

MUSEUMS WITH EXCURSIONS

B&O Railroad Museum

Baltimore, Md.

borail.org

The Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona, Pa., includes exhibits that show the lives and importance of workers on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

410-752-2490

Housed at the birthplace of American commercial railroading, Baltimore’s B&O Railroad Museum offers a roundhouse and rail yard with historic trains such as the Tom Thumb and the locomotive that pulled President Lincoln’s funeral train. There are exhibits and lots of activities and events for children. You can ride on the Mile One Express, journeying along the historic first mile of track heading out of Baltimore. Rides are offered Thursday through Sunday, April through December. “Day Out With Thomas” events are April 28–30 and May 5–7.

Steamtown National Historic Site

Scranton, Pa.

nps.gov/stea

570-340-5200

The only national park site dedicated to the history of steam railroading offers self-guided tours of history, roundhouse, and technology museums and a digital theater presenting an 18-minute movie. You can also take a daily ranger-led walking tour. Short excursion rides are available April through December, including a daily schedule in July and August.

Virginia Museum of Transportation

Roanoke, Va.

vmt.org

540-342-5670

Situated alongside Roanoke’s working tracks, the museum’s Rail Yard is home to historic steam and diesel engines, cabooses, and other rail equipment, including the only surviving Norfolk and Western steam locomotives. Inside are model trains and hands-on exhibits, including an expanded gallery showing the contributions of African-Americans to railroad history. The J611, an extraordinary piece of history as one of the last steam engines built for the last commercial railroad to use steam power, will offer excursions this spring April 8–May 29.

RAILROAD MUSEUMS

Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania

Strasburg, Pa.

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania includes vignettes that show how the equipment was used as part of its vast indoor and outdoor collection.

rrmuseumpa.org

717-687-8628

The vast indoor collection of locomotives and passenger, mail, and freight cars is amazing and the collection continues outside with a 5-1/2-acre yard centered around an operational 1928 turntable. The collection represents 18 different Pennsylvania railroads and is supplemented by permanent and special exhibits throughout the facility. You can climb into a locomotive cab simulator built from a real Norfolk Southern diesel cab, view a brief video, and operate the throttle, brakes, and horn to guide the train from Lancaster to Harrisburg. A combination ticket that includes the Strasburg Railroad excursion is available. The museum hosts a “Rails & Ales” event April 8 that includes craft beer, food trucks, and music inside the main exhibit hall.

Train 202 Engine and Museum

Hagerstown, Md.

visithagerstown.com

301-739-8393

The museum features artifacts such as signs, signals, tools, and other railroad equipment as well as eight cabooses, an 1885 pump car, and 1875 velocipede. The crown jewel of the collection is Steam Engine 202, which carried passengers and baggage from Baltimore to Hagerstown from 1912–1953. It is the only Western Maryland road-type steam locomotive in existence. Open April through October on Fridays and Saturdays.

Bowie Train Station and Museum

Bowie, Md.

cityofbowie.org/museum

301-809-3089

Huntington City (now Bowie) grew up around the depot and today’s museum includes a passenger shed, tower, artifacts, and the National Railroad Historical Society Research Library. There are permanent exhibits and artifacts, including a Chessie System caboose. Perhaps the best thing about the location is the trainspotting as Amtrak trains speed by.

Railroaders Memorial Museum

Altoona, Pa.

railroadcity.com

814-946-0834

By 1945, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s facilities at Altoona had become the world’s largest rail shop complex. The Railroaders Memorial Museum celebrates the contributions of railroaders and their families to American life and the Industrial Revolution with exhibits that show how the Pennsylvania Railroad workers’ families lived and the impact of World War II. There are two films shown each hour, and there is an online “call board” where you can check on family members who may have worked on the railroad. Visitors can also visit Horseshoe Curve, an engineering marvel which opened in 1854, and see some of the 50 trains that use the tracks daily. A visitor center has exhibits on engineering and constructing the curve. The funicular, an incline plane, takes you from the visitor center up to the train tracks.

Winston Link Museum

Roanoke, Va.

linkmuseum.org

Gathering steam for a trip on the Durbin-Greenbrier Valley Railroad.

The museum exhibits more than 300 photographs by Link, who documented the last days of steam on the Norfolk and Western Railroad. It also features a film, plus changing exhibits by other photographers. Open daily, it is located in the Roanoke Valley Visitors Center.

TROLLEY MUSEUMS

National Capital Trolley Museum

Colesville, Md.

dctrolley.org

301-384-6088

Operating weekends year-round, the museum offers rides on some of its collection of historic Washington, D.C., American, and international trolleys. See much of the collection in Streetcar Hall. You’ll also see exhibits on the development that followed streetcar lines out from Washington and electric innovations fostered by streetcars, plus films are shown in the theater.

Rockhill Trolley Museum

Rockhill Furnace, Pa.

rockhilltrolley.org

610-428-7200, 814-447-9576

The season runs Saturdays and Sundays, Memorial Day through October, with special events beginning with the “Easter Bunny Trolley” on April 8. There’s an international collection of trolleys, dating to the late 19th century, plus work vehicles such as snow sweepers. An all-day adult ride ticket is $8.

Electric City Trolley Museum

Scranton, Pa.

ectma.org

570-963-6590

The trolley museum is open daily on the grounds of the Steamtown National Historic Site. Excursion rides are also offered April 29–Oct. 29, Thursdays through Sundays. The route parallels Roaring Brook, passes historic iron furnaces, and goes through the Crown Avenue Tunnel, one of the longest inter-urban tunnels ever built.

There are numerous historic trolleys, many used in the excursions, on display.

Baltimore Streetcar Museum

Baltimore, Md.

baltimorestreetcar.org

The museum is open Sundays, April through December, and Saturdays, June through October. Most of the dozen trolleys are used for the rides offered at the museum.

MODEL RAILROAD ATTRACTIONS

Choo Choo Barn

Strasburg, Pa.

choochoobarn.com

717-687-7911

Open daily March through

Dec. 19, the 1,700-square-foot attraction offers 22 operating trains and 150 hand-built animated figures and vehicles, including a barn raising, baseball game, and fire scene.

The Groff family began opening their basement to neighbors and school groups in the 1950s. In 1961, the hobby turned into a part-time business in a former town maintenance building and other shops were added beginning in the 1980s.

Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum

Hagerstown, Md.

roundhouse.org

301-739-4665

Two floors of toy train layouts are available Fridays through Sundays. There’s an HO-scale roundhouse, an O-scale layout, and trains kids can operate, as well as artifacts and photographs. Outside are two cabooses, locomotives, and a streetcar.

National Toy Train Museum

Strasburg, Pa.

nttmuseum.org

717-687-8976

The museum opens April 1 with new layouts and the schedule increases to daily for June, July, and August. The museum re-creates a family train room, but on a much larger scale with operating layouts in different gauges. It contains one of the most extensive toy train collections in the world, dating from the mid-1800s to the present. You’ll also see trains that children pushed, pulled, or rode upon.

Roads and Rails Museum

Frederick, Md.

facebook.com/roadsandrailsmuseum

Said to be the fourth-largest model train layout in the world, the attraction has plenty of buttons for kids to push to operate the trains. It’s open Thursdays through Sundays.

OTHER EXPERIENCES

Manassas Heritage Railroad Festival

Manassas, Va.

visitmanassas.org

703-361-6599

A free family celebration of the area’s rich railroad history under Harris Pavilion on June 3 includes elaborate model train displays, vendors, and entertainment. Take an excursion on the Virginia Railway Express to Clifton.

Marshall Steam Museum

Yorklin, Del.

auburnheights.org

302-239-2385

Though not open for regular public tours, the monthly Steamin’ Days at the Auburn Heights Preserve provide great family entertainment on the first Sunday of the month, May through November. Train Day on May 7 is devoted primarily to all things train.

At the museum, you see the world’s largest operating collection of Stanley Steam cars, the Auburn Heights mansion, and 1930s Lionel model train layouts. Enjoy rides on the 1/8-scale Auburn Valley Railroad and in select antique steam-, electric-, and gas-powered cars.

 

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