Riding the rails in Pa.
By Kate Benz
Published: Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
It's hard to appreciate picturesque surroundings while suffocating on exhaust fumes. Luckily, travel by rail still exists for those looking to see the cities and countrysides of Pennsylvania from a whole new perspective. Whether you're tucked into lux surroundings in the first-class parlor or taking it all in from an open-air car, the Keystone State offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy a blast from the past.
New Hope & Ivyland Railroad
Indulge yourself in a little bit of time-tripping as you imagine what traveling was like during the golden era of railroading, riding past the gently rolling hills and open valleys in Bucks County. Hourly excursions include a 45-minute, nine-mile round-trip trek that comes with an historical narration about the area and the New Hope Line. From May through October, you can hitch a ride on the Grapevine Express and nosh on wine and cheese during a 50-minute ride in the first-class parlor car. Murder-mystery dinner trains for adults, song-and-story-hour trains for kids and a dining experience in “first-class comfort” aboard the Evening Star Dinner Train are yours for memory-making.
Details: 215-862-2332; www.newhoperailroad.com
Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway
Enjoy the view of the Lehigh Valley from your 1920s passenger coach as it rolls along the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway. Diesel-powered engines will take you on a narrated, 16-mile ride on the former mainline of the Jersey Central Lines out of Jim Thorpe and into the Lehigh Valley. Those looking to up the ante can take a ride in the first-class car, while nature lovers will bask in the sunshine of the open-air cars. The current schedule offers Sunday rides departing at 11 a.m., 1, 3 and 4:30 p.m.
Details: 570-325-8485; www.lgsry.com
Strasburg Rail Road
Romantic notions of riding the rails come to life with a trip on the Strasburg Rail Road. Beautifully restored trains and coal-burning steam engines are ready to whisk you away on a 45-minute ride through the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside. A quick stop in nearby Paradise gives you the unique vantage point to see Amish farmers working in the fields as their children frolic nearby.
Choose from a ride in the swanky President's Car, the Victorian splendor of the First Class Parlor, or the comfy captain's chairs in the First Class Lounge Car. Even a standard coach ticket means you'll get to ride in authentic Victorian surroundings, while the open-air car gives you a miles-wide view. A variety of dining options or special excursion trips are available, as are plenty of opportunities to entertain children during a day out with Thomas the Tank Engine. “We get a lot of families, couples who are traveling, as well as rail fans,” says spokeswoman Hope Banner.
Details: 717-687-7522; www.strasburgrailroad.com
Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad
This historical journey begins almost instantaneously. You'll depart from an 1891 freight station before settling in for a relaxing ride along the Swatara Creek in a vintage coach that dates from the 1920s. During your ride, which lasts an hour and 15 minutes, you'll get your fill of the history of the Union Canal and folklore about the Horse Thief Cave from the conductor's narration. If you still find yourself unable to channel your inner railroadie, a return trip consisting of a “sing along of tunes from the railroading days,” is guaranteed to get you in the mood. Throughout the year, special excursions include Dinner on the Dining Car, the Murder Mystery Dinner Train, Civil War Remembered re-enactments, Pumpkin Patch Train Rides and the Polar Bear Express. Dates can be found on the website. One note of caution: Be sure to book ahead as all special-event trains are by reservation only.
Details: 717-944-4435; www.mhrailroad.com
West Chester Railroad
With a promise that you'll “forget you're only 30 minutes from center city Philadelphia,” the West Chester Railroad ups the relaxation factor during its 90-minute, round-trip rides from Market Street in West Chester to the village of Glenn Mills in Delaware County. Historic stations dot the route, which is part of the old Pennsylvania Railroad central division that runs alongside the Chester Creek Valley. This time, the featured jaunt is the Summer Picnic Special, which departs every Sunday from June to September for a lunchtime respite at the Glen Mills train station picnic grove. Check the website for updates on seasonal excursions.
Details: 610-430-2233; www.westchesterrr.net
Tioga Central Railroad
If you're going to enjoy a Sunday brunch, why not do it while being pulled down the tracks of “Pennsylvania's Most Scenic Excursion Railroad?” For an hour and a half, you'll travel 24 miles to Hammond Lake in either an open-air observation car or a climate-controlled coach on rails that date to 1840.
If a mid-day muncher isn't your cup of tea, there are a variety of excursion and charter trains that roll across 34 miles of track that extend north from Wellsboro to just outside of Corning, N.Y. Seasonal rides include summertime jaunts on the Ice Cream Express, winter wonderlands via the Santa Express, or an appreciation for the change in seasons during the Fall Foliage Express.
Those looking for some private memory-making can opt for a chartered train that can accommodate weddings, birthday or reunions.
Details: 570-724-0990; www.tiogacentral.com
Kate Benz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-380-8515.
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