Although the Amtrak most people recognize today is a small spider's web of lines connecting major cities across the country, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw a huge number of different railroad companies operating for passengers and freight across the country. Today the majority of these lines have been decommissioned in favor of transport by road, but a few preserved railways help to keep the legacy of these wonderful lines alive.
Taking a trip on a preserved train is not usually a bustling experience of getting from A to B, but rather it celebrates the journey, and the United States has some truly wonderful options to enjoy when you look for such a trip.
The Texas State Railroad
Covering a twenty five mile route between the towns of Palestine and Rusk, the railroad was originally built to transport iron supplies to the smelter at Rusk Penitentiary, and the tracks and route were prepared and laid by the inmates at the penitentiary. Today there are a range of steam and diesel locomotives that pull the trains along this route, which passes through some attractive scenery that is part of a state park.
Grand Canyon Railway
Starting from the town of Williams, Arizona, this route is a scenic trip to one of the South Rim of one of the most famous sights in all of the United States, the Grand Canyon. There are three trains a day that cover this sixty four mile trip, and there are also diesel and steam engines running along the route, which has been bringing visitors to the site for over a century.
Mount Washington Cog Railway
The first ever cog railway was approved in the mid nineteenth century, with local authorities convinced that the designer and entrepreneur Sylvester Marsh could never get the rack and pinion railway system to work. Today the railway still provides a great way to get to the summit, especially considering that it is the second steepest railway of this type in the world, covering an average gradient of over 25% at 2.8 miles per hour, taking just over an hour to complete the three mile ascent.
Royal Gorge Route, Colorado
The Royal Gorge is one of the most dramatic attractions in Colorado, a steep sided gorge cut from the landscape by the river, and this railroad takes people along the base of this superb gorge. There are cars with panoramic windows and glass roof viewing points, while those traveling on a day with good weather can even use the open air car to really enjoy the spectacular surroundings.
Illinois Railway Museum
This museum has the largest collection of steam, electric and diesel locomotives in the United States, along with a large collection of carriages, trucks, and the silver bullet styled diesel multiple unit known as the 'Nebraska Zephyr'. The route on which the trains operate is around five miles of track built to demonstrate the collection of railway equipment, which is different to most preserved railways which having engines running on an existing section of railway.
Cass Scenic Railway, West Virginia
This railway was originally built to service the timber industry and mill in the area, and the town of Cass which developed around the mill. Today the railroad is known for the distinctive steam locomotives that pull the trains up the Back Allegheny mountain, which offers some wonderful mountain scenery and takes visitors to the historic mill town of Cass, which is also nicely preserved.
Virginia & Truckee Railroad, Nevada
Once covering an impressive route from Reno to Carson city, the preserved part of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad is a little more limited today, covering a 14 mile route through some lovely scenery. The railroad has a small collection of steam engines and diesels along with the heritage passenger cars that carry the passengers on the trains along the route, with winter steam excursions being particularly spectacular.