Valley views attract scenic train tours
The views Steve Powell and his employees at Buckingham Branch Railroad see daily while riding the rails inspired him to launch the Virginia Scenic Railway.
“There are a lot of people that love railroads, and we love sharing our railroad. It’s a unique way of seeing the Virginia scenery instead of riding on the interstate,” says Powell, the railroad’s president.
Virginia Scenic Railway is the commonwealth’s only regularly scheduled sightseeing tourist train. The railway began service on Aug. 4. “Our trips sold out in 10 days,” Powell says. “We are sold out through Thanksgiving.”
The new railway offers twice-daily three-hour excursions from Staunton through the Shenandoah Valley. Buckingham Branch has a permanent operating easement from the state government to use the tracks.
The Blue Ridge Flyer leaves from Staunton’s Amtrak station and travels to Afton Mountain and through the Blue Ridge Tunnel before turning around in Ivy.
The Alleghany Special starts in Staunton and goes through the Shenandoah Valley toward the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests before turning around in Goshen for the trip back. Both routes offer prime autumn leaf peeping.
Excursions occur every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each includes meals, which are made onboard.
“I like to call it a bistro on rails,” Powell says. “People can come get a good sandwich or salad and feel like they are in a restaurant.”
The new excursions are a big plus for Staunton’s tourism industry, says Sheryl Wagner, Staunton’s director of tourism. Her department gets four or five calls a day from interested rail riders.
“It is a tourism director’s dream to have an attraction in your destination that is unique but also appealing to a large audience,” she says, adding that the rail excursions will have a positive impact on Staunton’s tourism economy. “Since the train station is conveniently located in downtown Staunton, train guests can easily walk to shopping, restaurants or lodging.”
The railway also plans to offer Santa Claus trips through the holiday season. “We want to have kids and families on there to meet Santa all through December,” Powell says. “These will be shorter rides with no meals.”
Next year’s rides will start up in late winter or early spring.
“We are really excited about getting more cars so people can ride [with] different seating options,” Powell says, such as a coach car without dining tables.