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All aboard, bon appetit ... the dinner trains are rolling.

Vintage railcars in scenic areas . . . here are five runs in Napa, Oregon, Washington

IN RAILROADING'S heyday, an on-board meal was a rolling feast served in dining cars set with linen table-cloths and fine china. To enjoy such a repast today, you have to look beyond Amtrak's generally utilitarian fare.

We found five short-run trains in the West that serve meals as beautifully set as the scenery they traverse. These privately operated trains range from California's Wine Train, which rolls through the Napa Valley, to the Spirit of Washington, which has a new Seattle-area run.

Part of the fun is just riding in these dinning cars; the trains we list all use restored railcars of various vintages on short trips, running out and back on the same track. Reservations are required, and it's best to book early. Prices given include train fare, meal, and gratuity for all runs except the Wine Train.

CALIFORNIA

Napa Valley Wine Train, Napa; (800) 522-4142; year-round. The 3-hour, 36-mile trip starts in Napa and winds through vineyards to picture-esque St. Helena (no stops en route). You ride in restored 1915 Pullman cars with interiors decked in mahogany paneling, brass, and etched glass accents.

The four-course dinner includes entrees such as seafood pasta, salmon, or prime rib. Trains depart at 6:30 Tuesdays through Fridays, and at 6 weekends and holidays. Dinners cost $45. Train fare is $29 per person, but drops to $14.50 each for parties of two or more.

Lunch and brunch entrees range from spinach and ham tortas to cannelloni. The lunch run departs at 11:30 on weekdays, 12:30 on weekends and holidays. The brunch run departs at 9 on weekends. Meals cost $22 to $25. Train fare is $29.

Some cost-saving options: On the lunch train, you can ride in the deli car for a $20 fare and dine on sandwiches or salads ($4 to $8). The Saturday brunch train has a lounge car where the fare is $20 (ages under 8 ride free) and an a la carte breakfast is available for $2 and up.

A wine-tasting lounge car runs with each train; you may taste three wines for $3.50.

OREGON

Crooked River Dinner Train, Redmond; (503) 923-7262; year-round. The 3-hour, 38-mile trip heads out from Redmond (14 miles northeast of Bend), drops into Crooked River Valley ranch land, and then crosses the river before reaching Prineville.

A diesel engine of The City of Prineville Railway pulls two restored 1940s dining cars with wood paneling.

Dinner trips depart at 6 Fridays and Saturdays, plus Thursdays in July and August. June through Labor Day, the Friday run adds a stop at a cattle ranch for a Western hoedown (adding an hour to the trip). With the four-course dinner, entree choices include prime rib, salmon, raspberry chicken, and pasta primavera. Cost is $49.50, $60.50 on Fridays.

A brunch trip each Sunday boards at 11:30; choices include Spanish omelet, quiche, fruit crepes. Cost is $38.50, $29.50 for ages 4 through 12.

WASHINGTON

The Cascadian Dinner Train, Elbe; (206) 569-2588; April through November. This popular train gets booked solid a month ahead. Mount Rainier is the scenic backdrop for the 4-hour, 40-mile trip through the Cascade foothills from Elbe to Morton. Either of two steam locomotives (a 1924 Porter or a 1930 Heisler) pulls an assortment of 1920s-era rolling stock: a coach car, an observation car with rear platform, and a restored Union Pacific diner.

The five-course dinner features prime rib. From June 5 through November 30, the train departs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 5:30. Cost is $55.

Lewis River Dinner Train, Battle Ground; (206) 687-2626; June 6 through September 12. From Battle Ground (north of Portland), the 2 1/2-hour, 21-mile run winds past farmland, crosses old wooden trestles over the East Fork Lewis River, and stops at Moulton Falls, where there's time to hop off and walk to the falls before the train backtracks. You ride in restored 1926 Illinois Central suburban cars with rattan seats and standee straps; a bright red caboose brings up the rear.

The dinner train departs Saturdays at 6, serving prime rib. Cost is $27.50, $22.50 for ages 15 and under.

A new breakfast run from June 28 through September 6 departs at 10 Sundays; cost is $22.50 for adults, $17.50 for children.

Spirit of Washington Dinner Train, Seattle; (800) 876-7245; scheduled to run year-round. This train once shuttled from Yakima to Ellensburg, but this year it follows a new route near Seattle. The 3 1/2-hour, 44-mile trip begins in Renton, skirts the east shore of Lake Washington (offering great Seattle skyline views), and crosses a 102-foot-high wooden trestle to the Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery for tasting and a short tour.

You may ride in renovated art deco-style stainless steel cars from 1937. For $10 extra, you can sit in one of two dome diners, including the 1950 City of Seattle, called the Pleasure Dome when it ran on Santa Fe's Super Chief line.

Dinner trains depart at 6:30 Tuesdays through Fridays, at 6 Saturdays, and at 5 Sundays. A lunch run departs at noon Saturdays. A brunch run departs at 11 Sundays. Seasonal entrees include grilled chinook salmon, Sichuan chicken, fettuccine with prawns, and prime rib, catered by Gretchen's of Course. Cost is $55 for dinner, $45 for lunch or brunch.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:scenic train tours
Author:Finnegan, Lora J.
Publication:Sunset
Date:Jun 1, 1992
Words:900
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