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Another Western train boom.

Another Western train boom Why do we love trains so? Perhaps we're intrigued by the lonely whistles in the night, the clackety-clack of the cars ticking off the miles, the promise of interesting passengers and endlessly changing scenery--some so remote that it's served only by rail.

Maybe it's trains' relative openness. Compared to cars or airplanes, trains are marvels of space and comfort. They have wide aisles, no seat belts, and room for children to play and adults to stretch or stroll.

Train travel is booming. Not only is Amtrak ridership at its highest levels ever but, in addition, several long-distance excursion trains have started up. On the following pages, we focus on the West's 15 longest-distance excursion trains (of the 15, 8 are brand-new, reopened, or restored under new management). We also tell what to expect from Amtrak.

Why new trains now? Some freight railroads are selling off little-used lines; other companies are selling decrepit cars (which are then restored). And demand for train rides is high. It's not too early to make reservations for summer travel. You might include an excursion train trip in your vacation or take Amtrak to get to your destination.

Beyond Amtrak--long-distance trains on track again

You can get a taste of the locomotive experience on dozens of trains offering turns in parks or around museum grounds, but we focus here on 15 distance-traveling trains--and 3 elegant dining trains. These offer real steam or diesel trips, 25 to more than 300 miles long. Most have unreserved seats and offer snacks or meals. Unless otherwise noted, we list round-trip fare. The numbers in our listing correspond to numbers on the map at far right.

Alaska: two lines to choose from

1 Alaska Railroad, Box 107500, Anchorage 99510; (800) 544-0552. State-owned railroad offers twice-daily service between Anchorage and Fairbanks (mid-May to mid-September) and Anchorage and Seward (June 1 to September 1). The 352-mile Fairbanks run (departing 8:30 A.M.) uses diesel locomotives, new coach cars with big windows for better viewing of wildlife and scenery, and new diner and lounge cars. You can overnight at Denali National Park; packages start at $199. The 114-mile Anchorage-Seward route uses self-propelled diesel cars; one round-trip run ($119) includes a cruise of Resurrection Bay.

2 White Pass & Yukon Route, Box 435, Skagway 99840; (800) 343-7373. Built for the Klondike gold rush and closed in 1982, this narrow-gauge route reopened with a full schedule last year; season runs May 21 through September 21. A 1947 Baldwin steam engine pulls the train from the station, then a diesel locomotive takes over for the steep grades and through White Pass. You ride in a real museum of narrow-gauge equipment, including 1890s parlor cars (there's no food or beverage service). Choose from a 40-mile round trip to White Pass ($69); train-bus trip to and from Whitehorse, Yukon ($160); or a trip to the gold rush town at Bennett Lake ($99), which gives access to the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail.

Arizona: new Grand Canyon line

3 Grand Canyon Railway, 518 E. Bill Williams Ave., Williams 86046; (800) 843-8724. New train from Williams (west of Flagstaff) to the Grand Canyon's South Rim begins year-round daily trips March 1. The 128-mile round trip (2-1/2 hours each way) climbs into pinon and ponderosa pine forest, then across high plains and into a small canyon, ending at the log 1910 Grand Canyon depot at 6,800-foot elevation. A 1910 steam engine pulls 1920s Harriman cars that once hauled San Francisco Peninsula commuters; sit in the last car for views of the train as it rounds curves. You can get snacks and entertainment aboard. Departs at 10 A.M. daily (two runs in summer). Fare is $47, $23 ages 12 and under.

California: two trains in north woods

4 California Western Railroad, Box 907, Foot of Laurel St., Fort Bragg 95437; (707) 964-6371. The famous Skunk train nearly went out of the passenger business two years ago, then was sold. Daily year-round, new owners operate steam and diesel engines on the 40-mile route between Fort Bragg and Willits. Ride in open observation cars (dress warmly) or enclosed coaches, crisscrossing the Noyo River a dozen times. Trips leave from both Fort Bragg (all year) and Willits (June 16 through September 8); call or write for complete schedule. Half-day return trip (when available) to Northspur midpoint costs $16, $8 ages 5 through 11; full-day ride to Willits and back costs $20 and $10. There's a good museum by the Fort Bragg station.

5 Eureka Southern Railroad, North Coast Daylight, Box 3666, Eureka 95502; (800) 544-3763 inside California, or (707) 442-7705. Started in 1987, the railroad has scheduled 20 round-trip runs this year between Willits and Eureka from mid-May through mid-October. Winding along the beautiful Eel River gorge, it makes the 150-mile route (each way) in about 9 hours, with diesel engine, 1950s coach cars, and dining car (good breakfast buffets, hearty lunches). Fare is $109, $49 ages 2 through 12. Pace is leisurely; bring toys for youngsters.

Colorado: five choices

6 Cadillac & Lake City Railway, Box 2415, Colorado Springs 80901; (719) 495-2223. New service began last year on old Rock Island line between Falcon and Limon, just east of Colorado Springs. July 1 through September 3, blue-and-yellow train mixes diesel locomotives with coaches, diners, and lounge cars from various lines. An 18-mile trip from Falcon to Peyton takes an hour, the 120-mile trip to Limon a day; special runs can include dinner or a murder mystery.

7 Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, 479 Main St., Durango 81301; (303) 247-2733. This classic makes the 90-mile, 8-1/2-hour round trip May 5 through October 28. With 200,000 riders a year, this is one of the most sought-after tickets; reserve well ahead. Ride in coaches or roofed gondolas behind the coal-fired steam engine as it twists along Animas River Gorge. In peak season, trips leave Durango daily at 7:30, 8:30, 9:30, and 10:15 A.M. and include a 2-hour stopover in the old mine town of Silverton; fare is $37.15 for adults, $18.65 for ages 5 through 11.

The new Animas River Railway--two-car narrow-gauge diesel service from Rockwood--runs two trips daily mid-May through September: 4-1/2-hour round trips to Elk Park ($26 and $13) and 2-1/2-hour picnic trips ($15 and $7.50).

8 Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad, Box 916, Leadville 80461; (719) 486-3936. Stylish new railroad opened two years ago to run the 25-mile route from Leadville to Fremont Pass. On the 1-1/4-hour (one-way) run, a diesel engine pulls an open observation car, coaches, and a caboose up into aspen, to 11,000 feet (dress warmly), stopping at French Gulch Water Tower. Runs at 9:30 and 2 daily from June 16 through August 31, then weekends only in September; $16.50, $9.75 ages 3 through 12.

9 Rio Grande Ski Train (Budweiser Ski Train), 555 17th St., Suite 2400, Denver 80202; (303) 296-4754. Historic ski train, begun in 1937, runs the 56 miles between Denver and Winter Park on Saturdays from December 2 through 30, weekends from January 6 through April 8. Three years ago, the cars and diesel engines were renovated; it's now a faster (2-hour) run with two cafe-lounge cars, four snack bars (try the fresh-baked cinnamon rolls), and more seats. Train departs Union Station at 7:30 A.M. and returns 6:15 P.M. Fare is $25, $40 first class.

10 Wyoming/Colorado Scenic Railroad, 516 S. College Ave. Fort Collins 80524; (303) 484-5566. Passenger service began in 1988, with two vista dome cars from old Zephyr; trips, from Laramie, run June 1 through September 30. The 40-mile, 6-hour Deerwood Ranch round trip ($45, $39 ages 2 through 12) includes barbecue and Western music. The 110-mile, 8-hour round trip to Fox Park ($50, $45) stops at an old lumber town for a picnic. For fall color, the 110-mile one-way trip to Walden ($65, $57) includes bus transport to or from Fort Collins or Laramie. Call for schedule.

Oregon: coastal and mountain scenery

11 Mount Hood Railroad, 110 Railroad Ave., Hood River 97031; (503) 386-3556. Built in 1906 primarily to service lumber mills of the Hood River Valley, this line reopened to passenger travel in 1988. Now diesel engines pull restored 1910 coaches past orchard and timber lands to Parkdale. In late April, apple and pear trees explode in clouds of blossoms. The full 44-mile, 4-1/4-hour round trip ($17, $15 seniors, $10 ages 12 and under) departs at 10 A.M. and includes a 1-hour stopover in Parkdale, where you can shop. A 17-mile, 2-hour round trip to Odell ($10, $8, $6) leaves at 3 P.M. Trains run during blossom time, April 7 through June 2, then run intermittently from June 5 through November 25; call ahead.

12 Oregon Coastline Express, Third St. and Fifth Ave., Tillamook 97141; (503) 842-2768. March 1, new train begins daily service year-round on 44-mile, 4-hour round trip. A diesel engine pulls restored coaches; passengers sit at oak tables while hostesses serve snacks and drinks and narrate scenery. The train passes dairylands, climbs into forest, stops at a small town--either Garibaldi or Rockaway--and ends at Wheeler. Huge windows bring in the view along the beach; Saturday evening runs, departing at 6, get sunset views. Fare is $15, $12 seniors, $8 ages 3 through 12.

New Mexico: high-elevation steam train

13 Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Box 789, Chama 87520; (505) 756-2151. Completed in 1880, the country's highest narrow-gauge steam train runs May 26 through mid-October. The 64-mile line crosses 10,015-foot Cumbres Pass, traverses steep Toltec Gorge, runs through tunnels and over bridges. A 1925 Baldwin engine pulls enclosed cars (but dress warmly), coaches, and snack bar and souvenir car. Board at Chama or at Antonito, Colorado, and choose from three trips: half-day to midpoint (Osier) and back ($29, $11 ages 2 through 11), day trip on the full route and return by van ($43.50, $21), overnight at either end and return by train ($121, $55).

Utah: high-mountain scenery

14 Heber Creeper Scenic Railroad, Box 103, Heber City 84032; (801) 654-2900. Both steam and diesel engines (Shays, Moguls) run this 32-mile, 3-1/2-hour round trip into the high meadows of the Heber Valley, and past a waterfall to Vivian Park. Some cars are enclosed, some open-sided; a snack car is aboard. Fall-color trips are spectacular but crowded. Two steam trips daily (at 10 and 2:30) May 26 through September 3, then weekends only; Santa Claus snow train weekends November 24 through March; lunch and dinner trains intermittently January through March. Summer fare is $11, $6.75 ages 3 through 12; winter $11, $6.75; lunch $30, dinner $40.

Washington: a deep forest run

15 Lewis & Clark Railway, 1000 E. Main St., Battle Ground 98604; (206) 687-2626. The 21-mile, 2-1/2-hour trip takes you past farmland, pastures, and forest to Moulton Falls, where you can get out for a short walk; 38-mile, 5-hour trip continues to Chelatchie. Classic 1950s diesel locomotives pull open observation cars, restored green 1914 Pullman coach, and bright red caboose; conductors add narration. Bring a picnic, or buy snacks on board. Trains run at 10 and 1:30 daily June to mid-September, weekends April through November 25.

Three "gravy trains" focus on food

California. Napa Valley Wine Train runs 36 miles from Napa to St. Helena and back, daily except Mondays year-round. Ride in elegance, eat sumptuous meals; cost is $45 to $70; call (800) 522-4142 to reserve. Some locals oppose the train, citing traffic and pollution concerns.

Oregon. City of Prineville makes a 36-mile Saturday barbecue run May 19 through September 30. Fare is $15, $7.50 ages 4 through 12; (503) 223-9197.

Washington. Spirit of Washington runs brunch and dinner trains year-round on a 75-mile round trip from Yakima to Ellensburg, with a winery stop en route. Fares are $35 to $45; (800) 876-7245.
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Title Annotation:Amtrak
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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