anticipation mounts. The conductor shouts, "All aboard." The whistle blows.
The steam engine and giant wheels slowly go to work. The train moves forward
as puffs of smoke go by the window. And so begins, as it has for so many
years, a ride on one of Lancaster County's treasures, the Strasburg Rail
Lancaster County attraction can match the long history and unique position
of the Strasburg Rail Road as it celebrates the 175th anniversary of its
charter. But back in the early days, tourism had nothing to do with the
birth of the railroad...
The area we now call
Strasburg was first settled by a group of Swiss Mennonites, although French
fur traders opened the first path through the area. As trade and traffic
increased, a "main street" developed with inns and taverns to accommodate
travelers. In 1816, the town became a "borough" with the name "Strasburg"
selected, probably after the French city of the same name.
Don't Pass Us By!
As traffic to Lancaster
from Philadelphia increased, canals and a railroad came to Lancaster. These
new routes, however, did not pass through Strasburg, and the townsfolk
worried that they would lose their commercial trade. They decided to build a
short rail line from their town to connect to the main line of the
Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. They received a charter from the State
to lay the tracks in 1832. That means the Strasburg Rail Road celebrates the
175th Anniversary of its charter in 2007.
delayed the line's completion, at a cost of $50,000. Precisely when the
railroad first turned a wheel is still being researched, but the earliest
timetable found to date indicates trains were scheduled as of December,
On his inaugural train ride on February 22,
1861, President Abraham Lincoln made a stop at Leaman Place, en route to
Lancaster via the Philadelphia & Columbia. His four-minute visit brought out
nearly 5,000 people. To prepare for Lincoln’s visit, the Strasburg Rail Road
had purchased its first passenger car to transport people to and from Leaman
End of the Line?
First used for
passenger and freight transportation, the railroad's main purpose was as a
freight interchange with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Although passenger
travel dwindled with the advent of the electric trolley in 1901, the need to
transport freight during World War I and World War II kept the railroad
going. Afterwards, however, improved highway transportation further
decreased the need for the railroad.
By the mid 1950s, the
Strasburg Rail Road was nearing the end of its usefulness and was losing
money every year. In 1957, destruction of the tracks caused by a series of
severe storms placed an immediate embargo on the carload freight. The owners
were unwilling to invest in the necessary repairs.
Back on Track
While petitions for abandonment were being
considered, two enthusiastic local rail fans with a vision, Henry K. Long
and Donald E. L. Hallock, formed a group of interested individuals to save
the railroad. In 1958, twenty-four stockholders purchased the Strasburg Rail
Road for $18,000 from the Homsher Estate, but the railroad itself was
inoperable. At some locations the rails were totally buried underneath farm
fields. After repairs to the worst spots on the four-and-a-half mile track,
the first passenger train in 40 years departed the station on
January 4, 1959, pulled by a gasoline
Once the new owners discovered they could
make more money by running a passenger train than by hauling freight, the
decision was made to re-create the setting of a steam locomotive line and
station at the turn of the century. Massive, smoke-puffing steam engines
were largely a thing of the past in America, and people found them
fascinating. Using the old feed mill as a station, the ambitious band of
"rail barons" opened the railroad as a visitor attraction focused on the age
Now the owners would
begin acquiring an inventory of historic locomotives and passenger cars from
all across North America. In 1960, stockholders purchased their first steam
locomotive, Canadian National number 7312, renamed Number 31. The same year,
an 1882 Victorian train station was purchased in East Petersburg, PA and
moved in sections to Strasburg where it was reassembled. On
September 1, 1960 at 7:00 pm, Number 31
took its inaugural roundtrip, returning steam locomotion to America's oldest
Visitors began to come
from around the country to ride behind the steam locomotive, and
few train rides anywhere can boast these
views of the Amish countryside and over 20 working farms. (Today, the
railroad donates five cents of each regular train ticket to the Lancaster
Farmland Trust to help preserve the justly famous farm scenery.)
the railroad was known for its restoration work and the preserving of
historic steam locomotives. Its trains or passenger cars were used in such
movies as RAINTREE COUNTY, HELLO DOLLY, and THE WILD, WILD WEST. In
addition, the State decided to build the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania
just across the street.
Everything Old is New Again
the Strasburg Rail Road offers something of interest to all age groups, and
innovative ways to ride the rails. Couples looking to soak up the scenery
and savor a quiet moment can now ride in style aboard the Wine & Cheese
Train. Traveling in first-class accommodations, riders are served
complimentary wine, cheese, crackers and fruit.
The Traditional Dinner &
Live Entertainment Train offers the unique experience of enjoying
Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine, while the sound of music and thrill of live
performance entertain you.
Looking to be a part of the
entertainment? Try the Murder Mystery Dinner. The Strasburg Rail Road
Dining Car and Act 1 Productions bring you the story of “The Goober Family
and the Silver Mine.” Audience members are encouraged to help solve the
mystery while enjoying gourmet food.
Of course, the little ones all
know that both the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus ride the train every year.
But clearly the most popular event of all is when Thomas the Tank Engine™
comes to the railroad three times a year. It's truly magical when children
get to ride the movie train come to life. For tickets and information go to
Off the Tracks
The fun continues off the train as well. You
can provide the power for the miniature pump car or watch the little ones
“steer” the pint-sized cranky cars around the track. Plus, this is
among just a few places where an authentic miniature steam train is still in
operation. Built for an amusement park around 1920, the Cagney is the
perfect ending, or beginning, to your totally train day.
like to learn more about railroading, some wonderful tours are offered
visitors who would like to go "behind the scenes." On the Mechanical Shop
Tour, you actually get a guided tour through the shop where trains from
across the nation are built and refurbished, including Thomas the Tank
another experience is the Switch Tower Tour, offering a bird’s
eye view of the magnificent countryside and approaching trains. Built in
1855, this is a classic example of Pennsylvania Railroad signal tower
experiences and memories have always been part of a visit to the Strasburg
Rail Road. Grandpa rode the rails when the train became a fledgling tourist
attraction, and now the grandkids come for an experience that is becoming
increasingly rare in America. No wonder Strasburg is now known as "Traintown,
U.S.A." and America’s oldest short-line is called "The Road to Paradise." As
a living experience of authentic steam railroading, the Strasburg Rail Road
is truly a legacy for all to enjoy.
* * * *
Special Event Details
Wine & Cheese Train (April through
Travel in first-class
accommodations onboard the Parlor Car as you are served complimentary wine,
cheese and crackers.
Easter Bunny Train (April 6,
7 & 8)
Celebrate Easter weekend with
Peter Cottontail, at Strasburg Rail Road, singing songs and playing games.
Enjoy a relaxing ride through Pennsylvania Dutch County as you travel aboard
a vintage steam train.
Day Out with Thomas™ (June
16–24, September 15-23, November 30, December 1 & 2)
Join Thomas the Tank Engine™,
a full-sized operating steam locomotive, as he greets friends of all ages.
Ride a train pulled by Thomas and meet Sir Topham Hatt™. Order tickets by
or by calling 1-866-468-7630.
Trains & Troops Weekend
(November 3 – 4)
Ride a special train with
re-enactors from all eras of our military in conjunction with the Railroad
Museum of Pennsylvania’s Veterans Day celebration.
Santa’s Paradise Express
(December 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 16)
Celebrate the magic of
Christmas at Strasburg Rail Road. Travel down the tracks with Jolly Old
Saint Nick aboard passenger cars warmed by potbelly stoves, as musicians
stroll from car to car.
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