As the train departs Strasburg the clang of the bell is constant and the train slowly pulls past the station platform and the railroad's shop complex. If you are on the lookout, you may spot a locomotive resting in the engine house, or being prepared for work the next day. Past the shops there is a decent grade so listen to the locomotive work as it climbs toward the first of several crossings along the 4.5 mile journey. The Strasburg Railroad provides views of the Lancaster County Amish Farmlands, which only enhances the feeling of going back in time aboard the steam powered train. Horse and Buggies waiting at crossings, Cattle grazing, Farmers Plowing their fields with the aid of large draft horses. This is the period specific scenery you will find aboard the Strasburg Railroad. The line is fairly flat and has only a few curves, but the charm of the Strasburg Railroad, much like the Amish Farmlands it passes, is in it's simplicity. This is a genuine shortline railroad, operating under it's original charter, on the same stretch of track that was laid in 1875. At the halfway point, is Groff's Grove, where passengers may disembark and have lunch at the picnic grove; or walk to the nearby Cherry Crest Farm, home of a Corn Maze, Petting Zoo, and other activities. During the busiest of weekends when two trains operate, they pass here at Groffs Grove, one of the few places in the world where two, steam powered trains pass on a regular schedule (and with wooden coaches too!). The line ends at "Paradise PA" and the locomotive runs around the train for the return trip. Strasburg Railroad has a long tradition of operating the locomotives in reverse (tender first) towards Paradise, and forward for the return trip.
The run around track is located at the interchange of the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline, which is now owned by Amtrak as part of the "Keystone Corridor" that runs from Harrisburg to Philadelphia and on to New York City. The line is electrified, and Amtrak trains operate at up to 110 mph in some parts making it all the more thrilling if you just happen to get lucky and see an Amtrak train pass.
As soon as the train departs Strasburg, one of the Conductors will begin a historic narration telling you about the landmarks you will pass, the history of the farmlands, and even some railroad legends (the "ghost of old #9!). The other Conductors will collect the tickets. On the return trip to Strasburg, the narration is minimum and the Conductor himself will encourage you to enjoy the "sights, sounds, and smells of historic steam railroading."
A Round Trip ride takes approximately 45 minutes to complete.
The Strasburg Railroad is one of the few railroads that operates steam powered trains exclusively. The only exception is clearly listed on the schedule of operations, and that is when the historic self-propelled rail car operates, on select off-season weekdays. The Strasburg Railroad Steam locomotives are all hand fired, coal burning and each have a unique history.
The Steam Locomotives
#475 is a 4-8-0 "M" Class Steam Locomotive built for the Norfolk & Western in 1906.
#89 is a 2-6-0 "Mogul" type Steam Locomotive that was built in 1910 for the Grand Trunk
#90 is a 2-10-0 "Decapod" Locomotive built in 1924 for the Great Western Railroad.
#7312 is a 0-6-0 Locomotive built in 1908 for the Canadian National Railroad
The Passenger Cars are just as historic, Strasburg Railroad restores and operates wooden coaches that date back as far as 1896. They are kept in museum quality condition. If you have the time, walk through a couple coaches as your board or detrain and notice how each one is unique. Some have stained glass, others have unique artistic stenciling on the wood.
Down by the Station
The station complex is set up as a miniature village along the station platform. The first structure you will see is the historic "J Tower" where the railroad switchmen used to work. The next building, is the Historic East Strasburg depot, where you will purchase your tickets. Next is a series of buildings housing various gift shops, a photography studio (where families can pose against railroad backdrops), and a cafe serving hamburgers, hot dogs, soft drinks and snacks. On the busier days, a miniature 15" gauge steam train operates around the station complex, as well as the opportunity to propel yourself down the track on a genuine railroad "Pump Car." The "Fun Extras" are included with select upgraded tickets (such as the Parlor Car), or may be purchased separately.
The Strasburg Railroad Repair Shops are not open to the public, but guided shop tours are available for an extra fee, every day the train is operating. I've personally taken the shop tour and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in steam locomotive repair and maintenance. The tours usually take place at noon, and advance reservations are recommended.
Trains usually depart on the hour, on busy weekends a second train will also depart on the half hour. Several classes of service are available such as:
Coach Class | Open Air | Dining Car | Lounge Car | Parlor Car | Presidents Car
Personally, I recommend purchasing a "Day Pass" which allows unlimited rides on Coach, and the ability to pay the difference and upgrade to any other class of service on the train. For me, I will ride in the morning in the Open Air Car , Take in Lunch in the Dining Car, Ride in the lovely Coaches, and end the day with dessert in the Parlor Car (adult beverages may also be purchased in the Parlor and Lounge Cars if you prefer an alcoholic dessert.) That's an easy way for a true Train Chaser to make a day of it! Oh yes that reminds me -
Strasburg Railroad is an easy railroad to photograph with some truly unique (and period specific) backgrounds. The railroad runs straight out of town, with several crossings along the way. With several departures each day, it is easy to ride and "chase" a few trains and get some great shots.
Stay on Strasburg Road headed East past the depot and turn left on the following roads -
Paradise Lane - The Railroad Crossing is next to the "Red Caboose Motel" a unique, but not exactly period specific background. For videographers, the trains departing Strasburg have to work up a nice little grade right before this crossing, however the locomotives will be pulling the train "tender first".
Esbenshade Road - A quiet farm road crossing.
Cherry Hill Road - My personal favorite, this is the crossing at Groff's Grove. If you want, ride the train and disembark at the picnic grove, which will allow you several nice photographs especially when two trains are operating.
Black Horse Road - Outbound Trains will stop here to put on a nice "whistle show" before crossing. Good for video or audio recorders. Many Railfans take advantage of the Cemetery located just past the crossing for some unique photo op.'s.
As always when chasing trains, please be safe and stay clear of the railroad right of away, taking photos only on public land.
(in other words do not stand directly on the tracks or go running into the fields with the cows! )
Things to Know
The Strasburg Railroad operates many special events including Dinner Trains, Holiday Specials, and Day out with Thomas events with Thomas the Tank Engine. Check the Calendar of events to schedule your visit at the best time.
The Parlor Car, Lounge Car, and Dining Car are climate controlled. This means the windows are closed and it is harder to hear the locomotive, true Train Chasers will appreciate the Open Air Car for hearing the locomotive up close and personal.
Other Railroad Attractions
The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania - Located across the street from the Strasburg Railroad, this is one of the finest railroad museums in the country with an amazing collection of restored equipment from various railroads that have served the state. An entire day could easily be spent here. The Museum is housed mostly indoors, and is open daily throughout the year.
More info - www.rrmuseumpa.org/
The Choo Choo Barn - Located just down the road from the Strasburg Railroad is the Choo Choo Barn, an elaborate "O" scale model train display. Featuring multiple operating trains, hand built displays, and creative animated displays, this is a "Can't Miss" for any model train chaser!
The Display is open daily most of the year.
More info - www.ChooChooBarn.com
The National Toy Train Museum - About 1/2 a mile from the Strasburg Railroad depot, just past the Red Caboose Motel, is the National Toy Train Museum, which features 5 operating layouts each featuring various gauges and time periods. One of the largest collections of toy trains in the world.
The Museum is open daily most of the year.
More info - www.nttmuseum.org
The Red Caboose Motel - About 1/2 a mile from the Strasburg Railroad depot, is the Red Caboose Motel. This is indeed a hotel where you can stay in a Caboose! A gift shop, and railroad themed restaurant are also available here.
More info - www.redcaboosemotel.com
The closest Amtrak Station is Lancaster PA, about 10 miles from the Strasburg Railroad.
Keystone Corridor trains operate from Harrisburg to Philadelphia with continuing service to New York City. These trains depart several times daily.
The Pennsylvanian operates once a day from NYC and Philadelphia through Harrisburg and continues to Pittsburgh PA.
It's very easy to make a "quick turn" departing Lancaster for Harrisburg PA, spending a few hours in downtown Harrisburg, and then returning to Lancaster the same day. This will allow for a scenic ride, and some nice high speed running at about 110 MPH.
More info - www.Amtrak.com
Photos from my Visits -