Rail travel is such an important part of American history. The country would not be the place it is today without the railroads shaping it. While the golden age of the railways ended around 1920, there are still plenty of historical railways to explore all over the country and they are well worth it. Here are the top railways by region, according to James Provence.
The Mount Washington Cog Railway (New Hampshire) has landed itself as the historic railway to experience in New England. It was the world’s first cog railway to tackle a mountain, the daunting Mount Washington at that. This makes it the steepest cog railway in the United States, and the second steepest cog railway in the world. It was built by Sylvester Marsh, who initially tried to start building the railway in June of 1858, but was delayed by the Civil War until May of 1866. The first passengers started riding the train in 1868, though the tracks were not completed until 1869. Passengers get to experience an elevation gain of about 3,500 feet over the course of three miles and grades up to 37.41% all while soaking up the breathtaking Mount Washington views.
Adirondack Scenic Railroad (New York) was built in 1892 by Mohawk and Malone Railway. The tourist railway is operated by the Adirondack Railroad Preservation Society between Utica and Lake Placid. There are train stations that have been restored at Holland Patent, Remsen, Saranac Lake, and Lake Placid. The tourist section of this railway is 20 miles round trip, and operates within a bigger railway used for shipping cargo. This railway has gone through a tumultuous patch and the Adirondack Railroad Preservation Society works hard to keep the history alive for all to enjoy.
Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad (New Mexico) is a narrow gauge heritage railway that traverses the border several times between Colorado and New Mexico. Construction started in 1880 on this line by Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. Historians value this line because it has remained relatively intact and authentic. It was designated a National Historic District in 2012 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. One of the most physically complete pre-1960s steam engine yard is located along this line. The Cumbres and Toltec railroad is, and will remain, one of the most impressive historical railways.
Georgetown Loop Railroad (Colorado) is a narrow gauge railway located near Silver Plume, Colorado. This railway is historically important for a variety of reasons, but possibly the most important is the feat of engineering it took to complete it. Construction ended in 1884 and the terrain it was built on is rugged and extreme. The route goes right through the heart of the Rocky Mountains and includes corkscrews, 4% grades, and four bridges over Clear Creek. This railway, with its scenic views and impressive history, will delight tourists and historians alike.
The Hawaiian Railway (Ewa, Oahu) is a narrow gauge railroad that utilizes the tracks of the Oahu Railway and Land Company, which operated from 1889 to 1971. Founded by Benjamin Dillingham, who saw Ewa as an opportunity with a couple problems; the lack of transportation and the lack of water. Horse drawn carriages took way too long. Dillingham knew railways were the key to solving both problems. This railway resulted in sugar plantations and settlements in the area. The railway thrived through WWII transporting troops and equipment, but met its downfall shortly after when revenues fell. Now the Hawaiian Railway Society utilizes this railway and keeps the history alive.