Families have lots of options to ride rails

May 27, 2013 

Since 1971, Amtrak has carried most of California's passenger rail traffic on both standard long distance routes and short distance urban light rail routes.

In the future, High Speed Rail may carry additional passengers between the state's major urban centers. BNSF and Union Pacific, the two major freight carriers, move nearly 200 million tons annually. A number of smaller short line operations also handle freight.

Throughout the state, a variety of slow speed historic rail lines still carry passengers on scenic journeys. Making an excursion on a historic train is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and learn about history, especially for families with small children, older adults, and people with limited mobility. Most trains offer wheelchair access.

• Railtown 1897 State Historic Park: Jamestown's Sierra Railway has been in continuous operation for over 100 years. In the beginning it supplied the mines and hauled lumber, construction materials, and passengers.

Today it takes visitors on a short foothill journeys back in time. It's also appeared in over 200 movies, including High Noon, Back to the Future III, and Unforgiven. Trains operate every Saturday and Sunday from April through September, with a special train on Memorial Day and holiday trains in October, November, and December.

Steam engines typically operate on Saturdays, and diesel engines on Sundays. Trains depart on the hour from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Tours of the fully-operational 1897 roundhouse are also offered on the hour and you can tour the grounds on your own. For more information go to www.railtown1897.org/" target="_blank"__gt__http:// or call (209) 984-3953.

• Niles Canyon Railway: Located in a rural canyon between Livermore and Silicon Valley, the Pacific Locomotive Association operates steam and diesel engines along this historic route on the first and third weekends of each month from January through October, and special holiday trains in November and December.

Spring wildflower excursions and summer wine tasting journeys are also offered. The Association is in the process of restoring a wide range of historic engines and railcars, including rolling stock from the Yosemite Valley Railroad. For more information go to www.ncry.org/" target="_blank"__gt__http:// or call (925) 862-9063.

• Roaring Camp and Big Trees: This railroad recreates the era logging in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Located in Felton, Roaring Camp's 1890-vintage narrow-gauge shay engines pull passenger trains through the redwoods to the summit of Bear Mountain. The train operates daily year-round except Christmas Day. Diesel engines are used on weekdays from November through March; all other trains are pulled by steam.

Roaring Camp also offers standard-gauge diesel trains along the San Lorenzo River to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on weekends in April, May, and September, and daily from June through August. A variety of special railroad and logging-themed events are offered throughout the year. For more information go to www.roaringcamp.com/" target="_blank"__gt__http:// or call (831) 335-4484.

• Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad: Located south of Yosemite at Fish Camp, this railroad recreates the logging era in the Sierra Nevada. Narrow gauge shay engines built for Sierra logging and "Jenny" Railcars take passengers on journeys though the pines.

Monthly "Moonlight Special" events combine steak dinners, live music, and moonlight train rides. For more information go to www.ymsprr.com/index.html" target="_blank"__gt__http:// or call (559) 683-7273.

• Pacific Surfliner: Amtrak's coastal route from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara may not offer historic rolling stock, but it does offer amazing views along the historic tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad.

This is an outstanding part of the California coast that you can't see from a road – both U.S. 101 and California Highway 1 run inland between Pismo Beach and Gaviota. The coastline is privately owned or part of Vandenberg Air Force Base and the train is the best way to see it. You can ride the Surfliner all the way down to San Diego.

The Coast Starlight also uses this route, starting in Seattle and ending in LA. For more information and for schedules, go to www.amtrak.com/home" target="_blank"__gt__http:// or call (800) 872-7245.

• Western Railway Museum: Located on Highway 12 in Solano County, the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association operates historic streetcars and interurban electric trains along the historic route of the Sacramento Northern Railway.

From Memorial Day weekend through Sept. 2, the association's museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Streetcar rides are offered every 30 minutes. In addition to a great collection of interurban and streetcar rolling stock the museum also and also includes steam and diesel equipment. For more information go to www.wrm.org/index.html" target="_blank"__gt__http:// or call (707) 374-2978.

• California State Railroad Museum: Located in Old Town Sacramento, this is the state's largest railroad museum. It also offers rides along the Sacramento River on historic railcars from April through the end of September. Rides are offered Saturdays and Sundays on the hour from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit www.csrmf.org/" target="_blank"__gt__http:// or call (916) 445-6645.

Many of these historic railways offer online ticket purchase to guarantee your seats in advance. No matter when or where you go, call before you leave to verify the schedule and operation of the train. If you require help boarding the train, check to make sure that the train is accessible and allow extra time for boarding.

Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com.

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