Category Archives: Train

The Ski Train is Back!

Amtrak running the train, reborn as the Winter Park Express.

Amtrak-logoToday marked the happy return of the ski train between Denver’s Union Station and the base of Winter Park Resort. The operator now is Amtrak, and the weekend/holiday train is called the Winter Park Express. But the route is the same — and Coloradans are cheering.

Courtesy Charles Stemen/Winter Park Resort
Courtesy Charles Stemen/Winter Park Resort

With 550 passengers, including Governor John Hickenlooper, the inaugural train was sold out, as many that are to follow.

Colorado Trains Are Nation’s Top Two

Cumbres & Toltec and Durango & Silverton top list.

USATodat-Top10-logoUSA Today sought readers’ votes on several categories of tourist attractions, and two Colorado railroads topped the list. Number one is the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad that is owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico and flirts with the state line between Antonito, CO and Chama, NM. Runner-up was the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad following the Animas River between Durango and Silverton in southwestern Colorado. It even operates in winter, part-way along the route as far as the Wye turnaround.

Turntable Challenge is a Wager on the Rails

Super Bowl inspires railroad museum wagers.

SuperBowl50-logoGovernors, mayors, chefs and others seem compelled (or pressured) to bet something iconic from their regions every Super Bowl. Here’s a new twist — railroad museums.  The North Carolina Transportation Museum has laid down a “Turntable Challenge” to the Colorado Railroad Museum for the big game between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. Each museum is confident that its team will be dominant and has promised the following concessions, should its team lose. And this, of course, will be posted on Facebook Twitter and Instagram.

NorthCarolinaTransportationMuseum-logoIf the Denver Broncos win, the North Carolina Transportation Museum will send:

  • North Carolina Pit cooked pork BBQ
  • Red Oak Brewery Beer, a popular North Carolina brewed old- style lager
  • Krispy Kreme glazed donuts, which were born in Winston-Salem
  • Cheerwine, a beloved and locally made soft drink created in Salisbury and still based there
  • Video of one of their engines on the turntable with Denver Broncos flags flying and a performed by staff version of the Denver Broncos fight song.

ColoRRMuseum-logoIf the North Carolina Panthers win, the Colorado Railroad Museum will send:

  • Colorado Native beer, made by AC Golden, (all ingredients are from Colorado, and the beer is only available in Colorado).
  • Rocky Mountain Oysters and chile sauce, prepared by The Fort. It is one of their popular signature and very Colorado menu items.
  • Video of one of their engines on the turntable with North Carolina Panthers flags flying and a performed by staff version of the Panthers fight song.  They will also fly the Panther flags on their Galloping Goose through the month of February.

Ride the Rails to Mountain Concert Venue

Rio Grande Scenic train to private music site.

RioGrande-logoThis seems to be my summer for country rock and related concerts — first Ricky Skaggs and Gordon Lightfoot in Boulder’s historic Chautauqua Auditorium, and yesterday afternoon in the lovely mountain setting on La Veta Pass, where Mark Chestnutt headlined. The rustic venue is accessible only by Rio Grande Scenic Railroad. Even the musicians travel by train — no truck, no tour bus in sight.

Rio Grande train ascends to La Veta Pass.
Rio Grande train ascends to La Veta Pass.
Fir Amphitheater nestled in a mountain meadow. The facility is solar- and wind-powered.
Fir Amphitheater nestled in a mountain meadow. The facility is solar- and wind-powered.

Vintage cars leave Alamosa’s historic downtown depot and travel through the  pancake-flat San Luis Valley past farms, potato warehouses and historic Fort Garland en route to the soaring Sangre de Cristo Mountains. There, at 9,400 feet, the railroad built the Fir Summit Amphitheater, a wind- and solar-powered site in the cusp of a mountain meadow. The audience sits on benches or on folding chairs (their own or rented). Barbecue, beer and soft drinks are for sale.  And yes, so are T-shirts, ball caps and artists’ CDs.

Chuck Pyle opened with melodic ballads, including the ode to Colorado used as the CPR/PBS theme for local programing.
Chuck Pyle opened with melodic ballads, including the ode to Colorado used as the CPR/PBS theme for local programing.
Matt Chesnutt headlined the show with his Texas crowd-pleasing, honky-tonk-heavy program.
Mark Chesnutt headlined the show with his Texas crowd-pleasing, honky-tonk-heavy program.
In this intimate venue, the audience is right up in front of the stage.
In this intimate venue, the audience is right up in front of the stage.

Yesterday Colorado’s mellow Chuck Pyle opened for Texan Matt Chestnutt’s honky-tonk-flavored performance. The sky was blue, the clouds fluffy and non-threatening.  A second performance is scheduled today — part of the Mountain Rails Live 13-concert series over the summer.

The vintage standard-gauge cars come in four classes of service with food and beverage services on board, and the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad also runs a Sunset Dinner Train (five courses) in the valley to Antonito as well as an Excursion Train over the pass to the hamlet of La Veta. Coming up from September 16 to October 10 there are also trains for leaf-peepers and an Oktoberfest trip on October 3. FoMoInfo: 877-726-7245.

The Slow Progress of High-Speed Rail in the US

Construction is finally expected to begin for a California bullet train.

Japan’s first bullet train (Shinkansen in Japanese) went into service in 1964, and earlier this week the ceremonial groundbreaking finally took place for the first 29 miles of what could eventually be 800 miles of California’s bullet train tracks. the first segment is between Fresno and Madera, eventually linking to routes to such major cities as San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego — hopefully by 2028. The maximum speed will be 220 miles per hour. The currently estimated cost of the completed project: $68 billion.

California's future bullet train that would be a train of the past in progressive Japan.
California’s future bullet train, whose technology would be a train of the past in progressive Japan.

Japan, meanwhile, has tested a new maglev train going 500 kilometers per hour, and hopes to complete the link between Tokyo and Nagoya by 2027 and an extension to Osaka by 2045, replacing the current bullet trains. Estimated cost: 5.5 trillion yen ($50 billion). The Tokyo-Osaka corridor is the world’s busiest with up to 13 super-fast trains per hour.

The environmental and economic benefits of high-speed rail are apparent elsewhere, and even emerging economies are building, planning or considering their own systems. Last month, China launched 32 new routes in one day. Russia wants a line between Moscow and Beijing,  shortening the legendary Trans-Siberian journey from seven days to two. Even Mexico wants high-speed rail. In the U.S., meanwhile, Texas in planning a bullet train connecting Houston and Dallas. It could come online as early as 2021.

Pathetic, isn’t it?


Travel Switzerland All Ways on One Pass

Swiss Travel System new version of previous passes.

SwissTravelSystem-jpgWhen I visit a city, I like to have a multi-day transit ticket in my pocket. It’s liberating to get on and off buses, underground trains, streetcars and more without concerning myself with having the right amount of money on me. I like to be able to take a short ride to save time, escape a cloudburst or get off my feet now and again. When a whole country has a comprehensive transportation pass, all the better. When the country is Switzerland, the execution of the concept is impeccable.

The new Swiss Travel System, which goes into effect on January 1, is an upgrade to the long-running Swiss Pass. The new Swiss Travel System pass still includes unrestricted travel by train, bus and boat. It additionally features 50 per cent off most mountain railways, unlimited travel on municipal public transport in 75 towns and cities and admission to 480 museums. It also enables youngsters to age 16 to ride free when traveling with parents who have bought the Swiss Travel System passes, which come in three-, four-, eight-  or and even 15-day “denominations.”  One previous feature now removed are discounts on some city sightseeing tours. The new Swiss Travel System pass will be available through Rail Europe.

Disorientation Station

Union Station’s current layout initially confusing.

RTD-logoI have been watching the remodeling of Denver’s Union Station into an intermodal transit hub, fancy food court and upmarket hotel, and I am very excited for its projected completion just a couple of months from now. Amtrak returned in late February, after being exiled to a cinderblock cube a few blocks away Part of the project involves replacing RTD’s troglodyte Market Street Station with a bright new bus station, also underground but featuring natural light and easy connections to Denver buses.

This afternoon, I had my maiden voyage via RTD‘s BMX bus to the new station, which opened just a few days ago. Signage is still unclear, so my first attempt ended in an unrecognizable area with plenty of vacant to build on.

Where am I?
Where am I? Union Station’s characteristic arched windows are over there. I know I’m somewhere behind the landmark terminal.
Hard to tell which way to go with all that chainlink fence.
Hard to tell which way to go with all that chainlink fence.

I went back downstairs and exited at the other end of the concourse. I followed “To Wynkoop Street” signs, winding through back corridors, a temporary Amtrak waiting area and construction fencing before emerging in familiar territory.

Union Station's familiar Wykoop Street side.
Union Station’s familiar Wynkoop Street side.

I know this will sort itself out in couple of months, and in the meantime, I know which end of the new bus station is up — that is, which end has the 16th Street Mall shuttle stop.

Denver’s Union Station: Amtrak is Back

Landmark station still a work in progress as California Zephyr returns.

Amtrak-logoAfter being shunted to the cinderblock ignominy of a temporary station in Denver for three long years as Denver’s historic Union Station is remade into an multi-modal transportation hub, restaurant cluster and hotel, Amtrak’s California Zephyr is returning to Union Station with the first eastbound departure this evening, Friday, February 28 at 7:10 p.m. — if it is not delayed. And, of course, during the 133-year-old’s station reconstruction, it is moving to yet another temporary location.

East- and west-bound California Zephyr trains passing in Glenwood Canyon in winter. Photo: WikiMedia
East- and west-bound California Zephyr trains passing in Glenwood Canyon in winter. Photo: WikiMedia

The first westbound departure is scheduled for 8:05 a.m. Part of me wants to take a train trip from Denver to San Francisco someday, but the train doesn’t really go to San Francisco but rather to Oakland — and the trip takes 51 hours even without delays. So maybe not for me after all.

Still, I celebrate the return of Amtrak even as I doubt I will bother. I’ll save my train lust for Europe and visit Union Station to eat.

Alaska Railroad Adds March Midweek Train Service

Anchorage-Fairbanks service offered for the first time

AlaskaRailroad-logoAre you as fascinated as I am by the north-country experiences captured by the camera in “Ice Road Truckers” and especially “Railroad Alaska” on cable television? For me, and maybe you, the news that for the first time ever, the Alaska Railroad is offering midweek Aurora Winter Train specials between Fairbanks and Anchorage, is cheering. While travelers don’t have an unlimited choice of travel dates this winter, this inaugural season is a good start.

With northbound trains departing from Anchorage on Tuesday, March 11 and 18, and southbound trains departing from Fairbanks on Wednesday, March 12 and 19, these trains come at a time when Alaska’s two largest communities celebrate the winter season — and celebrate they do. Both residents and visitors the opportunity to ride the budget-friendly rails and experience “the real Alaska” without sharing it with hordes of cruise ship passengers. The days are getting longer (approaching 12 hours of daily sunlight), and with the trip taking roughly 24 hours, there’s plenty of time to sightsee and mingle. I’ve been to Alaska four times during the winter, and take from me: It’s fabulous.

The Alaska Railroad traveling through the spectacular snowy winter landscape of Alaska. (Photo: Wes Barnett via Pinterest)
The Alaska Railroad traveling through the spectacular snowy winter landscape of Alaska. (Photo: Wes Barnett via Pinterest)

Visitors to Fairbanks can book adventures such as aurora borealis viewing tours (those Northern Lights have reportedly been spectacular t this year), visiting Chena Hot Springs Resort, gazing at the intricate ice carvings at the BP World Ice Art Championships, experiencing the 2014 Arctic Winter Games and much more. Although the Iditarod is scheduled to start in Anchorage on March 1, that month is also a great time to visit Alyeska Resort for skiing and snowboarding, and the Great Land’s biggest city is also its cultural, entertainment and shopping hub.

This new train schedule coincides with University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks and Anchorage School District spring breaks, making travel even more accessible for students and enabling visitors to meet some locals. For $215 roundtrip (students,$178; children,$108), trips taken with March departures and returns by May 10 are ideal for those who wish to linger longer. Tickets may be booked online or by calling 907-265-2494 or 800-544-0552.

Turkey’s New Intercontinental Tunnel

Rail tunnel links two continents to celebrate a notable anniversary

Marmaray-logoTurkey marked the 90th anniversary as a Republic by connecting the east and west by rail with the new the Marmaray Commuter Rail System, which opened a few weeks ago. The new high-speed train connects Asia and Europe via a railway tunnel under the Istanbul Strait. Intended to ease commuting and commerce, the tunnel might not initially be of touristic interest. Still, it is one of several infrastructure improvements designed to ease congestion on land, air and water.

The 47-mile Marmaray project includes underwater tube tunnels, bored tunnels and cut-and-cover tunnels, plus grade-level structures, three new underground stations, 37  renovated and upgraded stations, operations control center, yards, workshops, maintenance facilities, upgrading of existing tracks including a new third track on ground, completely new electrical and mechanical systems and procurement of modern railway cars.


But there’s more to come in magical Istanbul, including a 30-mil ship canal and a new airport. The 30-mile ship canal will connect the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara to relieve the Bosphorus, which has about 50,000 ships pass through each year. When complete, the canal will transform the European side of Istanbul into a large island. The new canal will handle 85,000 ships a year, up from the 51,000 currently using the Bosphorus each year. The new airport will be one of the world’s largest with six runways. Slated for a first-stage opening in 2017, the airport will be an investment of more than $9 billion dollars and is expected to service 150 million passengers every year.