Virginia Scenic Railway showcases Blue Ridge's beauty
By PAULA PHOUNSAVATH, The News Virginian
STAUNTON, Va. (AP) _ Blue Ridge, a mountainous area in Central Virginia with rugged ridges and rounded, weathered peaks, may not always get the attention it deserves. Still, a recent tourist attraction has many climbing on board.
The Valley's newest leisure activity, Virginia Scenic Railway, takes tourists on a three-hour train ride excursion to explore the region's beauty and its communities. The railway has two different excursions tourists can take: the Blue Ridge Flyer and Alleghany Special. The Blue Ridge Flyer goes eastbound, exploring Staunton, Fishersville, Waynesboro, and Crozet before ending its journey in Ivy. In contrast, the Alleghany Special heads westbound through the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests before stopping in Goshen.
``The city of Staunton has been supportive, and we hope to tie into more of the localities,'' said Steve Powell, president of Buckingham Branch Railroad. ``We're excited about this being a cool way to share our railroads; we're very proud of our railroads.''
The Blue Ridge Flyer's journey begins at the Staunton Railroad Station, also an Amtrak station, in the heart of downtown. The Buckingham Branch Railway train seats 34 passengers in one railcar. It offers a full-dining service with an entree and dessert catered from Lil' Gus in Grottos, a bar where passengers have the options of water, tea, soft drinks, latte and coffee, and a full-sized restroom by the entrance. Passengers can also go out on the train's platform and take pictures of the scenery.
Every so often, the train's intercom choo-choos before airing a narration about each community's history and what scenery the train is heading to next. At only 25 to 35 miles per hour, passengers can take pictures of the countryside and the rolling pastures that Augusta County offers. In some parts of Fishersville, the train crossed by developing suburbs and towns, signifying the Valley's growth and prosperity.
``We got the views through the countryside, throughout the Valley and farmland,'' Powell said.
Then, the passengers see an overview of the River City as the train travels over the railroad bridge on the South River to downtown Waynesboro, where the rumbles past Basic City.
Next, the train slows down as it climbs Afton Mountain. The mountains are blue-colored in the distance as they reflect off the afternoon sky, hence the name ``Blue Ridge.'' The train then speeds up as it races past the mile-long Blue Ridge Tunnel built during the 1940s.
After passing a scenic sloped bedrock, the train chugs past Crozet, a small town of little mom-and-pop shops facing Afton mountain's peak.
Around 20 minutes later, dinner is served to passengers by table order. Shortly after, the train makes a 30-minute stop in Ivy for its engine turnaround before returning to Staunton.
As night falls rapidly, so does the train's speed. Within about an hour, the train's journey ends at the Staunton Railroad Station.
``I was so impressed with everything about that train ride,'' said Linda Tranium, owner and farmer of Autumn Olive Farms. She took her family to the Alleghany Special in September and went on the Blue Ridge Flyer recently. ``For us, being able to take that train ride felt like being on vacation, but it's right here in town.''
The train operates Thursday through Sunday. Tickets cost $120 each, and meals must be ordered when purchasing tickets. Although trips are sold out through February, more tickets are expected to go on sale soon for March, April, May and June.
By The Associated Press, Copyright 2023
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