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Virginia’s only scenic railway carries passengers through view of Shenandoah Valley

Rebecca Barnabi
The Blue Ridge Flyer of the Virginia Scenic Railway pulls into Staunton Station on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. Photo by Rebecca J. Barnabi.

Passengers on Saturday evening’s Virginia Scenic Railway gasped as the train left Ivy on its way back toward Staunton at approximately 5 p.m.

The view on the trip so far had been spectacular and the food delicious but pulling out of the Ivy station, passengers did not expect the light dusting of snow that had fallen while they were enjoying the train in Crozet and Ivy.

The Buckingham Branch Railroad, founded in 1988, began running Virginia’s only scenic railroad route from Staunton on August 4, 2022. Within one week, seats were sold out through Thanksgiving 2022.

A base of train and railroad enthusiasts was expected, but no one could have predicted the public’s response to three-hour train rides east from Staunton to Ivy and west from Staunton to Goshen in 1940s and 1950s modernized passenger cars. The Allegheny Special chugs in the mornings and the Blue Ridge Flyer in the afternoons each day Thursdays through Sundays.

At a speed of approximately 25 mph, VSR and Buckingham Branch Railroad President Steve Powell said the point is not just to get passengers from point A to point B safely, but for them to enjoy the ride and the view.

“[The speed] just gives you a more pleasant ride,” he said.

Although the VSR can get up to 40 mph when necessary, the trains are not going too fast or too slow to enjoy the view.

“Actually, passenger trains can run faster than freight trains,” he said. Amtrak runs up to 60 mph.

The VSR runs on tracks that carried passengers and freight to and from in the 1880s. In the late 19th Century, more passenger movement was by train until the 1950s.

“To me, this is a lot of fun,” Powell, who has been with Buckingham for 26 years, said.

He added that excursion trains are offered in other states but none go through destination towns quite like Staunton, Virginia.

“Staunton is a great town to spend the night,” he said.

Until recently, the VSR had only one passenger car, called the Arvonia, so named after the birthplace of Buckingham Branch’s founder.

“Typically, passenger cars that carry people have names,” Powell said.

The Augusta is the new car and, by July, a third car is expected to join the ride.

“With spring, we’re still going to be offering the lunch or dinner ride,” Powell said.

Summer events, especially for children, are in the planning stage for the VSR.

“We’re continuing to expand and to have more cars beyond what we have now,” he said.

Powell rode the VSR on Friday with his mother and a few of her friends. He had the opportunity to walk around and speak with passengers and learned that some travel from northern Virginia and Pennsylvania just to ride the VSR. They also spend the night in Staunton and visit downtown.

“We’re really thankful that we’re able to do this out of Staunton. It’s a really unique place to do this out of.”

Tickets are available online and riders are encouraged to reserved seats sooner rather than later.

All aboard: Staunton’s Virginia Scenic Railway offers sightseeing tours by train – Augusta Free Press

Ride into spring: Tickets available for Virginia Scenic Railway from Staunton – Augusta Free Press

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.