Riding The Little Rails; Trails Center Hosts Passenger Train Exhibit
For more than a century, people rode the rails to get from one place to another in Wyoming and beyond.
This week, the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, 1501 N. Poplar St., hosts an exhibit of model trains to give a small and enjoyable glimpse at how people traveled.
Trains connected cities and people beginning in 1869, with most passenger trains running along the southern border of the state on the Union Pacific line, said Homer Whitlock of the Central Wyoming Model Railroad Association.
"But the Colorado and Southern ran from Denver to Billings, which is the Burlington (line)," Whitlock said.
"Anywhere there was tracks, they started with passengers," he said. "When the railroad started from Buffalo over to Clearmont, one of their first items to haul was passengers."
Passenger service to Casper ended in 1967, Whitlock said.
Amtrak service, known as the Pioneer, along the Union Pacific line across southern Wyoming ended in 1997.
But you can see the small examples of how people traveled in coaches, sleepers and observation cars, and even work some of the controls yourself at the Trails Center.
The exhibit at the Center is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through New Year's Eve on Thursday.
Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for students, and free for children 15 and under.
There have been unsuccessful efforts by passenger train enthusiasts to bring back service to Wyoming.
Homer Whitlock said he doubts if that will ever happen. But he mentioned a proposal to have rail service from Denver to Billings. That, he said, would require a dedicated right of way that would cost millions, and that probably would never happen, either.
However, Denver has restored some of the glory of passenger travel.
In its most practical form, the city through its Regional Transportation District continues to expand its light rail service that has become a mainstay of hundreds of thousands of daily commuters.
But the crown jewel of restored rail service, where a lot of RTD light rail trains stop, is the Union Station. It reopened in July 2014 after years of work and millions of dollars to become a showcase for nightlife, shops and a hotel named for the woman who had the foresight more than 40 years ago to save the terminal.
The westbound Amtrak California Zephyr stops there daily at 7:15 a.m. (usually) on its way to its final destination in Emeryville, Calif., just east of San Francisco.
The eastbound California Zephyr stops daily at Union Station at 6:38 p.m. (usually) on its way to its final destination in Chicago.
(In full disclosure, I take an annual trip on the Zephyr leaving Denver on Thanksgiving Day, ride through Colorado and stop at Salt Lake City about 11 p.m. I bop around the city and catch the eastbound Zephyr at 3:30 a.m. Saturday, arriving in Denver that evening. You will see a side of America not possible by any other way of travel. The whole trip including hotel and meals costs about $500.)