04 October 2010

Rail - Feather River Express and Trains Unlimited Tours

Two years ago, one of the first posts in my “Planes, Trains, & Automobiles” blog was about my ride on the detour of Amtrak’s California Zephyr along the Feather River route of the original Western Pacific California Zephyr.

Many people were interested in this at the time, and I promised to report if I heard of other Amtrak detours through the canyon.  As far as I know, Amtrak did not repeat the detour after the autumn of ’08.

However on what seems now to be an annual basis, you can get the opportunity to ride the rails up the Feather River canyon on a train that will take you back to the era of the postwar streamliner California Zephyr.

Photo by Phil Gosney
It won’t be an inexpensive trip, and you have to reserve space way in advance due to its popularity, but if your heart is set on this train ride then I’m giving you ample notice here.  (I was gently chastised by my good friend John Maretti for not alerting him to the 2010 train sooner.)

Trains Unlimited Tours of Reno will be operating its third annual “Domes to Railroad Days – The Feather River Express” excursion train over three days, Friday, 19 August, to Sunday, 21 August 2011.

The train will run from Emeryville to Portola, with stops at the Amtrak stations in Martinez, Davis, and Sacramento.

Why Portola?

The town celebrates its railroad heritage with the Portola Railroad Days Festival, a 4-day event.  If you take this train, you’ll land smack-dab in the party and aboard one of its star attractions.

The train will operate with vintage postwar streamliner equipment, some of which was part of the original California Zephyr, which ran until March 1970.

Photo by Phil Gosney

Trains Unlimited Tours offers numerous options including coach, dome cars, and Pullman.  If you book Pullman space, that also serves as your hotel for the two nights you’ll spend in Portola.  One-way travel is also available (either direction), with an optional bus transfer to or from Reno.

For complete information including pricing take a look at Trains Unlimited Tours website for this excursion.  You’ll see many photos of the “Domes to Railroad Days” trains from this year and last year.

Remember that this will sell out long before August 2011.  Chris Skow with Trains Unlimited Tours told me that this year's train sold out by June, and the 2011 excursion is already about 25% booked and may well sell out even earlier.

Photo by Phil Gosney

Another excursion train that may interest northern Californians is the Dunsmuir Shasta Daylight which will operate to Dunsmuir and Black Butte over the 10-12 June 2011 period for Dunsmuir's Railroad Days celebration.

Trains Unlimited Tours has a full catalogue of rail tours, many of which are overseas including Africa, Australia, and South America.  They even have a rail tour of Cuba on the schedule (16 April – 1 May 2011) if the idiotic ban on travel to Cuba is finally removed.  (Technically it’s a ban on spending money in Cuba, not travel, but functionally it’s the same).  Their tours are designated as either “railfan” (the trains themselves are the focus of the trip) or “tourist” (trains are part of the trip, but not the whole trip).

Take a look at their website for the 2011 schedule of tours.  You can also sign up to get periodic e-mail news about their trips.

A big "thank you" to Phil Gosney, senior Amtrak locomotive engineer and railfan, who took these photos of the Feather River Express in Rodeo in the East Bay on 21 August 2010, and gave me permission to use them in this post.  Phil was one of the Amtrak engineers that operated the California Zephyr detour in 2008.

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