My husband absolutely loves old trains, and he’s had a great time exploring rail museums across America. He uses a manual wheelchair to get around, and I know he’d really like to take a day excursion on a historic railway. He can’t walk, and he needs to stay in his own wheelchair for the journey. I’m wondering if you think this is a doable option for him, and if so, can you recommend any accessible rail excursions in the U.S.? The location really doesn’t matter, as we take our RV all over the U.S. Thanks for any information you can provide.
Although many historic railways try to keep their restoration projects authentic, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some accessible options for your husband. In fact, these two railways offer good wheelchair access on their interesting and educational day excursions.
Over in Northern California, Roaring Camp Railroad (831-335-4484, www.roaringcamp.com) offers a nicely accessible day excursion through the majestic California Redwoods. The railroad first began carrying tourists to the big trees back in 1875, but prior to that they used their gigantic steam engines to haul huge redwood logs out of the mountains. The steam engines that pull today’s trains date back to 1890; and they’re among the oldest and most authentically preserved narrow-gauge steam engines in the country.
The one-hour roundtrip journey to Bear Mountain begins at Roaring Camp station, located in Felton, just six miles north of Santa Cruz. The whole depot area is a recreation of an 1880s logging camp, complete with a general store, an opera house, a one-room schoolhouse and even a steam powered saw mill.
Access is good throughout the depot, with accessible parking available in the main lot, located a quarter-mile from the depot. If you can’t manage that distance, just tell the parking attendant and he will direct you to the closer employee lot.
The train features open-air seating, and each car can accommodate two wheelchair-users. There is ramp access to the train; however the ramp cannot accommodate scooters or other three-wheeled vehicles. Once aboard, wheelchair-users can choose to stay in their own wheelchairs, or transfer to one of the bench seats.
The train travels over trestles, through towering redwood groves and up a winding narrow-gauge grade before reaching the summit. Along the way the conductor offers a short but entertaining history of Roaring Camp, the railroad and the forest. There is also a short stop at Cathedral Grove at Bear Mountain, but there’s no ramp access, so if you can’t walk a few steps you can’t disembark. On the plus side, it’s a very short stop and you can easily enjoy the giant redwoods from the open-air car.
Another accessible choice is located in Southern New Mexico, where the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (888-286-2737, www.cumbrestoltec.com) operates the longest and highest narrow gauge railway in America. Originally constructed in 1880 to serve the silver mines in Southwestern Colorado, today this railroad operates day excursions from the depot in Chama, New Mexico.
Accessible parking is located near the depot, with ramped access up to the ticket office. The accessible coach railcars feature either bench or chair seating, with plenty of room for wheelers who don’t want to transfer. There is also an accessible restroom on board, with a full five-foot turning radius and a toilet with grab bars. Access to the railcar is by a portable lift, which can also be used by slow walkers who can’t manage the stairs.
The route takes passengers to the top of Cumbres Pass, and through Tanglefoot Curve, before it crosses the 137-foot high Cascade Creek Trestle and pulls into Osier, Colorado. After an hour lunch stop, you can either continue on to Antonio, Colorado or head back to Chama. If you choose to go to Antonio, accessible bus transfers back to Chama are also included.
Plan ahead for this excursion, as they don’t run the accessible cars every day, and 48 hours advance notice is required. All in all, the employees and volunteers are very helpful, and they do whatever they can to help folks with mobility issues enjoy this very scenic ride.
I’m sure your husband will have a great time, no matter which railway he chooses.