The Cincinnati Dinner Train

The Cincinnati Dinner Train

By David Rohdenburg

Scenic Rail Columnist

The Ohio Railroader Website

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Scenic Southwest Ohio’s hidden rail treasure

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Even a dedicated rolling billboard/supply car

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Madisonville Overpass

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Rolling through Madisomville

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Interior of the lounge car

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Interior of the dining cars

 

The Cincinnati Dinner Train offers patrons a unique and special dining and rail adventure experience. Operated by the Cincinnati Railway Company (CNRY), the  train travels over a route that includes part of the 1st railroad built into the city of Cincinnati, all dinners include “a side of scenery”, as the CDT’s advertising states. Food is offered with 4 different entrée options, 2 different dessert options, as well as 2 separate bars offering pop and alcoholic drink options (coffee and water are complimentary), along with a three hour cruise over former Pennsylvania Railroad trackage, including passage through the only active rail tunnel in the Cincinnati area that is north of the Ohio River.

 

The Cincinnati Dinner Train is the brainchild of current Cincinnati Railway President, and primary CNRY owner, Brian Collins, along with Bill Thomas, former owner/operator of the BBQ Revue Restaurant in the Cincinnati suburb of Oakley.

Bill retired from the restaurant business last year and closed the BBQ Revue, but until a few weeks ago the train still boarded there, until the July 11th, 2015 trip, which was the 1st to depart from the new boarding location adjacent to the Cincinnati Gardens arena, located at 2172 Seymour Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45237.

 

When the idea for the CDT first came up, Bill Thomas had a former New York Central dining car, NYC 447, on the BBQ Revue property on a small piece of track, and was using it as an ice cream parlor.

The restaurant was located adjacent to the Indiana & Ohio Railway’s Oasis Subdivision in Oakley, which the CNRY had trackage rights to operate on. One day, while Mr. Collins and Mr. Thomas were talking, the idea was pitched by Brian Collins for the dinner train, with the idea of getting the NYC 447 back on active rail as part of the train.

Bill Thomas liked the idea, and threw his support behind the food side of the operation. The idea was pitched to the other owners of the CNRY in 2007, but they seemed to think that the operation wouldn’t make any money. Stilling thinking they were onto something, Collins and Thomas pushed forward with the idea, funding the operation on their own as a separate operation under the CNRY banner. The NYC 447 was removed from the restaurant lot and put back on the rails. Former Amtrak baggage car 1379 was purchased in 2008, and rebuilt into a bar and entertainment car known as the Queen City Tavern. The QCT was originally built for the U.S. Army as a Kitchen Car in 1953, and served on Troop Trains through the 1960’s. After being stored for years, Amtrak took title to the car in 1971, converting it into a baggage car. It has been repainted externally to its U.S. Army Kitchen Car lettering and colors.

CNRY 201, a dining car, is painted in Milwaukee Road colors, but was built in 1946 by ACF (American Car Foundry) for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad as a long distance coach on the Hummingbird route as car number 3203. Later, it was sold to the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad, where it operated in commuter service out of downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The car was then sold to the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society in the early 1980’s. During this time, it accumulated several thousand miles and passengers, behind restored steam locomotive #765. In 1994, the car was then sold to North Star Rail in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It operated trips behind restored steam locomotive #261. In 2005, the car was sold to Railroad Associates, where it operated in excursion service across the state of Michigan. It was purchased by CNRY in 2008.

A former Burlington Route coach, the Silver Sword, was purchased in 2010. Sometime in the 1980’s, Amtrak had converted it from a 50 seat coach to a diner/lounge. It features a dining area at one end, and a bar/lounge at the other. It was completely refurbished by CNRY after its purchase.

The two newest cars added to the train are the Power Car, a former Amtrak MHC that is equipped with a 250 KW diesel-powered generator that provides power for the train, and the Kitchen Car, a former Santa Fe express and baggage car that has been restored externally, and inside is equipped with a full kitchen that allows all food for the CDT to be prepared on board.

 

The train ride itself cruises at a leisurely pace south along the Oasis Subdivision, allowing patrons to take in the scenery and enjoy a 1st class meal, served to you at your seat, just like trains of the 1950’s. Servers and Passenger Conductors are dressed in period attire, adding to the nostalgic feel.

Along the way, you will be treated to historic facts and human interest stories of places and people along the route. Some of the highlights of the scenery include the Hole in the Wall Tunnel in Fairfax, where the former PRR tunnels through the high fill that carries the former B&O Ohio Division mainline, now I&O’s Midland Subdivision, overhead.

Valley Interlocking, also in Fairfax, where the former N&W Peavine Route joins into the Oasis Sub, and the abandoned former N&W Hyde Park Branch passes over the junction on a large steel trestle; Rendcomb Junction, where the old PRR C&X and Richmond Branches came together to run towards Cincinnati, and the site of a still-standing interlocking tower.

Cincinnati Pioneer Cemetery, where the oldest known grave in Hamilton County, a Revolutionary War ship captain’s daughter, is located; Lunken Airport, Cincinnati’s original international airport and still in use for private and corporate aircraft; and the many houses and historic buildings along Eastern Avenue, which follows the tracks between the railroad and the Ohio River most of the way to Downtown Cincinnati.

The train stops just short of the end of track at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse before returning back. The train operates in push-pull fashion, pushing down to the boathouse and pulling back. Motive power is currently GP7 #55 from sister operation LM&M in Lebanon, but normally one of the two CNRY ex-NKP GP30’s is assigned here.

 

The food on the CDT is excellent, and the service is as well. You can find out more on the equipment, as well as book reservations, by checking out the CDT website at http://www.cincinnatirailway.com/dinnertrain, and don’t forget to like them on Facebook as well at https://www.facebook.com/CincinnatiDinnerTrain.

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