Riding the rails in Chattanooga

Today’s Chattanooga Times Free Press brings word that the National Railway Historical Society is holding its annual convention in Tennessee’s best city for rail buffs.

This convention is the eighth one held by the Society in Chattanooga, and the members will be all over the Tennessee Valley Railroad, which is the best combination of rail museum and train ride in the state.

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The Railroad is north of downtown off I-75. While most railroad museums are situated at crumbling train stations or relocated small town depots, this museum occupies a structure built to house model train railroads, a restaurant, depot, and offices for the organization. A good collection of trains sit outside, and when the whistle blows, passengers get on a board for a six-mile run to the East Chattanooga Depot and back.

One interesting part of the trip is passing through the Missionary Ridge tunnel. This 979-foot long tunnel was bored between 1856 and 1858, just in time for the Civil War. The East Chattanooga Depot is where volunteers work to restore old trains. Passengers get off the train and have a chance to see the engine chug onto a roundtable and get turned around to make the return run.

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Many of the people who come to railroad museums are retired folks who remember the days of train travel, and it will be interesting to see how the Tennessee Valley Railway (TVR) and other folks sell trains to future generations. Many children get their interest from the Thomas & Friends, a British television show first broadcast in the U.S. in the 1980s. Indeed, a train made to look like Thomas makes an appearance at TVR at least once a year, and families turn out in droves.

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