Take a scenic train ride through WV on the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad
“Two eagles sitting in a tree! “exclaims Jean Shoemaker, our 80 year old spotter.” Look for the dead tree in the river, then go straight up the mountain and you will see them. “Everyone on the train swings towards them. windows to observe a pair of bald eagles casually but majestically looking at the southern arm of the Potomac River.
My wife, Rebecca, and I drove to Romney, West Virginia in July to board the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad, which offers a variety of rides on an old B&O railroad line every weekend from May and until December. (During the holiday season, a family “North Pole Express” ride includes storytelling, Christmas carols, and a visit from Santa Claus.) Our trip, the three hour “Trough Trip”, is the bread-and-butter ride. Potomac Eagle Butter, featuring West Virginia history and scenic views. The ‘hollow’ refers to the most captivating part of the journey through a deep mountain river valley, where bald eagles are known to build nests and fish in the Potomac. Although bird sightings are not guaranteed, we were lucky with several appearances of eagles.
What Potomac Eagle guarantees (and provides) is great service and an enjoyable excursion. Engineer Patton Swartzfager, who appropriately focuses on driving the train, notes that he takes great care in managing the “movement” – the few inches of clearance between the cars – in order to provide customers with a smooth ride. candy. In his past work for the Union Pacific Railroad, Swartzfager has driven five locomotives hauling 18,000 tonnes of freight in no less than 130 cars, and he clearly knows how to maneuver the Potomac Eagle. It was the smoothest ride I have ever experienced on a train, with no jolts or swerves during the three hour tour.
There isn’t much slack in the schedule either. After boarding a pre-assigned wagon at 12:45 p.m. (there are 270 passengers that day, although the train can carry over 500), we drive south along the river at 1:00 p.m. Shoemaker, who recounts train tours from The creation of the Potomac Eagle in the early ’90s doubles as an eagle watcher and historian, conveying fun facts about the landscapes and buildings we pass through.
Filled with early American history, this part of the Potomac River Valley was familiar territory to George Washington. He first arrived as a teenager, surveying land on behalf of his mentor, Lord Fairfax, a prominent landowner during the British colonial era. Washington returned to the area in 1754 as a 22-year-old lieutenant colonel of the Virginia Regiment, Shoemaker announces as the train passes through small towns and unspoiled terrain. A year later, the man who would become our first president passed through the nearby town of Cumberland, Maryland, serving as a voluntary aide-de-camp to British General Edward Braddock en route to a beating by the French near Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania.
Several decades later, Confederate and Union armies marched along the same shores, seeking control of major railways and trade centers. According to local lore, the town of Romney changed hands 56 times during the Civil War, according to Shoemaker, including – in a particularly hectic 24 hours for tired city dwellers – three times in a day. (Other historical accounts, which equate military control with at least an overnight stay by the occupying force, estimate the number of reversals to be “no less than 10”.)
The Potomac Eagle offers four classes of service, from the basic coach ($ 60 per adult) to a four-course “superior dinner” experience in a restored Art Deco dining car ($ 125). We opted for the ‘Premium Dining’ package ($ 100), which included a three-course meal served by friendly waiters. But you can reserve the cheaper padded coach seats, bring your own bites or buy from the snack bar, and have a great time just as well. Our meal had choices of mahi-mahi, chicken, roast beef, pasta or a vegetarian dish for the main course. Bread, salad, dessert, and constant drink refills are included, but alcohol is not (not allowed on the train).
As we enter the trough, Shoemaker’s commentary shifts to flora and fauna. Poking her head out the window, walkie-talkie in hand, with radio gear placed in front of her like a mini command center, she begins calling out eagles with the help of other staff stationed alongside the train. In addition to the pair of raptors perched in a tree, we observe a single eagle in flight, gliding over the river in tandem with the train and probably using its extraordinarily fine vision to search for fish.
We still talk about eagles when our section takes its turn in the “gondola”, an open-top car where passengers can sit or stand, enjoying the view and the fresh air. We find ourselves next to Keith from Hagerstown, Md., Who jokingly suggests to his wife that all those eagles must have been decoys.
“What about the steering wheel? My wife said.
“Hidden cables,” he said, not missing a beat.
Birds keep coming. On the way back to Romney, we are treated to a pair of eagles soaring high above the river that even Keith can’t deny. We also see two large white egrets standing on a sandbar in their snow-white splendor.
Leaving the trough, we return to our dining car, where a carrot cake awaits us. We are just finishing the last crumbs as the train re-enters Romney station and then very slowly comes to a slow stop.
Potomac Eagle Scenic Railway
149 Eagle Drive, Romney, West Virginia,
Romney is approximately 120 miles from Bethesda. Train journeys are available most weekends, starting in late May, and run daily during the high fall season in October and early November. Prices vary depending on length of trip and class of service. Before or after the train ride, visit Cumberland, Maryland, and the 184½-mile long C&O Canal Trail terminus to learn more about the history of George Washington. The nearby 3,118-foot-long Paw Paw Tunnel, dug through a mountain in the 1840s by the C&O Canal Co. to bypass five horseshoe bends in the Potomac River, is also worth a visit, including a walk. scary through the tunnel itself.
Writer Jeff Yeates was born in Alexandria, Virginia, and has lived in the DC area most of his life. In addition to getting on trains, he enjoys cycling, paddling the Antietam Creek, and stopping at roadside produce stalls.