Heritage railway

A heritage railway is a railway kept to carry living history rail traffic in order to re-create or preserve railway scenes of the past. Often heritage railways are old railway lines preserved in a state which depicts a certain period, or periods, in the history of railway systems.

Scene on a heritage railway: A tank engine takes on water through a water crane at Bishops Lydeard station on the West Somerset Railway, Somerset, England

Heritage line

Heritage railway lines contain historic rail infrastructure that has been substituted or made obsolete in modern railway transit systems. Historical installations, such as hand operated points, water cranes, and rail fastened with hand hammered rail spikes, are characteristic features of heritage lines. Apart from mere tourist railways, which carry mainly tourists and use only modern installations and vehicles, heritage lines' infrastructure naturally creates views and soundscapes of the past while operated.


Due to the lack of modern technology, or to a desire for historical accuracy, railway operations can be handled with traditional practices, such as the use of physical tokens. Use of heritage infrastructure and operations often calls for assigning roles based on historical occupations to the railway staff. Station masters and signalmen, sometimes wearing period-appropriate attire, can be seen on some heritage railways. Most heritage railways carry heritage rolling stock, but modern rail vehicles can be used to showcase railway scenes with historical line infrastructure.


While some heritage railways are fully profitable tourist attractions, many are not-for-profit entities; some of the latter depend on enthusiastic volunteers for upkeep and operations, to supplement revenues from traffic and visitors. Still other heritage railways offer a viable public transit option and can therefore sustain operations with a sufficient amount of revenue from regular riders or government subsidies.


Token passed at a children's railway, Zaporizhia, Ukraine
Steam hauled train climbing the Šargan Eight, Serbia
Entrance of King’s Mine, Kongsberg, Norway
Preserved station on Metro line 1, Budapest, Hungary

Children's railways

Children's railways are extracurricular educational institutions, where children and teenagers learn railway professions. Often they are fully functional, passenger-carrying narrow gauge rail lines. This phenomenon originated in the USSR and was greatly developed in Soviet times. Many sites were called pioneer railways, after the communist youth organisation. The first children's railway was opened Moscow[1] in 1932, and at the breakup of the USSR, 52 children's railways existed in the country.[2] Even though the fall of communist governments has led to closures of these railways, many preserved children's railways are still functioning in post-Soviet states and Eastern European countries.

Many children's railways were built on parklands in urban areas. Unlike many industrial areas, typically served by a narrow gauge railway, parks were free from redevelopment. Child volunteers and socialist fiscal policy enabled stagnant existence for many of these railways. The old children's railways, which still carry traffic, have often retained their original infrastructure and rolling stock, including vintage steam locomotives.[3][4] Some have also acquired heritage vehicles from other railways.

Examples of children's railways with steam locomotives include: Dresden park railway, Dresden, Germany; Gyermekvasút, Budapest, Hungary; Park Railway Maltanka, Poznań, Poland; Košice Children's Railway, Košice, Slovakia, and the 7 inch gauge steam railway within the grounds of St Nicholas' school, Merstham, Surrey, which the children still help operate with assistance from the East Surrey 16mm Group, and other volunteers - it also has open days.[5][6]

Mountain railways

Creating passages for trains up steep hills and through mountain regions offers many obstacles which call for special technical solutions. Special steep grade railway -technologies and extensive tunneling may be employed. The use of narrow gauge allows tighter curves in the track and offers a smaller structure gauge and tunnel size. In high altitudes, the difficulties in construction and logistics as well as limited urban development and demand of transport combined with special rolling stock requirements has meant that many mountain railways have been left unmodernized. The possibility to marvel at the engineering feats of the railway builders of the past with views of pristine mountain scenes has made many railways in mountainous areas profitable as tourist attractions.

Pit railways

Pit railways have been an important part of operating an underground mine all over the world. Small rail vehicles offer effective transportation of ore and waste rock, as well as workers, through narrow tunnels. Sometimes the trains were the sole mode of transport in the passages between the work sites and the mine entrance. Often the loading gauge of the railway dictated the cross-section of the passages to be dug and the tunnel and the track created an integral combination. On many mining sites pit railways have been abandoned due to mine closure or adoption of new kind of transportation equipment. Nowadays some show mines exhibit a vintage pit railway and offer a chance to experience a mantrip into the mine.

Underground railways

Millennium Underground Railway or M1, built from 1894 to 1896, is the oldest line of the Budapest Metro system and the second oldest underground railway in the world.[7] In the 1980s and 1990s, M 1 underwent major reconstruction and Line 1 now serves eight original stations. The original appearance of the old stations has been preserved. In 2002, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[8] There is also a Millennium Underground Museum in the Deák Ferenc Square concourse where many other artifacts from the metro's early history can be seen.

British railway preservation

In Britain, heritage railways are often railway lines which were once run as commercial railways, but were later no longer needed or were closed down, and were taken over or re-opened by volunteers or non-profit organisations. A typical British heritage railway will use steam locomotives and original rolling stock to create a supposed "period atmosphere", although some are now concentrating on more recent "modern image" diesel and electric traction supposedly to re-create the post-steam railway era. Many run on partial routes unconnected to a larger network or railways, run only seasonally, and charge high fares compared to services that focus mainly on providing transit. As a result, they are primarily, indeed exclusively, focused on serving the tourist and leisure markets, not local transportation needs. However, in the 1990s and 2000s some heritage railways have professed to provide local transportation and to extend their running seasons to cater for commercial passenger traffic.

Following the founding of the Edaville Railroad, in the US state of Massachusetts, by Ellis D. Atwood in 1947,[9] the first heritage railway to be rescued and run entirely by volunteers was the Talyllyn Railway in Wales. This narrow gauge line, taken over by a group of enthusiasts in 1950, is recognised as the start of the preservation movement in the United Kingdom. The world's second preserved railway, and the first outside the United Kingdom, was the Puffing Billy Railway in Australia. This railway operates 24 km of track with much of the original rolling stock built as early as 1898. There are now between 100-150 heritage railways in the United Kingdom and similar railway preservation schemes by enthusiast can be found in many of the other countries in Europe and the Commonwealth.

The large number of heritage railways in the UK is due in part to the closure of many minor lines in the 1960s under the Beeching cuts. These were relatively easy to revive. The first standard gauge line to be preserved was the Middleton Railway, though not a victim of Beeching. The second, and first to carry passengers was the Bluebell Railway.

Not-for-profit heritage railways differ in the intensity of the service that can be offered. While the Puffing Billy Railway operates a busier service than it regularly did in its pre-preservation working life, some see traffic only on summer weekends. Some of the more successful, such as the Severn Valley Railway and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, may have up to five or six steam engines working, operating a four-train service daily. Smaller railways may run for seven-days-a-week throughout the summer with only one steam engine. The Great Central Railway is the only example of a preserved British main line that operates with a double track. It can operate over 50 trains on a busy gala timetable.

In the UK, following the privatisation of main-line railways, the line between traditionally not-for-profit heritage railways and for-profit branch lines may appear to have blurred. The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway is an example of a commercial line run partly as a heritage operation and partly to provide local transportation. The Severn Valley Railway has even operated a few goods trains on a commercial basis. In addition, a number of heritage railway lines are regularly used by commercial freight operators.

Since the Bluebell Railway reopened to traffic in 1960, the definition of private standard gauge railways in the United Kingdom as preserved railways has changed and evolved as the number of projects, length, operating days and function has altered. The 1970s distinction between narrow gauge, standard gauge and steam centres alone is no longer necessarily fit for purpose. The situation is further muddied by the huge variation in company structure of the ownership of the railway, its rolling stock and other assets. Unlike community railways, the tourist railways in the UK are vertically integrated, although those operating mainly as charities have their charitable and non-charitable activities essentially separated for accounts purposes.

Around the world

"Tren a las Nubes" (train to the clouds) crossing the Polvorilla viaduct, Salta Province, Argentina
Preserved railbuses on Porvoo railway station, Finland

Argentinian heritage railways

La Trochita (El Viejo Expreso Patagónico), in English known as the Old Patagonian Express, was declared as a National Historic Monument by the Government of Argentina in 1999.[10] The trains on the Patagonian 750 mm (2 ft 5 12 in) narrow gauge railwayuse steam locomotives. The railway is 402 km (250 mi) in length and runs through the foothills of the Andes between Esquel and El Maitén in Chubut Province and Ingeniero Jacobacci in Río Negro Province.

In southern Argentina, the Train of the End of the World, to the Tierra del Fuego National Park is considered the southernmost functioning railway in the world. Heritage railway operations started in 1994, after refurbishment of the old 500 mm (19 34 in) (narrow-gauge) steam railway.

In Salta Province, in northeastern Argentina, the Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds) runs along 220 km (140 mi) of 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge track in what is one of the highest railways in the world. The railway line has 29 bridges, 21 tunnels, 13 viaducts, 2 spirals and 2 zigzags and its highest point is 4,220 metres (13,850 ft) above sea level.

In Entre Ríos Province, the Villa Elisa Historic Train, operated by "Ferroclub Central Entrerriano", runs trains pulled by steam locomotives between the cities of Villa Elisa and Caseros, covering a distance of 36 km (22 mi),[11] with a total journey time of 120 minutes.[12]

Finnish heritage railways

On the Finnish state-owned rail network, the section between operating points of Olli and Porvoo, is dedicated as a museum line. In southern Finland, it is the only line with many structural details mainly forgone on the rest of the network, that carries passenger traffic regularly. Wooden sleepers, gravel ballast and low rail weight with the lack overhead catenary and the adjacent area make it uniquely historical.[13] Along the line the Hinthaara railway station and the Porvoo railway station area are included in the National Board of Antiquities' inventory of built cultural environments of national significance in Finland. Also on the list is some of the scenery in the Porvoo river valley, through which the line passes.[14]

Jokioinen Museum Railway is a stretch of preserved narrow gauge railway between Humppila and Jokioinen. Nykarleby Järnväg is a stretch of rebuilt narrow gauge railway on the bank of the old Kovjoki–Nykarleby line.[15]

Mountain Railways of India

Of the Mountain Railways of India the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and the Kalka–Shimla Railway have collectively been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[16][17][18] To uphold World Heritage criteria the sites must keep some of their traditional infrastructure and culture.

Heritage Railways of Canada

Heritage railways of Slovakia

The Čierny Hron Railway is a narrow gauge railway in central Slovakia, established in the first decade of the 20th century, operating primarily as a freight railway for the local logging industries. From the late 1920s until the early 1960s, it also operated small-scale passenger transport between the villages of Hronec and Čierny Balog. Over time, its growth allowed it to become the most extensive forestry railway network in all of Czechoslovakia. After its closure in 1982, it gained heritage status and had undergone restoration works during the following decade. Since 1992, it is one of the official heritage railways of Slovakia and is a key tourist attraction of its local region. The Historical Logging Switchback Railway in Vychylovka is a heritage railway located in north central Slovakia, originally built to service the forestry and logging industry in the Orava and Kysuce regions. Despite a closure and dissasembly of most of its original network during the early 1970s, its surviving lines and branches have been restored or are under restoration. The railway is owned and operated by the Museum of Kysuce, with a 3.8 km line currently open to tourists for sightseeing passenger services.

Heritage railways in the United States

In the United States, heritage railways are known variously as tourist, historic, or scenic railroads. Most are remnants of original railroads. Others are reconstructed railroads, having been scrapped at one point and then rebuilt with tourism in mind. Some heritage railways preserve entire railroads in their original state using original structures, track, and motive power.

Examples of heritage railroads in the US by type of preservation

Remnant Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Colorado & New Mexico Hocking Valley Scenic Railway, Ohio Heber Valley Railroad, Utah
Reconstructed Sumpter Valley Railroad, Oregon Virginia and Truckee Railroad, Nevada Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway, Maine
Original Nevada Northern Railway, Nevada California Western Railroad, California Delaware and Ulster Railroad, New York

Some do not fit in the above categories, like the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, which is a sub-operation of the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad. The SL&RG is primarily a freight operation, on former Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad track, but owns and operates a steam locomotive and a fleet of passenger cars, most of which are painted in D&RGW colors.

Many heritage railways in the United States host special living history events, like annual reenactments of historic activities. In addition, they may feature an archive or library of railroad-related materials.

See also


  1. http://www.dzd-ussr.ru/towns/moscow/cpkio.html Children's railways: Gorky Park, Moscow (Russian)
  2. 'Children's railway' a training ground for future rail personnel
  3. http://www.gyermekvasut.hu/english/page.php?8 Budapest Children's railways website: Rolling Stock
  4. http://www.visitkosice.eu/en/things-to-see-and-do/attractions/childrens-railway Košice Children's railways
  5. http://www.worldrailfans.info/7.25inch/GalleryMersthamVRConstruction.shtml The only British children's railway that is operational in 2014
  6. http://www.eastsurrey16mm.org.uk/ Helps keep the school's railway running, and puts on a number of steam and model train shows at that school
  7. Kogan Page: Europe Review 2003/2004, fifth edition, Wolden Publishing Ltd, 2003, page 174
  9. Moody, Linwood W. (1959). The Maine Two-Footers. Howell-North. p. 45.
  10. 'El Kavanagh, entre los protegidos', Clarín, 1999-04-23 (Spanish)
  11. Tren turístico de Villa Elisa on Girasol Hostería
  12. "15 trenes turísticos de la Argentina", Clarín, 24 May 2015
  13. http://www2.liikennevirasto.fi/julkaisut/pdf3/lv_2012-05_finnish_railway_web.pdf Finnish Railway Network Statement 2014
  14. http://www.rky.fi/read/asp/r_kohde_list.aspx the National Board of Antiquities' inventory of built cultural environments of national significance in Finland. In Finnish
  15. http://nykarlebyjernvag.webs.com/inenglish.htm the National Board of Antiquities' inventory of built cultural environments of national significance in Finland. In Finnish
  16. "Mountain Railways of India". World Heritage:UNESCO. Retrieved 2010-02-19.
  17. Kohli, M.S.; Ashwani Lohani (2004). Mountains of India: Tourism, Adventure, Pilgrimage. The Indian Mountain Railway. Indus Publishing. pp. 97–106. ISBN 81-7387-135-3. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
  18. "Luxury Trains of India". Archived from the original on January 3, 2004. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
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