Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is home to the Shay locomotive, which now conveys passengers with the same rugged spirit as 100 years ago.. // Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is the West Virginia home to the Shay locomotive, which now conveys passengers with the same rugged spirit as 100 years ago.(Courtesy Cass Scenic Railroad State Park)

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is the West Virginia home to the Shay locomotive, which now conveys passengers with the same rugged spirit as when it carried lumber more than 100 years ago..

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
As often as we romanticize train travel, it's a rare track that becomes the centerpiece of a state park. Welcome to Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, the West Virginia home to a steam locomotive that now conveys passengers with the same spirit as when it carried lumber more than 100 years ago. It's a perfect pairing of a steam engine and Appalachian mountain. Passengers travel up an 11 percent grade to perfectly-named locales like Bald Knob and Spruce Run. How romantic is the 4½-hour trip to Bald Knob? The restored Shay Locomotive pauses at Oats Run to take on water at a local spring. The curious may also spend the night in the old industry town, where former company houses have been transformed into well-appointed guest cottages.

The Copper Canyon Express ascends to more than 8,000 feet // The Copper Canyon Express(© Gerald French, Corbis)

The Sierra Madre Express (popularly known as "el Chepe") climbs to over 8,000 feet above sea level as it meanders from Texas to the coastal Mexican city of Los Mochis.

Copper Canyon trains
Like characters from a western novel, railroads become folk heroes. Rare is the railroad buff who doesn't dream of taking the Copper Canyon train (technically "Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico"), one of the world's great lines that ascends to over 8,000 feet above sea level while winding its way from El Paso, Texas to Los Mochis on the Pacific Coast. The 200 gorges that comprise the canyon don't actually stretch to Texas, but Copper Canyon is equal to seven Grand Canyons and almost 1,500 feet deeper. Visitors can also get access to the line from Arizona. Hardly just a tourist attraction, the 390-mile "El Chepe" line serves as the critical artery between the desert interior state of Chihuahua and the coast. No doubt freight train engineers enjoy the 39 bridges and 86 tunnels as much as passengers on the First Class Express.

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Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

alt text is tk(© Yvonne Lashmett)

Seems every train museum has an "excursion" experience, a short route that provides the guests the opportunity to ride on Thomas the Tank Engine, visit Santa Claus or go looking for Easter eggs, a thinly veiled income producer that allows the train-obsessed to leave their model-train layouts, dress in pinstripe overalls and tinker with a real steam locomotive and other big boy toys. The Durango & Silverton may appear to fit this model exactly, except the line actually provides year-round service between the two alpine hamlets. Designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in the 1960's, the narrow gauge railroad is estimated to have carried over $300 million in precious metals over the past130 years, provided the "iron horse" for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and played witness to the annals of mountain life, from the 1880's silver rush to 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic.