The Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad is ready to start chugging down the tracks.
According to the organization, the schedule for the soon-to-begin 2023 season includes over 200 rail trips between Abilene and Enterprise, some of which will include new special excursion and dinner trains and events. The timetable represents the railroad’s most ambitious schedule yet as the A&SV observes a major milestone: the Association’s 30th anniversary.
The 2023 theme is “Thriving at Thirty,” according to Ross Boelling, President and General Manager of the A&SV. “Over thirty years ago, two men in Abilene had a vision for turning a dilapidated, neglected piece of railroad track into a tourist railroad. It’s hard to believe we’ve had over 280,000 passengers ride our rails since that day in June 1993 when the organization was legally formed.”
Boelling added that the railroad will be seeking to surpass last season’s passenger total, when the railroad drew 8,513 tourists, who represented 40 percent of the communities in Kansas, 40 states and 10 foreign countries.
The A&SV has scheduled 21 dinner trains, seven coffee and cinnamon roll trains, a new “Great Pumpkin Express” train in October, and an expanded holiday schedule for the “Cowtown Santa Express” in November and December.
The Great Pumpkin Express will feature the “Peanuts” comic strip characters, whose annual hunt for the “Great Pumpkin” is a Halloween season classic. This special train, which will run from October 14 to 29, will consist of a half hour train ride to the Pumpkin Patch, where children will get a trick-or-treat bag and hear a special reading of Schulz’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” as well as sidebar events, such as letter writing to the Great Pumpkin, a costume contest, photos with Snoopy and Charlie Brown, trick-or-treating, and more.
Boelling said last year’s “Cowtown Santa Express” was popular, as over 1,000 kids and parents rode the A&SV’s Christmas season trains, with hot chocolate, cookies, and Santa on board. This year, the A&SV has doubled the number of trains for the holiday season, which will begin the day before Thanksgiving on November 22 and conclude on December 23. The Santa trains will run each weekend following Thanksgiving, Fridays thru Sundays.
Dining on the rails has become a popular A&SV custom, and Boelling said this year’s schedule includes more dinner trains centered around seasonal holidays and special events. The first of the 21 dinner trains will be on May 13, when the railroad will run its annual Mother’s Day train. Boelling added that area restaurants and caterers will be providing the food and beverages for the trains. “It’s a great service we provide to the area restaurant industry, since it allows them to be exposed to new potential customers.” He added that the schedule also includes a popular feature that was introduced last year, monthly “coffee breaks on the rails,” featuring coffee and cinnamon rolls made from flour ground by the railroad’s popular Hoffmann Grist Mill in Enterprise. The first coffee break train will run on Tuesday, May 9.
The Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad observes the Association’s 30th birthday on June 17 in Old Abilene Town and in Enterprise in June 18 (the actual anniversary of the A&SV’s incorporation) with special celebrations planned, featuring dignitaries and a community picnic.
Prominently featured in the 2023 lineup is the railroad’s famed century-old steam locomotive, Santa Fe 3415. The engine was recently granted one more year of operation by the Federal Railroad Administration. The FRA requires that steam locomotives must be removed from service and rebuilt every 15 years. This year’s schedule features 28 excursion and dinner trains using steam power, Boelling said.
“We are the only steam-powered railroad in Kansas, and we want to give as many people as possible a chance to ride steam powered trains before the engine is rebuilt,” he said, adding that the engine draws most of the railroad’s passengers and is responsible for drawing many out-of-state tourists to Abilene. The iconic locomotive continues to be a focus of national publicity in railroad-related magazines and television shows. In fact, the Saturday Evening Post website listed the A&SV as one of America’s top seven steam powered railroads last year.
Boelling said the 2023 schedule is posted on the A&SV’s new website at www.asvrr.org, and that tickets can be purchased there