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Train ride down the Canyon delights 450 locals

Diana Jorgenson
Portola Editor

The Feather River Express, a special passenger train celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first passenger train on the Western Pacific route, carried 660 people coming and going through the Feather River Canyon during the Railroad Days celebration Aug. 20-22. 
TRAINRound-trip ticket holders came from all over the U.S., and all over the world, really. A special arrangement that included a bus ride back to Plumas County or down to Sacramento, as the case might be, allowed 450 locals passionate about trains, the beauty of the Feather River or both the chance to ride where usually only freight trains go.

Since the Union Pacific route has been a designated freight-only route since 1970, only a few passenger trains have traversed the Canyon in recent history. Those few were each of them historic in one way or another.

The Domes to Railroad Days excursion had historical significance, along with the unique overnight stay during Railroad Days and a PBS film crew from "Tracks Ahead" commemorating the event.

All along the way, people lined the route to wave as the 14-car train passed by, its white flags flying to designate its statusas a special charter train. They took pictures and the people on the train took pictures back.

There were three locomotives: two Amtrak engines and a Western Pacific 2001 locomotive belonging to the Western Pacific Railroad Museum of Portola in the lead.

The WP engine detached at Oroville and engineer Steve Habeck brought it back to Portola.

The cars had romantic names like Moonlight Dome and Silver Splendor (both dome cars) and adventuresome names like Pony Express (a party car) and Overland Trail (a lounge car).

Some lucky souls experienced luxury train travel with linen napkins, gourmet meals, elevated scenic views and comfortable lounges.

But everyone experienced the wild and wonderful beauty of the Feather River Canyon as the river itself became increasingly tamed by dams and broadened into the Lake Oroville reservoir.

Trains and Travel organizer Chris Skow has already begun the application with UP for a charter train during next year's Railroad Days.

If this year's enthusiasm holds true, there will be many lovers of train travel ready to fill the cars - and a great many of them from Plumas County.

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