The history of Idaho and the West was written on ribbons of steel.
Today the passenger trains that once flooded the West with immigrants have taken a back seat to cars and planes.
Yet, it is still possible to view Idaho and the Northwest by rail, to revel in the history and scenery of places like Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, to feel the power and the speed and the glamour that once transfixed an entire nation.
All Aboard: A Northwest Rail Journey
ALL ABOARD explores the role that the railroads played in the creation of Idaho and the West. This ninety minute program, together with the companion half hour OUTDOOR IDAHO show, “Riding the Rails,” takes viewers on several memorable train rides through the northwest.
ALL ABOARD features two excursion trains that now operate on lines once closed to passenger service. The American Spirit operates between Sandpoint, Idaho, and Livingston, Montana, and takes passengers along hundreds of miles of the historic main line of the Northern Pacific Railroad near Yellowstone National Park.
The Thunder Mountain Line operates out of Cascade, Idaho. It’s a two and a half hour journey that makes stops for rafters who wish to float the Class Three rapids of the Payette River.
The famous 4449 steam train rarely runs through Idaho, but it did in the summer of 1999. For seventeen years it rolled along Southern Pacific tracks before its retirement in 1958. It was restored in the 1970’s to help celebrate the nation’s Bi-centennial. Since then, the engine has been used in movies and for numerous special events.
Amtrak’s Empire Builder follows the historic route of the Great Northern along the edge of Glacier National Park. Glacier is the only national park on the main line of a transcontinental railroad; and it is understandable why rail fans flock to see huge freight trains snake along the scenic sections of track between Whitefish and Browning.
The route of the Hiawatha once took passengers across northern Idaho, around valleys, through tunnels, and over trestles. It was, by far, the most expensive railroad ever built at the time. But the Milwaukee Road went bankrupt and today mountain bikes, rather than trains, cross the trestles. The Hiawatha Trail is a biker’s delight. In thirteen miles, mountain bikers ride over seven trestles and through nine tunnels.
The Camas Prairie Railroad was known as the “railroad on stilts” because of the densest concentration of high trestles in North America. It is a remnant of the great railroad wars, when the Harrimans and the Hills were fighting over the inland region. These days individual motor cars operate on the tracks. These rail car operators have convinced the railroads that they are serious about safety rules and paying their way.