Railroads & Locomotives Tourist Railroad Profiles Memorable train rides: Summerville Steam Special

Memorable train rides: Summerville Steam Special

By Kevin Gilliam | June 9, 2024

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Trains Video Producer Kevin’s pick: Summerville Steam Special

steam locomotive on bridge
Southern Railway Nos. 630 and 4501 power the return leg of a Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum excursion from Chattanooga, Tenn. to Summerville, Ga., over the Chattooga River bridge in Trion, Ga., on Nov. 12, 2016. Kevin Gilliam

Name of Train: Summerville Steam Special
The route: Chattanooga, Tenn. to Summerville, Ga, roundtrip excursion
Duration: 9 hours and about 100 miles round trip

The adventure: Departing from the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s Grand Junction depot in Chattanooga, Tenn., this all-day steam excursion takes passengers over a former Central of Georgia route into the north Georgia mountains to a midday layover in Summerville, Ga. Leaving Grand Junction, you are on the original Southern Railway main line and you will shortly pass through the 984-foot Missionary Ride Tunnel. At East Chattanooga, the route diverts onto the Chattanooga beltline, for a ride through the city. After passing a cemetery on the south side of town where many of the Andrew’s Raiders of the Great Locomotive Chase fame are buried, the tracks diverge onto the Chattooga and Chickamauga Railway for a climb up Missionary Ridge, and then through the Chickamauga National Battlefield. South of Chickamauga, it’s rolling hills and farmland for a midday arrival in Summerville. After a layover, it’s back on board for the return trip and an early evening arrival in Chattanooga.

Insider Tips:

  • There is a nice display area at Grand Junction with several steam and diesel locomotives, and freight and passenger cars — so give yourself time either before or after the trip to walk around the area. If you want photos with the engine at Grand Junction, plan to do that in the morning. On the return, once everyone is off the train, the engine will be heading back to the East Chattanooga shops as soon as the train is unloaded. Another good place to get photos of the engine is at Summerville. They will spin the engine on the turntable soon after arrival, so follow the crowds and walk south of the depot.
  • For those wishing to hear the steam locomotive work, there are several good grades on the line. The first is the climb out of Rossville, Ga., southbound over Missionary Ridge. There are a few good climbs on the return, and the route is more uphill going north. There is a nice hill coming north from Trion, the climb over Missionary Ridge above Chickamauga, and the best is right at the end.
  • From a motive power perspective, the absolute best part of the trip is the final climb from the Chattanooga beltline up a short, but very steep connection to the Tennessee Valley route, the original Southern main line, at East Chattanooga. It’s a short one — only a couple of train lengths — but the grade gets close to 5% on this short connector. Once they clear the last grade crossing along Holtzclaw Avenue, the engineer will open the throttle wide to get a run for the hill. You’ll feel the acceleration, hear the stack talk, and see the tracks begin to sharply rise ahead of you. If all goes well, you will crest the top at about 10 mph. On the other hand, I’ve seen them get into slipping with leaves on the rails, and crest at about 2 mph. It’s a brief, but spectacular show.
  • Pack your camera. If everything is going according to schedule, the crews will let everyone off near Rock Spring, Ga., on the return trip for a photo runby. A popular event of excursions dating back decades, everyone will detrain and form an orderly photo line. Then, the train will back up out of sight, and then come roaring by with whistles blasting. It’s quite a show, so be ready.
  • If you’re riding coach, get the dining car option. The first-class tickets come with a meal included, but coach passengers can either purchase a meal or just the train ride. Food options in Summerville can be a little hit or miss, and on some days, the options are very limited. You can always bring snacks with you, but it’s best to have a lunchtime meal available. If riding coach, you will need to book the meal option when you purchase your ticket.

Check out Carl Swanson’s pick if you haven’t already.

One thought on “Memorable train rides: Summerville Steam Special

  1. Nice article. I have caught the 4501 at a road crossing in woods a Trion, GA. Was a good location.

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