Railroads & Locomotives Tourist Railroad Profiles Must-See Big Steam for Fall 2023

Must-See Big Steam for Fall 2023

By Lucas Iverson | September 26, 2023

| Last updated on November 14, 2023

See the large locomotives scheduled to operate when the foliage changes colors.

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Labor Day has concluded and so has – unofficially – the 2023 summer. The busy season for museums and tourist railroads may be wrapping up, but as cooler weather begins to roll in you can still add some steam to the mix! These are the big locomotives scheduled to operate when the foliage changes colors – a must-see experience this fall!

Southern Railway No. 4501

Steam locomotive pulling excursion train with caboose and passenger cars next to line of trees.
Southern Railway 2-8-2 No. 4501 leads an excursion from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Summerville, Ga., at Rossville, Ga., in April 2018. Jim Wrinn photo

The famed excursion veteran kept busy over the summer with the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s Missionary Ridge Local and Evening Ridge Runner excursions. For those who find the six-mile round trips underwhelming, expect the 2-8-2 to see longer runs again. TVRM recently announced the return of the annual Summerville Steam Special on select weekends from September to November. No. 4501 is scheduled to lead the all-day excursions from the museum’s Grand Junction in Chattanooga, Tenn., and traverse the Georgia foothills along Genesee & Wyoming’s Chattooga & Chickamauga Railway to Summerville, Ga. Be advised that apart from the Sept. 9 Founders Day at TVRM, all remaining steam-powered Missionary Ridge Locals will use Southern 2-8-0 No. 630.

Fall Schedule

  • Sept. 9: Founders Day’s Missionary Ridge Local, Evening Ridge Runner, and night photo session
  • Sept. 16: Summerville Steam Special doubleheader with SR No. 630
  • Sept. 30, Oct. 7, 14, 15, 21, 22 and 28, Nov. 4 and 5: Summerville Steam Special

Visit the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum website for more information.

Santa Fe No. 3415

Steam locomotive with passenger car and gondola for riders in field with trees in background.
Santa Fe 4-6-2 No. 3415 ambles along former Rock Island trackage near Abilene, Kansas, in July 2021. Jim Wrinn photo

This Pacific-type 4-6-2 has had an extensive schedule for its final operating season. Much like in June and July, consecutive weekends of excursions and dinner trains on the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad in Abilene, Kansas, will be the norm all the way into early October. The federally mandated 1,472-day inspection on the boiler will commence afterward in addition to other mechanical work as A&SV strives for a good foundation in No. 3415’s next 15 years of operation. In the meantime, take advantage this fall. The locomotive’s current service time is at twilight.

Fall Schedule

  • Sept. 9, 10, 16 and 30, Oct. 1 and 7: Excursion Trains
  • Sept. 9, 16, 23, and 30: Dinner Trains
  • Sept. 15: Dak Dillon photo charter

Visit the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad website for more information.

Santa Fe No. 3751

Steam locomotive on turntable.
Santa Fe 4-8-4 No. 3751 will appear at LA Union Station’s Train Festival in September. On April 29, 2016, the locomotive eases off the turntable at Redondo Junction, Calif. Alex Gillman photo

From one Santa Fe locomotive slated for its 1,472-day inspection, we head west to another that’s still fresh out of its own. No. 3751 returned to service in 2022 after it too received boiler work and a recertification. September will see multiple firsts for the 4-8-4 as it’s scheduled to attend the Los Angeles Union Station Train Festival 2023. The event will mark the first public outing for the locomotive this year and its first visit to the passenger terminal since 2017. Additional equipment displays, model railroad setups, and other activities will be headlined alongside the steam star.

Fall Schedule
Los Angeles Union Station Train Festival 2023 will be held Sept. 9-10 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., each day. No. 3751 will be under steam while on display at one of the platforms during the festivities. The only movements will occur during the ferry runs between Union Station and the locomotive’s home base at the nearby Amtrak maintenance facility of Redondo Junction. Visit the San Bernardino Railroad Historical Society website for more information.

Grand Canyon Railway No. 4960

Black steam locomotive pulling passenger train around curve
No. 4960 leads the Grand Canyon Railway’s Earth Day excursion on April 23, 2022. Ken Johnsen photo

A century old and still steaming, No. 4960 is the pride of the Grand Canyon Railway’s fleet. The 2-8-2 has been operating selected Saturdays since February as it navigates the twists and turns of the former Santa Fe branch line from Williams, Ariz., to the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park. With the centennial year winding down for the locomotive, two Saturday excursions remain on the schedule, including the railway’s anniversary celebration on September 16.

Fall Schedule

  • Sept. 16: Grand Canyon Railway anniversary
  • Oct. 7

Visit the Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel website for more information.

Western Maryland No. 1309

A large black steam locomotive, numbered 1309, emerges from a tunnel trailing a cloud of black smoke
Western Maryland Scenic Railroad’s 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 was photographed during a 2022 Trains Magazine photo charter. Carl Swanson photo

Following its 2021 debut and a full 2022 season, former Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 was kept out of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad’s summer lineup in 2023 for running gear maintenance. According to Executive Director Wesley Heinz, the high-pressure engine was the top priority with both the pistons and crossheads repaired and adjusted. He also reports that the annual FRA inspection was recently completed. Like with any operable steam locomotive, long-term reliability is the goal for the WMSR team. This is especially the case for No. 1309 when the “Beast of the East” is ready to climb the rugged Allegheny Mountains once again.

Fall Schedule
The railroad anticipates the fall rush at the end of September through October for No. 1309’s return to service on the weekend Frostburg Flyer and Moonlight on the Mountain excursions from Cumberland to Frostburg, Md. Visit the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad website for more information.

Pere Marquette No. 1225

black steam locomotive with large smoke plume on a clear blue sky day
Pere Marquette 2-8-4 No. 1225 operates in a photo freight near Owosso, Mich. Jeff Mast photo

Critical wheel and running gear work sidelined Pere Marquette No. 1225 in 2022. Now with the reassembly under way at the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan, it’ll all be well worth it for the locomotive’s owner and FMW Solutions. In a partnership between the two parties, 30 tons of drivers, axles, and wheel assemblies were completely rebuilt, making it the most extensive running gear work since before the 2-8-4’s retirement in 1951. If all goes according to plan, fall will mark the beginning of the “Year of the Gear” for No. 1225 as the locomotive is scheduled for an October 14, chartered excursion on the Great Lakes Central Railroad.

Fall Schedule

  • Oct. 14: State Representative Brian BeGole’s Fall Color Tour, Owosso to Alma, Mich.

Visit State Representative Brian BeGole’s website for more information.

Santa Fe No. 2926

Three-quarter view of steam locomotive under blue skies
Santa Fe 4-8-4 No. 2926 makes its first public outing to the Tractor Brewing Wells Park on May 6, 2023. Alex Gillman photo

Restored Santa Fe No. 2926 was fired up in May and August for 1-mile round trips along the Sawmill Spur from its restoration site to the Tractor Brewing Wells Park in Albuquerque, N.M. The short moves serve as fundraisers and “dress rehearsals” for the locomotive’s owner, the New Mexico Steam Locomotive & Railroad Historical Society (DBA New Mexico Heritage Rail). The next step for the massive 4-8-4 is a return to the main line to attend the upcoming New Mexico Railroad Days at the downtown Rail Yards Market – a former ATSF facility with sections redeveloped for venue purposes. While future operating opportunities involving excursions continue to be explored, all eyes from NMHR are on the Rail Yards as a future home for No. 2926.

Fall Schedule
New Mexico Railroad Days will be held on September 30 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (In addition to a night photo session from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.), and October 1 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. No. 2926 will be under steam while on display during the festivities. Movements will mainly occur during the ferry runs between the Rail Yards and the locomotive’s current home on 8th Street. Visit the New Mexico Heritage Rail website for more information.

Reading & Northern No. 2102

Steam locomotive on curve
Reading & Northern T-1 4-8-4 No. 2102 powers a 19-car Iron Horse Ramble excursion through Hamburg, Pa., on Aug. 13, 2022, doubleheading with 4-6-2 No. 425. Dan Cupper photo

While mainline steam excursions on a Class I railroad aren’t in the cards this year, the show-stopping performance by Reading & Northern No. 2102 in Pennsylvania helps to fill the void. Much like the Iron Horse Rambles in the summer, the 4-8-4 will solo the regional railroad’s Fall Foliage, all-day excursions from Reading to Jim Thorpe, Pa. The sights and sounds are at new heights with the beautiful autumn colors painted over the Keystone State landscape, while the T-1 tackles slippery rails to keep 20-plus passenger cars rolling.

Fall Schedule
Reading & Northern No. 2102 is scheduled to pull the Reading-Jim Thorpe Fall Foliage Train on Oct. 1, 14, and 21. Visit the Reading & Northern Passenger Department website for more information.

Nickel Plate Road No. 765

Steam locomotive waiting to depart during a fall day.
Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 is scheduled to power the first Fall Color Trains of the Indiana Rail Experience in October. Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society photo

The Indiana Rail Experience, a partnership between the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society and the shortline Indiana Northeastern Railroad, has an extended 2023 schedule of 30-plus operating days with both steam- and diesel-powered excursions. New to the Experience this October will be the Fall Color Trains, starring the society’s Nickel Plate Road No. 765. The 2-8-4 is scheduled to run the weekends of Oct. 7-8 and 14-15 to power the all-day Indiana Fall Color Trains from Pleasant Lake, Ind., to Hillsdale, Mich., and the Michigan Fall Color Trains from Hillsdale to Angola, Ind., respectively. 

Fall Schedule

  • Oct. 7 and 8: Indiana Fall Color Train, Pleasant Lake to Hillsdale
  • Oct. 14 and 15: Michigan Fall Color Train, Hillsdale to Angola

Visit the Indiana Rail Experience website for more information.

U.S. Sugar No. 148

locomotive over canal
U.S. Sugar 4-6-2 No. 148 and its special train charges over the Caloosahatchee Canal at Moore Haven, Fla. Jim Wrinn photo

If you’re looking for big steam in the fall while leaving behind cooler weather, look no further than central Florida. The Sugar Express with U.S. Sugar No. 148 is in full bloom with a busy 2023 season beginning as early as January. With the recent announcement of the schedule extending all the way into January 2024, the 4-6-2 will stay busy. Fall excursions, ranging from 2-hour to all-day round trips, begin on October 14 and will crisscross the U.S. Sugar Corp. system well into November. Ticket sales start on September 13.

Fall Schedule

  • Oct. 14 and 28, Nov. 25: Lake Placid Limited, Clewiston to Lake Placid
  • Oct. 15 and 29, Nov. 26: Moore Haven Meteor, departing Clewiston and Moore Haven
  • Nov. 11: Clewiston Comet, Lake Placid to Clewiston
  • Nov. 12: Highlands County Crescent, Sebring to Lake Placid

Visit the Sugar Express website for more information.

Norfolk & Western No. 611

Norfolk & Western J-class, 4-8-4 No. 611 is seen at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, N.C. The locomotive will operate on the Buckingham Branch Railroad as part of the Virginia Scenic Railway excursion this fall. David J. Stewart photo

Another mainline excursion star to find a new show on the shortline stage is Norfolk & Western No. 611. The Class J 4-8-4 is scheduled to run weekend fall excursions on the Buckingham Branch Railroad in partnership with the Virginia Museum of Transportation and Virginia Scenic Railway — the locomotive’s owner and excursion operator of the short line, respectively. The half-day Shenandoah Valley Limited will depart Goshen with No. 611 leading the train through the foliage of George Washington and Jefferson National Forest. At Staunton, diesel locomotives will be added to the other end for the return trip. With years of questions surrounding the locomotive’s operating future since the conclusion of Norfolk Southern’s 21st Century Steam Program in 2015, could this new endeavor be the long-term answer?

Fall Schedule
The Shenandoah Valley Limited will operate on Oct. 6-8, 13-15, 20-22, and 27-29, in addition to Nov. 3-5. Departure times for each day are 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Visit the Virginia Scenic Railway website for more information.

— Updated Sept. 26 at 12:00 p.m. to remove Pere Marquette No. 1225’s scheduled appearance at the Port of Monroe’s Heritage Days, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

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