Hundreds of people from across the country will descend on Willimantic on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 13-14, during a rare passenger rail trip the likes of which have not occurred since 1983.
These passengers will board refurbished former Amtrak passenger cars for the “Willimantic Special” train ride, organized by the Mass Bay Railroad Enthusiasts (RRE) in cooperation with the Providence & Worcester Railroad, which brings riders from Worcester to Willimantic and back again.
The trip will include traveling over P&W’s newly restored Willimantic Branch, a section of tracks that has not borne passengers through a publicly organized excursion since Aug. 7, 1983, according to RRE President David Brown.
The idea proved so popular, the originally scheduled Oct. 14 trip sold out within a month, prompting the RRE to organize an almost-identical trip for the day before.
“This was quite unusual,” Brown said. “Part of it is the fact that it hasn’t been done in a long, long time.”
He said the ride will also take passengers through “a nice part of the country.”
“This trip has actually attracted national attention,” he said, citing already-registered passengers hailing from as far as California, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Departing at 9 a.m. in Worcester, the round-trip ride will take passengers through Putnam and Plainfield to Willimantic, where visitors can explore the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum and downtown during a two-hour stop, before returning to Worcester at approximately 6 p.m.
The trip will include two or three “photo run-by” stops in which passengers can step off the train and photograph the train as it passes by.
During the two-hour Willimantic stop each day, locals who cannot participate in the full-day trip will be able to enjoy a shorter, one-hour ride departing from Bridge Street at 1:15 and returning at 2:15 p.m.
That short ride will be able to accommodate roughly 150 passengers, Brown said, with no advance reservations and cash-only fares paid at boarding time.
The train’s total capacity is approximately 230, he said, so over the course of the weekend, up to 460 out-of-town passengers could visit Willimantic.
The Oct. 14 tickets were sold out by Labor Day, and with two and a half weeks to go, over half of the Oct. 13 tickets are already sold, Brown said.
He said these rides bring together “all kinds of people,” including both “people with above-average interest in railroads and trains” and those who have never stepped foot on a train.
Brown described riding a train as a unique experience.
Riding in a train “gives you a really unique perspective on the countryside,” versus driving a car or traveling in a plane. “You see America’s backyards,” Brown said.
Begun in 1934, the Mass Bay RRE is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit educational corporation promoting public interest in and understanding of railroads.
For pricing, route and more information, visit www.massbayrre.org, call (978) 470-2066 or e-mail email@example.com. Tickets may be ordered by mail or by phone.
Posted Oct. 2, 2012 as edited by HTNP.com Editor Brenda Sullivan
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