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Green Mountain Railroad - White River Flyer

White River Junction to Thetford, Vermont (October 2010)

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The Green Mountain Railroad's White River Flyer

White River Junction, Vermont

A beautiful early fall day is a perfect time for a ride on the Green Mountain Railroad. They offer three routes for tourist excursions: Burlington to Charlotte ("Champlain Valley Flyer"); Bellows Falls to Chester Depot ("Green Mountain Flyer") and White River Junction to Thetford ("White River Flyer"). We'd originally planned to take the Green Mountain Flyer but they had only a single trip that day and it was already fully booked. As an alternate, we focused our attention on the White River Flyer and had a great time. This stretch of track hugs the Vermont side of the Connecticut River, departing from the Amtrak station in White River Junction. There is a stop near the midpoint where passengers can chose to leave the train to visit the Montshire Museum of Science, then hop back on the train during its next cycle to make it a complete afternoon. The train then continues up to Pompanoosuc Mills in East Theftord and returns in reverse back down the same route, a total roundtrip of about two hours.

The Start of the White River Flyer

Preparing to Board

We boarded the train at White River Junction, a town of about 2,500 people in Vermont at the confluence of the White River and the Connecticut River. It's location made it an important and prosperous railroad junction starting in the 1840's until the rise of the Interstate highway system more than a century later. In addition to the Green Mountain Railroad, the Amtrak "Vermonter" stops here on its daily trip between Washington, DC and far northern Vermont, at St. Albans. While the railroad isn't nearly as important as it once was, the town has reinvented itself as a tourist and artistic center, featuring a historic district with numerous late 19th and early 20th Century structures of various architectures. It's a great place to shop and grab a meal either before or after the train ride.

Inside an Antique Railroad Car

Riding in Vintage Style

The ride in an antique passenger car was pleasant although I can't imagine what it would be like to take a days-long journey in one of them. The conductor provided a running commentary of the sites as they slowly passed by the windows, pointing out sights and covering the local history. A small snack bar sat in a corner of one of the cars for those who needed a little treat along the way.

The train moved leisurely along the river, passing fall foliage and the sculling crews from Dartmouth College practicing their strokes in their racing shells. Decaying and long-obsolete telegraph poles, some still with rusted wires lined the route, having once followed the railroad right-of-way to send their messages to distant lands. Trestles crossed over wetlands and marches where the bank didn't have enough room for a track. Children waved to the train from their yards as it passed by their homes.

Train Along the Vermont Border

Rolling Along the Connecticut River

I'd thought that the Green Mountain Railroad was only a weekend excursion line, but it has a much more interesting history and provides a lot more than tourist trips. It started out as something of a hobby railroad in the 1960's for a millionaire who collected antique trains and railcars. The line continued after his death and carried freight through various parts of Vermont. The Green Mountain Railroad was purchased by, and became one of several lines under the umbrella of the Vermont Railway. It still carries freight during the week but switches to a seasonal passenger excursions primarily on weekends during the summer/fall and for special events or charters.