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By Jack M. Turner

    Following our autumn leaves excursion train ride on the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad, we drove over the spectacular Kankamagus Highway from Lincoln, NH to Conway.  The drive provided beautiful views of colorful foliage at its peak as well as the scenic Swift River.  Roughly an hour later we arrived at the popular village of North Conway, home of the Conway Scenic Railroad (CSRR) which we would ride the next day.  As we settled into our room at the Hampton Inn, we heard the unmistakable sound of a train through the wooded hillside outside our 4th floor window.  A quick look revealed a CSRR Valley Train on its way to Conway.  The same train passed again a few minutes later on its way back to North Conway.  These quick glimpses made us eager for the following day’s exciting trip over Crawford Notch.


Autumn leaves in full splendor along the Kancamagus Highway


Scenic views are visible along the Kancamagus Highway


Waterfall at Rocky Gorge on the Swift River

    Monday October 7 was Columbus Day, a major holiday in New England and a busy day for the Conway Scenic Railroad.  The North Conway station was crowded with passengers boarding the round trip Valley Train to Conway and those waiting for the Notch Train to Fabyan and return.  Once the Notch Train began receiving passengers, we climbed aboard the first class car “Carroll P. Reed”, a former Canadian National and VIA Rail Canada dayniter car.  The majority of our fellow passengers were members of tour groups which were visiting New England.  The car’s oversized windows and comfortable seats were features that made this car popular with travelers north of the border as well as modern day visitors to the Conway Scenic Railroad.


The Valley Train prepares to depart North Conway


Former Great Northern vista dome car (later Amtrak # 9469), featured on the Notch Train, seen in North Conway


The first class car, shown prior to general boarding, served Canadian National and VIA Rail Canada as a Dayniter coach

    The 9 car train eased out of the North Conway depot on-time at 11:00am behind three engines.   The first couple of miles took us over former Boston & Maine tracks.  Former B&M F-7 # 4266 was in the lead followed by ex-Maine Central GP-38 # 252 and GP-9 # 1751 which originally was rostered by the Chesapeake & Ohio.  Six minutes later we reached Mountain Jct., where the former Maine Central line from Portland, ME was joined.  North of Intervale we crossed a mountain stream then intercepted the Saco River for the first time.  The railway then passed under US 302 north of Glen and soon passed the Attitash/Bear Peak Ski Resort.  The rail line was proving to be scenic with thick woods, colorful autumn leaves, and occasional roads and businesses passing our window. 
    Just beyond milepost 70 we rolled through Bartlett, destination for some excursions from North Conway.  We were just 41 minutes into our journey and the mountain scenery was really picking up.  The Saco River was crossed twice in this stretch and the views of the rocky river, the broad valley, and the mountains were beautiful.  The Sawyers River section house, north of milepost 74, reminded us of the rail line’s history as did the many abandoned telegraph poles visible in the wooded areas along the right-of-way.  The Notch Train crossed Nancy Brook a few minutes after noon then passed beneath US 302 as we enjoyed our pre-ordered box lunches.


Crossing the Saco River

    The scenic highlight came at 12:21pm as our train crawled across Frankenstein Trestle where we were treated to views of the Presidential Range behind the deep Dry River Valley in peak splendor.  The 500 foot long bridge stands 80 feet above the deep chasm and has a 1.19% grade.  From the highway passing through the valley the trestle appears suspended high in the mountains where railroads usually don’t go.  Milepost 80 was passed at 12:25pm entering Crawford Notch State Park and the Appalachian Trail was crossed moments later.  Another scenic highlight appeared at 12:43pm as we crossed 90 foot tall Willey Brook Bridge where views of Crawford Notch were amazing.  The rail line was completed through this area in 1875, an amazing accomplishment given the region’s rugged topography.  Passenger service traversed the line until 1958 with a daily train between Portland and Montreal.  Daily freight service ended in 1963 and the line sat mostly dormant until CSRR commenced service from North Conway to Bartlett in December 1994 and extended to Fabyan in 1996.


Traversing Frankenstein Trestle


Another beautiful view from towering Frankenstein Trestle


Cloud draped mountains covered in autumn leaves


Abandoned telegraph poles such as this one seen at Crawford Notch


US 302 winds through the Dry River Valley below the railroad


Looking back at the valley in its peak foliage


Silver Cascades waterfall at Crawford Notch

Continuing north we soon spotted the Silver Cascades twin waterfalls on a mountainside across the valley beyond US 302 at Crawford Notch.  The train paused at the neat wooden station at Crawford at 12:59pm and passengers were invited to detrain to enjoy views of adjacent Saco Lake and the surrounding mountains or browse in the station gift shop.  After a 50 minute stop the train continued north, passing the famous Mount Washington Hotel, before reaching the excursion’s northern point, Fabyan Station, at 2:15pm.  Over the course of the trip, the railroad climbed over 1,300 feet.


Former Boston & Maine F7 # 4266 leads the train at Crawford


Former Maine Central GP-38 # 252 in the trailing position at Crawford


First class car Carroll P. Reed was a Dayniter coach for CN and VIA Rail Canada


One of six open window cars at the rear of the Notch Train

    Passengers remained on board as the engines were cut off and ran around the train for the return to North Conway.  The stop required more switching than usual as # 1751 was set out to be moved to Whitefield to assist with freight service.    The return trip began after a half hour stop with engine # 252 in the lead.  Just south of Fabyan we crossed the road that leads to the famous Mt. Washington Cog Railway and soon passed the stately Mt. Washington Hotel at Bretton Woods.  That hotel was the site of the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference which ratified key financial agreements at the conclusion of World War II.


The historic Mount Washington Hotel at Bretton Woods, NH

    We passed by the Crawford station 20 minutes into our return then enjoyed the view of low hanging clouds and autumn leaves in the mountain-framed valley visible from Willey Brook Bridge.  A similar view highlighted passage over Frankenstein Trestle 20 minutes later.  Interesting information about the route was provided over the PA system by Ben English, a rail historian with the Conway Scenic whose extensive knowledge of the railway and the surrounding area enhanced the trip greatly.  As we continued south, we passed Bartlett, Intervale, and Mountain Jct. before arriving back at North Conway at 4:50pm after a round trip of approximately 60 miles.


Rail historian Ben English provides information about the route to passengers

    The Notch Train includes several classes of service including open window coaches, climate controlled closed window coaches, a first class car, and a former Great Northern/Amtrak vista dome car.  A former Norfolk & Western dining car is part of the Notch Train and is a favorite of tour groups that frequent the line.  It is advisable to make reservations for dining car seating as this feature is extremely popular.  Box lunches are also available and should be reserved when purchasing tickets. 
Conway Scenic offers a variety of excursions and other special events through much of the year.  At least one route is offered on most days between mid-April and the end of December.  The Notch Train runs four times per week during the summer months and daily for much for September and October.  The Valley Train offers a short trip between North Conway and Conway on numerous dates between mid-April and late December.  A third option is the Bartlett Route which operates between North Conway and Bartlett.  A number of special events also are held each year including the popular Day Out with Thomas on two summer weekends, Murder Mystery Dinner Trains, Railfan Weekend in early September, Pumpkin Patch Trains, Santa’s Holiday Express, and more.  Information and schedules can be found at the Conway Scenic Railroad website link below.
    North Conway is a popular mountain town with a number of outlet stores and other activities to entertain visitors.  Story Land in nearby Glen, NH has long been a favorite place for families with young children.  Scenic drives connect to the area in all directions and make travel to Maine, Vermont, and Canada very easy.  We found the Hampton Inn a perfect place to stay in North Conway.


Conway Scenic Railroad
Story Land  

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