Dining on the rails: Santa Fe Southern Railway

The Santa Fe Southern Railway has suspended service until further notice. We hope they come back. We loved our dinner on wheels.

Trains fascinate kids. The Little Engine That Could and Thomas the Tank Engine have been beguiling youngsters for decades. I still remember my first train ride on the New York Central from Grand Central Station to Rhinecliff, in the Hudson Valley. I was five. That fascination seems to continue into adulthood. There are a lot of train buffs out there. Steve and I love riding the rails. One of our big dreams is the train ride through the Canadian Rockies and there are some other iconic train exursions we’d love to take. When we were invited to go on one of the inaugural dinner trains on the Santa Fe Southern Railway (SFSR), we jumped at the chance.

Santa Fe Southern Railway

The circa 1950 engine pulls the train on teh way out- pushes it on the way back photo/Steve Collins

A bit of history

In 1881, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (AT&SF) opened a 16-mile spur line (now 18 miles) to bring passengers from Lamy (where the transcontinental trains left them off), to Santa Fe. AT &SF passenger service ended in 1942. In 1992, the Santa Fe Southern was born. They ran vintage trains, seasonally, along the former spur line; some went to the Galisteo Basin and returned while and others continued to Lamy before returning to Santa Fe. In May 2013, instead of opening for the season as planned, the SFSR abruptly announced they were closing.

Santa Fe Southern Railway, vintage trains, Santa Fe, train tours,

The vintage 1920s turquoise cars on the Santa Fe Southern Railway photo/Steve Collins

Santa Fe Southern Redux

Last spring, Las Vegas Railway Express, Inc (X Train) took over the management of passenger service on the SFSR. This month, they launched their luxury service to Lamy. They are running the original SFSR engine, circa 1950, two of their 1920s “Turquoise Cars,” (one set up with tables and chairs for dining) plus an open-air flat car. The new owners have added two 1950s  cars  to the train. The Mojave Lounge Car saw service on the AT&SF’s Super Chief from Chicago to LA from the 1930s. The Keystone Grill, started out as a parlor car on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s The Congressional. In the 1980s, it was outfitted with a Kitchen, buffet counter and booth seating for 32. It remains that way today.

The Diamond Class <ojave lounge car, photo/Steve Collins

The Diamond Class Mojave Lounge Car, photo/Steve Collins

The Experience

We the first dinner train with the new luxury cars added. Our seats were in the Mohave. The seats run parallel to the windows affording superb views once you get out of the city. Try to get seats on the east side of the car to take advantage of the spectacular west facing views of the Jemez, Ortiz and Sandia Mountains. Depending on the time of the year, you may get spectacular sunset views. Our train was a few minutes too early to catch these. The friendly, accommodating staff starts the ride off with a safety lecture, no oxygen masks or floatation devices necessary, and the bar is open (credit cards only). A glass of red or white wine included with Diamond Class service and there’s a full bar in both classes. Need anything, just ask, if it’s available they will get it for you.

Santa Fe Southern Railway

The salad course, photo/Steve Collins

The three-course “farm to train” dinner starts with a salad, which you pick up in the cafeteria-style line. If you don’t want to get up, just ask one of the attendants to bring it. This is followed by an entrée course with will usually offer a choice of three dishes; two for meat-eaters and a vegetarian option. A dessert course completes the dining experience. Executive Chef Tim Welc plans to change the menu frequently to keep it fresh and interesting. The SFSR will attempt to accommodate special diets whenever possible, according to Bobbi Dragone, Director of Marketing and Events for both X-Train and the SFSR.

Chicken Osso Buco one of the entrees offered photo/Steve Collins

Chicken Osso Buco one of the entrees offered accompanied by potatoes and sauteed green beans photo/Steve Collins

Before or after dinner check out the open-air flatbed car where there are wonderful views. You can watch the high desert landscape as it goes by with the wind blowing in your hair. But, hold on to your hat, one actually flew off someone’s head. Luckily, it was caught before it blew away. On the return trip, look up; on a clear night you’ll see the glittering starry sky.

Between the entrée and dessert, the train pulls into Lamy. It’s a short stop (15 minutes), enough time for a short tour of the station area with one of the train’s staff members as guide. Passengers are asked to listen for four whistle blasts announcing that it’s time to get back on the train. Dessert was served on the platform and most diners took it back into the train to eat. This may vary from train to train and seasonally.

Santa Fe Southern Railway

The Victorian era Legal Tender bar and restaurant and the Lamy Railroad Museum, photo Billie Frank

The passengers

We didn’t have a lot of people on the train; service is new and the word’s not out yet. Passengers were a mix of local people and tourists. One Milan, Italy native currently residing in San Francisco loved her experience so much she booked the brunch train for the following day. “The light will be different,” she said. We had several birthdays (the crew, aided by the passengers, sang “Happy Birthday,” and there were a few anniversaries, too. It seems like some people are seeing the trip as a way of celebrating a special event. We had a congenial group; people were chatting and seemed to be having a great time.

Santa Fe Southern Railway

The open-air flatbed car, photo/Steve Collins

The service options

The Santa Fe Southern Railway runs both a brunch and sunset/stargazing dinner train Wednesday through Sunday. Each run offers both Diamond (first) and Turquoise classes. The SFSR will run year-round. There will be special trains on holidays such as Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. The railway plans to introduce murder mystery and other special event trains in the future. For complete information including rates and times check their website.

Dusk trackside in Lamy, photo/Billie Frank

Dusk track-side in Lamy, photo/Billie Frank

We loved our sunset train ride. “It’s not about selling a train ticket or a meal,” Dragone said. “It’s about selling an experience.” If our excursion was typical, SFSR delivers. All aboard!

Santa Fe Southern Railway

Passengers waiting to board the train, photo/Steve Collins


2 Responses to “Dining on the rails: Santa Fe Southern Railway”

  1. Leigh
    August 26, 2019 at 10:07 am #

    A train trip sounds like a great way to experience a small part of New Mexico. I hope the numbers go up so the service keeps going. I would definitely do this on a visit to Santa Fe.

    • Billie Frank
      August 26, 2019 at 12:27 pm #

      I think this will catch on as it’s great fun. The old SFSR was a bit boring, but the current management is into making it a success and they seem to have a great formula.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge