Construction began in 1846 on the Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad, so business travelers and others have been gazing out the windows of trains 1)huffing north into the White Mountains of New Hampshire for quite some time. Eddie and Brenda Clark only took the idea of a train rolling through tree-carpeted countryside and turned it into a 2)lavish autumn excursion for sightseers in no particular hurry.
When the Clarks bought the line in the 1980s, they originally had in mind a railroad theme park. That plan grew into the 3)Hobo and Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroads, which cover about 55 miles of track in New Hampshire.
The trip “fits that whole image of New England in the fall,” said Emily Clark, Eddie and Brenda's daughter-in-law, who works for the family-owned Hobo line.
It is one of many 4)vintage (or tourist) railroads—using steam or diesel engines—in the Northeast that do most of their business in the autumn, and for good reason: They take sightseers through woodland faster than on foot but slower than in a car. On the tracks, “you make good progress, but you aren't flying by, unable to enjoy the view,” said Jim Wrinn, editor of Trains magazine.
5)Aesthetically, vintage steam or diesel locomotives offer trips back in time. Although the notion of “6)foliage trains” has been around since tourist railroads replaced some working ones 50 years ago, Mr. Wrinn said these trains retained their popularity because most roll through undeveloped land, like woods and farms.
“You can drive and see the fall colors, but you're spending 75 percent of your attention on the road,” Mr. Wrinn said, “while with the train, you can let someone else take care of the transportation, and you can enjoy the changing 7)kaleidoscope of autumn colors.”
Some of the rides are open-air, and Mr. Wrinn said that onboard, “there's a certain joy in feeling the chill of the air in your face—it's a subtle reminder that this beauty is 8)fleeting and should be 9)savored.”
The Catskill Mountain Railroad, which runs between Mount Tremper and Phoenicia near the Esopus Creek, 10)chugs through a 11)majestic tunnel of tree branches that looks like a cathedral. The Wilmington & Western, a 10-mile excursion, travels from the Coastal Plain region to the Piedmont, offering a glorious display of hardwoods with leaves in blazing colors.
Many of these 12)panoramas cannot be seen from a road or are very difficult to access, even on foot. The Potomac Eagle runs along the south branch of the Potomac River, near Romney, W.Va. David Corbitt, president of the railroad, said there was no way a car could get down into the deep valley, locally known as the Trough.
That's one reason the landscape remains 13)pristine. Mr. Corbitt said, activity around eagles' nests among the limestone cliffs is at its peak in the autumn. Fox and bear sightings are common. Waterfowl migrate through the area. Paddlers in canoes or 14)kayaks can enjoy the autumn scenery, Mr. Corbitt said, “but that's aboutit.”
The mood on a foliage train tends to be more 15)serene than it is in the summer, Ms. Clark said, because children have returned to school, and the riders tend to be older. And as leaves 16)thin, rock formations and waterways are more visible.
Those who built railroads like the Boston, Concord and Montreal through the Northeastern United States more than a century ago were simply trying to find a way to transport freight and passengers from one rural 17)outpost to another. Now passengers are looking for a way to move like a 18)slowpoke.
“You definitely get that old-world 19)nostalgia,” Ms. Clark said.