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Back by popular demand, the West Chester Railroad hosts a history train where people can ride on coaches built in the early 1930s for the Reading Railroad.
The ride runs eight miles to Glen Mills and back again, allowing passengers a scenic view of Chester County.
“You’re looking at over 150 years of history for West Chester,” said David Walter, West Chester Railroad treasurer and historian. “It’s important future generations learn about their past. If you don’t know the past, you can’t understand the present and you can’t plan for the future. We’re happy to run these trains.”
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Sunday’s afternoon trip took a coach-full of people on a 90-minute tour, with stops including Oakbourne Station, Westtown Station, Chesterbrook Farm, Cheyney Station, Locksley Station and Glen Mills.
The train boarded at the Market Street Station in West Chester.
The track the train runs on is the second set of tracks built by the West Chester & Philadelphia Railroad Company, which saw its first train reach the borough on Nov. 11, 1858.
“It actually stopped right here (at the Market Street Station),” said Jim Jones, professor at West Chester University. “It was kind of a big deal. Between 1858, when the first train got here, and 1881, when the Pennsylvania Railroad acquired everything, there were a whole bunch of leases and sales back-and-forth that created the network here in West Chester.”
The tracks were all electrified in 1928.
Around a third of the railroad still exists today.
The train played an important role during the Civil War in the 1860s when West Chester’s regiment, the 97th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, was transported from its training grounds of Camp Wayne — the current site of West Chester University — to Philadelphia.
“On Nov. 19, 1861, they marched up Church Street to the cheers of thousands and thousands of West Chester residents,” Walter said. “They were given a luncheon on Market Street and got on the train right here. At 11:20 in the morning, they went off to Philadelphia.”
Along the route, both Walter and Jones gave historic backgrounds to the war and each of the stops along the way.
Once at Glen Mills, passengers were given the chance to disembark and enjoy a picnic lunch at the station of Picnic Grove next to the Chester Creek.
Glen Mills is the end of the scenic trip, though the tracks continue on for another five miles to the Elwyn Station where SEPTA continues to run into Philadelphia.
“We make enough money to keep it maintained and hopefully a lot of people will continue to come out to our trains and ride them,” Walter said.
The West Chester Railroad offers more than just the historic train.
“There is a picnic train every Sunday at noon,” Walter said. “We also do charters, so if people want a birthday party for their child, we’ll do those.”
The West Chester Railroad even took part in a bigger celebration recently.
“We had a wedding party on the train earlier this year,” Walter said. “They got married in the Glen Mills Station.”
Though the history train drew a good-sized crowd of roughly 50 people, the West Chester Railroad would love to host more.
“We wish there were more people,” Walter said. “Word is getting around. A couple people said we should run the history train in the fall when the leaves are changing and down and you can see more of the historical structures.”