Located in Branson, Missouri, the Branson Scenic Railway is a historic passenger railroad offering 40-mile roundtrip picturesque tourist excursions through Branson’s downtown business and entertainment area and the nearby Ozark Mountain range. The city of Branson, Missouri primarily owes its status as a major tourist destination to its railroad operation at the turn of the 20th century.
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Early business in the Branson area dates back to 1882, with the opening of a country store and post office by Rueben S. Branson, near the confluence of the White River and Roark Creek. Development of a small town, named Lucia at the time, followed Branson’s development, and in 1902, the White River Railway began to develop a route through the area. Because of the rugged terrain of the Ozark Mountains area, construction for the railway proved difficult, requiring thousands of workers and more than $12 million in construction costs to achieve its 1905 start of operations. Following the opening of the railroad line, which ran between between Batesville, Arkansas and Carthage, Missouri, the area started to develop as a tourist destination, earning the nickname the “Live Entertainment Capital of the World” by the 1990s. The railroad route was eventually incorporated into the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and later, into the Missouri and Northern Arkansas Railroad. In 1993, the rail line entered into an agreement with the MNA to create the Branson Scenic Railway for the purposes of historic tourist railway excursions.
Routes and Tours
Today, the White River Route departs out of Branson’s historic 1905 depot station and operates two routes from March through December, a northbound route to Galena, Missouri and the James River Valley and a southbound route to Arkansas’ Barren Fork Trestle. Much of the route’s territory is fully inaccessible by car and other transportation, offering unique views of the Ozark Mountains that cannot otherwise be reached by tourists. Two to five train routes operate daily according to seasonal schedules, embarking for morning, afternoon, and evening tours. As the railway shares its route with operating commercial lines, excursion route direction is determined by the MNA immediately prior to departure due to traffic and track conditions.
Within the Branson area, the train’s route runs next to the White River, renamed Lake Taneycomo within Branson city limits as a result of its confinement by the Powersite Dam in 1913. Once the route leaves Branson city limits, the railway traverses through the Ozark Mountains, crossing a number of tunnels and trestles, including Crest Tunnel, Cricket Tunnel, and Walnut Creek Trestle. All Railway excursions are fully narrated, highlighting natural and cultural landmarks such as the ghost towns of Melva, Gretna, and Ruth. Routes travel approximately 20 miles from Branson before returning along the same tracks, with excursions lasting approximately one hour and 40 minutes. Due to limited seating space, advance reservations are strongly recommended for all excursions.
For northbound excursions, a 1951 EMD F9PH locomotive is used, originally constructed for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and formerly used as part of Maryland’s MARC train system. Southbound excursions are powered by a 1962 EMD GP30M locomotive, a B&O Railroad train formerly used by the CSX Railroad. Seating aboard the Railway’s passenger cars is unassigned, encouraging passengers to travel freely throughout historic train cars and enjoy the panoramic views provided by the 1947 Silver Island, 1952 Silver Garden, and 1952 Silver Terrace dome cars. A concession area located within the 1951 Silver Lake Buffet Lounge car offers snacks and refreshments aboard regular excursions. Between April and October, Saturday evening dinner trains are also offered, providing traditional four-course meals by candlelight aboard a 48-seat 1956 Silver Chef Diner car.
Since the 1980s, Branson, Missouri has risen to become one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the American South, coined the “Live Entertainment Capital of the World” after a 1991 60 Minutes feature on its many live country and popular music venues. More than 50 theaters are located along the city’s famous “Strip” portion of Highway 76, which serves as a popular destination for more than eight million annual visitors. Country and popular music stars such as the Osmonds and the Lennon Sisters perform regularly at theaters, along with a wide variety of tribute artists honoring performers such as Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, and Patsy Cline. More than 200 retail options are offered, including the 95-acre Branson Landing shopping complex and a Tanger Outlets center. Other major attractions include the Silver Dollar City amusement park, the Hollywood Wax Museum, the Titanic Museum, and Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. A variety of family-friendly outdoor activities are also offered, including go-karting, miniature golf, and horseback riding.
206 E Main St, Branson, MO 65616, Phone: 417-334-6110