In 1948, passengers strolled down a red carpet in New York’s Grand Central Terminal and boarded the 20th Century Limited, a gleaming streamliner bound for Chicago, with overnight compartments, art deco detailing, and white tablecloths in the dining cars. Print ads billed the experience as a ride on “the world’s most famous train.”
More than 70 years later, two refurbished railway cars—one from the 20th Century Limited, and a second vintage car from the same era—are returning to the rails.
Now in it’s third year and operated by the United Railroad Historical Society of New Jersey, the popular scenic train will offer 48 trips that depart from New York City and turn around in Albany, with dates in February, April, May, October, and November. And as part of the 75th anniversary of the first Hickory Creek Trip in 1948, the company will offer a special five-day trip from New York to Chicago, aboard a recreation of the original train, in September.
Here’s what you need to know about the Hudson River Rail excursions itineraries and how to book.
The Hudson River Rail, New York
History is taken seriously aboard these trains. Run by the United Historical Railroad Society of New Jersey, which plucked the meticulously refurbished vintage cars from the nonprofit’s collection of railroad equipment, no detail is spared. Think staff attired in vintage Pullman uniforms (plenty of passengers break out their own retro finery), a curated soundtrack featuring 1940s and ’50s jazz, and fresh flowers on the tables, just because the original railway cars had floral arrangements, too. It all channels an era when train travel was considered something special.
“We’ve tried to make it the same as it was back in 1948, as much as is practical,” says Kevin Phalon, president of the railroad society.
This time around, travelers will depart from Penn Station’s new Moynihan Train Hall—not Grand Central—at 11:20 a.m. (Tickets include access to Amtrak’s exclusive Metropolitan Lounge starting at 10 a.m.) Affixed to the tail end of Amtrak’s Empire Service, the vintage railcars take passengers on a 2.5-hour journey each way, with an “intermission” at Albany-Rensselaer station. The return trip leaves at 4:30 p.m. and arrives in NYC around 7 p.m.
The luxury-class Hickory Creek car is at the very end, with a “lookout lounge” to make the most of the oversized picture windows. A four-course meal with beer and wine is included in the price of the ticket ($349). Meanwhile, the lounge-class Tavern-Lounge No. 43 railcar features lounge seats for 28 passengers and a buffet-style meal ($149). This car is BYOB; stewards will keep wine or beer chilled and serve guests at their seats. (Hard liquor is discouraged, so keep that antique flask stashed away.)
The Hudson River Rail also has the option to purchase tickets for a group, such as renting an entire car for your history-minded cosplay squad or a family reunion. In part, this was inspired by a group of retro enthusiasts who the first year bought out an entire car, Phalon recalls. “One brought a vintage phonograph, and they started listening to records on the train.”
The cars also will be available for special events, like private events or corporate outings, on a first-come, first-served basis.
This year the two railcars will also run a Valentine’s Special service, departing on February 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14. The trips will include a six-course tasting menu with a wine pairing.
75th Anniversary Special, New York to Chicago
On September 17, 75 years to the day since its inaugural run, the Hickory Creek train will take 30 lucky guests from New York to Chicago and back on the train’s original route, returning on September 21.
According to the Hudson River Rail website, “On board, passengers will be treated to all of the amenities that were available on the original 1948 Century—first class dining, beverages served in the ‘Lookout Lounge,’ comfortable Pullman bedrooms and roomettes, an overnight shoe shine, and attentive service by stewards in period attire.”
When tickets go on sale hasn’t yet been announced but rail riders keen on the experience can sign up for email updates on the website. The tickets will be all-inclusive and will begin at $2,500 per passenger.
How to book
For the Hudson River Rail (including the Valentine’s Special), tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. ET January 20 at hudsonriverrail.com. Tickets for the Hickory Creek car are $349 ($399 for the Valentine’s Special itinerary) and $149 for the Tavern-Lounge No. 43 car ($299 during the Valentine’s trips).
Valentine’s Special: February 10–14Hudson River Rail: April 27–30; May 4–7; May 11–14; May 18–21; May 25–29; October 5–9; October 12–15; October 19–22; October 26–29; November 2–5.
More Hudson River Rail tickets will become available on February 17 at 10 a.m. ET. It’s not yet known when the 75th Anniversary Special tickets will be announced.
Kara Newman Kara Newman writes about food, drink and travel, and is the author of seven cocktail books, including Shake.Stir.Sip., about equal-parts drinks.