Strasburg, Pennsylvania is in the middle of Amish Country and many tourists visit to go sightseeing in the area. The most popular attraction in Strasburg is the Strasburg Rail Road. It is considered the oldest railroad in the United States.
Heritage Rail Alliance describes Strasburg Rail Road as America’s oldest operating railroad. Smithsonian Associates defines it as the oldest line in the country operating under its original charter. Discover Lancaster Organization recognizes Strasburg Rail Road as the oldest continuously operating railroad in the western hemisphere.
Founded in 1832, and still operating, Strasburg Rail Road is known as a short line and is only seven kilometers long. Short lines connected passengers and goods to a main line that traveled to bigger cities. When the Philadelphia – Lancaster Turnpike was opened, travel along Old Conestoga Road decreased. This was the first economic threat that would hinder Strasburg.
The second hindrance was when the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad circumvented Strasburg by nearly 5 miles, leaving the town without a direct transportation connection to the borough of Lancaster.
The Strasburg Rail Road was founded on June 9, 1832 in an effort to increase the town’s economic prosperity and to give the town a direct connection to the mainline freight service. By 1954, the Strasburg Rail Road had weathered four wars, three depressions, and one government takeover. Through it all, the railroad continued to operate on its 4½-mile run to the mainline, despite the rapidly declining condition of its weed-infested rails.
Through much of the early 1950s, railroad operations were sporadic at best. With hauling roughly 200 carloads of freight annually and with annual gross revenue of less than $3,000, the Strasburg Rail Road was the smallest and possibly the poorest railroad in the nation. The lack of frequent business, inadequate funds, and insufficient manpower were three reasons why the physical condition of the railroad was so dilapidated.
During its first century of operation, its significance was small. Functioning as a short-line railroad, its main purpose was to connect a rural feed mill with the larger Pennsylvania Railroad. Between 1960 and 1991, Strasburg Rail Road’s stockholders acquired 5 steam locomotives.
Today this oldest railroad in America, Strasburg Rail Road, is still a popular family destination. They offer authentic passenger steam train rides through Amish Country with many different seating options.
The Strasburg Rail Road now operates as a heritage railroad, preserving and showcasing historical steam locomotives and vintage passenger cars. Visitors have the opportunity to experience train travel as it was during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Throughout the year, the Strasburg Rail Road hosts special events and themed train rides, such as the Santa's Paradise Express during the Christmas season, Easter Bunny Train, and various steam locomotive festivals.
*Note: Some sources claim that Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) is the oldest railroad in America. But that is inaccurate. While, it is true B&O was the first railroad in America established in 1827, it no longer exists as it was officially dissolved on August 31, 1987. This makes Strasburg Rail Road the oldest continuously operated railroad in America.
*Fun Fact: The United States has the world's largest railroad network at nearly 150,000 kilometers. In fact Guinness World Records states the largest national railway network is that of the United States of America.