Friday, March 11, 2011

Rail Tour in The Secret City! > Part I

With Spring on the way here in East Tennessee, my wanderlust is reignited and I start imagining what experiences and sights might be possible this year! One goal for 2011 is for us to take 2 or 3 interesting and scenic rides on the railroad. It is amazing just how many rail related possibilities exist out there. They range from the exotic to simple short line trips.

Last Spring, Laurie and I took a short ride on the rails on "The Secret City Train Tour" in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This is the ALCO C-420 Locomotive that was used to pull our train. It was built in 1966, retired in 1982 and then rebuilt and repainted in 2008. (Much more on this locomotive in Part II on the Secret City Rail Tour)

For those of you who don't live in East Tennessee, Oak Ridge was the home of the Manhattan Project, the place where the USA developed Atomic Bomb which ended WWII. In 1942, the federal government in effect seized 60,000 acres of private land, giving thousands of residents about six weeks to relocate. On this land, the government built the 'secret city' of Oak Ridge along with the necessary research and production facilities. Much of the facility is still involved in national defense, although now it's referred to as the East Tennessee Technological Park.

This is the coach that Laurie and I boarded for our ride. It's an old Central of Georgia Budd coach that was built in 1947. It was later used by the Southern Railroad before being retired.

This is the inside of the passenger coach. It was well kept and comfortable, but in keeping with our exploratory nature, we didn't spend much time sitting in our seats. We did stay seated long enough to listen to the informative spiel by the volunteer from the Southern Appalachian Railway Museum as he told us about the tour and the Secret City. SARM sponsors the operation of the Secret City excursion trains.

Boarding these excursion trains is unlike any others that we've experienced. Passengers board the train at the Heritage Center. (formerly the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant) Bags are subject to search by East Tennessee Technological Park security personnel. Non-US citizens are required to provide passport and visa information prior to boarding.

This is the second car of the train that carried passengers on the day of our tour. Dining Car #3164 was built for Southern Railway in 1924 by the Pullman Company. It saw extensive use with the Carolina Special and The Tennessean via Knoxville. It was retired in 1970.

In 1945, the K-25 Uranium-Separating facility at Oak Ridge covered 44 acres and it was the largest building in the world at that time. The area was called the Clinton Engineer Works and the unnamed town grew to a population of 45,000, but it was an official government secret until 1949. All of the workers wore badges and the town was surrounded by guard towers and a fence with 7 entry points.

This is a view of the seating portion of the dining car. It's obviously a good place for those who want to socialize while riding the rails.

The 2011 Schedule of Secret City Train Tours will pick up again with multiple trips on 2 Saturdays in April, 2 in May, 3 in June, and then 2 in July, August & September. These tours operate on 10 days in October in order to take advantage of the Fall colors.

We'd never seen the business end of a dining car. This is where all the work was done. Turning out full meals in such tight quarters must have been a very challenging job!

In my next blog on this trip, I have a couple of illicit photos of railroad rolling stock that I took as we rolled through the facility. I was told that I needed to stop taking photos... Otherwise, this was a very laid back and relaxing ride on the rails.

For more information about the Secret City Scenic Excursion Train and to review the 2011 schedule, you can call 865-241-2140 or go to the Southern Appalachia Railway Museum's website at


  1. Dave, this was fascinating and its the kind of day trip I couldn't resist. I find the history of the Manhattan Project fascinating. I grew up on the campus of the University of Chicago during the war and we had several neighbors who were transferred to Oakridge. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  2. We did this a couple of years ago, but I don't think they had the dining car. Looks like they've made lots of progress since then.