On the Bay Creek Railway, passengers are served high-end dinner on low-speed rail.
Passengers on the Bay Creek Railway enjoy lunch. Right: Rider competing in a show at VHC.
Every Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 6:30 p.m., the Bay Creek Railway No. 316 departs from Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore with up to 30 passengers. Two hours later it arrives back in Cape Charles with exactly the same number. But it’s not the destination that counts, because the No. 316 is no commuter train; it’s Virginia’s only full-service dining car, where passengers can enjoy haute cuisine on the move.
The Bay Creek Railway is owned by developer Dickie Foster, 68, and his son Jeff, 42. They wanted to add a unique, historical component to their Bay Creek Resort & Club residential and vacation community, which sits around historic Cape Charles on the western coast of the Eastern Shore, so they searched far and wide for just the right vintage railroad car. They eventually found the 1913 Interurban—one of the last cars made of wood, before steel became the construction material of choice—abandoned on a ranch in Fort Worth, Texas. An extensive repair process—“It wasn’t cheap,” says Jeff Foster— returned the No. 316 to its former glory (but with air conditioning).
The diesel-powered dining car departs Cape Charles and crosses over Highway 13 where waiting automobile drivers wave to passengers as the motorman blasts the horn. Passengers then take in the rolling fields and small churches of the Eastern Shore as the train passes through Cheriton before reversing direction at Eastville and chugging back to Cape Charles.How does Jeff Foster describe passengers’ reactions? “For older diners, it’s nostalgia. They remember when they used to ride the train on the Eastern Shore Railroad, which stopped service in the 1950s. For younger passengers it’s more of a novelty, because they’ve never experienced a passenger train like this before.”
But the real highlight of the journey is inside the car. The four-course dinner, which includes entrées like Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, Lemon and Rosemary Roasted Chicken, and Pan Seared Pork Chop—all served from the dining car’s galley—costs $55, with lunch available for $25 on Saturday afternoons. But don’t worry. Though Bay Creek Railway is mostly faithful to its early 20th century origins, one period detail left firmly in the past is Prohibition: Beer, wine and cocktails are served on this train.