I did not own a car until I was 35 years old (in 2016). And when I got one, I used it to explore parts of my region that I could not get to by train. I was driving north from Reading, Pa., when I saw the railroad bridges over Route 61 that were painted to advertise the Reading Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad’s passenger excursions. I was not interested in a steam train full of kids, but I was interested to learn that they were having a different kind of passenger excursion, one from Pottsville, Pa., down to Reading, on two refurbished RDCs (Rail Diesel Cars), which I found much more appealing. According to various railfan sites, the two RDC cars were by the Budd Company in Philadelphia in the 1950s and were used by various railroads, including the New York Central and the Reading Railroad, as commuter trains.
The trip left from Pottsville, Pa., at 0900 on a Saturday morning in June. It was a change from our normal train journeys: up early to drive to a part of Pennsylvania that we’d never been to before and riding a unique train on a route that has not been open to regular passenger traffic for at least 30 years. The train headed south from Pottsville and about 10 minutes later it was in Schuylkill Haven, where the RMBN has refurbished the town’s old Reading Railroad station as one of its corporate offices. After a brief stop we continued south, tracing the Schuylkill River and a network of tributaries and marshes that feed into it.
The highlight was definitely the visit to the RBMN’s headquarters in Port Clinton, Pa., where we stopped for about 45 minutes to tour their locomotive maintenance workshops and their corporate headquarters. The offices are housed in a building that recreates a long-demolished Reading Railroad station. The owner of the RBMN is quite the collector, and the boardroom features, in addition to lots of railroad memorabilia, a World War I-era .30-caliber machine gun complete with an ammunition belt.
Soon we were back on the train heading towards Reading, Pa. A lunch of some kind of sloppy Joe-like BBQ was served; I didn’t love it. When we arrived in Reading, there wasn’t much to see and the train reversed direction and headed back towards Pottsville.
We stopped at Port Clinton again. The first time we toured their shops south of the station/headquarters. On the way back we pulled into a different part of the facility, north of the station where the line crosses the Schuylkill and heads towards Jim Thorpe. This is where the RMBN refurbishes and maintains rolling stock from the golden era of North American railroads: steam engines (including one made at the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia) and Pullmans and other vintage passenger cars.
The final feature was another stop in Schuylkill Haven, where we toured refurbished train station, the interior of which is like travelling back to the 1950s or 60s. (There was also a framed replica of a New Deal-era notice warning that the federal government was collecting all gold currency, which I believe was, like the machine-gun, communicating some of the political beliefs of the RMBN’s owner.)
A little while later we were back where we started in Pottsville. It was a unique experience, even if not all of the views were that great, the food wasn’t the best, and I was definitely sticky and hot when I got off the train. It looks like the RMBN’s passenger service has grown greatly in the past few years: they rebuilt a station just north of Reading and are offering regular RDC excursions up to Jim Thorpe, so maybe it’s worth another look. Check them out at www.rbmnrr-passenger.com.