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One of our antique Alco Locomotives

About Our Train

History of the Napa Valley Railroad 

The Napa Valley Wine Train's history is almost as old as the state of California's. The rail line upon which the train travels was built in 1864 by San Francisco's first millionaire, Samuel Brannan, to transport visitors to his spa resort of "Calistoga." Shortly thereafter, Brannan was forced to sell many of his holdings to pay for his divorce, and the railroad became the property of California Pacific Railroad. Then in 1885, Southern Pacific bought the Napa Valley Railroad. During the late part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, the railroad played a vital role in the economic and agricultural development of the Napa Valley, and provided regular passenger service to the communities of the Valley.

With the birth of the automobile, however, the train began to lose much of its former importance. Passenger service was discontinued in the 1930s. In 1960, Southern Pacific abandoned the right of way between St. Helena and Calistoga, and eventually, Southern Pacific was running only one freight train a week on the remaining tracks. In an effort to make a profit on the faltering rail line, Southern Pacific decided to abandon the line and sell the property in 1984.

The Founding of the Napa Valley Wine Train

Some of the people in Napa Valley did not want the rail line to be abandoned and lost. Lou Schuyler, a retired Southern Pacific Engineer, had driven freight along the route, and understood the significance and beauty attached to this specific railroad. After discovering Southern Pacific’s plan to abandon the rail line, he formed a group called, “The Society for the Preservation of the Napa Valley Railroad,” and went on a quest to put a rail saving measure on the Napa county ballot. The intuitive failed to pass, but the overwhelming public support of the railroad peaked the interest of a group of concerned Napa citizens. This group, founded by Dr. Alvin Lee Block was known as the Napa Valley Wine Train Inc. Their goal was to create a railroad that would preserve the transportation corridor for future use and reduce traffic congestion in the Valley.

Immediately, the Napa Valley Wine Train Inc. went on a hunt to find investors. Their search led them to San Francisco resident, Vincent DeDomenico, inventor of Rice-A-Roni and former owner of Ghirardelli Chocolate and Golden Grain Pasta. DeDomenico loved the concept of the Wine Train and offered to buy the whole operation. The Napa Valley Wine Train Inc. sold him most of the shares in the company and appointed him as the Wine Train’s President and CEO.

With DeDomenico involved, the Napa Valley Wine Train was finally able to buy the line from Southern Pacific and begin the transformation into the company that it is today. The company began to acquire antique rail stock and renovate them into beautiful, elegant cars. The Wine Train also began to hire their team. There were food and service experts to provide visitors with an unmatched luxury rail experience; engineers, conductors, and mechanics to operate the antique railcars; and reservation agents, managers and many more employees to make the company function.

On September 16, 1989, the Napa Valley Wine Train took its inaugural passenger trip and has been steadily running through the Valley ever since.

Wine Train Today

In 2007, DeDomenico and his wife Mildred passed away but the company is still run by his family. His son-in-Law, Greg McManus, took over as CEO until August 2012, when the family appointed Napa native and Wine Train employee of more than 20 years, Tony Giaccio, as the new CEO. Vincent DeDomenico’s granddaughter, Kira Devitt, is the Director of Marketing and Public Relations. Other members of the family also stay active as board members, investors and shareholders of the company.

History of the Cars

1915-17 Pullman Cars

In 1915 the Northern Pacific Railway (NP) bought 33 new First Class Coaches from the Pullman Company. These cars, numbers 1200 through 1232, were put into service on the Northern Pacific's premiere trains, the North Coast Limited and the Northern Pacific Express/Atlantic Express. The new cars were around 83 feet long and were built entirely out of steel. An all steel car offered significant improvements in safety to rail travelers. Wood cars were more likely to break up, burn, or be telescoped in an accident. The trade-off was that these newly built steel cars were heavy. Each weighed about 141,100 pounds and rode on six-wheel trucks. Other amenities of the newly built cars included electric lights, steam heat, and arched windows. Originally, a single car contained seating for up to eighty four passengers.

In 1935, after 20 years of service that included the heavy traffic loads of World War I, the railroad began rebuilding the cars. The United States was in the middle of the Great Depression, and passenger traffic was down significantly from 20 years earlier. Competition among the railroads was great, each trying to outdo the others to attract a larger number of travelers. In order to remain competitive, the NP decided to install better seats, to give the passengers more room, and more significantly, to add air conditioning equipment. This was the general state of the cars in 1960, when the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad purchased eight of these cars for its Ski Train service from Denver to Winter Park. NP 1214, 1217, 1225, 1227, 1216, 1213,1210, and 1218 became D&RGW 1011-1018. In 1987, the Denver Ski Train began looking to update their train with modern lightweight cars. Around the same time, the Wine Train began searching for vintage heavyweight cars. They contacted the Denver and Rio Grande, and were able to purchase 1011-1018. Today, we have 6 of the Denver and Rio Grande cars on our consist. 1011 is the Cabernet Sauvignon Lounge Car, 1013 is the Silverado Dining Car, 1014 is the Zinfandel Dessert and Wine Tasting Car, 1015 is the Le Petite Gourmet Dining Car, 1017 is the Merlot Dessert Car and 1018 is the Chardonnay Lounge Car.

The Napa Valley Wine Train began an extensive restoration project to restore and recreate the cars. Using the Orient Express, Andalusian Express, and other luxury railroads as a model, the train was furnished with Honduran mahogany paneling, brass accents, etched glass partitions, and velveteen fabric armchairs. Great effort was exerted to ensure that the interior of the railcars evoked the spirit of luxury rail travel at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Two of the Wine Train’s other 1915 Pullman Cars were originally built for the Southern Pacific Railroad and were used as heavyweight passenger coaches. They were purchased from the South Carolina Railroad museum. Today, car 1090 serves as the Napa Valley Wine Train's 'Chef de Cuisine' kitchen car. Guests are invited to observe our chefs in action from the windows of a mahogany-paneled passageway that passes by our onboard kitchen. Car 1052, is our Deli Car and is not attached to the main Wine Train. Instead, it is attached to Engine 62 and used for special trains like the Cheers Train during Cheers St Helena.

Car number 1100, or our Gourmet Express Dining car, was purchased from a private citizen in the late 1980s. This car, built in 1917, was originally a Pullman Sleeper Car, and was one of our first dining cars.

Vista Dome Car

Ten Dome Cars, numbered 50 through 59, were built in 1952 by Pullman Standard. These were the first "full domes" built and the first Pullman Standard domes with curved glass. They seated 68 above and 28 in a cafe downstairs and needed 16 tons of air to cool the cars. A 70hp diesel generator was included. Our Dome car, number 52, went into service on the Olympian Hiawatha. It was then transferred and renamed several times, becoming Columbia and numbered CN 2405 by Columbia National, then named Mt. McKinley by Princess/Tour Alaska. Next used on the Princess California Express, it became Amtrak Auto Train number 9311 before finding its home at the Napa Valley Wine Train as the Champagne Vista Dome. This car's exterior was rebuilt in the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus train yard.

Grappa Power Car

Originally a boxcar, the newest addition to the consist was renovated in the Wine Train's train yard in Napa over an 8 month period and joined the daily runs in June 2013. The power car ensures constant power supply for the train, operating lights, air conditioning, fans, and the kitchen, even when the engines do their turnaround in St. Helena. It could possibly be the only power car in existence that passengers can enter and walk through while in operation. It is aptly named after the strongest alcoholic beverage made from grapes.

Our Locomotives

FPA-4 Diesel Locomotives

What does FPA-4 mean? 'F' for Freight, 'P' for Steam Generator, and 'A' for Cab Unit. Diesel locomotive means that diesel engines drive an electric generator which provides electricity to the traction motors that turn all four sets of wheels on the locomotives.

The ALCO FA was a family of B-B (two identical trucks, or wheel assemblies under the locomotive) diesel locomotives designed to haul freight trains. Our locomotives were built in Montreal Canada at Montreal Locomotive Works, the Canadian equivalent to the American Locomotive Company (ALCO). NVR70 was built in 1958 and 71,72 & 73 were built in 1959. They are dual passenger-freight versions of a Cab Unit design. Geared to operate at more than 90 mph, they were originally equipped with steam generators for heating passenger cars. The steam has been replaced by our Head End Power (HEP) units that provided electricity for the passenger cars until the addition of our Grappa power car in 2013.

Newer mechanical design and models manufactured by General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) and General Electric (GE) ultimately led to the retirement of the locomotive model from service. Several FPAs still exist in a preserved state in railroad museums. In addition to our operating FPAs, a few are in operational status for the Grand Canyon Railway.

Our four ALCO FA4 diesel locomotives were purchased from the Canadian National Railroad.

Locomotive 73 (Compressed Natural Gas)

The Napa Valley Wine Train started a program for the experimental conversion of a Napa Valley Wine Train ALCO locomotive to 60% natural gas and 40% diesel fuel mixture. In 1999 the conversion became permanent. A total conversion of locomotive 73 was completed and it was put into service using 100% Compressed Natural Gas on 5/14/03. 

Read more about the conversion in our blog, entry: News from the Rail Yard.