The Downtown Arrow

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The Downtown Arrow ground to a halt as it approached the crossing with a major freight artery.

In the distance a Norfolk Southern mixed freight train whizzed by, not taking notice to the excursion train and its passengers patiently.

Within minutes, the freight had passed and the Arrow’s locomotive, an EMD GP7, picks up speed as the engine and its three coaches start moving again, briskly crossing the multiple freight tracks. The train navigated switches on its approach into Terminal Station.

In the distance, passenger cars sit parked at the station’s platforms. But, there were no passengers waiting to board, and the cars weren’t about to embark on a journey. Passenger trains have long been silent in this railroad town, but the image on this summer afternoon was an eerie glimpse back at how the busy railroad station must have once looked.

Today, the only trains serving Chattanooga’s Terminal Station are those from the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, a group of railfan’s who banded together to preserve history. The museum operates excursion trains year round near the former East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroad’s right of way.

The museum owns forty acres, property that includes four railroad bridges and the historic 984-foot long Missionary Ridge Tunnel. The structure, completed in 1854, was an important location during the Civil War Battle for Chattanooga. Likewise, railroads throughout city made Chattanooga a strategic location during the War Between the States.

Train lovers will marvel at not only the chance to ride aboard a vintage train, but the opportunity to examine vintage cars and locomotives up close. The museum’s collection includes: steam locomotive No. 4501, built in 1911; the “Eden Isle,” a 1917 office car; dining car No. 3158, built in 1924; “Clover Colony,” a 1924 heavy weight Pullman once used by Marilyn Monroe; and a 1927 wooden caboose which saw service on the Florida East Coast and the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis railroads.

The museum offers two different excursion trains — a local service and the Downtown Arrow. The local excursion trains takes passengers on a six-mile round trip to the East Chattanooga depot. There, guests watch as railroad workers turn a locomotive on a vintage turntable to prepare the train for a return trip. The Downtown Arrow shuttles passengers from the museum into Terminal Station, the once busting heart of Chattanooga.

Opened on Dec. 1, 1909, Terminal Station served passenger trains for six decades until the last departure on Aug. 11, 1970. At its heyday, 14 tracks brought 68 arriving and departing trains to and from the station every day. Once closed, the building was to fall victim to the wrecking ball. But, a year after the last train left, a group of businessmen vowed to save the depot.

And today, the station is a hotel.

The Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, named after Glenn Miller’s 1941 hit of the same name, greets visitors in a different fashion. Today, the 24-acre Choo Choo hotel offers more than 360 comfortable rooms and suites, including the 48 rooms aboard former passenger cars. A vintage 1924 trolley, which once ran the rails in New Orleans, shuttles passengers around the premises.

At the hotel, guests have plenty of opportunities to pick up souvenirs at one of the hotel’s 10 retail stores. And, don’t forget the food. The Chattanooga Choo Choo offers a wide selection of dining at five unique restaurants.

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About Todd DeFeo 1651 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is the owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and