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The iconic Grand Canyon Railway steam trains are set to return starting the first Saturday of each month through October 2024, the railway announced this week.

The railway’s two fully-restored early 20th century steam engines, including Baldwin Locomotive Works engine No. 4960 originally built in 1906 to haul Midwest freight, will power special themed journeys on April 23 for Earth Day, August 12 for the steam engine’s birthday, and September 21 for the Grand Canyon Railway’s anniversary.

Only the 9:30 AM Saturday departures from the Williams, AZ depot will be powered by steam. The railway said the schedule is subject to change.

Steam train operations were used more regularly for decades until railway suspended steam operations in September 2008, citing steep diesel fuel costs and environmental impacts. At the time, railway operator Xanterra said each round trip of a steam locomotive burned through 1,450 gallons of diesel fuel and 1,200 gallons of water, substantially more than their diesel-electric engines. Industry experts pointed to sinking ridership and record fuel prices during the recession as additional factors.

The iconic puffs of steam returned on September 19, 2009 when the railway unveiled renovations to run the engines on waste vegetable oil collected from restaurants across Northern Arizona. A new rainwater collection system to fill boilers was also installed in the engine repair shop to support steam operations.

“Steam locomotive No. 4960 first carried passengers to the Grand Canyon over 100 years ago, and we are proud to bring back this lost tradition,” said Railway CEO John Smith. “Seeing these engines powered by renewable fuels and water is something all Arizona residents should experience.”

The 310-ton Grand Canyon railway train was converted to run on a blend of recycled vegetable oil and snowmelt in 2009.

At their peak in the early 20th century, over 30,000 steam locomotives were operating across the United States. Today, railway preservation groups estimate less than 200 remain in existence, with only a small fraction still offering public excursions.

Passengers interested in reserving seats aboard the iconic steam trains should visit the Grand Canyon Railway’s website. A variety of one-day excursions and vacation packages are available for booking.

Cover photo courtesy of: Grand Canyon National Park

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