Jul 10, 2024

Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad experiencing best summer on record

Posted Jul 10, 2024 7:00 PM
Abilene Smoky Valley Railroad's restored 1945 diesel engine.<br>
Abilene Smoky Valley Railroad's restored 1945 diesel engine.

Abilene Smoky Valley Railroad

The Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad is experiencing its best summer in the organization's 31 year history. After the long Independence Day weekend, the A&SV has hauled 6,233 passengers so far this year, compared to just over 3,000 a year ago, and 1,500 for the same period in 2022. The A&SV has drawn passengers from five countries, 37 states, and 246 Kansas communities.

The passenger totals reflect ridership on A&SV excursions, dinners and charter trains.

"We've been overwhelmed," said A&SV President Ross Boelling, citing increased marketing efforts and an ambitious 2024 schedule that featured running more trains than in previous seasons as reasons for the uptick in passenger totals. Another factor has been the 2024 Kansas Legislature's designation of the A&SV as the state's official heritage railroad and the railroad's prized steam engine, Santa Fe 3415, as an official state symbol.

The biggest factor explaining the A&SV's popularity this season is Kansas Tourism's "Sunflower Summer," a program that offers free summer rides on the Flint Hills Express excursion trains to Kansas families with pre-K through 12th grade home, public or private school students.

"We have been overwhelmed by the folk's response to this program. We are just halfway through the season and our ridership is well over 100% higher than for the same period in 2023," said Bolling, who noted that the A&SV has already hosted 2,372 Summer Sunflower passengers from 115 communities across the state.

With six weeks remaining in the program, Boelling sees no sign of the demand for train rides waning.

"We have been operating near our 140-rider capacity and have sold out a few trains," Boelling said.

Anyone with the Sunflower app can only get their tickets within one hour before train departure times, and Sunflower Summer tickets are issued on a first-come, first-served basis.

"It's advisable to arrive at the depot early," he added, noting that tickets for passengers not eligible for the Sunflower Summer program can be purchased in advance at the railroad's website, asvrr.org.

The Dickinson County Heritage Center and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum also participate in the program, which concludes on August 11. Tickets can be used once per attraction per season. More information about the program is available at SunflowerSummer.org.