Trails and Excursion Railroads
Heritage Rail Trail County Park
York County, Pennsylvania
Opened in August 1999.
The Heritage Rail Trail was developed on an
existing double-track corridor with one set of tracks remain-
ing in place. The trail winds for 22.8 miles through largely
rural landscapes between York and New Freedom. When the
Heritage Rail Trail first opened, it shared the corridor with the
Northern Central Railway Liberty Limited dinner train. By
late 2001, insufficient ridership caused the Northern Central
Railway to cease operations.
But after 12 years of inactivity, rail service was returned to the
Heritage Rail Trail County Park in 2013 with the introduction
of “Steam into History,” a project of a local nonprofit group
of rail enthusiasts which raised funds to build a 1860s-era
reproduction locomotive. The restored locomotive and two
passenger cars began running on 10 miles of the corridor.
Today, re-enactors on the train and along the trail add to the
excitement of a train ride through history. Steam into History
is planning to soon offer bike shuttle service between New
Freedom and Hanover Junction.
The County of York purchased the corridor from
PennDOT for $1, under the provision that one set of tracks
had to remain within the double-track corridor. There is no
barrier between the rail corridor and the trail. Separation be-
tween the center line of the track and the edge of trail averages
five feet. The trail’s surface is primarily crushed stone, with a
few paved sections where frequent storm damage has occurred.
The average width of trail is 10 feet, and the trail crosses the
railroad corridor 16 times over its 22.8 miles. All rail crossings
are paved, and in each instance the trail crosses the rail line at
an approximate right angle. There is railroad crossing signage
at each of these crossing points. The excursion train travels at a
speed of between 10 and 15 mph, and railroad staff walk ahead
at each rail crossing to ensure trail users have stopped to wait
for the train to cross the trail.
A lease and operating agreement was negotiated
between the County of York and Steam into History which
stipulates that Steam into History insure the county and park
which owns and manages the trail. Special mention is called to
the fact that an existing underground utility (fiber optic line)
lease takes precedence over rail operations and any future rail
freight service would take precedent over the tourist train. The
tracks are currently maintained solely by the nonprofit organi-
zation to run the tourist train at very low speeds.
Steam into History is not responsible for upgrading the tracks
for freight service. The reintroduction of train service along the
Heritage Rail Trail corridor was welcomed by the County of
York and the county’s parks department, and the relationship
between the train and the trail is proving to be mutually ben-
eficial. The retail businesses in the Borough of New Freedom
are seeing increased commercial traffic drawn to the commu-
nity by the train. More information:
and Steam
into History:
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy)