SUMMARY: Despite the occasional delay and/or equipment problem, this is a fantastic train ride on one of the top historical railroads in the nation. The short run will give you a taste, and the long run is worth it with some caveats.
First things first. There's two listings on tripadvisor for the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, neither description is updated for the recent extension of the line. I will detail the current conditions. I am the top non-employee expert on the current conditions on this line. I have ridden the short run, long run round trip and long run one-way. If you look up virginiatruckee on youtube you'll see a lot of my videos which show the reconstruction process and show rides on the train.
Second, the phone number given is not accurate, if you go to virginiatruckee.com you'll see information for the short run (Historic Route) and the long run (Sisters in History). To inquire about the short run, call the private V&T offices at 775 747-0380 or see their website at virginiatruckee.com. For information about the government-sponsored long run, call the Carson City Convention and Visitor's Bureau at 1800-NEVADA1. You can also buy long run tickets on their website at visitcarsoncity.com.
The short run has been in business for 35 years and goes between Virginia City and Gold Hill. The long run goes between Carson City and Virginia City. The short run is privately operated. On the long run, the private V&T is contracted by the government agencies who spent $40 million to rebuild about 15 miles of track. You are getting a good deal on the long run tickets, because the true costs are much higher than your ticket price. The long run is subsidized about 40-50% this year, so "ride it while you can."
For most people who are not die-hard railfans, if you don't want to dedicate hours to a train ride, just ride the short run. Other reviews that complain about equipment problems are simply reporting one-off events, not regular conditions. The short run, in my opinion, shows you the best scenery of the trip, one tunnel, and a taste of the railroad without taking your whole day. I recommend the short run. There are several narrators, so it's a toss up as to who you get and what you hear. Check the schedule online so you don't have to wait 45 minutes for the next train. Also call Grant at Rides for Tips at 775 813-9531 to arrange a shuttle from anywhere in Virginia City to the depot.
Now on to the long run. I don't recommend the round-trip unless you're really dedicated. The first half up and the last half down is not that scenic, showing you a gravel pit, a race track, a highway, a less than impressive Eastgate Depot in Carson City, a storage business, and the "metal building capital of the world," Mound House. Once you get past the gravel pit, the tracks curve up, through a tunnel and into American Flat. While I love high desert scenery, the trip through American Flat takes a lot of time. Then you arrive in Virginia City around noon and have to spend three hours there without a car. The return trip leaves VC at 3pm. This is by design, to get you to spend money in Virginia City.
If you have two cars and a group, I strongly recommend the one-way trips, downhill Fridays and Saturdays at 8am from Virginia City, or uphill Fridays and Sundays at 4:30pm. Friday trains are pulled by a diesel, while (equipment willing) the weekend runs are pulled by steam. Currently they are using a Mikado, McCloud #18, to run the trips.
Here's the strongest point I can make -- the round trip is too long for most, especially families with small kids who will miss their car during the three hours in Virginia City. The most interesting long run trip is the uphill steam ride Sunday afternoons. Finally, at $50 per adult, the round trip gets expensive for a family. You can ride the one-way for under $30 per adult, you will get your fill and not too much, and then pick up your second car to tour Virginia City.
All schedules, fares, etc are accurate as of Summer/Fall 2010. Do call ahead to verify what you're reading here, the CCCVB at 1800-NEVADA1 is better at answering quickly, the private V&T at 775 847-0380 maybe take (much) longer to get back to you.
Finally, remember, these steam locomotives are nearly 100 years old. They are NOT modern transportation. Your trip should go smoothly but occasionally problems happen. It's part of the experience (unfortunately). This should not stop you from riding, but those with limited time should just stick to the short run.
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