For the first time since a restaurant stopped its dinner trips decades ago, trains hauling people departed from Victor on Saturday.


 

Small groups of men clutching cameras stood poised at most every intersection along the old Lehigh Valley railroad bed Saturday morning, eager to snap a photo of the first passenger train to debut in at least 20 years.

Their waiting paid off as a Finger Lakes Railway Corp. train carrying more than 150 passengers chugged by, having departed from the recently upgraded tracks by Village Hall at about 9 a.m.

“We will be traveling at an average speed of 15 miles an hour,” announced the railway company’s Deb Najarro on board. “This is not the Black Diamond.”

But much of the excitement — at least among those poised with cameras — was the fact that it was the very route of the Black Diamond Express, which rumbled through at the turn of the last century.

The Black Diamond, cars replete with polished mahogany, inlaid and beveled French plate mirrors, and dome ceilings finished in white and gold, carried businessmen, honeymooners bound for Niagara Falls and other well-heeled travelers of the Gilded Age.

The first Finger Lakes Railway train to depart Victor Saturday morning carried its own well-heeled passengers — about 150 community VIPs. Among them, Mayor John Holden and village trustees, Town Board members, schools Superintendent Timothy McElheran, town Historian Babette Huber and various other public officials.

“Growing up in the age of automobiles and airplanes, it’s wonderful step for me and for the village of Victor to have the first train ride in a long time,” said Huber.



The automobile and airliner indeed stole the Black Diamond’s thunder. Passengers returned to trains on the tracks in the early 1980s for meal excursions to Shortsville offered by the former Blacksmith Shop restaurant, where Mickey Finn’s Station One is now located. But those trips, too, eventually fell by the wayside.

Until now, the tracks had been used little — only “1 percent of the time that they lay here,” Najarro, of Finger Lakes Railway, told passengers on the inaugural run as they stared out the windows at the passing scenery — from overgrown brush, fields and backyards to some of the community’s fanciest homes.

Victor is now the western-most stop for the Geneva-based Finger Lakes Railway, which runs a freight line and passenger excursions at several other stops, including Canandaigua, Shortsville, Clifton Springs, Phelps and Geneva.

Victor resident Sue Stehling has pushed the concept — bringing passenger trains back to Victor — for decades as a way to boost the village’s ongoing revitalization efforts. For one reason or another, the plan never came to fruition.

The train idea resurfaced several months back, among a task force of residents looking at ways to revitalize the village as part of the nearly two-year-old, townwide Strategic Plan. A spin-off railroad committee, made up of Stehling, fellow train-buff Warner Fisher and several others, was formed. The group met just about every week with Local Development Co. director Kathy Rayburn and stayed in close contact with Najarro.

Organizers originally planned to hold a festival to mark the train’s inaugural run, but wound up downscaling plans because of uncertainties over how long it would take to upgrade the tracks.
Saturday’s event was a festive atmosphere nonetheless: The parking lots by Village Hall were lined with tents under which model trains were set up, informational pamphlets were passed out, and T-shirts and eats were for sale. Folk musicians played train-themed songs for the crowd. After several speeches were made, the mayor ceremoniously hammered a golden railroad spike into an old wooden tie. 

Next summer, organizers hope to go forward with a larger festival. They’re also hoping to develop the sliver of land by the tracks off West Main Street, starting with the addition of an old trolley station that’s being donated by Victor residents Lou and Maureen Giancursio.

“I’ve had many offers to sell it,” said Lou Giancursio after stepping off the train Saturday. “It’s historically significant. Instead of turning it into money, I’d like it to go to the town so future generations can enjoy it.”

Three public train excursions followed the VIP ride Saturday. The final trip was a last-minute addition because of the high demand for seats.

That’s just what organizers were hoping for.

“We needed another tourism outlet for this area, and this is it,” said Rayburn.

The next Victor train excursions — family rides during the day and “Blues & Brews” — that’s blues music and beers — for the adults at night — are scheduled for Sept. 20.  For more information, call Finger Lakes Railway at (315) 374-4994.

Contact Jessica Pierce at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 250, or at jpierce@messengerpostmedia.com.