What are Heritage Railways?

Heritage railways is a railway system that has been preserved to depict the history of railways. Although the historical railway infrastructure has been taken over by modern railway systems, the efforts to preserve and maintain railways of the past continue even today. Furthermore, historical characteristics such as the water cranes, hand-operated points, and rails fastened with hand-hammered rail spikes are also preserved. These railway systems are not meant for tourists. Instead, they represent the historical infrastructure and soundscapes of the past. Let’s take a look further into where Heritage Railways stand today and what is their importance in a world occupied by modern railways.


When it comes to railway operations, the first thing that comes to mind is tokens. Tokens were and are still used in many countries to acquire train services. One can call it lack of modern technology or the desire for historical accuracy but they remain relevant after all these years. Furthermore, heritage infrastructure and operations always required the assignment of roles based on historical occupations. Some were handed the task to collect the tickets while others were employed to serve the passengers. Moreover, in some cases, people also volunteered such as in the case of signalmen and station masters. Although heritage railways used the traditional rolling stock but the modern railways can also be used to mimic heritage railways on historical line infrastructure.


Children’s railways

Children’s railwaysChildren’s railways are extracurricular institutions that allow both kids and teenagers to study and learn about railway work. The first children’s railway was opened in Moscow. In 1932 and when the USSR broke, 52 children’s railways were existing in the country at the time. Even though the fall of communist governments resulted in the closure of some railways but those present in post-soviet states and Eastern European Countries continue to be preserved.

In addition to that, the majority of children’s railways were built on parkland in urban areas. Therefore, the parks were always free for redevelopment. Children’s railways have managed to preserve their original infrastructure including vintage steam locomotives and rolling stock etc. In addition to that, the engines are still capable of carrying passengers.

Mountain Railways

Sarganska_osmicaWhen it comes to creating railway structures up steep hills, there are many obstacles that need to be overcome. Such projects require steep grade railway technologies and extensive tunneling. If the engineers were to use a narrow gauge, it would allow them to create tighter curves in the track and offer a small tunnel size and structure gauge. As the railway structure moves to high altitudes, further complexities arise. Limited urban development, logistical difficulties, and special rolling-stock requirements have resulted in many mountain railways remaining unmodernized.

Pit Railways

KongensgruvePit railways were introduced and are still seen serving underground mines all over the world. These types of vehicles carry the waste rock, ore, and workers through tunnels that are narrow. In some cases, the train was the only method of transportation for passengers due to the passages between work sites and the main entrance. However, many pit railways have been abandoned due to the closure of mines or the adoption of new transportation equipment.

Underground Railways

Metro 1, which was built from 1894 to 1896 happens to be the oldest line of the Budapest Metro system and is the second-oldest underground railway system in the world. During the 1980s and 1990s, the M1 underwent several major reconstructions. Today Line 1 serves eight original stations, the appearance of which has been preserved as well.

Around the World

United Kingdom

Heritage_railwayIn Britain, heritage railways were often railway lines that were once used as commercial railways but were not wanted, closed down, or acquired by non-profit organizations or volunteers. Furthermore, Britain is home to a large number of heritage railways due to the fact that many minor lines were closed during the Beeching cuts of the 1960s and were comparatively easy to revive as well. In total, Britain today is home to around 100 and 150 heritage railways.

Furthermore, a typical heritage railway in Britain will use the original rolling stock and steam locomotives to represent historical railways but some are focusing on both electric and diesel attraction to re-create the post-steam era. Such railway systems travel occasionally on partial routes and charge a high fee as compared to transit services. Therefore, heritage railways mostly focus on tourists and leisure markets. During the 1990s and 2000s, some heritage railways decided to carry on their operations. As a result, they extended their running seasons and carried commercial passenger traffic.


Central Slovakia is home to the CiernyHron Railway, which is a narrow-gauge railway. It was introduced in the first decade of the 20th century and served as a freight railway, carrying logs belonging to the logging industry. From the late 1920s to the early 1960s, the trains were also carrying passengers between the villages of CiernyBalog and Hronec. As a result, the railways became the biggest and most extensive forest railway network of Czechoslovakia. In 1982, the railways saw their closure and became a part of the heritage railway. Since 1992, it has remained one of Slovakia’s official heritage railways and manages to attract thousands of tourists each year.



Finland is home to a dedicated museum line, which is owned by the Finnish state rail network and is situated between Porvoo and Olli. In Southern Finland, it exists as the only railway featuring structural details abandoned by the rest of the network, carrying passenger traffic. Gravel ballast, wooden sleepers, and low rail weight with no overhead catenary make it a uniquely historical railway.

United States

United States

In the United States, heritage railways are considered or termed historic, tourist, or scenic railroads. There is a fair share of original railroads remnants and reconstructed railroads as well. Furthermore, some heritage railways are still preserved in their original state and feature original track, structures, and motive power.

Final Word

Each country mentioned above one way or the other has tried to preserve its historical locomotives. Moreover, volunteers and non-profit organizations have stepped in as well to safeguard history for years to come. While some are strictly meant to showcase history, others continue to carry passengers. Whatever the case maybe, heritage railways continue to remind us of the golden periods of railway networks and infrastructure.