PORTSMOUTH — Matt Shaw lives 90 minutes away from Portsmouth in Northborough, Mass., but said he had to make the trip after reading about a new thing called Rail Explorers on the internet.
“We got a group together to come down to celebrate our friend Will’s 30th birthday,” said Mr. Shaw. “He’s a huge train fan, so we were all very excited to come up. His fiancée, Sam, planned it.”
No, he said. He had never done anything like this before.
“It just seemed like a really fun thing to do for a birthday party,” he said.
Rail Explorers, the “eco-tourism business” owned by the husband-and-wife team of Mary Joy Lu and Alex Catchpoole began its first “Northern Ramble” runs Saturday morning from the “Portsmouth Grove Station” at 1 Alexander Road at Melville.
The business has operated since 2015 in the Adirondacks, between Saranac Lake and Lake Clear, and plans to also start tours in the Catskills this year in addition to Aquidneck Island.
Before posing for the official ribbon-cutting photo with the first group of passengers, Ms. Lu said she was excited for the first day in Portsmouth.
“It’s going really well,” she said. “The first tour of our first day in Rhode Island is sold out. Our team is learning the ropes. We’ve got some experienced people who we brought from the Adirondacks and then we’ve got about 16 new hires here in Portsmouth.”
Rail Explorers use “rail bikes” of various sizes that have four steel wheels, hydraulic disc brakes and pedals for each seat. All passengers must wear seat belts and one person in each car manages the brake.
“Right now for this season we’re going to end at Anthony Road, on the other side of the Montaup Golf Club. We go six miles north and the passengers disembark and our bus, our coach, will be waiting for them. At the same time, we’ll be delivering the next tour group out,” Ms. Lu said.
The rail cars go in only one direction. “We have a hydraulic turntable on both locations, so when you get up there the guides turn the rail bikes around and bring them back,” she said.
The tours, available through November, take about two hours and the rail cars travel at about 6 mph. Flaggers are posted at various intersections for safety’s sake.
Parking and depot
There were four tours Saturday from Melville, which now has a small train depot shack that was built by Bill’s Sales in Portsmouth.
“We’re going to wait a few weeks and paint it when the weather gets warmer,” said Ms. Lu.
J.A.M. Construction Company, Inc. built a 400-foot parking lot just east of the depot and also put down seashells and did the grading.
Rail Explorers is partnering with Newport and Narragansett Bay Railroad, which runs the Newport Dinner Train on the same line.
It costs $125 for a four-person rail bike, $75 for a two-seater and $45 for a single “VIP jump seat.”
Ninety-minute tours of the “The Southern Circuit” — heading south from the Melville station — will begin on June 28.
For tickets and more information, visit www.railexplorers.net or call 877-833-8588.