Iowans will soon be able to ride the rails on what are known as “railbikes,” which resemble steel-framed go-carts that you pedal on railroad tracks with a battery assist like electric bicycles.
Mary Joy Lu is CEO of Rail Explorers which is launching service in Boone this month. Lu says railbike riders will start at the historic Boone Depot, pedaling across farmland into the Des Moines River valley.
“We go over two magnificent bridges,” Lu says. “One of them is the Bass Creek High Trestle and that is 900 feet long but 160 feet off the ground, which is really the complete thrill seeker’s moment of this ride.” The route will take riders about six-and-a-half miles from the depot where they’ll enjoy stunning views and might spot a few bald eagles fishing along the waterway.
“We disembark and guests can have a break by the banks of the Des Moines River. We have a little picnic area set up,” Lu says. “Then we turn the railbikes around because they each weigh 1,000 pounds so they’re pretty heavy. We have a hydraulic turntable on the track that lifts and turns them around, then you pedal back.” There are two- and four-seat railbikes with the costs averaging about $40 per person. Groups of about 20 railbikes will be leaving the depot in a group, with guides at the front and back, but with plenty of space in between.
“We’re allowing an hour-and-a-half to two hours depending on how long people are staying out there,” Lu says. “I think with the motors, it makes pedaling effortless so people of all ages and ability really aren’t going to be troubled, so that everyone will be able to travel at a pretty constant, consistent speed.”
Rail Explorers is partnering with the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad and anyone who’s taken the Boone Dinner Train will be familiar with the stretch of track as it’s the same course. “Yes it is, but it’s just a completely different experience because, imagine the dinner train with the lid off it and being one foot off the track — that’s what your experience is going to be,” Lu says. “So when you go over that trestle bridge, you’ve got 160 feet below you and just this crazy, magic carpet ride across it.”
The rides will debut on July 21st, running Thursday through Monday through perhaps mid-November. Lu says they’re looking to immediately hire about 30 railbike guides. The company has railbikes in four other locations in the U.S: Las Vegas; Newport, Rhode Island; and in Cooperstown and the Catskills in New York.