Emerson Zooline Railroad: 50 Years of Tracking Smiles

It is easy to see why the Emerson Zooline Railroad has been one of the Zoo’s top attractions for 50 years. The Railroad has taken 35 million visitors on this wild ride since its first trip on August 30, 1963. The nation’s largest miniature rail line, the Zooline Railroad became the Emerson Zooline Railroad in 2010 when the Zoo received a $5 million, multi-year gift from Emerson Electric Company.

There’s a lot to celebrate with the Zooline Railroad. Visitors who ride the train are significantly more likely to rate their overall satisfaction as excellent versus those who did not. Surveys show the Railroad remains the #1 paid attraction at the Zoo.

The Railroad offers a comfortable way to get around the 90-acre Zoo campus. It also provides an experience few of us get to have anymore: riding in an open-seated coach pulled by a locomotive engine. The Zooline’s engines are one-third-size replicas of the original C. P. Huntington—a famous steam locomotive first built in 1863. Known as the "Iron Horse," the C. P. Huntington helped build the first transcontinental railway.

Bells, Whistles of Steam Engine

Though the Zooline is gasoline-powered, it has the bells and whistles of a steam engine—including an engine weighing 6,600 pounds. Carrying passengers over 1.5 miles of track that includes 8,638 railroad ties, the Railroad can reach a top speed of seven miles per hour. Six locomotives, each weighing an impressive 6,600 pounds, pulling five trains of six coaches each, bring Zooline seating capacity to 78 adult passengers. Each train was fitted in 1995 with a special coach to accommodate riders who use wheelchairs, and all engineers are specially trained on how to secure visitors on to this coach.

Railroads like the Zoo’s are timeless experiences. They parallel our history from the westward expansion, to industrialization, to the family road trip. Railroads were a game changer for America, and we hold onto the feelings and memories of riding the rails. At our Zoo, we work hard to recreate the railroad’s golden age from the replica of one of the most famous locomotives, to engineers dressed in traditional overalls, striped hats and bandanas, to making travel easier for families. We are truly lucky to have this incredible experience as part of our great Zoo history.

Jump onboard the Zooline Railroad this year to help us celebrate 50 years of tracking smiles. What a wild ride it has been—and still is!

Working on the Railroad

The Emerson Zooline Railroad employs 30 engineers, five dispatchers and 50 conductors. The Railroad also has a railroad manager, a master mechanic, an assistant mechanic and a general laborer. Many of the Railroad’s engineers came to the Zoo as retirees who flew commercial airplanes, served as FBI agents, supervised security at General Motors, engineered complex equipment at Emerson Electric, served in the military and even on real rail lines.