2014-11-06 / Front Page

Railroad Man Buys Newport Dinner Train

By James Merolla


Seaview Railroad owner Eric Moffett finalized the transaction to buy the Newport Dinner Train operation on Nov. 3. (Photo by James Merolla) Seaview Railroad owner Eric Moffett finalized the transaction to buy the Newport Dinner Train operation on Nov. 3. (Photo by James Merolla) After a 19-year run, the popular Newport Dinner Train and its little sister, the Ice Cream Train, have been sold to Eric Moffett, a lifetime railroad man who owns Seaview Railroad at Quonset Point.

For nearly two decades, Bob and Pat Andrews and their family owned and operated the Dinner Train and developed the Ice Cream Train and the special Polar Express run in November and December.

Tens of thousands enjoyed the 22-mile, 2.5-hour ride up and back from the center of Newport, through Middletown, and into Portsmouth along the bay.

Moffett, of North Kingstown, also runs Seaview Transportation out of the Quonset Business Park in Davisville.

In a statement, the Andrews family thanked two decades of patrons. “As we begin our retirement years, we want to extend our deepest gratitude for your wonderful support and patronage over the years. The journey has been fulfilling, memorable, and has always kept us on track. Hoping to see you along the way.”

Moffett was interested in speaking about the purchase, but wanted to wait until all the legal issues were resolved and contracts signed. Others expressed their enthusiasm.

"Eric Moffett is a personal friend. He joined us at the Old Colony during high school and in fact, for several summers during college, he crashed in my attic,” said John Doyle, operations director of Old Colony Railway. “After college, Eric gained experience by working for several large railroads. He then established himself as a specialist in rail transportation logistics. He purchased Seaview Transportation in Davisville. By crossing the bay, he’s now returning to his railroad roots.”

“I am excited that Eric Moffett purchased the Newport Dinner Train,” said state Rep. Peter Martin, who was an engineer by trade and a longtime conductor for Old Colony Railway.

Martin also recalled that Moffet volunteered as a teen on Old Colony.

“I know him. I have a lot of respect for him. I see good things happening. This is great news for Newport,” added Martin.

More local railroad aficionados were pleased by the transaction.

“The sale will ensure the Newport Dinner Train continues to operate. The Dinner Train has been a popular attraction for visitors to our island,” said Chuck Flippo, volunteer conductor for Old Colony. “An experienced railroad man like Mr. Moffett will not only be able to hit the ground running as he takes over, but he should be highly capable of managing any future operational changes that might be needed. Having run a local Rhode Island railroad also means he knows the railroad people at the Rhode Island Department of Transportation who actually control use of the Newport secondary line and can work effectively with them from day one.”

Discover Newport also expressed its hope that the transition will be successful. President Evan Smith said, “Eventually all businesses change hands, or expire. Change is inevitable. When businesses do change hands the community hopes the new owner can build on and improve the foundation built by the previous owner. The Dinner Train and Ice Cream Train are important because they help diversify the travel experiences offered in our destination.”

Smith’s organization is glad the trains will stay on track for another reason. “We have lost many attractions in the last decade: Hammersmith Farm, Belcourt Castle, Astors' Beechwood, and the Newport Yachting Center. In order to remain a vibrant destination, we need to expand on and grow our visitor attractions for travelers to explore and discover.”

A Long History

This year marks the 150th year of rail service in Newport. According to local rail historians, the original Old Colony Railroad line began service between Newport and Boston in early 1864, when Abraham Lincoln was making a successful bid to return to the White House in the midst of the Civil War.

Rail service ran successfully through the end of World War I for passengers from Newport. Then a succession of events – the end of the Gilded Age, the stock market Crash of 1929, the spread of automobiles and the erection of the Mt. Hope Bridge, connecting cars from Bristol to Aquidneck Island – all served to diminish passage by rail.

Rail continued, but largely in connection with the U.S. Navy and hauling freight.

According to Old Colony Railroad Operations Director John Doyle, The Old Colony and Newport Railway was named for the original line which came to Newport in 1864, and was resurrected in 1979 by a group who had two main ideas.

“We wanted to recreate the experience of an old-fashioned train ride and in the process preserve the rail corridor (the Newport secondary track) for possible future rail development,” said Doyle. “We have run regularly scheduled trains since 1979 and currently run two scheduled Sunday trains from Newport to Green Lane. We also run some special charters up to Anthony Road on the north end. We are a nonprofit. It’s been a real pleasure providing fun train rides to thousands of folks these last 35 years.”

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