‘Rail bikes’ will explore Aquidneck shoreline's scenic beauty

Rail Explorers will offer tours starting next month

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — If you’ve ever wanted to ride the rails with yourself as the engineer, you’ll have your chance next month.

Rail Explorers, an “eco-tourism business” owned by the husband-and-wife team of Mary Joy Lu and Alex Catchpoole, will be offering tours along the existing railroad tracks on the town’s west side starting in April.

“Our business is about rail bikes and how we can take you on an amazing journey using railroads,” Ms. Lu told the Town Council during an informal presentation Monday night. 

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.

Locally, tours will be offered between Newport and the Sakonnet River with the cooperation of Eric Moffett of the Newport and Narragansett Bay Railroad. Tours will start April 8 and run through November, weather-permitting, said Ms. Lu. 

Portsmouth will act as its own “region” for a tour, “so you don’t have to go down to Newport to be cool,” she said.

Those tours, using a total of about 20 rail bikes, will start at Melville Marina and proceed north to Anthony Road. The tours go in only one direction, so guides will take guests off at Anthony Road and transport them back by van to Melville, she said.

“In the future we hope to go all the way up to the Sakonnet Bridge,” she said.

Steady as you go

The tours are all about exploring the west shoreline’s scenic beauty; if you have a need for speed, Rail Explorers is probably not for you.

“It takes about an hour to ride six miles. It’s a very even, steady pace,” said Ms. Lu.

Still, riders are required to wear a seat belt on the rail bikes, which are equipped with double-hydraulic disc brakes and “can stop on a dime,” she said.

For safety’s sake, “flagmen” will be situated at the busier crossings such as Bristol Ferry Road and Willow Lane, Mr. Catchpoole said. By law, the railroad always has the right of way, but riders will be instructed to be careful crossing other streets that are “un-flagged,” and warning signs will be installed at those intersection, he said.

In addition to traffic signs, markers will be placed along the tracks to point out various spots with historic significance. The business has been working with the Portsmouth Historical Society, several members of which previewed the rail bikes on a cold day back in January.

As for the cost of the tour, it’s $125 for a four-person rail bike, $75 for a two-seater and $45 for a single “VIP jump seat,” Ms. Lu said.

Rick Best is the general manager of the local venture for the Rail Explorers team, which also includes Portsmouth’s Mark Stenning, the former longtime CEO of the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport. During the peak season, Ms. Lu said Rail Explorers hopes to employ 35 people locally.

For more information about Rail Explorers, visit www.railexplorers.net.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.