Birmingham Zoo Express
The Birmingham Zoo Express and the Red Diamond Express are two-foot gauge zoo trains operating from the George G. Seibels Jr Train Station at the Birmingham Zoo in Lane Park. The zoo train, in its various incarnations, has provided over 2 million rides to zoo visitors.
Both trains operate on the zoo's 4,200-foot rail circuit. Riders purchase tokens at a kiosk that are handed to the conductor before boarding. The current conductor is Joe Meadow.
From 1957 to 1976, the zoo operated three "Grand Scale" G-16 train sets, among the last ones manufactured by the Miniature Train Company of Rensselaer, Indiana. They were constructed as representations of the first generation of streamlined diesel locomotives and scaled to run on steel tracks set 16" apart. The zoo's three trains were owned and operated by Bob Heath and Associates of Cape Canaveral, Florida. Heath designed and laid out the one-mile loop railway and invested $70,000 in obtaining the equipment and installing it at the zoo. The first public excursion left the station at 9:00 AM on Sunday July 23, 1957 with Ed Keagals at the throttle.
In 1976 the system was sold to a Mr Yarborough who operated other concessions at the zoo. He sold the #901 train to Rickwood Caverns State Park, where it was operated on an older 16" gauge track. The #900 train (pulled by the "Falcon" locomotive) was purchased by Ben and Joy Black for their estate south of Birmingham. The couple also stored, and eventually purchased, the #902 train (pulled by the "Vulcan"). They operated the trains on a 200-foot loop in their back yard until the mid 1980s.
In 2000 the Blacks donated the #900 and #902 trains to the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth, Georgia. The #900 locomotive has been restored and pulls four cars on a 1,500-foot track outdoors. The #902 has also been cosmetically restored and is displayed indoors. The museum plans to someday have both trains operating with a total of 4,000 feet of track.
Magic City Express
This train was sold to a private owner who leases it to the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum in Calera. The train was restored at the Tweetsie Railroad shops in western North Carolina with additional repair work performed by mechanic Denverd Moss. It is currently operated as the "Shelby & Southern Railroad" on the museum grounds.
Birmingham Zoo Express
The "Birmingham Zoo Express" went into service in 2001. It consists of a propane-powered engine and four open passenger carriages totaling 88 feet long with a seating capacity of about 65-75 people.
The "Red Diamond Express" was purchased and donated by Red Diamond in 2008. The new train was constructed from recycled materials and debuted with an African theme to coincide with the planned "Trails of Africa" exhibit. The train was updated with a "pirate" theme in 2017. Scenes featuring animatronic pirate figures were placed in select locations along the route. The scenes were developed to convey to children the importance of water conservation.
In 2022 Red Diamond donated a new all-electric "C. P. Huntington" locomotive and four coaches manufactured by Chance Rides of Wichita, Kansas. The train's audio/visual system communicates educational programming in the queue and on board, and also produces simulated steam engine sounds.
The new train was named "Tea" and the older "Red Diamond Express" was renamed "Coffee", reflecting Red Diamond's commercial product lines.
- Birmingham Rewound: Fun & Games www.birminghamrewound.com (October 21, 2006) - accessed July 23, 2007
- Lathrop, Dave (November 6, 2005) "Steam returns to Alabama". Railway Preservation News Briefs
- Batson, Roger Jr (July 5, 2007) "Zoo train conductor rides rail to relaxation despite old job injury."The Birmingham News
- Wolfson, Hannah (May 20, 2008) "All Aboard! Birmingham Zoo adds second train." The Birmingham News
- Byington, Pat (June 14, 2022) "Introducing “Tea” the new all-electric Red Diamond Express train at the Birmingham Zoo" Bham Now