A celebration of the region’s coal heritage and its connection to railroading plus more exhibits, music and activities make for a busy weekend at Steamtown National Historic Site.
The annual Railfest returns to the venue at Lackawanna Avenue and Cliff Street in downtown Scranton on Saturday, Sept. 1, and Sunday, Sept. 2, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This year focuses on the 250th anniversary of anthracite coal’s importance to Northeast Pennsylvania with the theme “Railroading and Coal: A Labor of Love.”
“Obviously the early steam trains ran with anthracite coal, and coal was such a great part of it,” said Debbie Conway, Steamtown’s superintendent. “The two … are really closely connected.”
While visitors normally enter Steamtown for free, the site will charge what Conway called a “cost recovery fee” to offset the event’s price tag. One-day passes cost $10 for ages 16 and older and $7 for children 6 to 15, and two-day passes cost $15 for adults and $10 for children. Ages 5 and younger enter for free.
Railfest officially runs Saturday and Sunday, but the venue will host a special event to kick things off Friday, Aug. 31, when David Stone: The Johnny Cash Experience performs at 7:30 p.m. in Steamtown’s theater.
Throughout the weekend, visitors can enjoy activities such as speeder car, handcar, caboose and Scranton Limited train rides; tours of Mattes Street Tower; photo opportunities; locomotive shop demonstrations; magicians; and more live music. They also can check out model trains, visiting railroad equipment and exhibits such as “The Call of Trains” by railroad photographer Jim Shaughnessy and coal-related photographs by Scott Herring.
Guests can take pictures of their own during a special Sunday morning photo shoot. Reservations are required for the event that Conway said will offer “really unique photo opportunities.”
“Rail fans love taking pictures of trains, so we’re going to try to set up a couple special shots,” she said.
Part of Steamtown’s goal for Railfest is to bring in visiting equipment from other railroads, Conway said, but that has grown more difficult in recent years as rail lines serving the area started to charge fees. Steamtown looked for other options and came up with the idea of a joint trip — dubbed the Northeast PA Railfest Flyer — with the Honesdale-based Stourbridge line, which routinely makes sightseeing excursions to Lackawaxen.
The Flyer will run Saturday, departing Steamtown for Moscow at noon. After lunch, a bus will take passengers to Lackawaxen, where will they will board the Stourbridge line for Honesdale. Another bus then will bring them back to Steamtown, arriving at approximately 5:45 p.m.
“It’s going to be a nice little partnership,” Conway said. 
She recommends that people buy their tickets in advance so they have an accurate number for bus seating. Tickets cost $80 for ages 13 and older and $60 for children 3 to 12; children 2 and younger ride for free on a lap. The tickets include two-day admission for Railfest and lunch.
Steamtown also will offer diesel train-pulled excursions to Moscow both days. Tickets cost $24 for ages 16 to 61, $22 for ages 62 and older and $17 for ages 6 to 15. Children ages 5 and younger ride for free but require a ticket.
Visitors also can take advantage of Railfest’s proximity to La Festa Italiana on Lackawanna County Courthouse Square by riding a free County of Lackawanna Transit System shuttle between the events during Steamtown’s operating hours on Saturday and Sunday. The neighboring Electric City Trolley Museum also plans to expand its schedule of trolley rides during Railfest.
The weekend offers “a lot of really fun things that are fun for the whole family,” Conway said.
“We’re really trying to mix it up and bring in different acts and kind of different draws,” she said.