Wallowa Union Railroad and the Friends of the Joseph Branch released the 2006 schedule for the Eagle Cap Excursion Train in northeast Oregon this week.

The new schedule includes the schedule of the last two seasons, plus some new twists on the tried and true formula, said Janet E. Dodson, executive director of Union County Tourism.

"We are happy with this year's schedule and think it will prove popular with visitors and residents alike," said Mary Ann Keyser, excursion train coordinator. "Each season teaches us more about what our passengers want. That seems to include variety in the length of trips and what can be seen along different portions of the railroad."

A complete description of the trips is available on the Web site www.eaglecaptrain.com, or by calling Union County Tourism, 541-963-8588, or the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce, 426-4622.

The first two trips of the year will be holiday brunches. The Easter Sunday brunch, April 16, will leave the Wallowa boarding site at 10 a.m. and follow the route of the "Canyon Cruise," going as far as Kimmell, a siding downriver from Minam, before reversing direction and returning to Wallowa.

This trip takes about four and a half hours. The brunch buffet will include a huge array of breakfast and lunch items including everything from sliced baked ham and scrambled eggs to pastries, lunch meats, fruit and salads. A similar buffet will be served and the same route will be traveled for the Mother's Day Sunday brunch trip on May 14.

"There was a lot of interest in taking the train back to Joseph," Keyser said, "and the idea came up to make them one-way train rides instead of our usual round trips."

"So, passengers will have the option of boarding at Wallowa in the morning and riding across the valley to Joseph, then taking a motor coach back to Wallowa, or, boarding the train in the afternoon at Joseph, riding to Wallowa, and taking a motor coach back to Joseph."

These trips will include about two and a half hours on the train and a 30-minute motor coach ride. The morning trip will include a light lunch, while the afternoon passengers will enjoy a dessert buffet.

The full season begins with a Canyon Cruise on May 27. After that, trips are offered for every Saturday through most of October, plus a few Thursdays. In addition, the train can be chartered for special events, such as reunions, weddings and parties.

Response to the excursion train was excellent in 2005, Keyser said. In spite of mid-season equipment challenges, the train brought in considerably more revenue than the previous year.

In addition, group tour operators brought several motor coaches full of passengers and some charters were sold for unscheduled days.

"The new schedule has lots to offer and it's time to spread the word and begin selling tickets," Keyser said. "With our limited marketing budget, we need the help of area residents in telling their friends and relatives about the excursions and helping us promote riding the train."

Ticket prices range from $25 to $90, depending on the trip length and the passenger's age. The Eagle Cap Excursion Train is operated by the Wallowa Union Railroad, with assistance from the Friends of the Joseph Branch.

It runs on the 60 miles of track between Elgin and Joseph, and is owned by Wallowa and Union Counties through an intergovernmental agreement. WURA also operates a freight train.

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