The fabled Minnesota Zephyr dinner train, the belle of Stillwater for more than 20 years, is leaving the station.

On Tuesday, crews began lifting the eight cars - weighing about 160,000 pounds each - off their siding on the north end of Stillwater's Main Street, using huge cranes.

Because no tracks remain through downtown Stillwater, flatbed trailers will be used to move the cars 5 miles south to a siding in Bayport starting early Wednesday. The process is expected to take a week.

Zephyr owner David Paradeau sold his 5.9-mile railroad corridor to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) last year for $4.25 million. That land soon will become the new Browns Creek State Trail, connecting to the Gateway State Trail west of Stillwater in the city of Grant.

Paradeau is still trying to sell the dinner train he assembled car by car and ran for 23 years, serving 1 million customers. He has advertised it nationally for two years and said he has no potential Minnesota buyers.

"It's a limited market. Most anybody that I know of who would be able to have a dinner train operation would need their own railroad," Paradeau said.

On Tuesday afternoon, a 20-person crew from Savage Heavy Haul, a Canadian company, went through a dry run before the first overnight move, backing trucks into place and coordinating how police will escort the trucks down Main Street and Hwy. 95.

The rehearsal was meant to make sure everybody involved is familiar with the operation and the route to Bayport. Cars will be moved between 2 and 6 a.m., said Tim McCaul, project coordinator. "Big job," he said.

Paradeau declined to say what moving the train was costing him except that it's "not a little money." Paradeau is also is trying to sell the shuttered depot.

"It's a major development I put together 25 years ago," Paradeau said. Once the landmark Zephyr is gone, the Browns Creek State Trail will become the new icon that will define downtown Stillwater for decades, he said.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039