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All Aboard! Texas Steam Train or Railroad Excursions

Updated on November 23, 2014

Of the railroad excursions listed below, I've only journeyed on one of them. I have taken the Texas State Railroad excursion of between Palestine and Rusk. It would have been about 15 years ago when my children were small. My son loved trains and he thought it was the grandest of adventures. My daughter found it to be quite relaxing and slept through much of it.

There was drizzling rain coming down the day we took our excursion. The cool dampness added to the charm of the ride where we were able to open the windows.

I have seen the Grapevine Railroad when we were shopping in the area at Christmastime.

I plan to ride both the Grapevine Vintage Railroad, as well as the Hill Country Flyer before the year is out.

Steam locomotive
Steam locomotive

Texas State Railroad

The Texas State Railroad was established by the Texas prison system in 1881. Inmate labor was utilized to build the rail line. This line was used to transport hardwood. This wood was then used to fuel the furnaces at the prison-operated iron smelter at the Rusk Penitentiary. Iron products, such as the columns and dome structure of the state capitol building in Austin came from this smelter.

It wasn't until 1909 that the rail finally ran all the way to Palestine.

In 1913 the Rusk Penitentiary was converted to a state mental hospital.

In 1921 the rail line was leased to the Southern Pacific Railroad Co and later the Texas Southeastern Railroad in the 60s.

The railroad was conveyed to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1972. State inmates were utilized to create the state historical park which opened to the public on July 4th, 1976 as part of the United States' Bicentennial Celebration.

In 2003 the Texas State Railroad was designated as the Official Railroad of Texas.

Grapevine Vintage Railroad

The Grapevine Vintage Railroad runs from Grapevine, Texas to the Fort Worth Stockyards. Travelers ride one of two vintage locomotives. The first is "Puffy", which is an 1896 steam locomotive and is proudly the oldest continuously operating steam engine in the South. The other is a 1953 GP-7 diesel locomotive. The passenger cars are 1920s and 1930s Victorian-style coaches for the romantic Old West feel.

Austin Steam Train Association

The Austin Steam Train Association offers three levels of service on each train ride into the Texas Hill Country on what is known as the Hill Country Flyer;

  • Coach Class-These 1920s P70 coach cars were used in commuter service until the 60s. They were restored and placed into service in 1992. The cars seat 72 people and are handicap accessible.
  • Excursion Class-The Buckeye Lake Car was built in 1949. In its day it operated daily between New York and Buffalo. The Buckeye Trail car was built for the New York, Chicago, and St. Louis Railroad.
  • First Class Pullman Lounge. The City of Chicago Pullman Lounge was built in 1950. This car operated between Cleveland and Chicago in early 1950. It then became part of Amtrak's fleet in 1971. It became part of the Austin & Texas Central Railroad in 1995. The Santa Fe Pullman Lounge originally housed a barbershop, shower, passenger lounge and crew dormitory on the Santa Fe's famous Super Chief train that ran between Chicago and Los Angeles. It was also built in 1950. It also became part of the Amtrak fleet in the 70s.
  • They also offer the private Boonesborough Lounge available for charter on the Hill Country Flyer. It was built in 1929 to transport railway officials on business trips. The car was also used personally by the founder of the Austin Steam Train Association and his family for 20 years.



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