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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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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Howdy children.

      Great website. Possess a wonderful day!

    • doodlebugs profile image


      7 years ago from Southwest

      The Texas Steam train in Austin is worth the trip. Just a hint, DON'T use the restroom when the train is in the station. That's because the train (at least when I rode it 2 years ago) had no holding tanks!

    • WesternHistory profile image


      7 years ago from California

      Very good hub. There are several interesting short rail lines running in Texas. The Grapevine line is a lot of fun.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      We paid $100 for 3 of us to ride Polar Express - sorry but what a disappointment. Your Day out With Thomas was so wonderful we thought this would be the same. First, I would like to recommend roping the lines to get on coach. It was a "train wreck" - we waited in line for 45 minutes with a 5 year old, only to have walk ups get on before we or people in front of us did. They were also in coach - about 75 people or so, as a result we were separated, not those who had spent a total of about 5 minutes waiting. That pretty well dampened our trip. However, the personnel on our train were duds, except for 1 African American guy who was the "life of the party" the two girls with him had scowls on their faces and just walked up and down - no animation no flair. My 5 year old grandson asked why were they mad? That pretty well says it all. Very disappointing for the money we spent. Then - North Pole - you could have had some "fake" snow or something to make it look more realistic - come on guys a little imagination - and no fanfare about Santa getting on the train - just an announcement that he's on the train - DUH - We just feel like we wasted about $300 including motel, meals out and the all expensive gas to get there - We traveled almost 250 miles to get there. Never Again

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Central Texas

      LOL....and with such grace and elegance! Thanks for stopping by MyTrainBrain!

    • MyTrainBrain profile image


      8 years ago from Kansas

      I got to see the exact train you have in the picture a few years back. It was amazing something that big and that heavy could move. VERY CULE!

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Central Texas

      Thank you Ethel! Me too!

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      9 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      I love train travel. Nice hub

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Central Texas

      Thank you Euro-pen! I'm glad you enjoyed it. It is a neat feeling to ride one.

    • euro-pen profile image


      9 years ago from Europe

      I like the sound of steam locomotives. Plus, I love all the history associated with railroads. Reading your hub about about steamroads in Texas I am reminded of all the Western films about the steam railroads opening up the frontier regions in the West. Thank you for this informative hub.

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Central Texas

      Thanks Dohn! I have wanted to ride them both for a long time, I just haven't taken the time to do it. Both of them offer some fun excursions too. I know they had a really cool Valentine's special on the Hill Country Flyer this last year that I sure wanted to take. They also do cool Christmas ones.

    • dohn121 profile image


      9 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      You sure know a lot about trains, KCC Big Country! I love trains too and always try to take the train as often as I can. One of the coolest things while growing up was taking the Metro-North train into NYC on New Year's Eve as it would become so packed that the fare would be waived! I hope you get the chance to ride the Grapevine Vintage Railroad and the Hill Country Flyer!


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