I love to ride trains. American transportation has evolved from railroads, steam to diesel, horse-drawn to electric streetcars, passenger trains, and urban rail transit. Today we seek fast travel by jet or a sleek car, but what about turning back the clock to railroad transit and passenger trains. There is something about the golden age of train travel that’s fun for all ages. It’s a time to slow down, relax, and let the landscape flow past us. Let’s explore train rides in Texas, great fun to share with the grandkids. All aboard!
1. The Piney Woods Excursion Train At Texas State Railroad In Palestine
Step aboard a refurbished train car at the Texas State Railroad and feel like you have stepped back in time 100 years, where time slows down and tensions disappear. Relax and enjoy a 4-hour roundtrip train excursion from Palestine to Rusk and back, with vintage steam and diesel locomotives gliding through the piney woods of East Texas as the fall leaves begin to turn shades of golds, oranges, yellows, and reds.
At the depot, learn about the railroad communities, savor a bite to eat with family at the Rusk Mail Car Cafe, and shop the gifts and keepsakes at Roundhouse 1909 in Palestine. Ride comfortably, enjoy a historical narrative, meet friendly and entertaining staff, and sample food and adult beverages on your journey. The four-hour train ride breaks down to a 1.5-hour 25-mile trip to the destination depot, a one-hour lunchtime, and a 1.5-hour return trip.
In October, the Pumpkin Patch Express leaves from Rusk, a 30-minute round trip train ride, including hayrides, spooky music, bounce house, concessions, and trick-or-treating on Trick or Treat Street. Each child picks out a pumpkin to take home for carving.
Make reservations now for the Polar Express for November and December. The Presidential Class car seating is limited where a ride with Santa, keepsake Polar Express mugs, hot chocolate, and cookies make for a magical experience.
Camping facilities at the Rusk Campground offer a stay onsite at a historic railroad, with access to depot amenities including lunch, gift shop, and movie theater access on train departure days. Movies filmed on the Texas State Railroad are featured, with stars like Denzel Washington, George Clooney, John Goodman, and Sam Elliot.
2. Austin Steam Train
All aboard! Take the historic 6-hour, 66-mile roundtrip Hill Country Flyer from Cedar Park, north of Austin, and just east of Lake Travis, to Burnet with a brief layover there for lunch and shopping. There are at least four classes of service: excursion coach, first-class coach, first-class lounge, and adults-only first-class lounge.
The Bertram Flyer is a shorter trip, traveling from Cedar Park to Bertram, with a 15-minute layover in Bertram with enough time to tour the 1912 train depot there. The train runs from March through November on Saturdays and Sundays.
The North Pole Flyer 2021 with Santa leaves from Bertram and is a 2-hour roundtrip. Arrive at least 30 to 45 minutes before departure and be in your seat no later than 10 minutes before the train leaves. Read the Terms and Conditions about no refunds and restrictions.
Enjoy hot chocolate and the elf’s reading of the North Pole Flyer book.
Read about the vintage train cars here.
3. The Grapevine Vintage Railroad
The Grapevine Vintage Railroad offers unique train rides in authentic 1920s Victorian coaches throughout the year along the Cotton Belt Route from Main Street Station in Grapevine to the Fort Worth Stockyards. See the schedule for special events like Murder Mystery Trains and reserved group events.
Wear your costume on the Witches Brew Train on October 29, 2021, which features hors d’oeuvres and local draft brew served in a souvenir mug. Take time to tour the Haunted Depot. Wear your Halloween costume on the Trick ‘R Treat Trains on October 30 and enjoy this 1-hour excursion.
Make your reservations now for the hour-long North Pole Express November through December, presented by Great Wolf Lodge and Trinity Metro TEXRail. Wear your Christmas pajamas while you take a Christmas journey to Santa’s Workshop, a family-friendly trip. The After Christmas Trains run December 26 through 30, 2021, on holiday-decorated coaches as you continue the Christmas spirit.
In April, ride The Jazz Wine Train aboard the 1920s Victorian coaches with soulful jazz entertainment while sipping great Grapevine wine. Enjoy hors d’oeuvres plus a dessert trio box. Sip wine from several winery tasting rooms from a souvenir wine glass.
Bring the little ones for a Day Out With Thomas, presented by Mattel. Ride the train with the classic storybook engine and have fun with “trains, games & miles of smiles!” Grapevine Vintage Railroad partners with the Museum of the American Railroad and Mattel to host this event.
The 45-minute Grapevine Railroad Stockyards Trinity River Excursion departs from the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards, crosses both channels of the Trinity River, traveling through Trinity Park, and briefly stops in the historic railyard at 8th Avenue before returning to the stockyards. You’ll see the Great Train Heist, with greedy outlaws and the railroad detectives close behind.
4. Jefferson Railway
The Historic Jefferson Railway in Jefferson rolls you through the beautiful piney woods and wetlands along the Big Cypress Bayou. The journey lasts about 40 minutes, with a stop at Diamond Don Gator Pit to see the feeding of the live, hungry alligators. A gas-powered Plymouth Locomotive, first built in 1910, called “The Critter,” is the star. The railway sponsors significant events throughout the year, attracting over 20,000 visitors to Jefferson.
Keep your eyes peeled for the Boggy Creek monster, star of the upcoming feature horror movie, Boggy Creek, filmed in Jefferson and Uncertain. The beast resembles the old Bigfoot or Sasquatch monster, and is directed, and produced by Brian T. Jaynes.
Jefferson Train Days, happening every May, is the Historic Jefferson Train Show with operating model train layouts, Kids Corral, model train and toy vendors, and Thomas The Train Play area. You can ride the historic Jefferson Railway and the Lonesome Dove Safari and Train petting zoo.
Halloween Express runs day and evening narrated rides every Saturday in October featuring monsters of the deep. Listen to the storyteller along with this 40-minute train excursion with ghostly spirits, the monster, or Bigfoot emerging from the swamplands, but it’s not scary.
Enjoy the Christmas Express Train narrated day and evening tours with Christmas vignettes along the beautiful Big Cypress Bayou River. The New Year’s Express features beverages, noisemakers, and with the ball drop and five authentic cannons firing dramatic “dragons’ breath.”
On the last weekend In May, see the Great Locomotive Chase and Civil War Battle with reenactors from the North and South. Ride the 1870s replica steam train and hear the tale of the Andrews Raid, a thrilling railroad story. Engine #7, known as the Robert E. Lee will take you along Big Cypress Bayou, through the piney woods, where you will view a Confederate Powder Magazine and travel to the site of one of the oldest historical towns in Texas. Ride the Historic Jefferson Railway’s famous Ghost Train to experience the haunts of the Civil War.
Amtrak operates one state-supported train, the Heartland Flyer, daily from Fort Worth to Gainsville to Oklahoma City. Two national network trains run deep into the heart of Texas, The Texas Eagle, with daily service from Chicago to St. Louis, Little Rock, Texarkana, through the piney woods of East Texas to cosmopolitan Dallas, Fort Worth, the city of cowboys and culture, and San Antonio, home of the Alamo and the River Walk. Tri-weekly service via Sunset Limited takes you through El Paso, Tucson, Palm Springs to Los Angeles. This Texas Eagle Amtrak route is the longest route connecting Chicago with Los Angeles and spans 65 hours and three nights on the train, including Superliner Sleeping Car accommodations plus the renowned Sightseer Lounge and Dining Car serving full fresh meals. You can also head east to New Orleans from Houston on Amtrak.
6. The Trinity Metro TEXRail And The Trinity Railway Express
A 27-mile commuter train, The Trinity Metro TEXRail connects riders from Terminal B of The Dallas Fort Worth International (DFW) Airport to Grapevine Main Station, North Richland Hills, and downtown Fort Worth. The Trinity Railway Express connects Fort Worth at the T&P Station with Dallas at the EBJ (Eddie Bernice Johnson) Union Station.
7. The Future Texas High-Speed Train From Dallas/Fort Worth To Houston
As many as 100,000 Texans, referred to as “super-commuters,” travel between Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth more than once a week, and many others travel several times per month. The future is a 240-mile high-speed rail line with a train traveling at more than 200 miles per hour, moving passengers between the two metropolises in less than 90 minutes. You’ll enjoy two-by-two wide-bodied seats with plenty of legroom and a choice of service levels, with quiet, workable cabins and food and beverage service. There are plenty of power outlets and WiFi, with competitive fares to air service or auto travel.
Departures are every 30 minutes. Passengers can select seats, purchase tickets, and onboard food and drinks before boarding. There is one stop on the journey in Grimes County between College Station and Huntsville. Houston’s station is at the Northwest Mall near US 290 and Interstate 610. The Dallas station, located in the revitalized Cedars neighborhood of Dallas, is south of downtown, near Interstates 30 and 35 interchanges.
Can’t get enough? Check out these other train travel options: