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Kids To Ride Free This Summer at Texas State Railroad
RUSK, Texas — Parents looking to offset higher gasoline prices expected at the pump during summer vacation months and rising entertainment costs should consider taking their youngsters to ride the Texas State Railroad through the Piney Woods.
The historic East Texas steam railroad, which Texas lawmakers last year designated the Official Railroad of Texas, is launching a "Kids Ride Free" summer promotion Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. From May 29 through Sept. 5, paying adults will be able to treat children 12 years old and younger (as many as five kids per adult) to a free ride on the 123-year-old railroad operated as a state park by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Passengers board steam trains at vintage train depots in Rusk and Palestine state parks for the 50-mile, round-trip journey over 24 bridges through the hardwood creek bottoms. The trip takes 90 minutes to reach the opposite station, where visitors disembark to eat, browse the depot train stores and relax amid nature’s splendor. Riders then re-board for the return trip.
Gift shops in the Rusk and Palestine Train Stations prove popular with train enthusiasts who can choose from nostalgic items such as pocket watches and engineer caps to more modern collectibles like locomotive mugs and custom magnets. Adults can keep the kids’ hunger pangs at bay during the stopover with sandwiches, drinks and baked goods by Palestine’s famous Eilenberger’s German bakery. Soft drinks, snacks and Blue Bell ice cream are available on the train as well.
Park Manager Robert Crossman says the Texas State Railroad’s new promotion should prove especially popular with young fans of the Thomas the Tank Engine storybook character who is amazed by their exposure to the real thing. The railroad experience, he says, can prove both entertaining and educational for young and old alike.
"We offer a kid-friendly attraction that offers, weather permitting, a tour of the locomotive cab, where they can talk with the engineer, fireman and other members of the crew," Crossman said. "Most are in awe of the railroad experience, whether they are eight or 80."
For the second summer in a row, the railroad will be operating a climate-controlled passenger coach on both the eastbound and westbound trains, according to Mark Price, the railroad’s assistant superintendent. Concession operations, too, have been improved and expanded for the railroad whose annual ridership, Price said, topped 42,000 last year.
Trains run Saturdays and Sundays until June when they will begin operating Thursdays through Sundays, remaining on a four-day schedule through the end of July. Regular train excursions revert to a weekend-only schedule in August and continue until the end of the season, Nov. 21. Trains depart both depots at 11 a.m., arriving back at the station at 3:30 p.m.
Regular seating ticket prices for adults (persons 13 and older) are $11 one-way and $16 round-trip. Tickets for climate-controlled cars are $15 one-way and $22 round-trip for adults. Ticket offices open at 9 a.m. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling (800) 442-8951 (Texas only) or (903) 683-2561.
Steam Engine Restoration Shop tours, murder mysteries, starlight excursions and other special events are held periodically throughout the year at the Texas State Railroad. Currently, the railroad’s largest and smallest vintage steam engines are undergoing refurbishing at the shop in Rusk.
The TSRR is the only steam railroad in the nation that runs two steam trains simultaneously each day of operation. One train, however, is being pulled by a 1947 diesel engine because of steam locomotive refurbishment projects currently under way.
Convict labor built the original railroad in 1881 to serve the state-owned East Texas Penitentiary smelter in Rusk that produced cast iron for the state’s 19th century needs and helps to maintain the 32 miles of track right of way. TPWD acquired the railroad in 1972 after the rail line was abandoned by a private company, reinstating passenger service in 1976.
MEDIA DAY: The Texas State Railroad invites members of the media and their families to be TSRR’s guests to enjoy a train ride and/or tour of the train restoration shop visit May 29. The train departs the Rusk depot at 11 a.m. and returns at 3:30 p.m. Please R.S.V.P. by calling the above numbers.
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