Texas Christmas Train Rides (2023): A Complete Guide

Last revised: June 22, 2023

By: Adam Burns

As a state larger than most of western Europe, combined, everything in Texas is big!  This includes its railroads.  Its first, the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, & Colorado Railway, opened in the early 1850s although its steel network did not truly begin taking shape until the 1880s.

From a historical perspective, the 16,125 miles of railroads that operated in Texas during the peak era (circa 1920) ranked it number one in that category.  No other state had more mileage, even Illinois (over 12,000 miles) where Chicago was long recognized as the meeting point of eastern and western trunk lines.

For the train enthusiast, all of the notable western lines served Texas; names like Southern Pacific, Texas & Pacific (Missouri Pacific), Santa Fe, St. Louis Southwestern ("Cotton Belt"), St. Loui-San Francisco Railway ("Frisco"), Missouri-Kansas-Texas ("Katy"), Rock Island, Burlington, Kansas City Southern, and a number of other smaller systems.

Following widescale abandonments during the 1970s and 1980s, Texas has lost notable percentage of its rail infrastructure although it still boasts over 10,000 route miles.

Over the years, a number of organizations have sprang up which tell the history of Texas's railroads.  These include the Amarillo Railroad Museum, Austin Steam Train Association, Edwin Olsen Railroad Museum, Galveston Railroad Museum, Grapevine Vintage Railroad, Historic Jefferson Railway, Interurban Railway Museum, Museum Of The American Railroad, New Braunfels Railroad Museum, Railway Museum San Angelo, Texas & Pacific Railway Museum, Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum, Texas State Railroad, Texas Transportation Museum, and Wichita Falls Railroad Museum.

A few also host train rides throughout the year, popular attractions that draw in thousands annually.  The information found here highlights those organizations hosting Christmas-themed train rides during the holiday season.

The trips offered are all unique to each organization.  To learn more about them please visit their website included with each listing.  If you would like to learn more about official The Polar Express events in Texas, and elsewhere, please click here.

Guide Information

Austin Steam Train

(Cedar Park): Located about a half-hour from downtown Austin, the Austin Steam Train historically has operated an authentic steam locomotive, Southern Pacific 2-8-2 #786. 

Unfortunately, she has been sidelined by a cracked cylinder saddle since 1999.  They currently use a diesel locomotive to pull trains, GP40-3 #3134 (there is also an historic diesel under restoration, Southern Pacific RSD-15 #442). 

The Steam Train's accommodations are second to none as they feature several restored coaches (including first class options) and first class lounges. 

The experience cannot be beat.   The North Pole Flyer offers a very long 2+ hour train ride while the kids get to see Santa, enjoy cookies/hot chocolate, and receive a small gift.  It operates on select dates during November and December.

Grapevine Railroad

(Grapevine): Thanks to its proximity in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the Grapevine Railroad sees many visitors throughout the year. Its most popular Christmas train is the North Pole Express, which runs after Thanksgiving through late December. 

In addition, they host Christmas Wine Trains for the adults as well as After Christmas Trains during late December.

The railroad runs 21 miles from the Main Street Station in Grapevine to the popular Fort Worth Stockyards over tracks operated by the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (previously owned by the St. Louis Southwestern Railway; otherwise known as the "Cotton Belt" it was a longtime subsidiary of the much larger Southern Pacific). 

While they have three steam locomotives in their inventory, unfortunately none are currently operable. they include:

  • Stine Coal 2-4-4T #2
  • Southern Pacific 2-8-2 #771
  •  Southern Pacific 4-6-0 #2248

Today, diesels lead the trains.  

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Wes Barris's SteamLocomotive.com is simply the best web resource on the study of steam locomotives. 

It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website. 

It is quite staggering and a must visit!