Last revised: December 4, 2023
By: Adam Burns
Texas, the name says it all. At 268,597 square miles, the state is larger than many countries. The state is so vast its geography ranges from mountains and coastal plains to prairies and deserts.
Its size, and importance to the American economy, saw thousands of miles of railroads crisscrossing the state. In fact, historically, Texas ranked first in mileage at over 16,000 and even today remains the top-ranked state in this regard at over 10,000.
Its history with iron horse could fill many books, ranging from standard-gauge railroads and logging lines to electrified interurbans and narrow-gauge systems.
If you were a train enthusiast during the mid-20th century, Texas sure had plenty to offer with many different "flags" (railroads) and colorful trains to see from the Missouri Pacific, Santa Fe, and Rock Island to the Burlington, Missouri-Kansas-Texas, St. Louis-San Francisco, and Southern Pacific.
Today, a number of heritage railroads have sprang up, which tell the state's history with trains. These include the Amarillo Railroad Museum, Austin Steam Train Association, Edwin Olsen Railroad Museum, Flatonia Rail Park, Forest Park Miniature Railroad, Galveston Railroad Museum, Grapevine Vintage Railroad, Historic Jefferson Railway, Interurban Railway Museum, McKinney Avenue Transit Authority, 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.
Some excursions in the state offer specials throughout the year, including where either some type of food service or full-course meals are provided during the trip. The information below highlights where these can be found in Texas.
The Austin Steam Train is based in Austin, Texas operating through the state's "Hill Country" using tracks once owned by the Southern Pacific. The line is 163 miles long and used as both a commuter and freight rail line with the Steam Train having permission to operate excursions. Trips depart from from the organization's base of operations in Cedar Park.
The organization maintains an impressive fleet of restored passenger equipment that includes lounge cars providing light snacks and alcoholic/non-alcoholic beverages. Their rolling stock currently includes the Cedar Park Car (a former Budd Company 52-car stainless steel coach converted into a gift shop), New Braunfels (coach), Buckeye Lake (coach), Buckeye Trail (coach), Silver Pine (first-class coach), Eagle Cliff (first-class lounge), Maurice Beckman first-class lounge), Nambe (first-class lounge), and Rippling Stream (first-class lounge). All cars are climate controlled.
This excursion operates out of Fort Worth's historic Stockyards over trackage originally owned by the St. Louis Southwestern Railway (Cotton Belt), a subsidiary of the much larger Southern Pacific (which is now a division of Union Pacific).
The Grapevine Vintage Railroad maintains a 21-mile route from the Main Street Station to the Stockyards. Its standard excursion takes passengers to the Stockyards where visitors can de-board and shop before returning to the train and heading back.
The railroad operates for ten months of the year, only closing briefly in January and February for track and equipment maintenance. The Grapevine does not feature dinner trains but does participate in the GrapeFest wine tasting event.
In addition, its "Ambassador Class" features first-class coaches where passengers "...receive complimentary popcorn, snacks and sodas on each leg of the journey. A variety of card and board games will be available for onboard use. The table-style seating gives guests more leg-room than our standard first-class coaches."
The railroad also offers a second excursion, the shorter "Trinity River Train." It runs 45 minutes from the Stockyards to Trinity Park, passing along the West Fork of the Trinity River and Montgomery Plaza along the way.
The popular Texas State Railroad does not provide full course meals aboard its trains but does offer upper class services which include appetizers and non-alcoholic/alcoholic beverages. They also provide wine and beer-tasting trains including the Dogwood Lunch Train and Wines In The Pines.
The Texas State Railroad sees about 80,000 riders annually, featuring a 50-mile round trip between Palestine and Rusk. They draw many visitors thanks to a combination of historic diesel, and even steam locomotives, pulling their trains. In addition, numerous events offered throughout the year bring many riders.