Texas Polar Express Train Rides (2023): A Complete Guide

Last revised: March 30, 2023

By: Adam Burns

"The Polar Express" train rides witness tens of thousands of riders annually throughout the country with many selling out months in advance.  

In Texas, two organizations host these trips, the Galveston Railroad Museum (Galveston) and the Texas State Railroad (Rusk).  Both host many different special events throughout the year, as well as general excursions. 

While many heritage railroads and museums host Christmas-themed train rides, only a handful offer officially licensed "The Polar Express" events.  These trips, which usually last just over an hour, feature a story-telling of Chris Van Allsburg's magical tale, The Polar Express, .  During the trip, children and their parent(s)/guardian(s)/relative(s) can enjoy hot chocolate, cookies, and receive a small gift.

In addition, dressing in your pajamas is highly recommended!  When possible, and if available, a steam locomotive is used to pull the train.   "The Polar Express" rides exploded in popularity after the release of Warner Brothers' 2004 movie, which brought to life Van Allsburg's story.

The information presented here briefly highlights the organizations hosting these trips in Texas.  In addition, links to their websites are also provided for booking, scheduling, and more about their particular "The Polar Express" trips. 

Guide Information

Galveston Railroad Museum

Located in its namesake city, this museum is one of the state's largest, containing an impressive collection of rolling stock and preserved locomotives (predominantly focused on the railroad's which served Texas and the Gulf Coast). 

It is one of the very few such organizations whose offices are housed within a major railroad terminal, Santa Fe Union Station. 

The original four-story brick building, located at 25th Street and The Strand, was completed in 1887.  It was renovated over the years and is now an eight-story white structure with a larger center column. 

The last update occurred in 1932, which adorned the building in a terra cotta and Art Deco appearance.  The last passenger train to depart the station left on April 11, 1967. 

It is currently owned by the Moody Foundation and still functions as an office tower. Over the years the museum has amassed an impressive collection including four steam locomotives and two diesel switchers. 

They also have several freight and passenger cars and model train layouts to see.  

The Polar Express Dates: 

Texas State Railroad

The Texas State Railroad has long been a popular attraction with an interesting history.  Some states in the 19th century took it upon themselves to build railroads when, for whatever reason, they felt the private sector could not. 

Such was the case with the Texas State Railroad, founded in 1883 to provide rail service for parts of East Texas. 

Following more than two decades of work the railroad had linked Rusk, Texas (location of the Rusk Penitentiary) with Palestine, a distance of about 25 miles (part of the line was built using convict labor). 

The state elected to stop directly operating the property in the 1920's and instead leased it, a setup which continued until 1969. 

In 1972 it came under the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department's direction where it remained until falling under the Texas State Railroad Authority's jurisdiction in 2007. 

The Texas State Railroad is one of the finer excursions with first class accommodations, special events, and private party rentals available throughout most of the year.   

They host official The Polar Express trips from late November through most of December.  Some of their events are even powered by an actual steam locomotive (either 2-8-2 #30 or 2-8-0 #28).  

The Polar Express Dates: 

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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!