Become immersed in the romance of train travel, linking two charming towns, Palestine and Rusk. The Texas State Railroad is a destination hotspot that will traverse you along the historic iron rails of Texas, surrounded by beautiful pine and mixed oak forests. It is no surprise that it’s called the “Official State Railroad of Texas”.

texas state railroad

Comfort and adventure await inside this rolling museum. From the moment one steps aboard a vintage 1920’s car, the excitement of being on the rails is exhilarating. This four-hour vividly, scenic ride includes comfortable seating and food service. Along this ride there is a historic narration on a rail journey that whisks you back into another century.

History of the Railroad

The route is flanked by a Victorian and Iron-Ore depot. These depots each give you a glimpse of what it was like to catch a train in the golden age of rail travel. In 1881, inmates worked on the railroad who were incarcerated at the East Texas Penitentiary north of Rusk, Texas. They began laying the original narrow-gauge rails that originally transported natural resources and iron products throughout the local communities.

Today, this same rail passage is an absolute traveler’s delight. Experience picturesque views from train windows, while hearing train-themed songs and significant historical facts.

texas state railroad
texas state railroad
texas state railroad

Texas State Railroad Amenities

A relaxed seating, thoughtful decor and friendly, responsive attendants add to the ambiance of the scenic journey. Most of the train cars are climate-controlled, have restrooms and access to a concession car. The concession car is stocked with snacks, as well as both kid-friendly and adult beverages. All seats have picture window views along the Piney Woods route, and narration and music highlight the trip. This train meets ADA requirements.

Six different accommodations are available to savor the Texas State Railroad experience:

  • The exclusive Caboose can fit up to 8 people. Featuring comfortable, plush over-sized seats, cupola seating for a birds-eye view and private outdoor-viewing platforms, this is the most secluded car on the train. A personal valet pours a complimentary Champagne toast and serves freshly-prepared appetizers.
  • Presidential class offers seating in nostalgic car #1511, featuring comfortable seats, intimate table service, large picture windows and access to a private outdoor-viewing platform. An attentive porter serves a complimentary toast upon boarding and freshly-prepared appetizers. A choice of non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages is available for purchase.
  • First Class an art-deco inspired Car #42 features comfortable couches and chairs, intimate table service and large picture windows. An attentive porter will greet you with a complimentary champagne or sparkling cider toast upon boarding, and family-friendly snacks are included. A choice of non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages is available for purchase.
  • The Deluxe Coach passage includes comfortable upholstered benches or chairs and table service by friendly and knowledgeable attendants.
  • Open-air Coach includes vintage wooden bench seats in cars with no windows so the East Texas air flows directly through the car. Of course, this coach is available seasonally.
  • Locomotive Ride-Along is a way to savor the day inside the cab of a steam or diesel locomotive. Sit between the engineer and conductor in one of the Railroad’s classic “Old Girls”. Prepare ahead of time for this type of trip, because reservations and background checks are required.
texas state railroad

The Train Route

As the train moves through the undulating country of the Piney Woods, it crosses over 24 bridges that span the creeks flowing through the forestland. This includes the increditble 1,042 foot long and 35 foot high bridge over the renowned Neches River. This Piney Woods is home to over 100 species of birds that nest in the catalpa and sycamore trees, or the many species of hardwoods and evergreens. This includes the fast-growing loblolly pine, which can rise to over 100 feet tall.

Celebrated steam or vintage diesel locomotives are the muscle that pulls the consist of cars – and the horsepower that won’t give you saddle sores.

texas state railroad

A vintage diesel and a historic steam locomotive are both eye candy to the train enthusiasts. During the spring of 2018, Texas State Railroad placed into service this restored FP9 streamlined passenger unit, TSR No. 125. The addition of this classic diesel locomotive to the Railroad’s fleet culminates a five-year effort. It was initiated by the Texas State Rail Authority and completed by The Western Group. Both entities are enthusiastic about finalizing the restoration of this period diesel. This locomotive complements the Railroad’s notable roster of steam engines.

texas state railroad

The TSR Steam Engine No. 28 has a unique history of it’s own. It is one of two surviving US Army’s “Pershing” engines named after General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing. He was famous as the commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) on the Western Front from 1917-18 during World War I. The steamer is a 2-8-0 (2 wheels in the front, 8 drivers, no wheels at the rear of the engine).

texas state railroad

From its humble origin of hauling freight, lumber and munitions, it was brought to Texas State Railroad in 1976. Then it began its present occupation of transporting tourists and rail fans of all ages. The historic U.S. Army locomotive celebrated its 100th birthday in 2017.
These two are beauties that perk interest from around the globe!

Whether departing from Palestine or Rusk, you will enjoy learning about the historic surroundings and communities that built the railroad. Both depots have interesting storyboards to peruse that display the historic significance of the rise of railroading in East Texas. While inside either depot, a gift shop is available for memorabilia, clothing and gifts exclusive to Texas State Railroad.
Overnight lodging is only a short distance away for camping or hotel comfort stays. Texas State Railroad’s Rusk depot offers a unique campground nearby providing front row observance of a train passing through. Campers have access to depot amenities which include lunch, gift shop and a train-themed movie theater on train departure days. Also available is a laundry facility, camping supply store. A quaint country chapel and furnished clubhouse are available with reservations.

Simon Trask
Author: Simon Trask

Simon loves Texas and the Great Outdoors. From East Texas pines to West Texas mountains, he calls North Texas home but is always ready to float a river in Hill Country or go fishing on the Gulf Coast. Simon loves camping and road trips as well, whether it's cruising Highway 287, 82, 69 or 281, that's the true way to see what Texas is all about!

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