The Official Railroad of Texas
Where History is Just Part of the Journey
Take a Peek!
In our fast-paced world folks often forget to slow down and unplug, to take time to savor soothing moments — big and small — and to appreciate life and loved ones. An adventure aboard Texas State Railroad is the antidote to the hustle of the modern world. The Railroad moves passengers back into another century where wild forests, tranquil rivers and peaceful ranchlands blend harmoniously with midcentury architecture and vintage transportation. Historic steam and diesel locomotives take travelers across the celebrated rails of the Piney Woods Route between the quaint East Texas towns of Palestine and Rusk. During this 50-mile roundtrip exploration the daily grind disappears and time stands motionless.
This quintessential daytrip, only a few hours from the metropolitan communities of Dallas and Houston, provides the perfect combination of relaxation and fun accented by antiquity. Back in 1881 prisoners from the East Texas Penitentiary began building the first 1.3 miles of railroad track. By 1909, the inmates had laid the final rails connecting Rusk with Palestine, two iconic East Texas towns both well-known for their natural beauty, historic charm and Victorian-style architecture.
Palestine has more buildings in the National Register of Historic Places than any other mainland city in Texas. It’s renowned for its springtime Dogwood blooms and breathtaking autumn reds, creative dining venues and local wineries. The Railroad’s roots were seeded in Rusk. The small-town square, surrounding the proverbial courthouse edifice, is nearly unchanged from what it was well over a century ago. The region’s many high points are even more delightful when seen from the vantage point of a vintage train.
All of Texas State Railroad’s early 20th Century passenger coaches recently were upgraded with amenities added to meet the comfort expectation of the new millennial traveler, while consciously preserving the historic integrity associated with train travel over 100 years ago. Hosted by friendly and informative attendants, passengers are indulged with appetizers and Champagne upon boarding the climate-controlled first-class and presidential coaches. An open-air car has been added so passengers in first class may move freely between an indoor and outdoor setting. A well-appointed six-passenger caboose with a private valet makes train travel on this scenic line intimate and exclusive. Travelers riding in all accommodations, including coach, have access to an onboard food court where adult beverages and family favorites are available for purchase.
During the four-hour excursion, including an hour layover for lunch at one of the handsome depots, the train travels 25 miles through the scenic Piney Woods and hardwood creek bottoms. Amidst the backdrop of rolling hills it passes over 24 bridges, including one over 1,000 feet long, and nears unusual railroad structures including a vintage locomotive turntable located midway on the route. The Railroad’s lore and legend are deepened by having been featured in over 30 well-known movies, documentaries and television series over the past 40 years. Many of the sets are still visible from the train and the entertaining whoppers about the making of the productions are happily related by enthusiastic attendants.
In the glory days of the iron horse, the train station was the bustling hub of every small town across America. An essential part of the Texas State Railroad journey is spending time at the Rusk and Palestine depots prior to departure, at the turn-around and after the ride. Built during the middle of the last century, these heritage structures are every bit a part of the rail experience as the ride itself. Both depots have beautiful parks surrounding the complexes. The Rusk depot has a delightful vintage movie theatre, overnight camping accommodations, an outdoor pavilion and stunning Cherokee Lake, home to several species of fish and waterfowl.
Each depot campus has its own distinct identity, upscale gift shop and delectable dining venue. Highlighted in both depots are eye-catching storyboards overflowing with details about the Texas State Railroad encounter, surrounding communities, pioneer spirit and railroad folktales which set the stage for this unforgettable rail adventure. Time spent at each imparts the essence of why this exceptional Piney Woods Route has been designated “The Official Railroad of Texas.”
One doesn’t have to be a diehard rail fan to appreciate Texas State Railroad’s museum-quality rolling stock and locomotives like No. 610, the only one of its genre still in existence. It’s akin to a protected wildlife species only it’s a 100-year-old powerhouse with a long Texas pedigree. Engine 610 also was one of only three engines that pulled the Freedom Train across the 48 contiguous states in celebration of our nation’s 1976 bicentennial celebration. Most of the Railroad’s locomotives, resurrected from boneyards by skilled craftsmen, have similar lineages and backgrounds that are equally as intriguing.
Seasonal events continue to punctuate the Texas State Railroad calendar, like the ever-popular Polar Express excursion during November and December, but trains now depart from either Rusk or Palestine on a year-round schedule. Passengers may choose to ride in one of five comfortable accommodation options pulled by either a diesel or steam locomotive, depending on time of year and day of travel. Whenever one chooses to ride, one thing is a given: choosing time spent with family and friends, savoring beautiful history and nature while turning off ever-present electronic devices, avoiding traffic congestion and city mayhem, and immersing oneself in the slow pace of historic East Texas for a truly amazing adventure will certainly be exhilarating. Why? Because it’s always a good day when you’re on a train.