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Children Can Ride Texas State Railroad This Summer for Free
RUSK, Texas — For the third year in a row, the Texas State Railroad State Park will offer children 12 and under a free train ride through the East Texas Piney Woods from June 1 through Sept. 30. The railroad offers the experience of riding behind an antique steam or diesel engine.
What began as a way to boost ridership during the hotter summer months when park attendance historically dipped, the “Kids Ride Free” promotion has proved a blessing both to the park and grandparents looking for a way to entertain visiting grandkids.
“The summer promotion has been a grandparent magnet,” said Mark Price, TSRR’s assistant superintendent. “A repetitive phone conversation that I have is with grandparents who are expecting a visit from their grandchildren in a few weeks and are thinking about bringing them out to the railroad this summer.”
Last year, thanks in large part to the “Kids Ride Free” program, railroad ridership hit 53,000 for the season. Thanks to this unique summer event that ridership is almost double that of 2003 before the special promotion began.
Price says one grandfather last year brought three separate sets of grandchildren. Such zeal to introduce youngsters to what was a memorable part of most senior citizens’ lives not only has filled passenger car seats, but also kept the TSRR Gift Shop cash register ringing.
Last year, Price said, the gift shop took in more than $330,000 from visitors buying wooden whistles, key chains, caps, t-shirts and myriad Texas State Railroad souvenirs.
The “Kids Ride Free” promotion allows each paying adult to treat up to five children 12-years-old and younger to a free ride on the 125-year-old railroad operated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Round-trip tickets for children normally cost $11.
Persons 13 and older pay a $17 round-trip fare for regular seating and $24 for a climate-controlled railcar. This season’s number of air-conditioned seats has increased to 226. Reservations are strongly encouraged.
Passengers board the train at Victorian-style depots in Rusk and Palestine state parks at 11 a.m. for a 50-mile round trip through hardwood creek bottoms and rolling hills. The trip takes 90 minutes to reach the opposite station, where visitors disembark to eat, peruse depot gift shops full of train-related souvenirs and enjoy the outdoors before re-boarding. A round-trip, including a 90-minute layover, lasts four hours.
Regular train excursions take place Thursdays through Sundays in June and July and Saturdays and Sundays only beginning in August. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling (800) 442-8951 (Texas only) or (903) 683-2561.
State parks adjacent to the Rusk and Palestine depots offer camping and picnicking facilities. Rusk State Park has full-hookup camping and group picnic pavilions; Palestine State Park offers water-only camping sites and a shaded picnic area. Nearby Mission Tejas State Park in Grapeland offers camping as well. For Texas state park information, call (800) 792-1112.
The Texas State Railroad stages special events periodically throughout the year. On July 8, the TSRR will host a Murder Mystery that combines a performance with dinner aboard the vintage steam train. Call (903) 391-0086 for more information.
Convict labor built the original railroad in 1881 to serve the state-owned East Texas Penitentiary smelters in Rusk that manufactured cast iron for the state’s 19th -century needs and today helps maintain the 32 miles of track right of way. TPWD acquired the railroad in 1972 and reinstated passenger service in 1976.
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