A few weeks ago, I saw the Austin Steam Train Association put out a call on Facebook for “train photographers.” They were looking to give press passes to local photographers who could photograph an upcoming ride. Not sure if I’m a ‘train photographer,’ I thought to myself, but I could totally help them out!
So, while I did receive complimentary tickets, it should be no shock that I’m personally a big fan of the Austin Steam Train. I wouldn’t offer to take photos for them if I wasn’t! In the past, I’ve been on the “Hill Country Flyer” to Bertram and the “Moonlight and Mimosa” train. They have also done many kid-centric train rides in the past, but as you can imagine, their rides have been reduced to the bare minimum these days.
On June 13th, we took the “Summertime Express” ride. The 2.5-hour ride takes you to the Bertram Depot and back. It’s a calm and relaxing ride. I really enjoyed the time to just sit, rest, and talk with my family.
If 2.5 hours sounds too long for you, don’t worry! There’s a new, shorter ride that will have it’s FIRST run this Sunday (Father’s Day) – the “Lakeline Limited”. It’s a 1-hour ride to the Lakeline Station and back. If you’re unsure of whether the train is for you (or you have little kids with you or something) you can get started with a quick ride on the “Lakeline Limited”.
Tickets for the “Summertime Express” and “Lakeline Limited” range in price from $23-$45 dollars, depending on which train car you choose to ride in.
The Austin Steam Train Association is taking social distancing pretty seriously. For the month of June, all rides are capped at 50% max capacity. Every other table is marked off and you are required to wear a mask the whole time, even while sitting at your seat. I also saw two different ASTA volunteers sanitazing door handles, countertops, and handrails throughout the ride.
You can still get up and walk around during the ride. I was worried about bumping into other people walking around while I was up (therefore not being very ‘socially distant’) but with the 50% max capacity, that didn’t really happen. I felt very comfortable and safe walking around.
I’ve been VERY cautious through the shutdown. I haven’t dined out yet and don’t plan to any time soon. I stepped out of my comfort zone for this train ride, because I felt like I could do some good by giving them the exposure and providing them with photos! However, once I was on the train, I actually felt very good. I would definitely recommend this as a good quarantine activity if you (or your kiddos) are feeling a little stir crazy.
I will say, the cars with little kids in them made me a bit more anxious. There was just a lot more moving around and it felt like a lot more people (even though they were little!). I’d highly recommend looking at the ASTA website and reading about all the train cars before you purchase your ticket.
If you’d like to know more about how the ASTA is keeping its riders safe, you can read their 2020 Health & Safety Plan.
The most impressive train car is the Nambe. It wasn’t in service during our ride (which is why there are no people seated in the photos below). Hopefully, it will be opened up soon! When it does get put back in service, it’s an adult-only (14 and up) first-class lounge.
From the ASTA website… The Nambe is a rare example of the streamlined stainless steel passenger cars manufactured by the Budd Company in 1937 for the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe railroad. The car initially served on the Super Chief line between Chicago and Los Angeles, and after World War II, operated on various lines, including the Texas Chief between Galveston and Chicago. It is fitting that the car is returning to Texas after being out of service for several decades.
Originally part of the eight-car 1370 series, it is only one of two in existence and the only one with its interior features and finishes intact. The car exemplifies streamlined design of the 1930s, both on the exterior and the interior, and has a remarkably high degree of integrity.
About an hour into the ride, you’ll make a quick stop at the Bertram Depot. Riders are no longer able to get off the train during the turnaround, however, you will get to see the engine move alongside to the new front of the train, which I thought was pretty cool. The transition takes about 20-25 minutes, then you’re on your way back to Cedar Park!
My favorite spaces on the train are these little connectors between the cars. You can stand near the open windows and get some great photos. I also found it nice to take a breather from my car during the ride (you know, in case someone coughs and you feel a spike of anxiety hit).
The Austin Steam Train Association is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and therefore relies heavily on the support of passengers through train ticket sales. While the train started running again on June 6th (at 50% max capacity, remember), it had been sitting at the station since March 15th. The COVID-19 shutdown has been extremely difficult on the ASTA. I’m going to share the call-to-action from their GoFundMe page because they say it better than I ever could:
In response [to the shutdown], our humble non-profit railroad has gone into emergency mode. Daily operations are down to bare bones. While we are working with local, state and federal agencies on any possible sources of revenue, the loss of ticket sales is devastating. We are quickly running out of cash to pay rent, utilities, liabilities and to maintain our small and loyal staff of five.
On the other side of this pandemic, we are going to need each other. We will need a place to come together and commemorate all the milestones we couldn’t celebrate during isolation. We will need a place to collect, connect, and make new memories. There is so much to look forward to…and ASTA MUST be here when our community is ready.
But we cannot make it to the summer without your help. We are asking for your support in raising two months of expenses, totaling $106,365. To jumpstart our campaign, we are thrilled to announce that long-time volunteers, Roger and Jeannie Shull, will match the first $5,000 dollar-for-dollar. ASTA is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, so your donation through GoFundMe is tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.
Our fearless determination, passion for historical preservation and tremendous community support got us on the rails 28 years ago. With your help, we will get through these seemingly impossible times and thrive long after. We can’t wait to make new memories with you again soon.
Last I checked, they were at $59,554! That’s more than halfway there. I donated a modest $25. But hey, if everyone who reads this post donates $25… now we’re talking!
I love the Austin Steam Train Association and I hope you’ll check them out soon (or donate from afar).