A funny thing happens to the parent of child obsessed with trains. The parent becomes knowledgeable in all things locomotive and over time becomes quite enamored as well. That parent may have a hard time letting go when their child moves on to other interests. At least, that’s how it is for me. I still point out every train I see while driving. It’s a train! It’s exciting! But… my boys barely glance out the window.
With Thomas the Tank Engine visiting from the Island of Sodor this weekend, I am sad that I have no young train-lover to take. No son dressed in stripy OshKosh B’gosh overalls to get excited about meeting Sir Topham Hatt. Cinders and ashes!
For those of you lucky enough to still have young train enthusiasts at home, here are a few of your local options, from free to pricey and plenty in between.
Day Out With Thomas – Thomas the Tank Engine and Sir Topham Hatt, the Controller of the Railway on the Island of Sodor, will be in Burnet this weekend on Saturday and Sunday, September 29-30, 2012, from 8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. A ticket for Day Out With Thomas includes a 25-minute train ride with Thomas the Tank Engine, as well as a variety of Thomas & Friends themed entertainment, including Storytelling and Video Viewing, Temporary Tattoos of Island of Sodor friends, and an Imagination Station with Arts & Crafts and more. Tickets, required for guests ages two and up, are $18 per passenger. They can be purchased online.
New Braunfels Railroad Museum – Open Thursday – Monday from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted (suggested donation of $3 per adult). This is a small museum, but a nice opportunity to hop aboard a few train cars. Tour a dining car, see the inside of a steam engine, and walk through a caboose! 302 West San Antonio Street, New Braunfels, TX 78131. 830-627-2447.
Annual Fall Train Show – Saturday, November 10, 2012, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, November 11, 2012, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. $7 per adult and $2 per child. New Braunfels Civic Center, 375 S. Castell Ave., New Braunfels.
Miniature Train in Landa Park – For just $2.50 per person you can ride the train on weekends September through April, and daily from May until beginning of public school and during Spring Break. Landa Park, 362 Aquatic Circle, New Braunfels.
Austin Steam Train Association – ASTA offers several options for train rides, from the Bertram Flyer ($12 for children) to the more expensive Hill Country Flyer Main Street Bethlehem. One great deal is that you can get a free birthday train ticket for the Bertram Flyer. Simply call 512-477-8468 ext. 2 to make your reservation during the month of your birthday and you will receive one free coach or excursion ticket on any regularly scheduled Bertram Flyer. This deal is good for kids too! You can also tour a diesel train for free. To arrange a tour, contact the Community Outreach Coordinator, Daniel, at 512-477-8468 ext. 205.
North Pole Flyer – A 2.5 hour round-trip train ride that departs from Cedar Park. While aboard, you will sing carols, have a visit from Santa, and receive cookies from Mrs. Claus. The year we went, each child was given a free wooden train whistle as a gift. It was a wonderful trip. Tickets are $30 and are available online or by calling (512) 477-8468 ext. 2.
The Austin Zoo – There is a little train that travels through the zoo. You not only get great Hill Country views, but you can see a few animals as well! My favorite time to ride the train is just before or after Boo at the Zoo, when the train route is decorated for Halloween. (You can also go at night during Boo at the Zoo, if your kids stay up late). You must pay admission to the zoo to access the Train Depot. Train tickets are a separate cost and are available for sale only at the Train Depot for $2.50 per ticket. The train company accepts Mastercard, Visa, and cash. 10808 Rawhide Trail, Austin, TX, 78736. (512) 288-1490.
Zilker Zephyr – Take a lovely scenic 25 minute ride through Zilker Park. Parents enjoy the lake and park views while kids love going under a bridge and through a tunnel. The train runs from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., with the first train departing at 10:15 a.m. Tickets cannot be purchased in advance, so you must wait until the ticket window opens just before train boarding commences to buy your tickets. But there is a huge playground right next to the ticket window, so kids won’t mind waiting. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for under 12 and seniors, free for infants under one who sit on a guardian’s lap. 2201 Barton Springs Rd., Austin, TX, 78746. 512-478-8286.
Austin MetroRail – This might be the cheapest way to take a trip on a “real” train, but it is a bit tricky to figure out a schedule for joy-riding. The approximate travel time between Leander and Downtown Austin is one hour. Go here to see the schedule and plan your trip. Kids younger than 6 can ride free when accompanied by a paying adult. MetroRail riders may purchase a single ride zoned fare. The cost is $1 for one zone and $2.75 for two zones. All other MetroRail passes must be purchased at the regional rate.Students 6-18 with a valid school ID, and active and reserve military personnel with a valid ID, may ride at a reduced rate (approximately half price). For all ticket prices, go here.
Cedar Rock Railroad – Venture a little Northwest of Austin and you can ride this ¼ scale miniature train named Sophie, which runs throughout Southwest Williamson County Regional Park. Sophie will take you on a meandering 1.3 mile tour around fields, by a lake, under craggy Texas trees and even (most importantly) through a nice, long tunnel. Young train lovers will delight as Sophie toots her whistle and rattles along the track for an enchanting fifteen minute ride. Parents will be pleased with the $2.50 ticket price (children under 1 and pets ride free). The Cedar Rock Railroad only operates on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., weather permitting. Cedar Rock Railroad, 3005 County Road 175, Leander, TX 78641. (512) 413-1705.
Just Train Fun – Trackless trains at Lakeline Mall, The Domain, and The Round Rock Premium Outlets. Tickets are $5, but if you buy two tickets for $10, you get one free. Buy four tickets for $20 and you’ll get two free. Tickets don’t expire and can be saved for your next visit if you don’t use them all. You can also use your ticket at a different location from the one where you purchased it. Babies 12 months and younger are free.
Kiddie Acres – This small amusement park has a miniature train that costs 2 tickets to ride. Tickets are $2 each. There are several ways to get discounted tickets if you would like to spend a bit of time at this fun park, geared toward kids 10 and under. Use the coupon found here. You will get 3 free ride tickets when you purchase 10 or more. Discount Day is Wednesday. On Wednesday, ride tickets are $1.20. Grandparents Day is Sunday. On Sunday, ride tickets are $1.20 when grandparents purchase them. Military Discounts apply every day. Show your valid military ID and you can purchase ride tickets for $1.20. Kiddie Acres, 4800 West Howard Lane, Austin, Texas 78728. 512-255-4131. Railroad and Heritage Museum in Temple– Open Tuesday – Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Children under 5 are free, children 5 – 12 are $2, seniors are $3 and adults are $4. Free admission for Active Military when presenting your current I.D. 315 West Avenue B, Temple, TX 76501. Amtrak – Want to take a train to another city? There’s an Amtrak station on Lamar! For just $13 an adult can take a one way trip from Austin to San Antonio. The trip will take 3 hours and 25 minutes. A child’s ticket for the same trip would be $6.50. Children under age 2 travel free. Go here to see other trip options. 250 North Lamar, Austin, TX 78703. Which is your favorite train to ride? Uh, I mean, your child’s favorite. Of course that’s what I meant!
Heidi Gollub is the founder and editor-in-chief of the award-winning website Free Fun in Austin.com. When not running around on adventures with her five children–ages three to 15–she volunteers for the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau and shares content with the local news. Recently, Heidi was a speaker at Mom 2.0 and the Texas Conference for Women.