Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Unlike Austin’s Commuter Rail, This Train Actually Runs, And On Time

The big controversy around Austin these days involves Capital Metro’s new commuter train. The opening of the 32-mile rail for commuter traffic from Leander to Austin’s city center has been plagued with a lot of whatnots and whatevers.

Originally supposed to be ready in early 2008, the latest estimate is now early 2010. And with all the broken earlier projections, who really knows?

But train lovers, and I count myself one, do not despair. There is one train in the hill country which actually runs, and on time. It’s a train run by the Austin Steam Train Association out of Cedar Park, Texas.

A number of wonderful trips, most on Saturday and Sunday, are available courtesy of the association’s diesel-electric locomotive (the steam engine is currently undergoing repairs). The locomotive pulls a variety of historic coaches, and riders have their choice of open-window coach, climate-controlled coach, or first class Pullman.

My wife and I decided to take the Hill Country Flyer trip to Burnet. We booked a private compartment, and, quite frankly, we were immediately sorry we did once getting on board. Or, as my wife would say if she was writing this blog, “he” booked the reservation and “I” was immediately sorry that “he” did. Privacy we had, but most of the fun was out in the coach cars and concession car. We’ll know better next time. We spent the better part of the trip walking through the other cars.

The trip to Burnet through the hill country was relaxing and scenic, and the train’s slower speed really allows you to take in the views, and get some nice photographs.

Upon arrival in Burnet, we had enough of a layover for lunch and a walk about the town square. We went on a Sunday, so, unfortunately, everything was pretty much closed around the immediate area except for an antique store and a couple of places to eat. We ate fast food. Make a note to yourself please, do not let me make your train reservations, but please take my advice. Coach seating and a Saturday trip is preferable. And, it's best to get reservations in advance.

The association also offers a number of specialty trips during various seasons, including, Halloween rides, Murder Mystery rides, North Pole and New Year’s Eve rides. Prices are reasonable, and if you love trains, I am quite sure you will enjoy whatever trip you take. The volunteers who run the train, including the engineer, are a friendly and outgoing crew.

But the best part is not the friendly crew, the scenery, or the ride in historic coach cars, it’s the fact that this train actually runs, and it runs on time.

All Aboard!

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