At a time when Austin’s past seems to slip away daily with every new floor added to downtown skyscrapers, you can ride back in time on a historic train that runs between Cedar Park and bucolic Bertram.
“Sit back for a relaxing journey into passenger railroad’s glorious past onboard the Bertram Flyer!” says the Austin Steam Train Association which operates the 44-mile roundtrip journey. “Our vintage train cars are from the golden era of rail travel, built in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, and fully restored for your environment.”
The Austin Steam Train Association offers two lines most weekends:
- Bertram Flyer: Typically departing at 2 p.m. from Cedar Park and returning at 5 p.m. with a 15-minute layover in Bertram to tour the iconic train depot. Total trip is 44 miles.
- Hill Country Flyer: Typically departing at 9 a.m. from Cedar Park and featuring a 2-hour layover in Burnet before returning by 3:30 p.m. Total trip is 66 miles.
“Bring the whole family on an unforgettable ride around the Texas Hill Country in an Austin Steam Train vintage flyer. Open year-round, these weekend and themed excursions blend the past and present perfectly,” said the Leisure Resort on the San Marcos River.
Trip Features 1912 Bertram Depot, 300-Foot-Long Wooden Trestle Bridge
The Bertram Flyer, with all cars pulled by a diesel locomotive, enjoys views of Short Creek Canyon, the 300-foot-long wooden trestle bridge that spans the South San Gabriel River, the Duffy-Shamrock communications mast, and the 1912 Bertram Depot.
“There’s only one remaining train station like this around Austin and it’s magnificent,” wrote Elisa Regulski for Only in Your State.
More on the highlight of the Bertram Flyer route:
- 1912 Bertram Depot: The original Bertram train depot was constructed in 1882 when the Austin and Northwestern Railroad laid ties to the town. This train station operated until 1937 when it fell victim to the popularity of the automobile. Sadly, it was demolished in 1964. The site sat vacant until a donation from the George Peters family of Sandia, Texas helped the Austin Steam Train Association (ATSA) revive the past in 1997 by relocating the historic 1912 San Antonio & Aransas Pass train depot from Orange Grove, Texas to Bertram. ATSA volunteers moved the depot in March of 1998 and began an accurate restoration that took five years to complete. The 1912 train depot features a cast iron and wood bench inside that is an original salvaged from the first Bertram Depot. The 1912 train depot counter was crafted out of longleaf pine flooring sources from a 100-year-old home in Bertram.
- Wooden Trestle Bridge: The 300-foot-long wooden train trestle bridge was built over the South Fork of the San Gabriel River in 1882 to haul granite to build the Texas state Capitol building. In 1886, a train took the curve too quickly, dumping the granite blocks that might be spotted below the train trestle by sharp-eyed passengers.
- Duffy-Shamrock Joint Venture Tower: This towering communications mast erected in 2002 is one of the largest structures in Texas and the United States at 597.4 meters tall. If this were a building – it would be 181 stories tall!
Hill Country Flyer Longer Route and Specialty Trains
For those longing for more time on the train, the Austin Steam Train Association (ASTA) operates the 6.5-hour round trip Hill Country Flyer that has a 2-hour layover in Burnet.
“On board the train, you will wind through the Texas Hill Country, crossing the trestle bridge over the South San Gabriel River and Short Creek Canyon,” says the ASTA. “During your two-hour layover in Burnet, you can enjoy lunch on your own, shopping, and a leisurely stroll around the historic town square.”
The ASTA also operates specialty trains at certain times including:
- North Pole Flyer: This holiday favorite departs from the historic 1912 Bertram Depot and the 2-hour excursion features visits (and a chance for photos!) from Santa and Mrs. Claus along with all-you-can-drink hot cocoa and a locally baked cookie. Each car is decorated for the season where passengers enjoy a live reading of the North Pole Flyer book – the railroad’s own Christmas story. Each child will receive a gift from Santa to help them remember this one-of-a-kind trip.
- Speakeasy Train: For adult fun, try the Speakeasy Train, which includes a 1920s prohibition party and murder mystery all while rolling along the tracks in a vintage train car. The 2.5-hour trip includes a 3-course dinner, champagne toast, train ride, and platform party. A cash bar is available during the platform party and train ride.
All Aboard: The Historic Cars of the ATSA
The ATSA offers four classes of service on most routes: Excursion Coach, First Class Coach, First Class Lounge and Adults-Only First Class Lounge. Ticket prices vary depending on the route you choose, and the class of service you choose.
All the cars are now climate controlled.
Excursion Coach Cars (allows all ages):
- New Braunfels: The New Braunfels is one of six cars ordered in late 1954 in Pullman Lot 6965 to Plan 7647 for the famous streamlined Texas Special, “Glamour Train of the Southwest.” The New Braunfels was delivered in July 1955 to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MKT or Katy), operating between St. Louis and San Antonio.
- Buckeye Lake: Built in 1949 for the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad, this excursion class coach car with heating and air conditioning seats two passengers on either side of the aisle. It originally operated on daily trains between New York and Buffalo.
- Buckeye Trail: Built for the New York, Chicago, and St. Louis (Nickel Plate) Railroad, this coach car with heating and air conditioning seats two passengers on either side of the aisle.
First Class Coach (allows all ages) is the:
- Silver Pine: The Silver Pine (DRGW 1121) was built for the Denver and Rio Grande Western in 1948 by the Budd Company. This car was part of a fleet of cars that were used in service on the California Zephyr, a joint venture between the Denver Rio Grande Western, Burlington Route, and Western Pacific railroads. The car was originally constructed as a 16-section sleeper, but in 1964 was rebuilt into a 48-seat coach. The Silver Pine remained in service on the Rio Grande Zephyr until it too was discontinued in 1984.
First Class Lounge cars (allows all ages) are the:
- Maurice Beckham: This car (Santa Fe 1343) originally housed a barbershop, shower, passenger lounge, and crew dormitory on Santa Fe’s famous Super Chief train, which operated between Chicago and Los Angeles. It was built by Pullman-Standard in November 1950 as one of six identical cars. Today the car contains an open lounge area and kitchen for serving snacks in. It also has a popular party room for up to 8 passengers with 3 small tables and 8 chairs with 3 windows on one side and 2 doors on the other. It was renamed for a long-time ATSA volunteer.
- Eagle Cliff: The Eagle Cliff was used on Missouri Pacific/Texas & Pacific streamline service trains # 1 and 2, the Texas Eagle, between St. Louis and Ft. Worth. The Eagle Cliff was built in 1948 by Pullman-Standard and is an excellent example of a “smooth side” aluminum design. The Eagle Cliff is an 85-foot Sleeper-Lounge (the sole survivor of three such cars). The interior consists of five compartments, each with windows on one side and doors on the other, and seats for 26 in the lounge area. The two original large illuminated photographic murals in the lounge represent points of interest along the Missouri Pacific line. The Eagle Cliff was retired from the Missouri Pacific in 1966.
Adults-Only First Class (ages 14 and up) Lounge Cars are the:
- Rippling Stream: The Rippling Stream was built by the Budd Company for the New York Central System in 1949. It was part of a multi-car order under lot 9663-023. The Rippling Stream has 10 sisters: Forest Stream, Gulf Stream, Rapid Stream, Boulder Stream, Crystal Stream, Woodland Stream, Swift Stream, Mountain Stream, and Rainbow Stream. It was common to give cars the same last name and have a theme in a multi-car order. The Rippling Stream was in the consisted of the Ohio State Limited, the Chigagoan, and the Pacemaker, all classic trains of New York Central’s Great Steel Fleet.
- Nambe: 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 the streamlined design of the 1930s, both on the exterior and the interior, and has a remarkably high degree of integrity.