RUSK, TX (KTRE) - After months of uncertainty, the Texas State Railroad now has reached a deal with a new operator.
According to TSRR Board President Bob Goldsberry, the board and the Western Group finalized the terms of the agreement and signed the deal Wednesday night.
"We don't want to just be known as the new operator with new ideas but rather as the right operator with determination to give this railroad the exposure and recognition it deserves," said Teresa Propeck, vice president of passenger train services in a press release.
The Western Group will now run operations on the historic train that covers a 25-mile long track between Rusk and Palestine.
"The bones of a great railroad are here," says Propeck, "Our goal is to make Texans excited about their Official State Railroad when they come to ride."
For the past 10 years, operators have focused heavily on special event trains. The goal of The Western Group is to build upon this foundation and bring even more passengers to ride through the picturesque Pineywoods. Some will come for the pure thrill and enjoyment of riding in antique rail cars, others to see the vintage steam and diesel engines, but all will be impressed by the railroad associates who pamper travelers from the first moment they arrive on property, through the unparalleled on-board service, to the last wave goodbye upon arrival back at the depot.
Food service and shopping options will be available at both Rusk and Palestine depots, as well as fascinating storyboards detailing the railroad's and the region's rich history. Rail fans nationwide recognize the significance of the Texas State Railroad's celebrated rolling stock.
"The Texas State Railroad Authority has done an unbelievable job of making sure that these classic locomotives and passenger cars maintain historic authenticity," Propeck said, "It is our goal to improve this railroad by adding more comforts and amenities expected by riders in the 21st century. We will still be operating trains for special occasions, including Polar Express, but we will be enhancing the experience for passengers each and every day."
The Western Group plans to have improvements well underway by the middle of May and completed by mid-June with the exception of the new rolling stock museum located in Palestine.
"This project may take a little more time," said Propeck, "but the ability to stand right next to these mammoth steam locomotives and tour a late-1890 wooden-frame presidential car in mint condition will be worth the wait."
Original locomotive mechanical drawings will be incorporated into the exhibit with other museum-quality memorabilia. Included in the planned upgrades are coach car renovations, new interiors for cabooses, and the makeover of unique parlor observation car #1511 which has seated Texas governors and U.S. presidents dating back to Lyndon Johnson.
A former deal with Iowa Pacific expired at midnight. Iowa Pacific reportedly owed about $2 million to both Rusk and Palestine. The future of the railroad was brought into question in late December after an email was sent out stating the railroad was being shutdown.
"The important thing to remember in all of this is that the trains are still running as we transition to the Western Group," Goldsberry said. "If you bought a ticket while Iowa was still operating, then it will be good. We have the trains still running on the schedules that were previously set."
For reservations you can visit the new website address and toll-free reservation number: www.TexasStateRailroad.net and (855) 632-7729. Call today to take a ride on Texas' very own railroad and witness the renovations firsthand.
A Press Release from the Western group contributed to this story