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Austin Steam Train


"1st Class" accommodations on the City of Chicago


Above:  Clarence, volunteer

Below:  Another nice volunteer

My wife and I love trains.  We've taken the Durango-Silverton train, Antonito to Chama train, Palestine train, Tarantula train, and others.  This was the reason for our trip to the Austin area;  luckily, we booked a river cruise so the trip was much better.  The Austin Steam Train was an overall disappointment, but had some nice moments, as well.  It ranks above getting a root canal.


If you decide to take the train, the schedule -- at least at the time we went -- allowed for the longer train ride (round trip between Cedar Park & Burnet) on Saturday and the river cruise on Sunday.  It made for a event-filled weekend.


The train while at the station

The round trip to Burnet stops in Burnet for a couple of hours.  There are restaurants where one may get lunch within reasonable walking distance.  There are also several restaurants with free deluxe  transportation.  We chose (and highly recommend) the Highlander.  The food was good, and the driver was very accommodating.


The train is an old train, so it is well worth the ride just to be on an old train.  Some of the cars have been recently redone, and we wished we had booked one of those.


We had the pleasure of meeting Clarence, one of the many volunteers, even though he wasn't assigned to our car, and he was a gem.  If you can call to find out which car Clarence is working and book it, it would be worth it.  Our attendant was very good, as well.  The volunteers all had a great attitude and they were the highlight of the trip.


The scenery isn't Colorado or New Mexico, so we weren't expecting much.  After all, we were there to ride an old train.


The steam engine was being repaired (their website warned us), so it was pulled by a diesel engine, reducing the historic effect.  If only that had been the only thing that went wrong.


Above:  Ticket office

Below:  Entrance to train

The ticket office (where one has go to pick up tickets, even if pre-purchased over the internet) has very little handicapped parking.  Unfortunately, at train time, there are hundreds of people trying to get in there.  When I suggested they needed more handicapped parking to the "ticket lady," I received a verbal thrashing about how they had handicapped parking on the other end of the building -- perhaps 50 yards away.  I later discovered the "ticket lady" was actually the director of the company (see "Management" below).


One then goes to another building to stand in line for access into the train.  Being handicapped, I found a bench and sat while my wife stood in line.  As she got to where I was, I joined her and stood the rest of the time, causing considerable pain.  There appeared to be little or no consideration to the needs of handicapped people.


Reservations:  The reservation system, an outside source, is very cumbersome.  Availability kept coming and going.  A couple we met said they tried to book our car, but the reservation system said it was full, even though there were many empty seats in our car.  There is a discount field -- search the internet for the discount code and it will save you on tickets.  Be aware the reservation system will NOT allow you to select your seats.


Rest rooms:  Their website states "restrooms in the cars will only be open when we are not in the station," but that is misleading.  The restrooms are locked until AFTER departing the station -- about 15 minutes on each side would be our guess.  Apparently, there is a landmark they must pass before opening the restrooms -- we have no idea why.  The restroom in our car was actually the restroom to a sleeper compartment.  One enters a room with 2 bunks, then takes a side door into the water closet.  Think "airplane," but much smaller.  It was very difficult to get into the restroom (admittedly, I'm a big guy).  We recommend you utilize the local facilities before boarding the train.


City of Chicago

First Class We always travel first class in trains, as it generally provides the extra room that I need to get comfortable for my back, as well as chairs that are comfortable (good back support) and can be turned (I have a plate in my neck that severely limits my ability to turn my head) for a better view.  Our first class seats in the City of Chicago may be seen in the picture at the top of this page.  Yes, that's a fold-out TV tray for a table, crammed between two chairs.  The nicer seats next to us were unclaimed, so we moved to them.


Most trains we've been on limit the first class section to adults and restrict the car to those with tickets for that class.  We had some delightful children in our car, and I made a point of telling the parents how well-behaved they were.  Still, children have a limited attention span, and after about the 50th rendition of "Itsy Bitsy Spider," it got old.  (I must admit, she changed the words often, so we heard versions we'd never heard.  Still, it was the same tune, and while funny the first 49 times ...)


The real problem was the traffic and the door.  There was a rather constant flow of traffic through our car, apparently to visit the snack car.  The door on our car usually didn't shut itself, so our air conditioning was quickly sucked out.  Several people closed it manually, but since it was being opened every minute or so, even that didn't do much good.  It made our "air conditioned" compartment very warm, and that was early May.  I fear it would be dreadful in the heat of the summer.


Solicitation:  As if the foot traffic weren't enough disruption to what we thought would be a quiet, historic ride, and a chance to chat with each other, there was a group that came to our car to ask for donations.  They had a very loud presentation that lasted at least 10 minutes;  after all, they had a captive audience.   This reminded us of when we used to visit New Orleans (prior to the city cracking down on street solicitors) and we were asked for money every few minutes.  This was very disruptive, and we felt it was very inappropriate to abuse our time and the space for which we had paid.  Our peaceful train ride was anything but.  While the overall train ride was nice, this was more than an annoyance.


Management:  When I went to pick up our tickets, I asked the lady lady to mention to management that their handicapped parking was pathetic.  They have a small office, but hundreds of people coming at one time.  I assumed she'd respect my request and pass it along.  Instead, I got an ear-full about how there were handicapped spaces at the end of the building (at least 100' - 150' away).  I was spoken to like a 5 year old with his hand in the cookie jar.


When I later complained to the director via e-mail, I discovered she was the ticket agent.  It's amazing how the volunteers are amazingly nice people, but the director (presumably the highest paid) was extremely rude.


Her attitude, along with the solicitation, assured we'll never take this train again.  We recommend you take it if you're in the area, as it's worth doing once.  (We have taken other trains, such as the Antonito to Chama train and the Palestine train, multiple times.)


City of Chicago



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