ARLINGTON (CBS 11 NEWS) – Six Flags Over Texas — the first regional theme park in the country — will celebrate its 55th year in operation this summer. And after all these years and all the changes the park has seen, there’s only one thing that’s remained constant: The Six Flags Railroad.
With a loud whistle and a burst of steam, the train at Six Flags isn’t shy about announcing its presence inside the theme park. While it’s far from the flashiest ride the park has to offer, it’s definitely the most enduring.
The Six Flags Railroad is the last remaining ride from the park’s opening season in 1961, and more than five decades later…is still incredibly popular.
“We have several people who’ll come out and just ride the train. All day. They’re what we call ‘rail fans’,” says ride engineer, Cliff Knight.
But the vast majority of passengers probably have no idea just how special Six Flags’ two trains really are.
“A lot of folks don’t realize that it’s an actual real steam engine,” says Six Flags’ Park Operations Manager, Matt Hughey. “We have two of them here at the park, which is exciting for us, but I think when folks actually realize that ‘Oh, my gosh, they’re really running a steam engine– they’re over 100 years old’…It’s just an amazing piece of equipment that’s still out here that we get to operate and have fun with.”
The engines were built at the turn of the 20th century, and were used on a sugar cane plantation in Louisiana until the end of World War II. Six Flags bought the engines several years later, and since its opening day in August of 1961, the trains have been in continuous operation. They circle the park on a mile-long track.
And while the railroad may be one of the slower rides at Six Flags, it’s also perhaps the most difficult to operate. The trains’ engineers and firemen require dozens of hours of training.
“It’s continuing learning because each trip is completely different based on the amount of people you have, wind conditions, weather conditions,” says Hughey. “All of that stuff actually changes each trip, so it’s not the same trip anytime.”
No matter how old you are — or how many times you’ve ridden it — the train seems to hold new experiences for everyone. Even the people who operate it.
“I don’t consider this going to work,” says Knight. “I consider this coming to play with my trains. We’re operating 100-year-old steam engines. It never gets boring. The fact that these were actually used on a working plantation — these weren’t built specifically for the park — these are real. It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to operate one of these. It really is.”
Real steam engines that have entertained park-goers for generations, and hopefully will do so for generations to come.
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