If there was a question about whether Longview and Marshall’s new Wonderland Train was a good idea, ticket sales quickly answered that question.
The Longview Convention and Visitors Bureau rolled out the new holiday event at the beginning of November, capitalizing on the city’s place along the Amtrak Texas Eagle Line.
The event starts with activities at the historical Longview Train Depot, followed by a train ride from Longview to Marshall’s Wonderland of Lights on the Texas Eagle and then a charter bus ride back to Longview, all for $20 per person, $15 if purchased by Black Friday. The price includes a carousel ride at the Wonderland of Lights.
Planned for four Sunday evenings in December starting Dec. 8, the train rides sold out within days after ticket sales opened, according to Shawn Hara, city’s media and tourism manager.
“They went really, really quickly,” Hara said. “The goal is to make it affordable. Thankfully, we had a sponsorship, Christus Good Shepherd Health System, that’s helping to keep it very affordable.”
The event serves several purposes, he said.
Hara said the city’s convention and visitors bureau was looking at aspects of the community that it could promote and highlight.
“One of those things is our train,” he said, adding that Longview was founded as a train town. Longview continues to have passenger rail that runs through the city’s heart, thanks to Amtrak’s Texas Eagle Route.
“But I think it’s something of a forgotten asset for us. We wanted to be able to highlight that for us,” he said.
Also, while Longview has a number of “great holiday activities,” many of them are stacked toward the beginning of December. There’s a “gap” later in the month, Hara said.
He said the city’s “Visit Longview” efforts have largely been about helping to promote activities organized by other people and organizations.
“We don’t host a lot of events on our own,” Hara said, but this idea seemed to be good partnership that would promote the train and extend holiday activities in Longview.
“We reached out to Amtrak, and we reached out to Marshall, and everybody was interested and excited about trying to partner on it,” he said.
Crafts and refreshments await passengers when they gather at 5:45 p.m. each Sunday to board the train. The train is scheduled to leave at 6:15 p.m., though Hara noted there could be a delay in the train schedule.
“We are dependent upon the schedule of the Amtrak train. Amtrak is dependent on what’s going on on the railroad track,” he said. But he said if the train were going to be really late, the event has the option of riding the charter bus to Marshall.
Participants are scheduled to enjoy Marshall’s Wonderland of Lights from 7 to 9 p.m. Then the same charter bus that takes Amtrak passengers to Houston will get Wonderland Train riders back to Longview at the event’s end.
Wonderland Train had 50 tickets for each Sunday, but Hara reminded people who didn’t get one in time that they can separately purchase their own tickets on the Texas Eagle so long as they arrange their own transportation back to Longview.