Children and parents are expected to crowd the railway platform at Austin Steam Train Association on Sunday, Oct. 4 for the inaugural Reading on the Rails festival.

The festival will last from 2-6 p.m. and will include children’s book authors and local leaders reading stories aboard the organization’s stationary train cars. ASTA Executive Director Lil Serafine said the event combines railroad history and literacy.

The event is free to attend, and guests are asked to bring gently used books, which will be donated to one of the event’s partners, Leander ISD Educational Excellence Foundation. LEEF is a nonprofit organization that supports LISD by sponsoring teacher innovation, promoting college and career readiness, and encouraging children’s love for literature and reading, Executive Director Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia said.

“Reading on the Rails is a perfect way to get people over to the train station … and also [promote] this love of literacy,” Gonzales-Dholakia said. “Young children love the train. … We’re going to have at least two authors there reading their books. We’re going to do an arts-and-crafts [program] in one car. And in another car we’re going to do a creative writing [exercise].”

The Cedar Park Public Library is also an event partner. Sponsors include Cedar Park Regional Medical Center, Prosperity Bank and The Williamson Museum, Serafine said. Throughout the afternoon Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and Red Horn Coffee House and Brewing Co. will provide beverages and snacks.

Guests can also see ASTA’s antique Horse Car Museum that was used to store railroad artifacts. Those artifacts are housed in the railroad museum, which opened in October 2014, she said.

“Families will be able to see [the Horse Express car] first before the public,” Serafine said.

Laying tracks for other events

Austin Steam Train Association was founded in 1989. At its Cedar Park office and station, the nonprofit group offers train rides nearly every weekend, Executive Director Lil Serafine said.

During the summer, ASTA held successful Princess Flyer and Superhero Flyer rides, she said.

“We’re really enhancing and specializing so that for our returning passengers, they’re not saying, ‘Oh, it’s the same ride again,’” Serafine said.

This fall ASTA will host several new train ride events, including The Pumpkin Express and Halloween Express rides and two rides that feature live murder mystery performances, said Zena Vaughn, ASTA director of marketing and special events.

In 2016, ASTA and partner Bluebonnet Beer Co. will offer more beer-themed train rides.

Some funds raised from events go toward a future restoration of ASTA’s 1912 Southern Pacific 786 steam engine, which awaits repair while ASTA uses a 1960 Alco diesel locomotive for rides.

Serafine said ASTA is also restoring and upgrading one of its cars to use as a concession car.

“Right now our current concession car is not air-conditioned, so our new one will be air-conditioned,” she said. “It’s a beautiful design.”

Now boarding for fall 2015

The Pumpkin Express—11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (Oct. 11, 18 and 25)

Murder Mystery: ‘Dead Man’s Switch: An Apocalyptic Fairytale’—age 17 and older, 7-10 p.m. (Oct. 17 and 24)

Halloween Express—10 a.m.-4 p.m. (Oct. 31)

Austin Steam Train Association

401 E. Whitestone Blvd., Ste. C-100, Cedar Park