Best Summer Ever For Abilene Railroad

The Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad is experiencing its best summer in the organization’s 31 year history.

According to the organization, as of the conclusion of the long Independence Day weekend the railroad has hauled 6,233 passengers so far this year, compared to just over 3,000 a year ago at this time, and 1,500 for the same period in 2022. They have drawn passengers from five countries, 37 states, and 246 Kansas communities.

“We’ve been overwhelmed,” said A&SV President Ross Boelling, citing increased marketing efforts and an ambitious 2024 schedule that featured running more trains than in previous seasons as reasons for the uptick in passenger totals. Another factor has been the 2024 Kansas Legislature’s designation of the A&SV as the state’s official heritage railroad and the railroad’s prized steam engine, Santa Fe 3415, as an official state symbol.

The biggest factor to explain the popularity this season is Kansas Tourism’s “Sunflower Summer,” a program that offers Kansas families with pre-K through 12th grade children who attend public, private or who are homeschooled a chance to ride the Flint Hills Express excursion trains for free this summer.

“We have been overwhelmed by the folk’s response to this program. We are just halfway through the season and our ridership is well over 100% higher than for same period in 2023,” said Boelling, who noted that the A&SV has already hosted 2,372 Summer Sunflower passengers from 115 communities across the state.

With six weeks remaining in the program, Boelling sees no sign of the demand for train rides waning.

“We have been operating near our 140-rider capacity and have sold out a few trains,” he said, noting that anyone with the Sunflower app can only get their tickets within one hour before train departure times and that Sunflower Summer tickets are issued on a first-come first-served basis.
“It’s advisable to arrive at the depot early,” he added, noting that tickets for passengers not eligible for the Sunflower Summer program can be purchased in advance at the railroad’s website,

The Dickinson County Heritage Center and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum also participate in the program, which concludes August 11. Tickets can be used once per attraction, per season. More information about the program is available at