Last revised: March 14, 2023
By: Adam Burns
Christmas-themed train rides in Alabama can be found at the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum and North Alabama Railroad Museum. These organizations are the state's largest; they not only offer such trips but also do a fine job highlighting Alabama's rail history.
Its first can be traced back to industry's earliest with the Tuscumbia Railway's founding in 1803. This horse-powered system was the first chartered and opened west of the Appalachian Mountains.
It's initial 2.1 miles opened in 1832 to haul cotton bales from downtown Tuscumbria to a new wharf on the Tennessee River. The system was later merged with the connecting Tuscumbia, Courtland & Decatur and eventually wound up as part of the Southern Railway.
The state's mileage peaked at over 5,000 in the 1920s, at which time it was to several important markets (Mobile, Montgomery, and Birmingham) as well as a number of through routes to New Orleans, Florida, and the Gulf Coast.
The information listed below highlights those organizations that offer Christmas-themed train rides. To learn more about their events, please visit their website included. For more information about official "The Polar Express" events please click here.
(Calera): The Heart Of Dixie Railroad Museum is a long-standing heritage organization which dates back to 1962.
It is primarily focused on railroads which served its home state and during 50+ years has amassed an impressive collection of locomotives, cars, and other rolling stock.
The group has four steam locomotives, including one of which is under restoration; Alabama Marble 0-4-0ST #3 built by American Locomotive's Cook Works in 1910.
The other three include Alabama Power 0-4-0F (fireless) #40, Alabama By-Products 0-6-0 #4046, and Woodward Iron 2-8-0 #38.
It also has eight diesel switchers, a few of which are operational and pull excursions over its 5.5 miles of former Alabama Mineral Railroad (Louisville & Nashville) trackage.
Trips are available from March through December. Finally, two preserved depots can be perused; Southern Railway's station from Wilton (built 1900-1910) and L&N's Woodlawn structure completed in 1904.
The museum's The North Pole Express/Santa Special allows kids to meet Santa during a one-hour train ride and receive a small gift from the Jolly Man.
The Santa Special is offered on select dates during December while the North Pole Express is available most Fridays through Sundays from mid-November through early December.
(Chase): This museum is located about six miles northeast of downtown Huntsville. It lies along an active Norfolk Southern corridor (ex-Southern Railway) and utilizes 5 miles of the old Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis running to the east and west of town.
This is operated as the "Mercury & Chase Railroad." While the museum does not currently have any steam locomotives they do have five diesels, including one of particular note; Union Carbide boxcab #11 built in 1926 by Ingersoll-Rand/General Electric/American Locomotive.
They also maintain a fine fleet of passenger cars along with several freight cars, a handful of cabooses, and a few pieces of maintenance-of-way equipment.
Finally, be sure to visit the restored Chase Union Depot which served both the Southern and NC&StL. The museum's Santa Train carries a Christmas theme with kids meeting Santa. Overall the ride lasts for about 40 minutes and runs on two Saturday's in early December.
They now also offer a second holiday-themed train, the North Star Limited. A bit similar to The Polar Express, the kids can enjoy a train ride, meet Santa, receive a small gift, and partake in snacks upon arrival.
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Wes Barris's SteamLocomotive.com is simply the best web resource on the study of steam locomotives.
It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website.
It is quite staggering and a must visit!