While Christmas/holiday train rides have been around for quite some time, interest spiked after Warner Brothers Pictures released The Polar Express in November, 2004. The movie is based from Chris Van Allsburg acclaimed children's book by the same name, originally published in 1985. Today, numerous organizations host officially licensed trips featuring his work and these usually sell out months in advance. However, not all have chosen this route and instead offer their own Christmas-themed excursions. Many are also quite popular and some, too, sell out quite quickly! Featured below is a 2019 schedule of such events which are expected to operate. If you would like to learn more about officially licensed The Polar Express events please click here. Please Note! While I have striven to make sure the information presented is accurate to the best of my knowledge, I cannot say-so with 100% certainty. Please contact each individual organization regarding available trains, specific dates, times, and ticket pricing.
Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum (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.
North Alabama Railroad Museum (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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Arkansas & Missouri Railroad (Springdale): Some of the nation's finest train excursions do not operate official The Polar Express trips. Wishing to sidestep the steep licensing fees they elect to host their own Christmas-themed rides. One such place is the Arkansas & Missouri, an active and successful short line freight carrier. The A&M began in 1986 over a long stretch of the old St. Louis-San Francisco Railway ("Frisco") between Fort Smith, Arkansas and Monett, Missouri, a distance of 140 miles. During the early 2000's the A&M saw its infrastructure considerably upgraded and the railroad now features continuous welded rail (CWR) and handles the industry's largest and heaviest freight cars. Thanks to its friendly stance towards public excursions such trips are offered throughout the year between Springdale, Winslow and Van Buren. If you have a chance, a ride aboard the A&M is highly recommended. During the holiday season they offer a number of Christmas-themed activities including a Children's Christmas Train, the Holiday Express, Holiday Pizza Express, and even Pajama Trains similar to The Polar Express. Please visit the railroad's website for more information about these trips.
Fillmore & Western (Fillmore): While the general public may not know it the Fillmore & Western has been widely featured on television as the backdrop for movies, commercials, and TV shows. This is all thanks to its proximity to Hollywood, only one hour away from downtown Los Angeles. It began in 1991 and has since expanded into a multifaceted operation featuring steam locomotives, historic diesels, excurions in climate controlled cars, special trips, Thomas The Train, and much more. Previously, the Fillmore & Western offered its own Christmas production from November through late December. Known as the North Pole Express it was quite a spectacle with the entire grounds decorated for the season; Santa greeted passengers as they boarded and then read a story to children during the trip. However, in 2019 this was replaced with official The Polar Express events. The railroad also hosts the Sugar Plum Express Holiday Village & Tree Train, Return Santa To The North Pole and a special murder mystery train known as The Holiday. The former (Sugar Plum Express Holiday Village & Tree Train, Return Santa To The North Pole) allows guests to enjoy a short train ride to the Holiday Village where they can pick out a pre-cut Christmas Tree. While there you can visit Santa, and walk through their Winter Wonderland.
Max's Miracle Ranch (Biggs): This ranch is located in Biggs and offers a number of activities for special needs kids and families. Its activities and entertainment venues are also open to the public. As a working farm the organization offers a great deal of local produce for sale. They also host field trips for school children, weddings, birthday parties, and have two train ride attractions to choose from; a "trackless train" and a 20-inch gauge railroad. The latter is meant to replicate a logging operation, complete with a Shay geared steam locomotive originally built in the 1940's. During the holiday season they host the Christmas Light Extravaganza, which includes the Polar Express train ride where folks can see Christmas lights around the grounds and enjoy hot chocolate. They also sell Christmas trees and wreaths for the holidays.
Napa Valley Wine Train (Napa): Simply put this is one of the finest excursions you will find anywhere; the Napa Valley Win Train not only offers superb, first class amenities but also maintains a fleet of all-matching equipment. It truly evokes the bygone streamliner era where no expense was spared to provide passengers the very best in accommodations. The Napa Valley's rail corridor was previously a component of the historic Southern Pacific. It originally totaled 42 miles between Calistoga and Vallejo where it crossed another SP line that linked up with the Northwestern Pacific Railroad (a property jointly owned with the Santa Fe) which hugged the Northern California coastline. The line began as the Napa Valley Railroad in 1864 and was leased by the SP in 1885. Today, the Napa Valley Wine Train, which launched on September 16, 1989, takes visitors on an 18 mile journey from Napa to the Krug Winery. If you the chance and means, a ride aboard this train is highly recommended. Their Santa Express Train is offered from late November through late December and features a one-hour ride where kids can meet Santa during the trip.
Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad & Transportation Museum (Nevada City): Based in Nevada City this organization's mission is to preserve the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad's memory. Chartered on March 20, 1874 the NCNG was built to the typical narrow-gauge of 3 feet and intended to serve the ongoing gold rush. Promoters were aided by the Transcontinental Railroad's completion, enabling a direct outlet to the national network. This was established along the Central Pacific at Colfax with the line running roughly due north. John F. Kidder was the chief engineer who had completed 22.5 mile to Nevada City on May 14th (service began on May 24th). The narrow-gauge was not only prosperous (handling quartz gold ore, lumber, and general freight) but also very scenic and rugged featuring four large wooden trestles and two tunnels (one at You Bet and the other at Town Talk). The latter (bridges and tunnels) were utilized for only 32 years as the railroad elected to bypass them all in the early 1900's. The project, a total of 3.56 miles in length, began in 1906 and was completed two years later. It shaved two miles off the main line and included two noteworthy steel bridges over Bear River and Long Ravine. Interestingly, the NCNG also opened a 3.63-mile standard-gauge component near Bear River to serve a gravel pit. The branch was located along the railroad's southern periphery and to improve efficiency a third-rail was laid to the Colfax interchange. The gravel pit ceased production in 1923 and operations generally wound down over the next twenty years; when restrictions on gold mining began in March, 1942 the railroad applied for total abandonment and all service ceased on July 10th that year. Today, the museum hosts excursion over original NCNG property in Nevada City featuring a small yard and section of circular track. Also be sure to visit their one preserved NCNG steam locomotive, 2-6-0 #5 built by Baldwin in 1875. While they do not offer any type of Christmas or holiday train ride they do host "Christmas At The Railroad Museum" allowing the kids to visit Santa and receive a gift.
Niles Canyon Railway (Fremont): One of the California's finest train rides can be found in Fremont at the Niles Canyon Railway. Like most attractions around the state it utilizes a short stretch of the old Southern Pacific, in this case 9.2 miles from Fremont to Verona on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay. Well into the mid-20th century the route was one of importance serving port facilities, a strong manufacturing base, and the perishable/produce industry. However, the decline in these businesses coupled with growing competition and the railroad's fading service by the 1970's, led to the right-of-way's sale to Alameda County in 1984. On May 21, 1988 the Niles Canyon Railway operated its first public excursion and has since worked to rebuild more of the abandoned right-of-way. While the organization offers some wonderful trips, if you are a history buff you will love their impressive collection of rare locomotives like Clover Valley Lumber Company 2-6-6-2T #4, Robert Dollar 2-6-2T #3, and Southern Pacific ML-4000 #9010 (the only one of its type preserved). During the holidays they host the Train Of Lights during late November and throughout most of December with the train decorated in Christmas lights for the holiday season.
Pacific Southwest Railway Museum (Campo): This organization has a long history tracing back to two San Diego railfans, Fred Sanders and Doug Duncan, who wished to launch a museum dedicated to the region's railroad heritage. It began as the Railway Historical Society of San Diego and in 1955 acquired its first true addition, San Diego & Arizona Eastern 2-8-0 #104 (C-8), which was donated by Southern Pacific. The organization changed its name to the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association in 1963, which was slightly amended to the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association, Inc. a year later. Since that time the group has acquired an impressive collection including four other steam locomotives (including one under restoration, Coos Bay Lumber 2-8-2T #11) and numerous historic diesels. They began hosting excursions in 1986 and still operate a train known as the "Golden State" (a nod to a notable streamliner of the same name). Today, they now offer locomotive cab rides, school trains, being an engineer for a day, party and school rentals, and holiday specials. For the Christmas season they host the North Pole Limited from late November through late December during the weekends. It lasts about one hour and a half with elves serving kids hot chocolate and cookies; afterwards a Christmas story is read and the children meet the "Big Guy."
Roaring Camp Railroads (Felton): Most tourist railroads operate tracks previously abandoned or sold by a larger freight line. However, for the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge it was built entirely from scratch by F. Norman Clark who sought to resurrect steam-powered train rides during an era when the iron horse was vanishing across America. He began his quest during the late 1950's by acquiring a defunct Shay geared steam locomotive from Virginia and then leased 200 acres on the Big Trees Ranch in Santa Cruz County near Felton. His little railroad proved successful and has remained so for nearly a half-century with several geared steam locomotives now restored and in operation. Among their specials is the Holiday Lights Train, a unique experience offered during late November through late December where riders can ride through the streets of Santa Cruz enjoying treats, listening to music, and visiting Santa and Mrs. Claus. They also host the Holiday Tree Walk, where a daytime train trip to Bear Mountain allows guests to disembark and view the beautifully decorated Christmas trees.
Sacramento RiverTrain (West Sacramento): California's generally mild climate allows organizations, if they so choose, to host rail excursions year-round. Such is the case with the Sacramento RiverTrain which offers upscale, lavish trips running 14 miles from West Sacramento to Woodland. During your journey you will see open farmland, pass through the Yolo County Wildlife Refuge, and cross the Fremont Bridge while enjoying the experience either within climate-controlled or open-air cars. The history of this line can be traced back to an electrified interurban, the Sacramento Northern, one of the nation's largest. Among their many popular productions is the Magical Christmas Train, a 90-minute event held during November and December where kids and adults can experience a wide array of activities from meeting Santa to enjoying treats and listening to live music. The railroad also hosts a Holiday Dinner Train during select weekends in December. Finally, after Christmas a Holiday Excursion is offered in late December.
Skunk Train/California Western Railroad (Fort Bragg): The Skunk Train, officially known as the California Western Railroad, is a popular Northern California railroad running 40 miles from the coast at Fort Bragg to Willits. If you enjoy rail history a visit to this location is a must; a sort of time capsule most of the original property, dating back to the 1880's, has been preserved and remains in use as a tourist attraction/historic interpretive center. It was originally the idea of Charles Russell, "CR" Johnson, who wished to timber the region's iconic redwood forest. However, Johnson was also visionary environmentalist; understanding the forest's age and rarity he carried out the now common-practice of select cutting. To read more about the California Western's history please click here. Today, visitors can see the majestic redwoods by train while navigating through tunnels, over bridges, and passing small communities such as Pudding Creek, South Fork, Northspur, and Burbeck. Among the Skunk Train's many special events is the Magical Christmas Train held during November and throughout much of December. It is a 90-minute train ride with music, hot chocolate, music, and a visit from Santa himself.
Western Pacific Railroad Museum (Portola): The WPRM is the museum dedicated to the Western Pacific's memory. This railroad was Arthur Keddie's dream of opening a second major rail corridor between Salt Lake City and San Francisco/Oakland. Unfortunately, by the time he began this quest the Central Pacific/Southern Pacific, led by the infamous "Big Four" of Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker had already cornered this market with the Transcontinental Railroad's completion in May, 1869. Keddie never gave up and was finally successful when he received George Gould's financial backing. The modern Western Pacific was much smaller than SP but nevertheless maintained a respectable system that was not only well built but also circumvented the treacherous Donner Pass by building through the Feather River Canyon. The engineering superiority of this route has kept it in operation under successor Union Pacific today. The WPRM, which began as the Portola Railroad Museum in 1984 (renamed in 2006), has amassed the most complete collection of original WP equipment found anywhere including steam and diesel locomotives, passenger cars, and freight cars. The museum closes for the winter season but during the holidays hosts the Santa Train excursion during select weekends in December.
Georgetown Loop Railroad (Georgetown): As George Hilton notes in his engaging book, "American Narrow Gauge Railroads," most of Colorado's railroads were built for one of two reasons; serve the booming mining industry or communities, like a fledgling Denver, bypassed by the Transcontinental Railroad. The Georgetown Loop's heritage dates back to the Colorado Central Railroad, which fell into the latter category. It was the project of William A.H. Loveland to promote Golden over Denver as the major center of commerce along the Front Range. It was designed as a duel narrow gauge (3 foot)/standard gauge operation; the former would run west from Golden to serve the mining industry while the latter would link Golden with Hazard (near Cheyenne, Wyoming) where a connection was made with Union Pacific. Its lines were primarily built during the 1870's; when UP leased the property in 1879 more lines were added during the 1880's. What makes the Georgetown Loop famous was a loop and horseshoe curves designed by Union Pacific engineer Robert Blickensderfer. He was tasked with finding a way to build a rail line with a manageable grade between Georgetown and Silver Plume which would gain 638 feet in just 2 miles. His finished design was impressive; it contained 4.47 miles of track with a maximum grade of just 3.5%. The Colorado Central was abandoned in stages between 1898 and January 1, 1939 when all remaining operations ceased. The current Georgetown Loop Railroad has reactivated 4.5 miles of the old roadbed, including the legendary loop; rebuilding began in 1973 and was officially opened on March 10, 1984. Among their steam-powered excursions is a special event during the holidays, Santa's North Pole Adventure. This trip is offered during weekends from mid November through early January. While aboard the train kids can meet Santa and enjoy candy, cocoa, cookies, and receive a small gift. They have also added Santa's Lighted Forest Trains, which run from mid November through the end of December.
Royal Gorge Route Railroad (Cañon City): One of the most visually stunning feats of railroad engineering was completed through Colorado's Royal Gorge during the 1870's as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe and Denver & Rio Grande fought for control of this natural wonder to tap Colorado's lucrative mining trade. Most of the original construction along the Arkansas River had been completed by the Santa Fe although both railroads fiercely fought for control of the line. The U.S. Supreme Court finally ended the war in a decision rendered on April 21, 1879. In the so-called "Treaty of Boston" the railroads agreed to stay out of each other's territory (later broken by both parties) while the Rio Grande purchased AT&SF's completed work for $1.4 million. For years, the Royal Gorge Route was a successful marketing campaign for the D&RGW and it even had a train named after the gorge. In 1997 Union Pacific agreed to sell the most scenic 12 miles, including the fabled hanging bridge, as a tourist attraction. It remains a very popular draw today as the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. Each holiday season they offer the Santa Express with different classes of service; trips run daily from mid November through December. Trains travel to the North Pole to see Santa and during the ride kids are able to enjoy treats and a story reading. They also now host the Holiday Train during late December.
Danbury Railway Museum (Danbury): This organization got its start in 1994 when it acquired the town's former New York, New Haven & Hartford brick station (built in 1903) from Metro-North Railroad. After securing a $1.5 million grant the building was restored and rededicated on October 29, 1995. Since that time they have acquired an impressive collection of equipment including diesel locomotives, rail diesel cars (RDC's), maintenance-of-way rolling stock, passenger and freight cars, and Boston & Maine 2-6-0 #1455, a steam locomotive built by American Locomotive in 1907. All of this equipment is housed in small yard directly adjacent to the station, and includes a nearby turntable which was restored in 1998. The museum is unique in that it sits along two active and very busy rail lines, offering visitors the chance to watch trains right from the property. The yard has enabled the group to offer the public limited rides and a spin on the turntable. During the holidays, they host the Santa Railyard/Santa Express during select dates in December where folks take a short trip to Santa's Toyland.
Essex Steam Train (Essex): Without question the Essex Steam Train, operated by the Valley Railroad, is one of New England's most popular rail attractions. Folks from far and wide come to ride this stretch of the former New York, New Haven & Hartford's 'Old Saybrook Line' spanning 22 miles from Essex to a point near Higganum. For much of the way the route is breathtakingly scenic as it hugs the Connecticut River's western shore. Throughout the year the group offers a multitude of different adventures from regular excursions to special holiday events and even riverboat rides. You can enjoy dinner on-board, see Thomas The Train on select dates, packages that include both the train and riverboat, and even book private events. Folks are also drawn in thanks to two operational steam locomotives; "New Haven 2-8-2 #3025" (actually built by China's Tangshan Locomotive & Rolling Stock Works in 1989) and Aberdeen & Rockfish 2-8-2 #40 (built by American Locomotive's Brooks Works in 1920). Their Santa Special offers Christmas train rides pulled by these steam locomotives. The trips are scheduled from late-November through late-December featuring an one-hour journey where the kids can meet Santa and Mrs. Claus as well as receive a souvenir gift. They also now host the North Pole Express throughout most of November and December. To learn more about their trips please click here.
Naugatuck Railroad (Thomaston): Operated by the Railroad Museum of New England, the "Naugatuck Railroad," pays homage to the same corporate entity which originally built the corridor in 1849. The system later wound up as part of the much larger New York, New Haven & Hartford which dominated rail service across southern New England. Under the New Haven it was little more than a long, stub-end branch running from Waterbury to Winsted via Torrington and Thomaston. It survived into the Penn Central which began on January 1, 1969. At that time the trackage was known as the "Torrington Secondary" which saw declining use into the 1970's. In 1982 the state of Connecticut acquired the line as far north as Torrington from the then-Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) to preserve service and subsequently leased to the Boston & Maine. The B&M opted out in 1995 which led to the Railroad Museum of New England entering the picture a year later. It launched in September and continues to host public excursions and whatever freight is available between Waterbury and Torrington (19.6 miles). The museum maintains a nice collection of equipment and features numerous special trips. Their Santa Express allows kids to visit with Santa during the 1.5 hour train ride. Additionally, the railroad offers the Northern Lights Limited. Both productions run during select dates in late November and December. Visit their website to learn more.
Shore Line Trolley Museum (East Haven): If you enjoy the interesting but often unknown history of interurbans and streetcars the Shore Line Trolley Museum is the place for you; the group focuses on preserving this unique aspect of transportation once found throughout New England. These region can claim some of the earliest streetcar systems ever put into operation; during the 19th century most used horses or mules and some didn't even have tracks! When Frank Sprague successfully developed an electric motorcar in 1886, electric traction took off and was viewed as the future in rapid transit operation. Large interurbans, linking cities/towns and their smaller streetcar counterparts, sprang up everywhere. As George Hilton and John Due point out in their book, "The Electric Interurban Railways In America," New England's systems were so numerous it's difficult to trace them all. The Shore Line Trolley Museum began as the the Branford Electric Railway Association (BERA) formed in August, 1945. It later acquired a 1.5 mile section of the Connecticut Company (ConnCo) between East Haven and Short Beach, which it still uses today to host passengers within restored streetcars. One of their special events is Santa's Trolley Winter Wonderland held from late November through mid-December.
Wilmington & Western Railroad (Wilmington): Today's Wilmington & Western is a nod to history as a former company by the same name built the 10.2 miles currently operated as a tourist attraction between Wilmington and Hockessin (opened in 1872 it originally reached Landenberg, Pennsylvania and a connection with the Pennsylvania Railroad). For many years the property was owned by the Baltimore & Ohio, our nation's first common-carrier. The first excursions were hosted by Historic Red Clay Valley, Inc. during the mid-1960's. These continued for more than a decade until the then-Chessie System elected to abandon the branch. The group managed to acquire the property in 1982, establishing today's Wilmington & Western. While the scenery alone and many special trips continue to draw in visitors, the railroad's two operating steam locomotives do as well; former Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic 0-6-0 #58 and Mississippi Central 4-4-0 #98. The W&W's Santa Claus Express offers an 1.5-hour trip from late-November through December. The railroad also offers the uniqueness of steam-powered trains. The event features chocolate and, of course, a meet-and-greet with Santa. The railroad also hosts the Holiday Lights Express, using their restored Doodlebug railcar. The car is aglow in lights and a 45-minute trip allows passengers to see the decorated private homes near the railroad. Finally, as an early celebration of the holiday season they also host "Christmas In July" specials.
Florida Railroad Museum (Parrish): Recognized as one of Florida's three official railroad museums the organization began in 1981 as the Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Museum. Not surprisingly, their primary mission is to preserve the Sunshine State's rail history, a goal at which they have been quite successful. The group has amassed an impressive collection of locomotives and rolling stock although only one of the former actually has ties to the state, W.W. Cummer & Sons Cypress 2-6-2 #104, built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1920. The museum now also hosts excursions over about 6 miles of the former Seaboard Air Line's Sarasota Subdivision between Parrish and Willow. This track, currently owned by CSX Transportation, holds big plans for the organization; it is not only used for excursions but they group has also built a small storage yard in Willow with a planned restoration shop. Their popular North Pole Express offers kids the chance to meet Santa. These trips are hosted from late November through mid-December. Also be sure and check out their "Christmas Party Caboose" available for private parties during the North Pole Express event.
Seminole Gulf Railway (Fort Myers): This long-running tourist attraction has been around since 1987 as a freight carrier. While the company primarily focuses on this business its excursions, noted for their murder mystery dinner trains, have gained a serious following over the years. A pair of former streamlined diesels, F7A #502 (built as Baltimore & Ohio #955-A in 1952) and F9AM #501 (built as Milwaukee Road F9A #85-C in 1954) "lead" the trains (in reality, these have been converted to cab cars only and are non-powered; another locomotive actually handles the trains). If you enjoy the theater you are sure to enjoy their productions, which are hosted year-round. During holidays and special events they put on themed mysteries; for this Christmas season you can enjoy The White Christmas Killer. Also be sure to check out their New Year's Eve Gala. Finally, their Christmas Rail Boat is another popular event; it is a train ride/boat trip that showcases the Christmas lights around Punta Gorda. The event is held a few times in December. They also feature a special play for the Christmas Eve this year entitled "Wicked Winter Wonderland."
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway (Blue Ridge): Tourists railroads found all along the Appalachian Mountain chain attract a great many visitors for the incredible scenery they offer. The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is no different; a division of short line Georgia Northeastern it takes guests on a 26-mile round trip of the old Louisville & Nashville's "Hook & Eye." This line was built in stages between 1867 and 1887 by the Marietta & North Georgia between Marietta, Georgia and Murphy, North Carolina where a connection was made with the Southern Railway's Murphy Branch (FYI, part of this line hosts another popular excursion train, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad!). It joined the L&N in 1902 where it acted as the railroad's direct north-south link to Atlanta. In later years it acted as a secondary corridor. To read more about the L&N please click here. The Blue Ridge Scenic is one of the region's top tourist attractions thanks to the scenery, proximity to a major metropolitan area, on-board services, and different rides available. The railroad's popular self-proclaimed Santa Express runs from late November until December 23rd with daytime and nighttime trips available. During the one-hour ride the kids get to see Santa and his elves, sing songs, and hear a Christmas story. To learn more about their holiday trips please click here.
SAM Shortline (Cordele): One of the longer excursion rides available throughout the country can be found at the SAM Shortline which offers different trips of various length along a route that spans a total of 34 miles between Cordele and Archery. The name "SAM" is a nod to the Savannah, Americus & Montgomery Railroad which built the corridor between Montgomery, Alabama and Savannah. In the "modern" railroad era it was a component of the Seaboard Air Line. In the 1980's CSX Transportation sold the trackage to Heart of Georgia Railroad, which today handles freight over the line (excursions are managed by the Southwest Georgia Railroad Excursion Authority). The railroad offers a number of holiday-themed events such as a one-time event known as the Christmas In Plains where patrons travel to Plains and can enjoy the sights of area Christmas lights and decorations along with a parade and seasonal music. Their other holiday-themed events include the North Pole Express (this train will travel from the Georgia Veterans State Park Depot to Cordele where kids can meet Santa and enjoy the town's "Winter Wonderland"), Candy Cane Express (this trip is something a little different; guests will travel to President Jimmy Carter's hometown of Plains while enjoying candy canes and Christmas music along the way. Once you have arrived in Plains several activities can be enjoyed such as visiting the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site Museum and shopping on main street), and Breakfast with Santa Train (as the title suggest, guests and kids take a quick ride out to the Lake Blackshear Trestle to enjoy breakfast with Santa) during select dates in late November and throughout much of December.
Southeastern Railway Museum (Duluth): One of the South's must-see railroad museums; the Southeastern Railway Museum was formed in 1970 by the Atlanta Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society to highlight the Southeast's and Georgia's history with the iron horse. Since that time they have managed to collect a very impressive roster of locomotives (steam and diesel), passenger cars, freight cars, and other equipment nearly all of which operated somewhere in the South. In all they have over 90 pieces to see on 30 acres of ground. In 2000 the group was recognized as Georgia's "official transportation history museum." You can also catch a train ride with trips hosted over the museum's property. During the holidays they offer a number of Santa-themed events. The first is "Santa Arrives On The Train" held on November 17th where kids can enjoy a meet-and-greet with the Big Man. In addition, from November 24th through December 15th the museum hosts breakfast and lunch events with Santa. To learn more please visit their website.
St. Marys Railroad (St. Marys): The St. Marys Railroad is a historic short line freight carrier based in St. Marys with a history dating back to the early 20th century. At its peak the little system operated just 11 miles from a connection with the Seaboard Air Line at Kingsland to St. Marys along the coast. It primarily served a paper mill and traffic related to the production of such. However, it also handled general freight and in 1955 built a new spur to serve a military munitions depot (which later closed). When the paper mill closed in 2002 it appeared the railroad would as well. However, the company has persevered and remains in business. In recent years it has found a new source of income as a growing tourist attraction. The idea has proven a great success and the railroad now hosts a wide range of special events in addition to their typical train rides. The Santa Express is one such popular production, held during late November and into December. The train journeys to Santa's Village and Santa himself rides the rails during the return trip.
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Illinois Railway Museum: The museum offers the Happy Holiday Railway during select dates during late November and into December allowing kids to experience a 40-minute train ride while enjoying treats on-board and meeting St. Nick himself.
Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum: The museum's popular Santa Trains are offered on select dates in December and feature a 45-minute train ride while the kids get to see Santa who gives each a small gift.
Midwest Central Railroad: This tourist line runs its North Pole Express
during late November through early/mid-December departing North Station usually
behind one of two steam locomotives, a Shay and 2-6-0 Mogul. During the trip kids can meet Santa and receive a small gift.
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Bluegrass Scenic Railroad: This tourist line, part of the Bluegrass Railroad Museum offers their Santa Claus Train ride during a few weekends in December.
Kentucky Railway Museum: Very similar to official The Polar Express train rides the KRM's Santa Express and North Pole Express offer an hour train ride while allowing kids to enjoy hot chocolate and cookies during their trip to see Santa all while wearing their PJs! Trains are host beginning... Please visit the museum's website for more information.
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Boothbay Railway Village: This organization is located in Boothbay, Maine with a heritage dating back to 1965 when the museum first opened for the purpose of displaying railroad memorabilia collected by George McEvoy. Today, it includes a great many other transportation artifacts, such as historic automobiles. Finally, they host short train excursions on the grounds, including special events for the holidays (North Pole Express and Candlelight & Cocktail On The Rails). To learn more please visit their website.
Seashore Trolley Museum: The museum's Christmas Prelude, held on select dates in early December,
is actually just a trolley ride with a Christmas theme offering patrons
hot chocolate, hot cider, tea, coffee and other snacks while aboard. In addition, they also host a similar trip where Santa rides along with the kids. To learn more please visit their website.
Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum: The rebuilt WW&F, a historic 2-foot, narrow-gauge railroad, offers a Victorian Christmas on December 15th only with free rides, a visit from Santa, and horse-drawn carriage rides. To learn more please click here.
Walkersville Southern Railroad: The little Walkersville Southern in Walkersvill, during the holiday season beginning in late November the railroad offers its Santa Trains, allowing the kids to see the Big Guy and enjoy treats during the trip.
Western Maryland Scenic Railroad: The popular Western Maryland Scenic in Cumberland offers their Winterland On The Western Maryland during late November and into December. These holiday rides take visitors on a 3-hour journey to Frostburg with Santa riding along for the kids to meet.
Cape Cod Central Railroad: The Cape Cod Central, located in Hyannis, hosts The Train To Christmas Town rides during select dates in November and December. To learn more please visit their website.
Edaville Railroad: Based in South Carver, this tourist line used to host official The Polar Express train rides. Today, they host the Christmas Festival Of Lights from mid-November through early January. The event offers several different activities encompassed in a wonderland of Christmas lights.
Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum: This museum offers their Moonlight Magic Friday on November 23rd. The town is bedecked in holiday lights, stores throughout the town (Shelburne Falls) are open late, and the museum gives trolley rides in equipment dressed with holiday lights.
Coopersville & Marne Railway: Beginning in late November and throughout much of December this excursion train features its Santa Train. While Santa is, of course, aboard the train their version is a bit unique in that a princess reads the kids The Polar Express.
Huckleberry Railroad: The popular Huckleberry Railroad, part of the Genesee County Parks system, is part of their popular Christmas At Crossroads Holiday Magic festivities that begin in late November and last throughout most of December. The train is decorated for the holidays and offers nighttime rides.
Little River Railroad: Featuring real steam locomotives decorated for Christmas their Holiday Express offers kids on board treats and typically runs during select dates in December.
Steam Railroading Institute: The SRI offers their North Pole Express
beginning in mid-November, before Thanksgiving, and lasting throughout most of December. The trip lasts four hours, allowing kids to see Santa, enjoy cocoa and partake in live musical
entertainment. They also offer a Cocoa Class for an extra fare which
includes unlimited cocoa, a cookie, and a souvenir mug. Please note! The SRI owns the actual steam locomotive used in "The Polar Express"
movie, Pere Marquette 2-8-4 #1225 which often pulls the train.
Southern Michigan Railroad: This little tourist line offers the Santa Special excursions during the holiday season in December. To learn more please visit their website or call the railroad.
Minnesota Streetcar Museum: This museum, based in Chisholm, offers rides in historic streetcars throughout the year while also hosting special events. These include their Holly Trolley, running during a few select dates in late December, where the kids can ride with Santa and the car is decorated for the holidays. They also run their Vinternatt on December 1st where the trolley is decorated for the holidays, Christmas lights along the route, and perhaps a special appearance from Santa. Finally, there is Christkindlsmarkt. According to the organization you will, "...visit a traditional European open air market, shop for unusual Christmas gifts, sample eats and drinks. Then take a ride on the decorated streetcar with Santa."
North Shore Scenic Railroad: The railroad, part of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, hosts their Christmas City Express from late November and throughout much of December. During the trip guests can enjoy the reading of the Christmas City Express story and a visit from Santa. Also consider their Bentleyville Tour of Lights train, hosted Fridays and Saturdays from November 23rd through December 22nd.
Grenada Railway: The Grenada Railway is a revived short line freight railroad owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings which utilizes 176 miles of the former Illinois Central main line between Southaven and Canton (it was along this stretch that famed IC engineer Casey Jones lost his life in a collision at Vaughan). They will host The Train To Christmas Town departing from Batesville during select dates in November and December.
St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway: This excursion line, based in Jackson, offers their Santa Express from late November, throughout much of December where kids can see Santa and The Polar Express is read to all during the 2-hour trip.
Charlie Russell Choo Choo: Montana's only excursion line offers guests splendid views of northern Montana aboard their North Pole Adventure, which lasts for 40 minutes and is offered several weeks after Thanksgiving. To learn more please click here.
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Conway Scenic Railroad: Their Santa's Holiday Express is offered from Thanksgiving Weekend through late December. Trips last nearly an hour with kids enjoying cocoa, cookies, seeing Santa, and receiving a small gift.
Hobo Railroad/Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad: They host Santa Trains from late November through the latter half of December. The trains operate between Lincoln and Woodstock during the daytime only and last over an hour with kids able to enjoy treats along the way and see Santa.
Black River & Western Railroad: The North Pole Express takes visitors to the North Pole Station and operates from mid-November through late December with kids able to enjoy treats, sing Christmas carols, visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and receive a small gift. To learn more please visit their website.
Pine Creek Railroad: Operated by the New Jersey Museum of Transportation, the Pine Creek Railroad offers the Christmas Express where kids get to ride with Santa and trains depart all day from around Thanksgiving Weekend through mid-December. For more information please visit their website and plan ahead as this ride, which has been offered now for more than 35 years, usually sells out quickly.
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Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad: The Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley operates Christmas Lights Trains and the Santa Express during the holiday season, the former in early December and the latter from late November through mid-December.
Arcade & Attica Railroad: The North Pole Express, lasting about 2.5 hours, operates most weekends from mid-November through December 23rd with kids encouraged to dress in their PJs while visiting Santa and enjoying hot cocoa and cookies. Please be aware that these trains use open-air cars so be sure to dress accordingly.
New Hope Valley Railway: During the month of December, on select weekends, the railroad hosts Santa’s Reindeer Roundup Express. To learn more about these trips lease visit their website.
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Hocking Valley Scenic Railway: The organization's longest running event is the Santa Train held during late November through mid-December with several runs made on each day these special events run. They have remained a popular event on the railroad for many years!
Lebanon Mason Monroe Railroad: The North Pole Express allows kids to experience a half-hour train ride to see Santa and Mrs. Claus at LM&M Junction while enjoying treats along the way and entertainment from the elves. It is usually offered from mid-November through late December.
Northwest Ohio Railroad Preservation Inc.: This organization, based in Findlay, operates a 1/4-scale railroad and hosts several special events, including the North Pole Express during the holidays. It operates Fridays-Sundays, November 23rd through December 30th.
Oklahoma Railway Museum: This museum, based in Oklahoma City, hosts their Christmas Train a few times in December among their many other excursions offered throughout the year. According to the museum: "Come see Santa, sing Christmas Carols and hear a reading of Christmas stories! Enjoy cookie and hot chocolate reception after the ride. Smiley O’Riley from Dental Depot will be handing out goodie bags to all of the children."
Mount Hood Railroad: The Mount Hood Railroad, located in Hood River, will host Iowa Pacific's very own The Train To Christmas Town during select weekends from late November through mid-December. They also offer three classes of tickets so please visit their website to learn more.
Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation: The ORHF, which maintains two operating and historic steam locomotives in Portland (Southern Pacific 4-8-4 #4449 and Spokane Portland & Seattle 4-8-4 #700) hosts The Holiday Express (pulled by #4449) during select weekend dates from late November through mid-December. For complete information please click here.
Sumpter Valley Railway: Based in Sumpter, this tourist attraction offers steam-powered Christmas Trains during December where kids can meet Santa. These events are held during a two-day only event, December 8-9.
Colebrookdale Railroad: A relatively new tourist railroad, the Colebrookdale Railroad, also known as the Secret Valley Line, began service in 2014 and operates 8.6 miles between Boyertown and Pottstown. They currently offer two different holiday excursions including the 'Twas The Night Before Christmas Train and Santa's Polar Bear Express. For more information please visit their website.
Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad: The Milk & Honey Line offers the Polar Bear Express and Santa’s Surprise Trains from late November through mid-December with kids able to see the Big Guy. Please visit their website to learn more.
New Hope & Ivyland Railroad: Running from mid-November through early January, the North Pole Express includes an over one-hour train ride where kids are able to see Santa, listen to live music on board, and enjoy hot cocoa and cookies where they also receive a gift during the trip. These trains are also usually pulled by authentic steam locomotives. They also have a new event entitled Santa's Steam Spectacular.
Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad: The Oil Creek & Titusville, based in Titusville, operates Santa Trains during a few weekends after Thanksgiving where the kids enjoy hot chocolate and cookies while riding along with Santa himself.
Strasburg Railroad: The second most popular tourist railroad in the country offers their own version of a Christmas train, the Santa Paradise Express. The train runs from late November through the weekend before Christmas and operate between Lancaster and Paradise. The kids get to see Santa and the trains are always pulled by steam locomotives. The railroad also now hosts The Night Before Christmas special during the holiday season (check out the Christmas Feast offered on this tip!). Finally, they run a Christmas Tree Train in early December. To learn more about these events please visit their website.
Wanamaker, Kempton & Southern Railroad: The WK&S is based in Kempton and offers their Santa Claus Special during the first weekend in December (8th and 9th) where kids are able to see Santa and Mrs. Claus. The railroad also hosts Story Time With Mrs. Claus on December 7th.
Newport & Narragansett Bay Railroad: Based in Newport hosts a themed-trip called the "Dickens Holiday Dinner Theatre Train." Guests will enjoy a meal while enjoying a retelling of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" by the Marley Bridges Theatre Company. They also host a "Jingles On The Rails Holiday Dinner Train." To learn more please visit the railroad's website.
South Carolina Railroad Museum: The state's largest railroad museum also operates excursions on its premises known as the Rockton, Rion & Western Railroad. One such event is the Santa Train held during select dates in December.
Black Hills Central Railroad: The state's only notable excursion train, featuring live steam locomotives, hosts the Holiday Express; a Christmas-decorated train allowing kids to see Santa and
receive a small gift. It is offered on select dates in November and December
Tennessee Central Railway Museum: This popular museum in Nashville also hosts excursions, including the North Pole Express on select dates in November and December.
The train also offers three different classes of seating; regular, first
class, or dome.
Tennessee Valley Railroad: Another popular excursion, the Tennessee Valley Railroad offers their North Pole Limited (November and December dates), usually pulled by a live steam locomotive and giving kids the chance to see Santa, listen to story, sing songs, and enjoy refreshments. They also offer a special holiday dinner train known as the Christmas Special Dinner Train during late November and into December. Two more events include Nightcaps With St. Nick and Santa's Hiwassee Holiday Train. To learn more about these events please visit their website.
Three Rivers Rambler: Their Christmas Lantern Express is just that, festive holiday trains pulled by a live steam locomotive. These trains typically operate every weekend from the Friday after Thanksgiving until just before Christmas (December 23rd). Please visit their website to learn more.
Austin Steam Train: The North Pole Flyer is another Christmas train pulled by an authentic steam locomotive and offers a very long 2+ hour train ride while the kids get to see Santa, enjoy cookies/hot chocolate, and receive a small gift. It operates on select dates from November 17th through December 9th.
Grapevine Railroad: The railroad's most popular Christmas train is the North Pole Express for the kids, which runs from the day after Thanksgiving until December 23rd. In addition, they host Christmas Wine Trains for the adults on November 29th and December 13th as well as After Christmas Trains from December 26-30. Please visit their website to learn more.
Heber Valley Railroad: The North Pole Express takes kids on a magical ride to see Santa aboard the train. During the trip they can listen to choir-performed Christmas songs, play games, enjoy refreshments, and take in the beautiful scenery. The train is hosted during select dates from late November until December 22nd.
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Buckingham Branch Railroad: The Santa Train operates several times on select Saturday’s in December. As the train journeys through the Buckingham County countryside, Santa and Mrs. Claus will pass through the seasonally decorated cars and visit with the children. Make sure to plan your trip in advance as these trips always sell out quickly!
Chelatchie Prairie Railroad: This tourist line is based in Chelatchie and hosts their Christmas Tree Specials during a few weekends following Thanksgiving through the first half of December. Please visit their website to learn more.
Lake Whatcom Railway: The Christmas Train takes passengers on about a 1 1/2-hour journey during which time everyone can enjoy on board refreshments, listen to live music, and have a visit from Santa. For more information please visit their website.
Northwest Railway Museum: The Santa Train has been in operation for more than 40 years now offering a 20-minute train ride to the Snoqualmie Depot to see Santa and receive a gift. Kids also receive refreshments during the trip. The train operates every weekend from after Thanksgiving through December 16th. The museum also hosts a Victorian Santa Train on December 14th. To learn more please visit their website.
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East Troy Electric Railroad: The East Troy Electric, based in East Troy, hosts excursions in restored trolley and streetcars. They offer a number of special excursions throughout the year including Christmas Trains during the holidays from late November (after Thanksgiving) through mid-December. They will also take part in a Christmas Parade Train on December 1st. To learn more please visit their website.
Mid-Continent Railway Museum: This museum, located in North Freedom, also offers excursion train rides including the Santa Express during two weekends following Thanksgiving. The historic cars used on this trip are heated with old-fashioned wood stoves during the 7-mile round-trip that lasts about an hour.
Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad: The Santa Pizza Train is offered this season every weekend from November 17th through December 23rd, featuring a 2 1/2-hour train ride for kids to enjoy pizza while riding with Santa. The kids also receive hot cocoa and cookies along with a small gift.
No events yet known.
Dartmoor Railway: The Dartmoor Railway, a division of American-based Iowa Pacific and located in Okehampton, United Kingdom will host The Train To Christmas Town excursions throughout most of December.