Published: December 5, 2021
Please note! Due to COVID-19 these events may have been rescheduled, delayed, or canceled. Please contact each organization regarding their current status.
While Christmas 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 2021 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.
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, excursions 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.
This line originally opened in 1872, reaching as far as 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 along the Appalachian Mountains attract a great many visitors thanks to 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 (M&NG) linking Marietta, Georgia with Murphy, North Carolina.
At the latter point 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!).
The M&NG joined the L&N in 1902 where it acted as the railroad's direct north-south link to Atlanta while 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 excursions available.
The railroad's popular, self-proclaimed Santa Express runs from late November until late December with daytime and nighttime trips.
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 train rides available, the SAM Shortline offers various trips 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 original corridor that, in its entirety, ran from Montgomery, Alabama to Savannah. In the "modern" era it was a component of the Seaboard Air Line.
In the 1980's CSX Transportation sold the remaining track to the Heart of Georgia Railroad, a startup short line. Today, this company services freight customers while excursions are managed by the Southwest Georgia Railroad Excursion Authority.
The railroad offers a number of holiday-themed trips such as a once-annual event known as the Christmas In Plains where patrons travel to Plains, Georgia and enjoy the sights of area Christmas lights and decorations.
They can also partake in a parade and seasonal music. SAM's other holiday-themed rides include:
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 rail heritage.
Since that time they collected an impressive roster of locomotives (steam and diesel), passenger cars, freight cars, and other equipment.
Nearly all of their 90+ pieces operated somewhere in the South while in service. 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 30 acres of property.
During the holidays they offer a number of Santa-themed events. The first is "Santa Arrives On The Train" where kids can enjoy a meet-and-greet with the Big Man. In addition, 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 heritage 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. It primarily served a paper mill and traffic related to the production of such.
However, it also handled some general freight and in 1955 constructed a new spur to serve a military munitions depot (which later closed). When the paper mill ceased production in 2002 it appeared the railroad would as well.
However, the company has persevered and remains in business today. In recent years it has found a new source of income, tourists. The idea has proven a great success and the railroad now hosts a wide range of special events.
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 (Union): IRM is the nation's largest such museum and a must-see if you enjoy trains. It began as a grassroots organization started by a group of ten railroad enthusiasts who launched the Illinois Electric Railway Museum in 1953.
Their goal at that time was to preserve the dying interurban industry. To begin this endeavor they acquired former Indiana Railroad car #65 by pitching in $100 each.
Next, property was needed to showcase not only the car but also any future pieces they might acquire. At first they found a patch of ground in North Chicago but when this became too cramped moved to empty farmland in Union in 1964.
By then the group's collection had amassed 40 pieces, which now included both general railroad equipment and interurban cars. As a result, the titled was shortened to the Illinois Railway Museum.
By 1966 it had fully restored its first interurban car and showed off a rebuilt steam locomotive two years later. Wishing to host excursions it next built a 1 mile loop for its operational streetcars/interurbans, completed in 1981.
Today, IRM has expanded its track to 4.6 miles (all built from scratch, no former right-of-way was utilized) and owns a total of 80 acres. Its list of buildings and equipment is extremely impressive.
During the holiday season IRM hosts the Happy Holiday Railway during late November and December allowing kids to experience a 40-minute train ride while enjoying treats on-board and meeting St. Nick himself.
Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum (North Judson): If you were a train enthusiast prior to the 1970's, North Judson was a famous junction. This small town was then served by four major railroads; the Pennsylvania, New York Central, Erie, and Chesapeake & Ohio.
Three (PRR, Erie, and C&O) were major corridors reaching Chicago; during the mid-20th century one could witness over 125 trains a day pass through the small town and nearly all of the community's residents worked for the railroad. Alas, as the industry fell on hard times (1970's), each line's use dwindled in importance.
Eventually, all were abandoned as through routes. Today, only a portion of the old Chesapeake & Ohio and Erie/Erie Lackawanna remnant still contain rails.
The museum is housed on a segment of the latter's property (they have also built a replica C&O depot), located to the northeast side of town where a small yard stores their small collection of equipment.
The remaining trackage also enables the group to host short train rides throughout the year, such as their popular Santa Trains. These are offered on select dates in December and feature a 45-minute trip where kids get to see Santa and receive a small gift.
Midwest Central Railroad (Mt. Pleasant): Want to see a working steam locomotive in Iowa? Then plan a visit to the Midwest Central Railroad! The group's heritage dates back to 1959 as a spin-off the Old Midwest Threshers.
That year they purchased a little 0-4-0 steamer built by the Davenport Locomotive Works (1925). Next, they acquired two former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy depot's; one from Hillsboro and the other from Yarmouth.
Both were placed in McMillan Park. To host excursions the group picked up a pair of 2-6-0's and constructed a pole-barn roundhouse to store and maintain their new acquisitions.
To host excursions they built a short, 1.25-mile segment of loop narrow-gauge track (3 foot).
The first trips ran in 1960 and today the setup essentially remains unchanged although their locomotive fleet has grown to include an 0-4-0T, another 2-6-0, a 2-8-0, and until 2019 a 3-truck Shay originally built for the West Side Lumber Company (it now operates at the Georgetown Loop Railroad).
Among their seasonal activities is hosting the North Pole Express for Christmas. The trains run from late November through early/mid-December with trips departing North Station. During the trip kids can meet Santa and receive a small gift.
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Bluegrass Scenic Railroad (Versailles): A division of the Bluegrass Railroad Museum, this tourist attraction takes passengers on an 11-mile round trip (5.5 miles one way) over former Southern Railway trackage between Versailles and Tyrone along the Kentucky River (a connector to Lawrenceburg has since been severed).
Freight service is still provided along this section by short line operator RJ Corman as part of their "Central KY Lines." The museum was started in 1976 as a local model railroad club.
It grew beyond these humble beginnings when the group picked up surplus equipment from nearby railroads. In 1988 it moved to its present-day location in Versailles.
They have since obtained some unique diesel locomotives including a U.S. Army MRS-1 (Alco/EMD), U.S. Army H12-44 (Fairbanks Morse), an Illinois Central Gulf GP8 "Paducah Geep," and a Norfolk & Western GP9.
The two latter locomotives are fully restored in their original colors and pull excursions, which depart from the town's Louisville & Nashville wooden depot (the Southern depot here is also preserved).
During the holidays they host their Santa Claus Train during a few weekends in December. According the museum the trip lasts 90 minutes where kids can meet Santa, enjoy Christmas caroling, and receive candy canes.
Kentucky Railway Museum (New Haven): The Bluegrass State's premier museum can be found in New Haven. KRM is a long-established preservation association dating back to 1954 when local Louisville railfans wanted to launch an organization dedicated to rail history.
Even at the time a number of people recognized the tectonic shift ongoing across the industry; the iconic steam locomotive's retirement from main line service. As a result, groups were popping up here and there to preserve its memory.
Originally located in Louisville on 6 acres of ground, KRM was provided track by the Louisville & Nashville and the Monon Railroad. Their first major acquisition was Louisville & Nashville 4-6-2 #152 (K-2A), a locomotive which remains a cornerstone of its collection.
The museum originally opened on May 30, 1958 but moved a few years later due to flooding. Following another move due to property values the group arrived at its currently location on July 4, 1990.
Today, KRM features a total of three steam locomotives, three diesel engines, and several other pieces of rolling stock. During the holidays they host events very similar to official The Polar Express train rides, the Santa Express and North Pole Express.
These trips 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! Please visit the museum's website for more information.
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Boothbay Railway Village (Boothbay): Located in Boothbay, Maine the Boothbay Railway Village dates back to 1965 when the museum first opened to display railroad memorabilia collected by George McEvoy.
No other place in America features a finer collection of historic, two-foot gauge saddletank steam locomotives; there are currently eight in their collection and four operational. In addition, two others are under restoration.
Six were manufactured by Germany's Henschel & Sohn while two others were built here in the U.S. by Baldwin Locomotive Works. Boothbay Village provides short train rides over about a quarter-mile of loop track.
You can also find more than just trains here including many other transportation artifacts, such as automobiles.
During the Christmas season join them for a holiday celebration on the rails which includes the North Pole Express and Candlelight & Cocktail On The Rails. To learn more please visit their website.
Seashore Trolley Museum (Kennebunkport): Another association dedicated to the heritage of streetcars is the Seashore Trolley Museum.
It is one of the oldest railroad preservation groups in America and, in fact, is the world's oldest and largest museum dedicated to mass transit.
It was formed in 1939 to preserve the region's streetcar heritage, which was ending after the Biddeford & Saco Railroad's discontinued trolley service in favor of buses between Biddeford (where it connected with the Atlantic Shore Line Railway, a large interurban) and Portland (here it linked up with another interurban, the Portland-Lewiston Interurban Railroad).
Since then the museum's collection has grown exponentially to include more than 250 vehicles along with several trolley cars.
Today, the group features several small rail yards to house their equipment (most of which also featured enclosed pole buildings), a visitor's center replicating a depot, and about 2.5 miles of track to host excursions.
One of their specials is the Christmas Prelude, held on select dates in early December. This trolley ride features hot chocolate, hot cider, tea, coffee and other snacks while on board.
In addition, they host a similar trip where Santa rides along with the kids. To learn more please visit their website.
Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum (Alna): Simply put, this is one of the coolest museums you can visit, countrywide.
The organization is named for one of Maine's famed 2-footers, which began in 1854 as the Kennebec & Wiscasset, intended to link Wiscasset with Augusta via Togus.
However, with no financing or progress the company's name was changed to the Wiscasset & Quebec Railroad (W&Q). Still nothing happened. Finally, after 40 years of delays track-laying began in October, 1894 with intentions of reaching Burnham and Pittsfield.
After more than a year of construction, 43.5 miles was opened from Wiscasset to Albion on November 4, 1895. Unfortunately, promoters hit a snag after the Maine Central would not allow a crossing of its Belfast Branch.
The W&Q would later go bankrupt in 1900 and be renamed as the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railroad on February 5, 1901.
The company managed to grow once more by completing a branch to Waterville via Togus but this proved the extent of its network. Unfortunately, the WW&F was never profitable and ultimately ended operations entirely in 1937.
In 1989 the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum was created to preserve its memory. After acquiring a section of old WW&F right-of-way they have managed to restore 3 miles of track from Alna to above Trout Brook.
In addition, an original WW&F locomotives has been restored along with several buildings. This place is well worth the visit! They also have plans to rebuild more trackage north of Trout Brook.
Be sure and also take part in their Victorian Christmas, offered one day in December only during which time you and the kids can enjoy free rides, a visit from Santa, and horse-drawn carriage rides. To learn more please click here.
Walkersville Southern Railroad (Walkersville): This heritage railway uses a section of the old Pennsylvania Railroad's Frederick Branch, which originally extended from York, Pennsylvania (along its Baltimore-Harrisburg main line) to Frederick, Maryland via Hanover.
The line traverses beautiful farmland along the Monocacy River offering guests a peaceful train ride through open country. It remained in use through the ill-fated Penn Central era but when remnants of Hurricane Agnes hit in June, 1972 the bridge over the river was washed away.
The bankrupt PC could not afford repairs and embargoed the line south of Woodsboro. Maryland acquired the section within its borders in 1982 due to unpaid taxes and in a proactive move, part of the line north of Frederck was preserved.
As a result, train enthusiasts subsequently launched the Walkersville Southern in 1991 to host excursions south of Walkersville and the bridge was rebuilt by the state in 1996 for freight service.
Today, the public can enjoy trips over 6.2 miles from Woodsboro to Frederick. There are also a number of specials hosted throughout the year including dinner trains, steam-powered rides, and a "Railfan Special."
During the holiday season the railroad presents its Santa Trains, allowing kids to see the Big Guy and enjoy treats during the trip.
Western Maryland Scenic Railroad (Cumberland): An ambassador to the Western Maryland Railway's memory, WMSR operates 15.3 miles of the railroad's former Connellsville Extension main line from Cumberland to Frostburg, Maryland.
Trains depart from the beautiful two-story WM brick station in Cumberland and arrive at WM's attractive depot in Frostburg. Along the way passengers are treated to sights of the beautiful Cumberland Narrows, bucolic farmland, famous Helmstetter's Curve, and 914-foot Brush Tunnel.
The WMSR began in 1988 and the rail line itself is owned by Maryland. Trains are turned at Frostburg where the WM's old turntable from Elkins, West Virginia is utilized. The WMSR has traditionally been a steam-powered operation, led by 2-8-0 #734.
However, the Consolidation is currently down for overhaul and the railroad is working to return a massive 2-6-6-2 "Mallet" to service. The big steamer, which operated on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, should draw in significant crowds and will be well worth the admission!
For the Christmas season they host official The Polar Express trips. In addition, the railroad features "Breakfast And Storytime With Mrs. Claus" for one day in November where kids can enjoy breakfast with Mrs. Claus and hear a Christmas tale. Please note! The train is stationary for this event.
Cape Cod Central Railroad (Hyannis): A fabulous place to ride a train along the southern New England coast, the Cape Cod Central departs from the historic New York, New Haven & Hartford depot in Hyannis.
Trips can be enjoyed throughout the spring, summer, and fall with specials hosted at various times of the year. At its entirety the railroad runs from Hyannis to Buzzards Bay (a distance of 24.6 miles according to the New Haven Railroad's 1930 timetable) along the Cape Cod Canal.
The railroad gains its name from the same corporate entity, formed in 1861, which built the tracks running towards Cape Cod's eastern tip between Yarmouth and Orleans.
It connected with the similarly named Cape Cod Railroad with a heritage that can be traced back to 1846. Both wound up as part of the Old Colony Railroad, a major New England system that served all of eastern and southern Massachusetts, including Cape Cod.
It went on to join the New Haven on March 1, 1893. Today's Cape Cod Central hosts its popular The Train To Christmas Town during the holiday season.
The journey is similar to The Polar Express where kids are encouraged to wear pajamas, treated to cookies and hot chocolate, sing along to Christmas songs, and witness the train's arrival at Christmas Town. You can choose from three classes of service: Standard, First, or Diamond.
Edaville Railroad (South Carver): This heritage railroad is one of the few built entirely from scratch and does not utilize a former right-of-way.
It was the vision of Ellis D. Atwood who opened a tourist attraction on his 1,800-acre cranberry plantation in South Carver, Massachusetts in 1947.
The timing of his venture is interesting since rail preservation was still in infancy; almost all of the nation's rail infrastructure, except for interurbans, remained in use at that time.
It was only the steam locomotive whose future seemed in question with the diesel's arrival. In any event, his Edaville Railroad, which used 2-foot gauge steam locomotives, proved popular.
With his death in 1950 the property was acquired by F. Nelson Blount. For many years the railroad hosted the annual "Festival Of Lights" which always drew large audiences each season.
Blount died in 1967 and when Atwood's widow passed away in the 1980's. As a result, the railroad's future remained in limbo. Trains stopped running and did not return until 1999. In 2005, part of the line was scrapped and reduced to a 2-mile loop, a setup which remains today.
The operation is now referred to as the "Edaville Family Theme Park" featuring trains, 32 amusement rides, and "Thomas Land" (a tribute to "Thomas The Tank Engine, And Friends").
All are big draws for kids and families. For a number of years the tourist line hosted official The Polar Express rides. Today, they again offer 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 (Shelburne Falls): Another museum dedicated to New England's rich interurban and streetcar heritage.
The group began in the 1990's when Marshall Johnson donated Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway trolley car #10. The SF&CS was the town's local streetcar service. It opened in 1896 and served Buckland, Shelburne and Colrain.
Alas, it proved an early casualty to the automobile and service was suspended in 1927. Interestingly, Massachusetts holds a rare distinction in history; it is the only state to contain more streetcar/interurban trackage than traditional, standard-gauge freight railroads.
This occurred in 1917; afterwards the state's streetcar network rapidly disappeared. The museum offers their Moonlight Magic Friday on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
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 (Coopersville): Beginning in late November and throughout much of December this railroad 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 a Christmas tale.
The Coopersville & Marne Railway began in 1988 as a short line freight carrier using 14 miles of former Grand Trunk Western track between Coopersville and Grand Rapids.
At one time the line extended all the way to Lake Michigan at Grand Haven but is no longer active beyond Coopersville. Public excursions are hosted along the western 6 miles between Coopersville and Marne.
The railroad provides a nice experience if you wish to take a train ride; trips are powered by one of two historic diesel switchers; Grand Trunk Western SW9 #7014 or Dupont Chemical 44-toner #3049.
Some of their notable special events aside from the Santa Train include the Bunny Train, Del Shannon Day Car Show Shuttle, Veteran's Free Troop Train, The Famous Pumpkin Train, and The Great Train Robbery.
Huckleberry Railroad (Genesee Township): The popular Huckleberry Railroad, part of the Genesee County Parks system, dates back to 1976.
It uses a 3 mile stretch (6-mile round trip for a total ride time of 40 minutes) of the former Pere Marquette Railway's Otter Lake Branch which hugs the western shore of Mott Lake just north of Flint.
This line originally ran from Flint to Fostoria (19.5 miles) and was completed by the 1870's. Much of it was abandoned in the 1970's and what is now used as a heritage railroad was reduced from the standard gauge of 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches to a narrow-gauge 3-foot system.
The Huckleberry Railroad is currently landlocked but is a beautifully maintained operation featuring loops at each end, eliminating the need for trains to be turned.
Railfans are draw to the park to witness two historic steam locomotives; Denver & Rio Grande Western 2-8-2 #464 (a Class K-27 "Mudhen" manufactured by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1903) and Alaska Railroad 4-6-0 #2 (built by Baldwin in 1920).
In addition to train rides the park offers other perks such as historic buildings, amusement rides, and seasonal events like the Christmas At Crossroads Holiday Magic.
The holiday festivities begin in late November and last throughout most of December. During this time the train is decorated for the holidays and offers nighttime rides.
Little River Railroad (Coldwater): This steam-powered railroad departs from Coldwater's beautifully preserved Lake Shore & Michigan Southern (New York Central) depot that was originally completed circa 1890.
Michigan contains an incredible amount of rail history from logging and mining (iron ore) to main lines and fast streamliners.
A major Canadian railroad, the Canadian National, even served the state through subsidiary Grand Trunk Western. Alas, a great deal of its track has since been abandoned.
The Little River Railroad hosts excursions over short line Michigan Southern between Coldwater and Quincy, a distance of 7 miles.
Occasionally, trips run as far east as Hillsdale, 23 miles from Coldwater. In the NYC era this trackage was once part of its Michigan Division, a secondary route running between Monroe, Michigan and Elkhart, Indiana.
Passengers riding the Little River Railroad are treated to either 0-4-0T #1 (built by the Vulcan Iron Works in 1908 and which once operated in Indiana) or 4-6-2 #110 (a 1911 product of Baldwin) leading their train.
Each December they host the Holiday Express, which is decorated for Christmas and tailored towards the kids!
***Steam Railroading Institute (Owosso)***: The SRI offers their North Pole Express beginning in mid-November and lasting throughout most of December.
This is one of the longest Christmas-themed rides you can experience; it lasts four hours during which time kids can see Santa, enjoy cocoa, and partake in live musical entertainment.
The group offers different classes of service; Coach, Cocoa (which includes unlimited cocoa, a cookie, and a souvenir mug), Caboose, and Deluxe Coach.
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.
The history of SRI is an interesting tale involving a single locomotive, previously mentioned #1225. It was donated by Chesapeake & Ohio to Michigan State University in 1957 where it remained on static display until a group of railfans took an interest in its long term preservation and operation.
As a result, the Michigan State University Railroad Club was formed in 1970, later renamed as the Michigan State Trust For Railway Preservation. In February, 1983 #1225 was moved to Ann Arbor Railroad's locomotive shop in Owosso for restoration.
After two years of work she was fired (started) for the first time in November, 1985. It was the first time the 2-8-4 moved under its own power in 34 years.
Today, SRI is a educational enterprise, teaching the public about steam-era technology. They host excursions during various times throughout the year.
Southern Michigan Railroad (Clinton): This little tourist line offers the Santa Special excursions during the holiday season each December. They last an hour running from Clinton to Tecumseh and back.
Please note the cars they use are not heated so please dress appropriately!
The railroad began in 1982 as the non-profit Southern Michigan Railroad Society; they began hosting excursions after purchasing then-Conrail's Clinton Secondary Track in 1984 for $100,000.
This line was a longtime New York Central corridor which originally extended from Jackson, Michigan to Toledo, Ohio (71 miles). As a secondary route its need dwindled over the years and was abandoned in stages.
Today the track extends to Tecumseh while the railroad is still connected to the national network east of Adrian with short line Adrian & Blissfield (only a very short section has been removed for safety purposes in the event of a runaway car).
While this quaint operation is not well-financed like the Strasburg Railroad, Grand Canyon Railway, or Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad it nevertheless offers a nice experience for anyone interested in enjoying a short train ride.
Minnesota Streetcar Museum (Minneapolis): This museum was born in 2005 and offers rides in historic streetcars while also hosting special events throughout the year.
The organization is a spin-off of the Minnesota Transportation Museum (MTM) and focuses exclusively on Minneapolis's streetcar/interurban heritage, specifically the Twin City Rapid Transit Company which operated from 1875 to 1970.
The system discontinued streetcar service in 1954, which led to MTM's creation in 1962. The organization later branched out into general rail history, resulting in the separate MSM's formation.
It currently operates excursions, utilizing five restored trolley cars, over two sections of track; a half-mile segment of former Minneapolis & St. Louis property (a traditional freight carrier) and the Como-Harriet Streetcar Line, a 1 mile loop that using the original TCRT right-of-way between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun.
During the holidays their special events include the Holly Trolley, running during a few select dates in December where kids can ride with Santa and the car is decorated for the holidays.
They also feature their Vinternatt where the trolley is decorated for the holidays and Christmas lights can be enjoyed along the route, along with a special appearance from Santa.
North Shore Scenic Railroad (Duluth): A component of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, this railroad utilizes 27 miles of the former Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range between Two Harbors and Duluth.
It began excursions in 1990 and today is a highly successful tourist attraction hosting public trips from May through December. For train enthusiasts the railroad features numerous historic diesels (including Soo Line FP7 #2500, Missabe SD18 #193, and Soo Line GP30 #700).
They also have an operational steam locomotive; Duluth & Northeastern (DM&IR) 2-8-0 #28 along with several others on static display (such as Northern Pacific 2-6-2 #2435 and Missabe 2-8-8-4 #227).
During the Christmas season they host their Christmas City Express from late November throughout much of December.
During the trip guests can enjoy a reading of the Christmas City Express and a visit from Santa. Also consider their Bentleyville Tour of Lights train, hosted Fridays and Saturdays during late November through December.
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St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway (Jackson): This tourist attraction uses a historic name which dates all the way back to 1851, the St. Louis & Iron Mountain Railroad.
Its promoters' intentions were to handle iron ore from mines around Ironton, Missouri. On April 2, 1858 it opened to Pilot Knob (very near Ironton), then continued expanding southwestward. On May 6, 1874 the StL&IM was reorganized as the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway (StLIM&S or "Iron Mountain Route").
The railroad eventually wound up as part of the Missouri Pacific, one of the Midwest's largest with roughly 12,000 route miles.
The present day St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern utilizes about 4.5 miles of the MP's old Jackson Branch which originally extended from Allenville to Jackson.
The current StLIM&S has grown into a very nice attraction, offering a wide range of trips throughout the year, particularly during the holidays.
They are also play an educational role by teaching kids what it is like to be an engineer or conductor. During the holiday season they host the Santa Express from late November and December where kids can see Santa and a Christmas tale is read to all during the 2-hour trip.
Charlie Russell Choo Choo (Lewistown/Hanover): Montana's only rail excursion offers guests splendid views of northern Montana over short line Central Montana Rail, Inc. which operates a section of the old Milwaukee Road's "Northern Montana Lines."
The experience provides breathtaking open vistas and typically glimpses of local wildlife such as deer, elk, and other smaller mammals. All of this can be seen while enjoying dinner during the trip.
The train only runs during select weekends from June through early October. Please note that trips actually depart somewhat north of Lewistown at a point known as Hanover (about 15-20 minutes away) and the entire journey covers 56 miles.
Their North Pole Adventure lasts about an hour and a half where kids can enjoy hot cocoa and cookies, meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, hear a Christmas tale, and sing songs. To learn more please click here.
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Conway Scenic Railroad (North Conway): This is one of New England's most popular excursions thanks to the region's breathtaking scenery, the railroad's top notch services, and its first class accommodations.
The railroad began in 1974 through the vision of Bill Levy and Carroll Reed who acquired 7 miles of the Boston & Maine's Conway Branch and then picked up a section of Maine Central's "Mountain Division" in 1984.
Today, these lines offer guests two different rail packages; the "Valley Train" and "Notch Train." You can also ride behind an authentic steam locomotive, Canadian National 0-6-0 #47 which was originally built in 1921.
Among their amenities and accommodations is dinner trains, dome cars, first class services, and numerous special events each year.
For the Christmas season they offer two different trips; the Santa's Holiday Express where kids can enjoy cocoa, cookies, a visit from Santa, and receive a small gift and Journey to the North Pole.
The latter is somewhat similar to the former but the kids actually get to see the North Pole! Both are a fun experience for the entire family.
Hobo Railroad/Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad (Lincoln): New England's rich rail heritage, its historically dense concentration of rails lines, and natural beauty have resulted in several heritage railroads popping up all over the region in the last 40 years.
This has been especially true as freight railroads have abandoned or sold track deemed redundant or unprofitable. The Hobo Railroad began in 1986 when it picked up 7 miles of an old Boston & Maine Branch from Woodstock to Lincoln.
Over the years, the operation has expanded to the point that it now also maintains the former Boston & Maine line from Concord to Lincoln, all of which is owned by the state of New Hampshire.
Among their special events is the annual Santa Express Trains hosted from late November through December. The trains operate between Lincoln and Woodstock during the daytime only and last over an hour where kids can enjoy hot chocolate, receive a box of cookies, a visit from Santa, and a small gift.
Black River & Western Railroad (Ringoes): The Black River & Western was a startup tourist attraction conceived by William Whitehead who initially wanted to build a railroad along a section of the old Rockaway Valley Railroad.
After, for various reasons, this attempt (and others) failed he eventually entered into an agreement with the Pennsylvania Railroad to lease its Flemington Branch between Flemington and Lambertville.
The first train of what was known as the Black River & Western Railroad departed from Flemington on May 16, 1965. Five years later PRR successor Penn Central sold the property to the BR&W, thus allowing the little short line to enter the freight business.
Things went well for the next 25 years until poor track conditions shutdown operations entirely in 1998. A new group of enthusiasts formed the Black River Railroad Historic Trust (BRRHT) in 2001 to save the line from certain abandonment.
After more than a decade of work passenger service was revived in 2016. Today, they continue to restore the property and expand services. For Christmas, two trips are offered; the Christmas Limited and North Pole Express.
The former is an early event held in mid-November where kids can ride along with Santa, take pictures, enjoy a cookie and hot chocolate, and receive a small gift. The latter is the marquee experience.
The North Pole Express running from late November and through December, takes visitors to the North Pole Station where kids 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 (Wall Township): A division of the New Jersey Museum of Transportation (NJMT), the Pine Creek Railroad offers the Christmas Express where kids get to ride with Santa; trains depart all day from Thanksgiving Weekend through mid-December.
For more information please visit their website and plan ahead as this ride, which has been offered for over three decades, sells out quickly. The NJMT is one of New Jersey's oldest museums.
It was born in 1952 during a great transition within the railroad industry; the iconic steam locomotive was being retired in favor of the new diesel-electric while Americans were abandoning rail travel for automobiles and airliners.
The group's general mission has always been rail history and preservation. It all began with the acquisition of Raritan River Sand Company 0-4-0T #10, acquired in 1952 (still owned by the museum).
Since then they have acquired a growing list of rolling stock, including seven steam locomotives; perhaps the most famous is Ely-Thomas Lumber Company 2-truck Shay #6, built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1927.
While NJMT sits next to the former right-of-way of Pennsylvania Railroad's Freehold Jamesburg Division that property is now the Capital To The Coast Trail. Instead, excursions are hosted on a short loop of track around the museum.
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Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad (Cooperstown): While Cooperstown is most famous for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, you can also experience a train ride there!
The C&CV's heritage can be traced back to 1865 when promoters sought a connection with the national rail network. After four years of work this endeavor was completed in the summer of 1869.
The 16-mile railroad, which connected with the then-Albany & Susquehanna Rail Road near Colliersville, subsequently went through several owners during the next 127 years.
In 1996 the Leatherstocking Railway Historical Society acquired the property with intentions of running excursions. After a few years of tireless efforts the first rebuilt segment opened to the public in 1999.
Since then the group has restored more of the property and eventually plans for complete restoration of the line.
During the holidays they offer two different events:
Arcade & Attica Railroad (Arcade): The historic Arcade & Attica has an interesting and fascinating story.
It began in 1917 for the purpose of providing local freight service between its namesake towns as well as the communities of Sierks, Earls, Varysburg, Johnsonburg, Perrys, North Java, Java Center, Curriers, and Arcade Center.
The road's primary freight was agricultural products (it interchanged with the Pennsylvania Railroad at Arcade and with the Erie Railroad at Attica). It was a total of 28.36 miles in length.
Alas, it was abandoned above North Java in 1947 following severe flooding that year along Tonawanda Creek. This resulted in the northern 13.22 miles being abandoned, leaving 15.14 miles which is still in operation today.
The railroad remains in the freight business while also providing public excursions.
During Christmas it hosts the North Pole Express; this trip lasts about 2.5 hours and operates most weekends from mid-November through December where kids are encouraged to dress in their PJ's 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.
Catskill Mountain Railroad (Kingston Plaza): Located just over an hour from New York City the Catskill Mountain Railroad has been a popular Kingston attraction since it launched in 1982 over the former New York Central's Catskill Mountain Branch (originally built as the Ulster & Delaware Railroad).
In 1979 Ulster County acquired 38.6 miles of the line from bankrupt Penn Central estate with plans to launch tourist and freight service over the corridor.
After working to rebuild the tracks the effort was initially successful and service was restored to Conrail at Kingston. However, flooding has wreaked havoc on the corridor over the years placing various sections out-of-service.
Then, in the 2010's the county expressed interest in removing part of the line for a rail/trail. After a fight with the railroad ensued, the county eventually got its way and tore up 11.5 miles in 2018.
Today, the Catskill Mountain Railroad enjoys thousands of annual visitors operating about 5 miles of the route between Kingston and Stony Hollow.
For many years the group hosted official The Polar Express rides within climate-controlled cars. In 2021 the company launched their own Christmas train rides known as the Catskill Christmas Express.
The 60-minute ride travels through the Catskills until reaching Santa's Workshop at the North Pole. During the trip, guests receive a cookie (locally baked) and a small gift.
Please be aware that these trains use open-air cars so be sure to dress accordingly.
New Hope Valley Railway (Bonsol): One of North Carolina's hidden treasures is the New Hope Valley Railway, a division of the North Carolina Railway Museum.
It is one of only two locations in the state where the public can experience a heritage railroad (the other is in Spencer at the North Carolina Transportation Museum).
Situated southwest of Raleigh in the small community of Bonsol the New Hope Valley Railway operates a 5 mile section of the former Seaboard Air Line to New Hill.
They offer a nice experience and their close proximity to Raleigh, the Research Triangle, and the I-40 corridor allows the museum to draw nice crowds each year.
For train enthusiasts you can see several preserved diesel switchers and two steam locomotives, Carbon Limestone 0-4-0T #17 and Cliffside 2-6-2 #110.
Both of this historic engines are currently under restoration and should further bolster ridership once they are back under steam.
During the month of December, on select weekends, the railroad hosts Santa’s Reindeer Roundup Express where kids can meet Santa, take pictures, and enjoy a festive holiday experience.
Please note! These trips are hosted in open-air cars so please dress accordingly.
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Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (Peninsula): One of America's top five excursions can be found at Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
Three factors contribute heavily to its success; the Cuyahoga Valley National Park's spectacular scenery, the region's population density, and the railroad's top notch service.
Its history dates back to the Valley Railway (VR) which had opened from Cleveland to Bowerston, Ohio via Canton and Akron, by 1884.
In 1889 it was acquire by the Balitmore & Ohio, acting as another connection to Cleveland for the eastern trunk line (the line south of Akron became a stub-end branch).
In 1967 the B&O began hosting excursions through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. These continued off and on until 1986 when then-Chessie System lost interest in the affair.
After the railroad and federal government worked out an agreement, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation into law on November 6, 1986 authorizing the National Park Service to purchase the park trackage for $2.5 million.
Today, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad maintains 51 miles and hopes to eventually run trains into downtown Cleveland. It has become well-known for its fine fleet of passenger cars, themed trains, and other special runs.
For instance, in August, 2018 it acquired three beautiful, fully restored stainless-steel dome cars that had originally operated on the famous "California Zephyr."
They include dome-coach Silver Lariat, dome-sleeper-observation Silver Solarium, baggage Silver Peak, and sleeper Silver Rapids (along with baggage Silver Peak). If you want to experience rail travel from the 1950's consider a trip to Peninsula, Ohio!
After years of hosting official "The Polar Express" trips the railroad has switched gears and now operates its own Christmas event known as the "North Pole Adventure."
Hocking Valley Scenic Railway (Nelsonville): The organization's longest running event is the Santa Train held during late November through mid-December with several runs made each day.
The train is festively decorated for Christmas; during the trip kids get to meet Santa and receive a candy cane treat. In some ways its amazing the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway even exists today.
It was originally the idea of Frank L. McCauley, Ted Goodman, and Jerry Ballard who wanted to acquire a former section of Detroit, Toledo & Ironton in the early 1970's and operate excursions over what was to be called the "Salt Creek Railroad."
Alas, the line was scrapped before they could purchase it. Next, they found a section of the Chesapeake & Ohio's Monday Creek Branch which was also up for abandonment. The segment, which ran between Carbon Hill and Nelsonville, was acquired in 1972.
It was named the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway as a nod to the original company which built the line (it later became part of the C&O's Hocking Division).
Today, the HVSR operates 12 miles of the C&O's old Armitage Subdivision from Nelsonville to East Logan.
Trains are usually diesel powered by they also now have an operating steam locomotive, Ohio Power 0-6-0 #3 (built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1920). Trains depart from the beautifully restored depot in Nelsonville.
Lebanon Mason Monroe Railroad (Lebanon): The North Pole Express allows kids to experience a half-hour train ride to see Santa and Mrs. Claus while enjoying treats (hot chocolate and cookies) along the way with entertainment provided by the elves.
During the trip kids will also receive a small gift. Its close proximity to Cincinnati and Dayton makes the railroad an easy drive for many.
It began in 1985 over a section of the former Pennsylvania Railroad, which once linked Cincinnati with Dayton. Previous to PRR ownership the corridor had originally been built as a three-foot, "narrow-gauge."
Its earliest predecessor was the Miami Valley Narrow Gauge Railway formed in 1874 to link Cincinnati with Xenia, via Lebanon (55 miles) but resources were exhausted after only 46 miles had been graded.
It was reorganized as the Cincinnati Northern Railway and completed to Lebanon on May 30, 1881. The CN went on to join one of the largest narrow-gauge systems ever built in 1882, the Toledo, Cincinnati & St. Louis Railway.
At its peak it stretched across much of western Ohio from north to south. In addition, by the early 1880's the TC&StL had connected all of the cities in its name. Alas, promoters of three-foot railroads could not sustain it as a secondary American gauge.
The TC&StL fell into receivership on July 31, 1883 and parts of the system, and its subsidiaries, were later sold off and converted to the standard gauge of 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches.
The PRR acquired the section through Lebanon, then known as the Dayton, Lebanon & Cincinnati Railroad (organized in 1887), in 1915.
It would later abandon the line between Lebanon and Lytle in 1939 while PRR successor Conrail sold the section south of Lebanon to short line Indiana & Ohio Railway between 1985 and 1987.
Northwest Ohio Railroad Preservation Inc. (Findlay): This organization, based in Findlay, operates a 1/4-scale railroad and hosts several special events throughout the year, including the North Pole Express during the holidays.
It operates Fridays-Sundays from late November through early January.
No events known.
Mount Hood Railroad (Hood River): The Mount Hood Railroad, located in Hood River, will host The Train To Christmas Town during select weekends from mid November through late December.
They offer three classes of service; Diamond, First, and Standard. The production is somewhat similar to The Polar Express; elves dance down the isles singing Christmas songs, kids enjoy hot chocolate and cookies, meet Santa, and experience a reading of "The Train To Christmas Town."
The entire ride lasts about an hour and a half. The historic Mount Hood Railroad originally opened between Hood River (along the Columbia River) and Parkdale (22.2 miles) in 1909.
It connected with Union Pacific at the former town and primarily served agriculture along the Hood River. Operationally, it featured a unique switchback (still in service) just south of Hood River and offers fabulous views of Oregon's breathtaking Mt. Hood volcano.
In 1968, Union Pacific acquired the line which was sold to private investors in 1987. Today, it largely handles passengers but also continues to provide some freight service. This railroad is a must-see for the fabulous scenery!
Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad (Garibaldi): This tourist railroad is based in the beautiful Tillamook Bay area; it is one of the best locations in the Pacific Northwest to witness operating steam locomotives in action.
They currently have six in their fleet, four of which pull trains. These include:
The Oregon Coast Scenic currently maintains 46 miles but typically operates 5.1 miles of the old Southern Pacific between Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach.
The entire trip hugs the coastline; beginning in Tillamook Bay it crosses Smith Lake and then finds its way beside the Pacific Ocean. The tracks are also next to the Oregon Coast Highway.
Each Christmas they host the Candy Cane Express in which the train is decorated for the holidays. During the trip the kids get to meet Santa, enjoy hot chocolate and cookies, and is one of the few such events which is steam-powered.
Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation (Portland): The ORHF, which maintains two operating and historic steam locomotives (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. They also maintain other historic locomotives, like Nickel Plate Road PA #190, the only of its kind still running in America. The Holiday Express has been held since 2005 and grows each year.
During the trip the locomotive and cars are all decorated in Christmas lights. While traveling along the Willamette River kids can meet Santa and enjoy the rare experience of riding a steam-powered train. Prices for this event are very reasonable.
Sumpter Valley Railway (Sumpter): For whatever reason, Oregon has become a mecca for operating steam engines. There are currently three locations to see them in action; the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, and Sumpter Valley Railway.
In all, they total nine locomotives! The Sumpter Valley currently operates two narrow-gauge examples; White Pass & Yukon 2-8-2 #19 (built American Locomotive in 1920) and W.H. Eccles Lumber Company 2-Truck Heisler (40-ton) #3 (built by Heisler in 1915).
The Sumpter Valley Railway is named after a logging railroad of the same name which used the very same tracks that now host passenger trains.
The 3-foot gauge was incorporated in 1890 by David Eccles to move logs out of the Sumpter Valley to the Oregon Lumber Company's sawmill in South Baker City (this point also established a connection with the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company, a Union Pacific subsidiary).
By 1891, 22 miles was opened to McEwen and eventually reached Bates, boasting an impressive network of 60.2 miles!
This was very large for a logging railroad. With improvements in automobiles and trucks, service ceased in 1947 except for a very short segment in Baker City. In 1971, train enthusiasts began to rebuild part of the line for public excursions.
Today, about 5.1 miles from Sumpter to McEwen has been restored. The current Sumpter Valley Railway offers their steam-powered Christmas Trains during December.
Its an event geared towards the whole family where you will take a trip to Sumpter, enjoy cocoa, coffee, or tea along the way, meet Santa, and go shopping at the Sumpter Christmas Bazaar.
Colebrookdale Railroad (Boyertown): A relatively new tourist railroad, the Colebrookdale Railroad, also known as the Secret Valley Line, began in 2014 operating 8.5 miles between Boyertown and Pottstown (here an interchange is established with Class I, Norfolk Southern Railway).
Its name can be traced to the original railroad which built the line during the 1860's from Pottstown to Barto, a distance of 13.o miles.
It later became a small branch of the Reading Railroad, a sprawling 1,300-mile carrier that served central and eastern Pennsylvania. It is best known for moving millions of tons of anthracite coal and was once one of the richest railroads in America.
Alas, as anthracite coal demand dried up so did the Reading's fortunes. By the 1970's it was bankrupt and rolled into the newly formed, government-created Consolidate Rail Corporation (Conrail) in 1976.
Wishing to shed unwanted secondary lines the Barto Branch was in danger of being abandoned until the state of Pennsylvania stepped in and purchased it.
In 2001 the property again changed hands when Berks County acquired the line. It was subsequently reactivated again in 2010 and excursions began on October 18, 2014.
The Colebrookdale Railroad currently offers 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 (Middletown): The Milk & Honey Line is named for the railroad which built the 6.5 miles of track between its namesake towns along Swatara Creek.
The railroad, completed in 1890, was constructed for the express purpose of providing rail service to Middletown which was bypassed by the Philadelphia & Reading (Reading Railroad).
Following its opening it was acquired by the P&R and remained a branch until the formation of the Consolidated Rail Corporation in 1976.
It was subsequently acquired by Wendell Dillinger who quickly launched freight service over the line; ten years later (1986) the first passenger trains began running.
Today, the railroad even has a historic steam engine to pull excursions when it's not down for mandatory inspection; Canadian National 2-6-0 #91 which was built by Canadian Locomotive Company in 1910.
Among their many special events is the Polar Bear Express and Santa’s Surprise Trains scheduled in late November and December where kids can meet Santa Claus.
New Hope & Ivyland Railroad (New Hope): Running from mid-November through early January, the diesel-powered North Pole Express includes a train ride lasting over 1 hour where kids meet Santa, listen to live music, enjoy hot cocoa and cookies, and receive a small gift.
They also have a new event entitled Santa's Steam Spectacular which departs from New Hope. During the journey kids again can meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, listen to Christmas carols, enjoy hot chocolate and cookies, and receive a sleigh bell gift.
This event is markedly different from the North Pole Express in that is pulled by an authentic steam locomotive, Cliffside Railroad 2-8-0 #40 (originally built in 1925 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works for the Lancaster & Chester Railway).
The New Hope & Ivyland is a long-running tourist attraction that began hosting public excursions in 1966 over 16.7 miles of the Reading Railroad's former New Hope Branch south of New Hope along the Delaware River. Trains depart from the town's beautifully restored depot in New Hope built in 1891.
Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad (Titusville): The Oil Creek & Titusville, based in Titusville, operates Santa Trains for three weekends after Thanksgiving where kids get to meet Santa, sing along to Christmas carols, receive a small gift (for those 12 and under), and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies upon returning to the station.
The railroad is a long-running event that began in 1986 over a 16.5-mile segment of the Pennsylvania Railroad between Titusville and Oil City along Oil Creek.
These names date back to a time when oil was discovered in western Pennsylvania, prompting construction of a railroad. For the PRR, it used the route as a north-south main line linking Pittsburgh with Buffalo via Oil City and Dunkirk, New York along Lake Erie.
When PRR successor Penn Central went bankrupt in 1970 the property eventually came under control of a new entity, the Consolidation Rail Corporation (1976) which, over time, abandoned segments it deemed redundant.
This prompted action by the Oil Creek Railway Historical Society to save the current segment which runs through the Oil Creek State Park.
Strasburg Rail Road (Lancaster County): When you are the second most popular tourist railroad in the country, with over 400,000 riders annually, you can choose how you want to celebrate the Christmas season.
A great deal of similar attractions host official The Polar Express events to bolster exposure and patronage. However, it requires licensing fees which are very expensive. The Strasburg Rail Road offers their own version, known simply as the Christmas Train.
It runs over the entire main line between Lancaster and Paradise; during the journey kids get to see Santa and 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 trip!).
They also run a Christmas Tree Train in early December where families can take a train ride to pick out their own pre-cut Frasier Fir tree. Finally, check out Santa's Christmas Trolley to ride with the Jolly Man aboard an authentic, restored trolley car. To learn more about these events please visit their website.
The Strasburg Railroad is as historic as it is popular. It is the oldest continuously operating railroad in America with a heritage tracing back to 1832.
For more than a century the 4.5 mile short line was little more than an unknown local transportation service. It was nearly abandoned in the 1950's until a group of preservationists worked to save the property. To read more about its history please click here.
Wanamaker, Kempton & Southern Railroad (Kempton): The WK&S is based in Kempton and offers their Santa Claus Special during the first weekend in December where kids are able to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus.
The railroad also hosts Story Time With Mrs. Claus in early December. It seems many of Pennsylvania's heritage railroads began over a section of the old Reading Railroad.
The WK&S is no different; one of the state's oldest such attractions it began in 1963 when train enthusiasts acquired a short, 2.6-mile segment of the Reading's route between Reading and Slatington (originally, 41.7 miles in length) which was requisitioned for abandonment.
Since that time the organization provides a nice experience for those wanting to ride the rails; trips are hosted from May through November and are steam-powered when these locomotives are not down for their mandatory 1472 day inspection (there are three on the property; 0-4-0ST #2, 0-6-0ST #65, and Cypress Lumber Company 2-6-2 #4).
Newport & Narragansett Bay Railroad (Portsmouth): Based in Newport, the Newport & Narrangansett Bay Railroad was created in 2014 through the merger of the Newport Dinner Train and Old Colony & Newport Scenic Railway.
The heritage railroad dates back to 1979 when it acquired 13.4 miles of the old New York, New Haven & Hartford's Newport Branch from Newport to Tiverton.
The line originally ran 19.6 miles to Fall River, Massachusetts. Even in the New Haven era this corridor was not particularly fruitful; passenger service ended in 1938 and freight customers were sporadic.
However, it was incredibly scenic providing fantastic coastal views of southern Rhode Island which has continued to draw crowds for over 40 years. Trains are currently pulled by historic diesel switchers, a pair of 45-ton models built by General Electric.
For Christmas they host 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.", "PJ's With Santa," and "Breakfast With Santa." To learn more about all of their events please visit the railroad's website.
South Carolina Railroad Museum (Winnsboro): The state's largest railroad museum also operates excursions along what is known as the Rockton, Rion & Western Railroad. One such event is the Santa Train held during select dates in December where Santa meets with every child.
The museum makes this a priority and strives to be sure he speaks with all of the children during the trip. The South Carolina Railroad Museum (SCRM) began in 1973 when a group of enthusiasts wanted to tell the Palmetto State's interesting rail history through a museum.
This heritage dates back to the industry's earliest days when the South Carolina Canal & Rail Road Company completed its original 136 mile route in 1833. It later became a part of the modern Southern Railway.
SCRM entered the railroad business when Martin Marietta Aggregates donated its industrial trackage, known as the Rockton & Rion Railway. As a nod to this kind gesture the railroad gains its name from its predecessor; the Rockton, Rion & Western Railroad.
It total it stretches 11.5 miles and the museum eventually plans to restore the entire property for public trips, in addition to building a locomotive shop and display tracks.
Black Hills Central Railroad (Hill City): Tucked away in western South Dakota is one of the nation's finest heritage railroads, the Black Hills Central.
It also the state's only notable excursion train, featuring live steam locomotives (including a rare Mallet type, Rayonier 2-6-6-2T #110 built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1928).
During the holidays they host the Holiday Express; a Christmas-decorated train allowing kids to see Santa and receive a small gift.
The Black Hills Central Railroad operates a 10-mile section of the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy's Keystone Branch, which was located along the western fringe of the railroad's massive system.
Gold and lead mining brought railroads to the region in 1879, which continued to expand in the coming years. One other notable railroad served this area, the Chicago & North Western.
Unfortunately, once mining operations slowly dried up there was a decreasing need for the railroad; the first public excursions were hosted in 1957 from Hill City. The train was affectionately known as "The 1880 Train," a name which still stands today.
Tennessee Central Railway Museum (Nashville): This popular Nashville attraction also hosts excursions, including the North Pole Express on select dates in November and December.
The train features three classes of seating; Dining, Coach, and Dome. This is one of the longest Christmas-themed train rides you can find anywhere in the United States, a 45-mile round trip lasting 2 hours.
They also offer a single, 90-mile round trip held in late November which lasts 6 1/2 hours! Located at 220 Willow Street along the old Tennessee Central Railway's main line, the TCRM has been providing train rides from Nashville since 1989.
The track here is now owned by the Nashville & Eastern Railroad, a short line freight carrier. The museum's longest excursions run 84 miles to the DelMonaco Winery & Vineyards in Westgate and returns. I
t is an all day event! If you are a train nut they have an impressive collection of equipment, including several lightweight, stainless steel coaches built by the Budd Company, a slumbercoach, two former Bessemer & Lake Erie F7A's, a GP7, SW1, SW8, and GP10.
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (Chattanooga): Another fine Tennessee heritage railroad can be found in Chattanooga, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
They host numerous trips throughout the year including several events for Christmas; the North Pole Limited (November and December) is the marquee attraction.
During the 75-minute ride kids have the chance to see Santa, listen to a Christmas tale, sing songs, see lighted displays, enjoy refreshments, and travel to the North Pole.
This train offers three different classes of service: Santa's Private Car, Elves And Bells, and Traditional Seating. They also offer a special holiday dinner train known as the Christmas Special Dinner Train.
Two more events include Nightcaps With St. Nick and Santa's Hiwassee Holiday Train. To learn more about these events please visit their website.
The TVRM is a fine organization with a history dating back to 1960. At the time their small collection of equipment was stored at Southern Railway's large classification yard along Holtzclaw Avenue in East Chattanooga.
In 1969, through a generous donation by the Southern, a permanent location was found at nearby North Chamberlain Avenue. The Southern was always a major advocate for rail preservation and helped TVRM get started through an additional donation, a 1.5-mile segment of abandoned right-of-way.
They also helped the museum earn money by earning money through excursions hosted by Southern's original steam program.
Today, TVRM features two operational steam locomotives, another under restoration, several working diesel locomotives, and a large assortment of other equipment. This is one of the South's best rail attractions!
Three Rivers Rambler (Knoxville): Their Christmas Lantern Express is just that, festive holiday trains pulled by a live steam locomotive (Southern Railway 2-8-0 #154, built by the Schenectady Works in 1890).
These trains typically operate every weekend from the Friday after Thanksgiving until just before Christmas. The entire trip lasts over 2 hours.
The Three Rivers Rambler departs from downtown Knoxville along University Commons Way (University of Tennessee) near the Tennessee River. The 11-mile journey travels over short line Knoxville & Holston River, a Gulf & Ohio Railways, Inc. company.
Historically, they have long been known for using steam engines to lead their trains.
Along with #154 previously mentioned their other steamers include:
Austin Steam Train (Cedar Park): Located about a half-hour from downtown Austin, the Austin Steam Train historically has operated an authentic steam locomotive, Southern Pacific 2-8-2 #786.
Unfortunately, she has been sidelined by a cracked cylinder saddle since 1999. They currently use a diesel locomotive to pull trains, GP40-3 #3134 (there is also an historic diesel under restoration, Southern Pacific RSD-15 #442).
The Steam Train's accommodations are second to none as they feature several restored coaches (including first class options) and first class lounges.
The experience cannot be beat. The North Pole Flyer 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 during November and December.
Grapevine Railroad (Grapevine): Thanks to its proximity in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the Grapevine Railroad sees many visitors throughout the year. Its most popular Christmas train is the North Pole Express, which runs after Thanksgiving through late December.
In addition, they host Christmas Wine Trains for the adults as well as After Christmas Trains during late December.
The railroad runs 21 miles from the Main Street Station in Grapevine to the popular Fort Worth Stockyards over tracks operated by the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (previously owned by the St. Louis Southwestern Railway; otherwise known as the "Cotton Belt" it was a longtime subsidiary of the much larger Southern Pacific).
While they have three steam locomotives in their inventory, unfortunately none are currently operable. they include:
Today, diesels lead the trains.
Heber Valley Railroad (Heber City): The North Pole Express takes kids on a magical ride to see Santa. 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 just before Christmas.
The Heber Valley Railroad is Utah's only heritage railroad; it maintains 13.6 miles of the ex-Denver & Rio Grande Western's old Provo Canyon Branch between Heber City and Vivian Park (originally the line extended 25.5 miles from the main line at Provo to Heber City).
The route offers some spectacular scenery within the Provo River Canyon which draws folks back year after year.
When not down for restoration or the mandatory 1,472-day inspection you can ride behind one of two 2-8-0 "Consolidations," Union Pacific #618 or Great Western Railway #75.
They also feature one other steamer on display; Columbia Steel Corporation (U.S. Steel) 0-6-0 #300 built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1925. Check out their website to learn more about all of the trips and packages the railroad has to offer.
No events known.
Buckingham Branch Railroad (Dillwyn): Offered in junction with the Old Dominion Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society 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! These excursions operate over short line Buckingham Branch Railroad, a growing Virginia freight carrier.
The trains use their original track between Bremo, Virginia in Fluvanna County and Dillwyn in Buckingham County (part of its so-called "Buckingham Division"). It covers 17 miles and was previously the Chesapeake & Ohio's Dillwyn Branch, sold by CSX Transportation in 1989.
Since that time the Buckingham Branch has expanded greatly and currently operates a total of 280 miles along four different divisions across central and eastern Virginia.
The longest is the Richmond & Allegheny Division which runs 199 miles between Richmond and Clifton Forge, another former component of the C&O.
Chelatchie Prairie Railroad (Yacolt): If you want to see a working steam engine in Washington, one of the few places to operate these historic machines is the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad; Crossett Western Company 2-8-2T #10.
This tank engine was originally built to serve the lumber industry, a 1929 product of American Locomotive's Brooks Works.
They also have another 2-8-2T under restoration, Long Bell Lumber Company #803, built by the same company in 1925. The railroad hosts Christmas Tree Specials during a few weekends after Thanksgiving.
These are powered by diesel locomotives and offer passengers the chance to ride from Yacolt to Moulton where they can pick out a pre-cut tree for Christmas. During the trip enjoy warm cider and cocoa, hot coffee and cookies, and the kids will receive a gift from Santa Claus.
Northwest Railway Museum (Snoqualmie): The Santa Train has been hosted by the Northwest Railway Museum since 1969.
An event for the kids it is a 3 1/2-mile trip lasting twenty minutes; during the journey children can enjoy refreshments, meet Santa, and receive a small gift.
The train operates every weekend from the Saturday after Thanksgiving through late December. The museum also hosts a Victorian Santa Train.
The Northwest Railway Museum is one of the country's oldest railroad preservation groups; it was founded in 1957 as the Puget Sound Railway Historical Association to highlight the Pacific Northwest's rail heritage. In September, 1999 it acquired its current name.
Their prized piece is the preserved Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern (Northern Pacific) depot in Snoqualmie, a beautiful Victorian design completed in 1890. They also host excursions throughout the year over 5 miles of former Northern Pacific track, which is known as the Snoqualmie Valley Railroad.
No events known.
East Troy Electric Railroad (East Troy): The East Troy Electric, based in East Troy, hosts excursions within restored trolley and streetcars.
They offer a number of special trips throughout the year including Christmas Trains which operate from the weekend after Thanksgiving through late December.
The East Troy Electric Railroad is a division of the East Troy Railroad Museum and its primary mission is to preserve the region's interurban heritage.
This organization is quite unique in that the track it owns has technically never been abandoned thanks to East Troy's foresight.
The current 6 miles from East Troy to Mukwonago was originally built as Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company (better known as TMER) incorporated in 1896 from what was formerly a local horse-car line that had served Milwaukee since 1890.
It continued to grow over the next two decades, reaching its peak size of 198 miles in 1909; its main line linked Milwaukee with Sheboygan while suburban branches ran west of the city to Watertown, East Troy, and Burlington.
With declining ridership and rising costs, abandonments began in 1938, the same year the company's name was changed to the Milwaukee Electric Railway & Transport Company.
The segment currently in use was dropped in 1939 although East Troy acquired the 6 miles to Mukwonago (where interchange was established with the Soo Line) for continued freight service.
In 1985 a deal was reached with the Wisconsin Trolley Museum to takeover the property as a heritage railroad; between 1995 and 2000 today's East Troy Railroad Museum purchased the right-of-way.
Mid-Continent Railway Museum (North Freedom): This museum, located in North Freedom, also offers excursion rides throughout the year. One of their specials is the Santa Express hosted after Thanksgiving.
The historic cars used on this trip are heated with old-fashioned wood stoves during the 7-mile round-trip over former Chicago & North Western trackage. The journey lasts about an hour.
The museum was formed in 1957 to highlight the Midwest's rail heritage; this region contained the densest collection of railroads anywhere in the nation as they rapidly overbuilt due to competition to serve America's Heartland.
Unfortunately, by the post-World War II period a great of this trackage was superfluous and redundant. Famous names found here included the C&NW, Milwaukee Road, Soo Line, Rock Island, Burlington, and Chicago Great Western.
The Mid-Continent Railway Museum's noteworthy pieces include the original C&NW depot from Rock Springs (built in 1894) and a replica freight depot built in 1972.
They also have an impressive collection of steam locomotives which cannot be missed; there are currently 11 and three are under restoration.
Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad (Trego): A unique twist on Christmas-themed train rides is Wisconsin Great Northern's Santa Pizza Train, offered on select weekends during November and December.
This event features a 2-hour train ride for kids to enjoy pizza and a ride with Santa. The kids also receive hot cocoa and cookies along with a small gift.
The Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad is a growing tourist attraction in the state's northwestern corner which operates about 20 miles of the old Chicago & North Western between Spooner and Springbrook.
The railroad began operations in 1997 and has grown from a single pizza train excursion to multiple events today which include sightseeing trains, wine and cheese trains, dinner trains, and a bed & breakfast train.
The railroad has also branched out into general freight service on an as-needed basis.
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.