California Polar Express Train Rides: A Complete Guide (2022)

Published: November 16, 2022

By: Adam Burns

California is currently home to three officially licensed The Polar Express train rides, making it one of the top states for such an event!  You can find this attraction hosted as the California State Railroad Museum, Southern California Railway Museum, and RailTown 1897.

In addition, it was also previously available at the Fillmore & Western Railway in Fillmore, which closed in 2021.  The information included here briefly highlights these organizations and links are provide to their official websites for more information, including how to purchase tickets.

Officially licensed The Polar Express train rides have become an increasingly popular attraction across the country since Warner Brothers Pictures released the film in November, 2004.

Numerous organizations, from museums to tourist railroads, now host such themed rides every November and December (some even run into early January). They feature a story-telling of Chris Van Allsburg's magical tale, The Polar Express, which comes complete with hot chocolate, cookies, and a small gift.

Guide Information

California State Railroad Museum

(Sacramento) Located in Sacramento, the CSRM was created in 1937 to preserve the state's rich rail heritage. 

While California is perhaps best known the western leg of the Transcontinental Railroad (Central Pacific), the state thrived in later years as a major port, agricultural, and manufacturing center. 

Today's museum is one of the nation's finest with many special events held throughout the year, its own foundation to aid the railroad industry and its history, a library/archives wing, public train rides, and a vast collection of locomotives and rolling stock (such as Southern Pacific 4-8-8-2 "Cab Forward" #4294 and Central Pacific 4-2-4T #3 built in 1863). 

Their collection of steam locomotives, alone, is quite impressive and includes 20 examples which operated in California (a handful are also either operational or under restoration). 

For most organizations official The Polar Express events are their most popular events and this is no different at CSRM which hosts the trips on weekends from late November and throughout December. 

It lasts about an hour with trains comprising seven cars (pulled by historic diesel locomotives) offering first class, coach, or open air accommodations.  

The Polar Express Dates: 

  • November 23
  • November 26-28
  • December 1-5
  • December 8-12
  • December 15-19

Southern California Railway Museum

(Perris) The Southern California Railway Museum, formerly known as the Orange Empire Railway Museum, is located in Perris and is one of California's most impressive such facilities. 

It was originally founded in 1956 as an interurban/streetcar museum, featuring equipment of Pacific Electric and Los Angeles Railway (LARy) lineage. 

Since then it has transformed itself to include historic cars, diesels, steam, and electric locomotives belonging to railroads that predominately operated in California. 

 Among their operating locomotives is Ventura Company 2-6-2 #2 (built by Baldwin Locomotive in 1922), Santa Fe FP45 #98 (freshly repainted), and Southern Pacific U25B #3100. 

You can also see more than just trains here; be sure to check out the preserved Santa Fe brick depot in Perris (completed in 1892) and various types of restored railroad signals. 

Finally, the museum hosts many train rides throughout the year, including special events like official The Polar Express trips during late November and throughout December. 

The Polar Express Dates: 

  • November 24
  • November 26-28
  • December 2-5
  • December 9-12
  • December 15-24
  • December 26-31

RailTown 1897

(Jamestown) Railtown 1897 State Historic Park's primary focus is to preserve the logging industry of Northern California. 

Located in Jamestown, it was formally opened on May 8, 1971, operating over Sierra Railway's 57.43 mile line that linked Tuolumne (where it served West Side Lumber Company's large lumber mill) with Oakdale where it connected with the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe. 

Even before this tourist attraction officially opened it had been a popular location for Hollywood movie makers since the 1950's, garnering it considerable publicity. 

In fact, so many films have been featured here hat it became known as "The Movie Railroad."  Today, along with the railroad, visitors can also tour the 26 acre yard and shop complex, including its six-stall roundhouse, and of course enjoy train rides behind preserved and restored steam locomotives. 

There are currently two operable, both of Sierra Railway heritage; 2-8-0 #28 built by Baldwin Locomotive in 1922 and 4-6-0 #3 built by Rogers Locomotive in 1891 (this locomotive is famous for being featured in Back To The Future III). 

One of their most popular special events is hosting official The Polar Express trips during select dates in December. 

RailTown's version features beautifully restored period passenger cars where kids can enjoy hot chocolate, cookies, a reading of The Polar Express, meeting Santa, and receiving a free gift.  Ticket options available include coach and first class. 

The Polar Express Dates: 

  • November 26-28
  • December 3-5
  • December 10-12
  • December 17-19

Former Events

Fillmore & Western Railway

(Indefinitely Closed In 2021)

This attraction was located in Fillmore and had an interesting history; it was launched in 1991 by Short Line Enterprises over a 28-mile section of the Southern Pacific between Piru and Saticoy, initially envisioned as a location for Hollywood movies and commercials. 

However, it became so popular the group decided to launch regular public excursions, including dinner trains and murder mysteries. 

While the railroad remained best known for its films, television shows, and various TV commercials it hosted a wide array of train rides (including special trips for the major holidays, private charters, and even trains occasionally pulled by a restored steam locomotive [Duluth & Northeastern 2-8-0 #14 built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1913]), making it one of California's most popular such attractions for years.

Typically, trains were pulled by one of two F7A streamlined diesels; #100 (built for the Chicago &North Western as #4068-A in 1949) and #101 (built as Chicago & North Western #4083-A in 1949).

In addition, thanks to the region's mild climate it remained open throughout the year.  During November and December they hosted official The Polar Express events.  The lease on the trackage it utilized ended on June 28, 2021 and operations ceased.

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