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Kentucky Christmas Train Rides (2024): A Complete Guide

Last revised: January 1, 2024

By: Adam Burns

A Christmas train ride in Appalachia is a scenic and wonderful experience, which has attracted thousands annually from New York to Georgia. Some of the popular locations hosting these events include the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, West Virginia Central, Adirondack Railroad, ‎Colebrookdale Railroad, and Virginia Scenic Railway among others.

Locations in Kentucky hosting such events currently includes the Blue Grass Scenic Railroad & Museum and Kentucky Railway Museum.  The state's history with trains began in 1830 when the Lexington & Ohio was incorporated on January 27th that year. 

The railroad would open its first 15 miles a year later and it eventually became part of the modern Louisville & Nashville system.  The L&N was the state's most famous, and successful railroad.

It was one of the few to never experience bankruptcy and operated under its own charter for more than 120 years.  Today, several organizations in Kentucky do a fine job telling its history with railroads which includes the Big South Fork Scenic Railway, Historic RailPark & Train Museum, Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation, My Old Kentucky Dinner Train, Nostalgia Station Toy Train Museum, Paducah Railroad Museum, and Railway Museum Of Greater Cincinnati.

Overview

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!  


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