New York Christmas Train Rides: A Complete Guide (2023)

Last revised: June 22, 2023

By: Adam Burns

New York has a rich and long history with railroads, dating back to the Mohawk & Hudson which began operation in 1831.  Throughout the 19th century several notable lines sprang up to link New York City with the state's interior.

In the mid-19th century, Buffalo, located along the shores of Lake Erie, was considered the western frontier and eventually served by multiple famous railroads like the New York Central, Lehigh Valley, Erie Railroad, and Delaware, Lackawanna & Western.

None were more prolific than the NYC, pieced together by the legendary Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt.  Vanderbilt, and the railroad he built, are two separate, and fascinating stories.  During their zenith, both were powerful entities of American business.

During the 20th century the NYC was a 10,000 route-mile system and arguably the most lucrative in the nation aside from rival Pennsylvania Railroad.  At its peak, New York contained 8,400 route miles by 1920 and few communities were not served by at least one railroad.

The state originated and terminated almost very types of freight imaginable, from milk and agricultural products to furniture and general merchandise.

Today, there are more than a dozen organizations and heritage railroads in the state whose mission is to preserve its rail history.  Those which offer the perk of train rides typically host special events throughout the year, including during the Christmas season.

The listings below include organizations which offer their own Christmas-themed train rides.  There are also others which host official The Polar Express events.

Guide Information

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:

  • The Santa Claus Express (The train is quite festive and decorated for Christmas. During the 2.5-hour trip kids can enjoy refreshments, meet Santa, receive a gift provided by the parent[s]/guardian[s], and enjoy holiday music.)
  • North Pole Express (Similar to the Santa Claus Express this trip last 2 hours and departs from the Milford Depot.  During the journey kids see Christmas lights along the tracks, enjoy music, and stop at the North Pole Station.)

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.

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