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Magical Ride to the North Pole: New York's Polar Express Train Rides (2024)

Last revised: December 31, 2023

By: Adam Burns

There are several railroad museums and heritage train rides available in the state of New York.  A number of these even offer special trips for the holidays, including Christmas.

However, only a select few actually host officially licensed "The Polar Express" events.   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.

During the trip, which typically lasts about an hour, children enjoy a retelling of the story and the refreshments previously mentioned.  There are a handful of railroads around the country which go the extra mile and even have their trains pulled by an authentic steam locomotive! 

The information presented here highlights those organizations hosting "The Polar Express" trips.  One in particular, the Adirondack Railroad, is one of New York's most prominent.

As its name implies the system operates through the heart of the Adirondack Mountains and offers some incredible scenery along points north of Utica (many years ago one could travel this route all of the way to Montreal, Quebec).

The Adirondack Railroad hosts several different excursions throughout the season, which are offered in a variety of classes and trip lengths.  They even host "Railbike" trips during the warmer months.

2024 Dates Will Be Included As They Become Available!

Overview

Adirondack Railroad

One of New York's most popular excursions, the Adirondack Railroad was launched in 1992 over sections of the former New York Central's old Adirondack Division between Utica and the resort of Lake Placid. 

During the NYC era this route had extended to Montreal, Quebec and was an important corridor for many years.  With the Penn Central merger of 1968 the struggling new conglomerate, which entered bankruptcy in 1970, abandoned the line north of Remsen, New York in 1972. 

It was subsequently acquired by the state and rebuilt for passenger service.  The new carrier was known as the Adirondack Railway, which operated between Utica and Lake Placid from 1979 to 1981, including serving the 1980 Winter Olympics. 

The line subsequently lay dormant until the Adirondack Railroad's debut.  The organization has been successful in growing ridership but with only portions of the line in service train cannot run direct to Lake Placid. 

In addition, with the railroad unable to rebuild the dormant components plans are being finalized to convert a portion into a rail/trail. 

In spite of this the railroad provides a wonderful experience overall, including hosting official The Polar Express train rides within climate-controlled cars from late November through most of December.  Trips depart from Utica Union Station.  

The railroad also hosts other Christmas-themed rides including the Santa Train (departing Thendara) and the Adirondack Christmas Train (departing Utica).  

The Polar Express Dates: 

Catskill Mountain Railroad

The Catskill Mountain Railroad, nestled in the scenic beauty of New York's Catskill Mountains, is a historic railway that takes visitors on a captivating journey through both history and nature. 

The heritage railroad has its roots in the 19th century when the construction of rail lines began to connect the rural regions of New York to larger cities and trade centers. Built as the Ulster and Delaware Railroad, with a history that began in 1866 as the Rondout and Oswego Railroad, the system would eventually connect Kingston with Oneonta and Hunter/Kaaterskill by 1900.

It played a vital role in carrying passengers, freight, and agricultural products, fostering economic prosperity and cultural exchange among the communities it served. In 1932 it was acquired by the New York Central.

Following the Penn Central's failure in 1970, and subsequent formation of Conrail in 1976, the line was sold to Ulster County.  In the early 1980s local train enthusiasts began clearing a portion of the property for excursions.

Their efforts led to the establishment of the Catskill Mountain Railroad in 1983, initially as a heritage railway offering tourist excursions. Through the restoration of vintage locomotives and train cars, the railway was able to take visitors on a nostalgic journey, immersing them in the ambiance of a bygone era.

Today, the railroad operates about 4.5 miles of track from Kingston to Stony Hollow.  Their scenic excursion appeal to people of all ages, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, dense forests, and charming rural landscapes.

The Polar Express Dates: 

Medina Railroad Museum

This museum is located in Western New York within Medina's restored New York Central freight depot originally completed in 1905.

It is noteworthy as being the largest such wooden structure (300 feet in length) ever built for the NYC.  As the 20th century progressed, smaller municipalities either lost their manufacturing base or local customers resulting in a declining need for freight depots. 

Such was the case for Medina.  The railroad sold the structure in 1963 to private owners where it remained until Marty Phelps acquired it in 1991 with intentions to found what is today the Medina Railroad Museum. 

Since that time the organization has amassed an incredible collection that now includes over 6,000 artifacts. They have also entered the public excursion business and have an impressive fleet of locomotives and rolling stock. 

These allow them to host some wonderful train rides during the fall including official The Polar Express trips during select dates in November and December. 

The ticket options available include first class or coach.  As with all productions of The Polar Express visitors are encouraged to wear pajamas!  

The Polar Express Dates: 


North Fork Trolley Company

Located in Aquebogue, the North Fork Trolley Company, provides bus rides on the North Fork of Long Island and is Long Island's oldest trolley company.  However, they abandoned rails long ago and now exclusively operate with buses.  They will host official The Polar Express events in 2022.  It is the only production available that is not featured on a train!  

The Polar Express Dates: 


SteamLocomotive.com

Wes Barris's SteamLocomotive.com is simply the best web resource on the study of steam locomotives. 

It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website. 

It is quite staggering and a must visit!