UK/Britain Polar Express Train Rides: 2023 Trips

Last revised: August 6, 2023

By: Adam Burns

For those interested in heritage railroads, and enjoying such train rides, no other country does it better than the United Kingdom.   There are numerous such attractions scattered throughout the country which have preserved its rich history with trains, a history that goes back much further than American railroads.

In addition, most are operated over well-maintained and preserved rights-of-way, in contrast to some in the U.S. that are not always kept with such care due to cost constraints.

Today, several groups have preserved, or restored, a great deal of the nation's rail history.  They also have restored a number of steam, and historic diesel locomotives, in addition to constructing a brand new steam locomotive completed in 2008; London & North Eastern 4-6-2 #60163

Named the "Tornado," the locomotive was built by the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust built to the specifications of Arthur Peppercorn, the noted English railway engineer. The "Tornado" became the first new British steam locomotive completed since 1960.  

After 2010, some organizations, already hosting popular excursions for the public, broke out into Polar Express events.  These trips had already been very successful in the United States since the 2004 release of Warner Brothers' The Polar Express, based on Chris Van Allsburg's magical tale, "The Polar Express."

Each train ride is just a bit different as each organization offers their unique touch.  Generally, however, they include a story-telling of Allsburg's book and includes refreshments which comes complete with hot chocolate, cookies, and a small gift.  Most trips last from 1 hour to 90 minutes.

Guide Information

Churnet Valley Railway

The Churnet Valley Railway, located in Froghall Station, is a one-of-a-kind experience that has become one of the most successful in the UK. The journey lasts for 1 to 1.5 hours, taking passengers on a magical ride through the Staffordshire countryside.

Passengers are encouraged to wear their pyjamas or dressing gowns, just like in the story, to fully immerse themselves in the experience. The train itself is a beautifully restored vintage steam locomotive, which adds to the nostalgia and charm of the journey.

The ride is filled with special effects, including twinkling lights and festive decorations, that transport passengers to a winter wonderland. One of the highlights of the journey is the hot chocolate service, with waiters in chef hats serving hot chocolate and cookies to all passengers.

As the train makes its way to the North Pole, passengers are treated to a reading of the Polar Express story, accompanied by classic Christmas songs that everyone can sing along to. Upon arrival at the North Pole, the train is met with a spectacular light display, and Santa Claus himself boards the train to hand out presents to all the children on board.

Overall, the Polar Express Train Ride at Churnet Valley Railway is a truly magical experience that captures the spirit of Christmas. It is a must-do for families looking to create unforgettable memories during the holiday season.

Cholsey and Wallingford Railway

The Cholsey & Wallingford Railway operates about 2.5 miles of the Great Western Railway's former Wallingford Branch between its namesake towns in Oxfordshire.  The line, which dates back to 1866, now takes passengers on about 45 minute excursions.

This trips typically operate from April through September on weekends and bank holidays.  They also host specials for Halloween and at Christmas.  Their restored diesel locomotives include:

  • British Rail 0-6-0DE #08 022 (Class 08) named Lion, (ex-Guinness Brewery)
  • British Rail 0-6-0DE #08 060 (Class 08) named Unicorn, (ex-Guinness Brewery)
  • British Rail 0-6-0DE #08 123 (Class 08) named George Mason
  • Peckett & Sons 0-4-0ST #2142 (Owned by the Darlington Railway Preservation Society.)
  • Sentinel Works 0-4-TST #6515 (privately owned)

According to the railroad: "Our line runs through the beautiful countryside of South Oxfordshire and links the historic riverside town of Wallingford with GWR trains at Cholsey. Travel on our 1950s coaches, hauled by one of our Heritage diesels locomotives or by a visiting steam engine."

Beginning in late November each year, the Cholsey & Wallingford hosts official "The Polar Express" rides.  Check back for their 2023 dates! 

Seaton Tramway

The Seaton Tramway operates a 2 foot, 9-inch narrow gauge heritage tram between Seaton, Colyford and Colyton in East Devon's Axe Valley.  The heritage railroad is located in South West England and operates 3 miles of the former London & South Western Railway's (later Southern Railway) Seaton Branch.

The history of the line can be traced back to 1868, linking the main line at the Seaton Junction railway station to the coast at Seaton.  The line closed in 1966 and removed.  It was later sold by British rail and converted to a 2 foot, 9-inch narrow-gauge tramway in 1970.

Today, the electrified tourist is quite popular, operating nearly year-round service.  From late November, throughout much of December, the tramway hosts official "The Polar Express" trips.  Check back for official dates on these rides.

South Devon Railway

With a heritage dating back to 1872, the South Devon Railway offers historic scenic train rides on 6.64 miles of track from Totnes to Buckfastleigh in the South West England county of Devon.

The line began as the Buckfastleigh, Totnes & South Devon Railway, built to the English broad gauge of 7 feet, 1⁄4 inch, opening for service on May 1, 1872.  This railroad later became part of the South Devon Railway, which would join the Great Western Railway, and standard-gauged (4 feet, 8 1⁄2 inches).

The line is quite scenic, following farms and the River Dart along its entire length.  The line ended freight service in 1962 and began hosting passengers again in 1969 as the Dart Valley Railway.  It then became the South Devon Railway in 1991.

The railroad is headquartered in the historic Buckfastleigh railway station and hosts official "The Polar Express" trips each holiday season.  They have a large collection of historic, and operational, steam and diesel locomotives of which the former typically pull "The Polar Express."

Telford Steam Railway

The Telford Steam Railway (TSR) is a tourist railroad based in Spring Village, Telford in Shropshire, England. It was created in 1976 and operates part of the historic Wellington & Severn Junction Railway.  This system later became part of the much larger Great Western Railway, which was rolled into British Railways in 1948.  Operations along this stretch ended in stages between 1964 (Ketley to Horsehay Summit) and 1983 (Lightmoor to Horsehay).

The history of the line can be traced back to 1859, with the portion around Spring Village constructed by the Wellington & Severn Junction Railway.  There is currently about 1 mile in operation with the Telford Steam Railway's base of operations/yard/engine house located about half-way along the line.

As their name suggests, the group operates both historic diesel, and steam locomotives with the latter pulling official "The Polar Express" events each holiday season. 

2023 Dates

  • Friday, November 24 - Sunday, November 26
  • Wednesday, November 29 - Sunday, December 3rd
  • Tuesday, December 5 - Sunday, December 10th
  • Tuesday, December 12 - Sunday, December 17th
  • Tuesday, December 19 - Saturday, December 23rd

Vintage Trains

This organization is operated by Birmingham Railway Museum Trust, located in the West Midlands. It is based at the Tyseley Locomotive Works (previously known as the Birmingham Railway Museum) and maintain a large collection of operable steam locomotives.

The group's base of operations, and location where its rolling stock (locomotives and equipment) can be found, is at the former Great Western Railway's Tyseley depot.  The group operates main line steam-powered excursions throughout the United Kingdom.

With their official "The Polar Express" trips pulled by authentic steam locomotives and operating at-speed along the main line, this is the closest experience one can get to the train in the movie!

2023 Dates

  • December 2 - December 3 (Saturday and Sunday)
  • December 9 - December 10 (Saturday and Sunday)
  • December 16 - December 17 (Saturday and Sunday)
  • December 23 (Saturday)

Wensleydale Railway

Located in North Yorkshire, the Wensleydale Railway maintains a 22-mile line between Scruton, in the Vale of Mowbray, to Leyburn, in the Yorkshire Dales.  The history of this heritage system can be traced back to the Newcastle & Darlington Junction Railway, which later became the York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway (YN&B).

The section between Northallerton and Leeming Lane, totaling about 5.5 miles, opened on March 6, 1848 while the remainder to Leyburn opened a few years later in 1855.  The YN&B would go on to form the North Eastern Railway, which acquired the segment now used by the Wensleydale Railway in 1859.

The NER, itself, would go on to form one of England's most notable companies, the London & North Eastern, which maintained nearly 6,600 miles of track throughout the country.

After this segment of track ended service in 1964, the Wensleydale Railway Association was formed in 1990 to operate public excursions.  Today, it is said the railway sees about 50,000 riders annually with six stations along the property; Scruton, Leeming Bar, Bedale, Finghall Lane, Leyburn, and Redmire.

Every holiday season the railroad hosts official "The Polar Express" trips.  Check back for their 2023 dates!

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