Prototype Profile: Holiday Trains

CP Holiday Train

Prototype Profile: Holiday Trains

During the holiday season, a number of railroads in North America, from big Class I lines to small museum railroads, run special trains. They are labeled holiday trains, Christmas trains, Santa trains, Polar Express trains (after the popular children’s book and film), and so on. For many railroads, this is a tradition that dates back decades. Read on and learn more in this month’s Prototype Profile: Holiday Trains.

Canadian Pacific

The Canadian Pacific Railway has run a special Holiday Train every year since 1999. There are actually two sections of the train, with one running entirely within Canada and another running mostly within the United States. The trains are brightly lit with festive lights and decorations and make many stops where various performers do short shows for the folks that come out to see the train.


Canadian Pacific Holiday Train. Photo by Teles. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The greatest thing about the CP Holiday Train, though, is the fact that it is raises money and food donations for local food banks. All money and food raised at a stop stays within that community. Since 9ts inception in 1999, the CP Holiday Train has raised a grand total of $39 million (Canadian) and nearly 4 million pounds of food.

This year’s trains have already departed Montreal, but still have several days left on their respective journeys.


csx santa train

CSX Santa Train. Photo by Steve Barry. Used as editorial stock photo by author’s permission.

The CSX Santa Train made it’s run on November 19, 2016. The train, originally known as the Santa Claus Special. It is a tradition that originally began with the Clinchfield Railroad in 1943. Today, CSX Transportation (current operators of the former Clinchfield route) continues that tradition with a train that runs from Shelby, Kentucky to the traditional end point at Kingsport, Tennessee, making the roughly 150 miles journey in a single day.

The train is a highly-anticipated tradition in Appalachia. The train brings food, clothing, gifts, and toys to families and children all along the route. The train distributes an average of 15 tons of such items each year to those in need.

CSX Transportation, Food City (grocery store chain), the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, and Dignity U Wear cooperate to run the special train and distribute the items along the way.

Florida East Coast

FEC Christmas Train

Santa doesn’t just visit those in snowy, cold climates, he likes the sun and sand, too! For the seventh year, Florida East Coast Railway will be operating their Christmas Train. The railway partners with the US Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation to donate toys to children and families in need. Last year, the train distributed a total of 16,000 toys, which are distributed by local Toys for Tots representatives at each location the train stops and more than 1,000 children came out to see the train in person.

The FEC Christmas train ran this past weekend, starting at Jacksonville and running along the – you guessed it – east coast of Florida for 351 miles, ending in Miami. The train made the run in one day, with seven stops in between Jacksonville and Miami.

Indiana Railroad


INRD train. Photo by Vmenkov. Used under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

The Indiana Railroad is one of the few regional shortlines that runs a holiday train. The INRD Santa Train ran the first weekend of December, along a roughly 100-mile journey from Bargersville, Indiana to Sullivan, Indiana. The train made the trip in three stages, and at each stop children and the young-at-heart are invited aboard the train to meet with Santa and give him their wish list. Santa and his helpers also distribute toys to those that come see him.

In addition to the toys given out to children that visit Santa on the train, Santa’s helpers and INRD employees distribute coats, hats and gloves to those in need at each stop the train makes.

Commuter Lines

CTA Santa Train

CTA Santa Train. Photo by David Wilson. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Various commuter passenger railroads around the US also operate holiday trains of various names. Virginia Railway Express operates their Santa Train, which spreads Operation Lifesaver’s “Look, Listen and Live” message and also works with the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation to distribute toys to children in the various communities the line serves.

The Bay Area’s Caltrain works in conjunction with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Salvation Army, and the Toys for Tots Foundation to operate their annual Holiday Train. The train makes two trips in early December, originating in San Francisco, California for both trains and each train making five stops along the journey.

The Chicago Transit Authority, operators of the famous “L Line” or “Chicago L”, has several Holiday Trains and Elves’ Workshop trains that run along various portions of the elevated line, from late November until just a couple of days before Christmas.

Santa and his helpers on each train greet riders and distribute candy canes to children. In addition, CTA employees make food baskets and distribute them to various community organizations around the Chicago area. Each food basket contains all the items and ingredients necessary for a holiday meal.


I could go on for thousands of more words on the various holiday-themed specials all around North America, and in other parts of the world, too. Many museum trains operate a Polar Express train or a Santa train, some railroads operate special holiday-themed dinner trains, and numerous communities decorate train engines and cars that are static displays in their community. It seems that since the inception of railroads, they have become closely tied with holidays – travelers take the train to make the journey home for the holidays, Santa sometimes travels by train, model train sets are given as gifts to the young and the young-at-heart. It’s no wonder there was more than enough information to fill out this month’s Prototype Profile: Holiday Trains

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Robert Thomson

Robert W. Thomson is a life-long railfan, the son of a former L&N Railroad B&B gang foreman, and an amateur photographer. He was born and raised in southeast Tennessee but now lives in Butte, Montana with his wife, Connie and cat, Charlie. Robert has worked as a park ranger, underground mine tour guide, freelance roleplaying game writer, and ran his own roleplaying game publishing company until selling it in 2012.

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