WHISTLESTOP WON­DER­LAND

Hol­i­day train get­away, meet­ing Rudy the tanker, Santa’s iron sleigh

RSWLiving - - DEPARTMENTS - BY JA­COB OGLES

Hol­i­day train get­away, meet­ing Rudy the tanker, Santa’s iron sleigh

More than a mil­lion lights form the shapes of rein­deer and snow­men along­side a Cana­dian Pa­cific train en­ter­ing Cot­tage Grove, Min­nesota. A crowd gath­ers in the north­ern town to ex­pe­ri­ence one of the big­gest events along the rail­way each win­ter sea­son. The CP Hol­i­day Train has lit­er­ally rolled into town. Par­ents hoist chil­dren onto their shoul­ders to see the sight as a hatch on one freight car sud­denly swings down like a Mur­phy bed, re­veal­ing a full con­cert stage for rock and coun­try per­form­ers who will yield to St. Nick him­self for a ren­di­tion of “Santa Claus is Com­ing to Town.”

The CP Hol­i­day Train start­ing in late Novem­ber will be­gin its 150-stop loop along tracks in Cana­dian prov­inces and as far south as Chicago and into New York, along the way rais­ing more than $1 mil­lion for food banks. “Ev­ery year, we work to make these trains look really good. It has a strong vis­ual im­pact and is some­thing a lot of young peo­ple look for­ward to,” says Andy Cum­mings, a spokesman for Cana­dian Pa­cific.

Kansas City South­ern Rail­way also sends its KCS Hol­i­day Ex­press to stops in Louisiana, east Texas, Ok­la­homa, Arkansas and Illi­nois be­fore land­ing at the his­toric Union Sta­tion in Kansas City, Mis­souri. Vis­i­tors line up for days to get free tick­ets to tour the rest­ing train, says Doniele Carl­son, the rail­way’s as­sis­tant VP for cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions and com­mu­nity af­fairs. The project started in 2001 with work­ers de­vot­ing more than 8,000 hours to con­vert re­tired rail­cars into this Christ­mas­themed de­light. “The KCS Hol­i­day Ex­press is a la­bor of love for KCS em­ploy­ees and a way to give back to com­mu­ni­ties

Trains boast an un­de­ni­able con­nec­tion to the sea­son of giv­ing.

through which the rail­way op­er­ates,” she says. At each stop, do­na­tions are col­lected for The Sal­va­tion Army.

Va­ca­tion­ers in north­ern re­gions of­ten ask about CP Hol­i­day Train stops, says Kristen LeVan with Travel Wis­con­sin, the state’s tourism of­fice. “The Hol­i­day Train is some­thing that doesn’t hap­pen ev­ery day,” she says. “You can’t hop in on any week­end. It’s a once-a-year trip, and we see a lot of crowds there.”

Fam­i­lies an­tic­i­pate the KCS Hol­i­day Ex­press, watch­ing for a tanker named Rudy, bear­ing a lighted face with a bright smile. Also p art of this six-piece train set: a flat­car car­ry­ing rein­deer and Santa’s sleigh, as well as a minia­ture vil­lage with a model train, a gin­ger­bread box­car, a rolling work­shop for Santa’s elves, a sta­ble for live an­i­mals and a dec­o­rated red ca­boose. Free events in­clude a train tour and vis­it­ing with Santa.

For the KCS Hol­i­day Ex­press, the an­nual jour­ney builds up to a multi-day event at Union Sta­tion, one that draws vis­i­tors from around the coun­try. “The hol­i­days are very big in Kansas City, and this is one of the prom­i­nent and pop­u­lar events,” says Toni Alexan­der, com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager for tourism’s Visit Kansas City. In a city still heav­ily ser­viced by Am­trak, trains re­main a prom­i­nent part of the re­gional char­ac­ter. Lau­ren Hypse, event man­ager for Union Sta­tion, which opened in 1914 and is to­day an en­ter­tain­ment com­plex, says while the train is a free event, reser­va­tions are rec­om­mended. Union Sta­tion houses a work­ing train sta­tion and sci­ence cen­ter, hosts hol­i­day-themed games and ac­tiv­i­ties through a six-week hol­i­day sea­son. But the four days when the ex­press rolls in are among the big­gest at­trac­tions of the year (Dec. 16-20), she says. “It’s a big draw for the fam­i­lies in the area,” Hypse says. In fact, some 28,000 vis­i­tors went to see the Hol­i­day Ex­press last year, a big chunk of the 300,000 of us that each year visit Union Sta­tion. Both rail com­pa­nies an­tic­i­pate the hol­i­day train tra­di­tion con­tin­u­ing for many years. It’s not just a way to keep a pos­i­tive pro­file; trains boast an un­de­ni­able con­nec­tion to the sea­son of giv­ing. “When you think of the world from a kid’s per­spec­tive, there’s won­der and en­thu­si­asm around that hol­i­day time,” Cum­ming says. “A lot of fam­i­lies have model trains run­ning un­der the Christ­mas tree, so this just feels nat­u­ral.”

The KCS Hol­i­day Ex­press is a la­bor of love for KCS em­ploy­ees and a way to give back to com­mu­ni­ties through which the rail­way op­er­ates.” —Doniele Carl­son, Kansas City South­ern Rail­way

The CP Hol­i­day Train makes its 150stop loop be­gin­ning in late Novem­ber.

The KCS Hol­i­day Ex­press in­cludes hol­i­day vil­lage. The Cana­dian Pa­cific Hol­i­day Train will dip as far south as Chicago. The jour­ney raises more than $1 mil­lion for food banks.

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