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By Julie Sneider, Assistant Editor
After a two-year hiatus, the Caltrain Holiday Train will make a return run through the San Francisco Bay area this weekend.
Decorated with more than 60,000 twinkling lights and decorations, Caltrain’s Holiday Train 2012 will stop at eight train stations where members of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and representatives from the Salvation Army will collect donated toys to be distributed to low-income families.
For many, the excitement of seeing a brightly lit train pull into a railroad station to deliver gifts and Christmas cheer is a highpoint of their holiday traditions and celebrations. Caltrain is among several passenger and freight railroads that keep the holiday train tradition alive — and use it to promote charitable giving.
“This is a way for us to give something back to the community that has supported us by riding the train,” says Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn. “It’s a benefit to support families who are having a hard time at this time of year.”
Free entertainment is provided at each station prior to the Caltrain Holiday Train’s arrival. Then, when the train arrives for its 20-minute stop, visitors are treated to live holiday music performed by the train’s on-board carolers and a traditional Salvation Army band. Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, Frosty and other holiday characters visit with children attending the event, which runs Dec. 1-2.
Since it began in 2001, Caltrain’s Holiday Train has collected 45,000 toys for area children. Budget constraints prompted the railroad to suspend the event in 2010 and 2011, but this year, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation agreed to sponsor the train, which also received financial support from businesses and other donors.
“We’re very excited to be back,” Dunn says.
Other railroads operating holiday trains with giving in mind include BNSF Railway Co., Canadian Pacific, CSX Transportation, Kansas City Southern, Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), The Indiana Rail Road Co., Metrolink and the Virginia Railway Express (VRE).
Holiday trains deliver or collect gifts
CSXT recently wrapped up the 70th run of its Santa Train. Sponsored by CSXT, the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, Food City and Dignity U Wear, the 2012 Santa Train completed its 110-mile route through the U.S. Appalachian region on Nov. 17, making 14 stops to deliver toys and other gifts to low-income children and their families in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. For the second-consecutive year, country music singing duo Thompson Square served as the train’s “celebrity guests” and entertained crowds at each stop.
Fighting hunger is the primary goal of CP’s two holiday trains, which this year began their trips Nov. 28 in Beaconsfield, Quebec, and Scranton, Pa. The trains will travel to 150 communities through Dec. 18 to raise money, food and hunger awareness for local food banks, says CP spokesman Andy Cummings.
Since it hit the rails in 1999, CP’s Holiday Train has raised about $6.4 million (in Canadian dollars) and collected 2.5 million pounds of food, all of which was distributed to local families where the contributions were collected. About 1,000 CP employees are involved with putting on the event each year, says Cummings.
“We think it’s part of our corporate mission to support food banks,” he says. “For some food banks, the Holiday Train is their main fundraiser for the year.”
Decorated with hundreds of thousands of bright LED lights, CP’s 14-car train brings music, dancing, hot chocolate and “lots of holiday spirit,” Cummings says. Those who visit the stops are asked to bring nonperishable food items or money to donate. Special this year is the U.S. train’s mission to help families affected by Hurricane Sandy. At all U.S. stops, CP will match corporate and community donations made to local food pantries up to $250,000. CP’s local match will go to Feeding America, whose member food banks are providing food and supplies to Sandy’s victims, says Cummings.
Meanwhile, KCS’ six-car Holiday Express launched its 2012 trip on Nov. 23 in Jefferson, Texas, and will wrap it up Dec. 16 at Union Station in Kansas City, Mo. The train will visit several KCS subdivisions, making 22 planned stops where visitors can tour two brightly decorated rail cars. Children can meet with Santa Claus in the train’s caboose and receive a free gift bag, said KCS spokesman Kevin Mcintosh in an email.
The KCS Holiday Express stemmed from the former Gateway Western Santa Train, which stopped in small towns between East St. Louis, Ill., and Blue Springs, Mo., according to the KCS website. After KCS employees learned in 2000 that the Santa Train visit was the only Christmas celebration some local children would have, the railroad revamped the event to focus on charity.
Since then, the railroad collects contributions from its employees, vendors and friends to buy gift cards that KCS donates to the Salvation Army, which uses them to provide warm clothing and other necessities to families in need. Over the past 11 years, the KCS Holiday Express has donated more than $1 million in gift cards, Mcintosh said.
Holiday train rides for military families
Also leaving the station this week was BNSF’s Holiday Express, which will provide rides to more than 3,000 members of military families during the train's weeklong trip through Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. Powered by two of the Class I’s newest locomotives, the train features 13 restored, vintage rail cars.
While on board, families receive holiday treats, a commemorative holiday ornament and a visit with Santa Claus. Also part of the event: The BNSF Railway Foundation will donate $110,000 to not-for-profit organizations that provide support to military members and their families, as well as $500,000 to the USO’s Operation Enduring Care, which raises funds to help wounded, ill or injured troops and their families restore their lives.
Since BNSF began the Holiday Express tradition five years ago, the BNSF Foundation has donated more than $300,000 to organizations that support military members and their families, according to a prepared statement from BNSF Holiday Express spokesman Joe Faust.
For more information about the holiday trains mentioned in this article, follow the links. And if you know of other railroads that operate special trains with a charitable mission during the holidays, please send an email to email@example.com.
Caltrain Holiday Train
CP Holiday Train
CSXT Santa Train
CTA 2012 Holiday Train
Indiana Rail Road Co. Santa Train
KCS Holiday Express
Metrolink Holiday Toy Express
VRE Annual Operation Lifesaver Santa Train