Christmas may be a month away, but Santa Claus is taking some time out of his busy schedule to ride the rails of Waterloo Region.
Every Saturday and Sunday from Nov. 27 through to Dec. 19, riders will have the opportunity to meet Santa, Mrs. Claus and their elves aboard the Waterloo Central Railway’s Santa Train.
This is the second year for the Santa Train – the first was in 2008 – and organizers say it provides families with a nice alternative from the hustle and bustle of meeting Santa in the traditional mall setting.
“You can go to the mall and line up, or you can come here and get a seat on the train where Santa comes and spends time with each family,” explained Kevin Street, director of marketing for the Waterloo Central Railway.
“It’s quality time for families, rather than standing and waiting in line for a picture.”
The train will leave Waterloo station at 1 p.m., and arrive in St. Jacobs around 1:30. Along the way, families will enjoy a visit from Santa and his elves, a snack bar with hot chocolate and other festive treats. Everyone receives a small gift as well.
One of the biggest differences between this year and their first year is the addition of heated railcars. Street said some 150 volunteers have helped to retrofit the cars with insulation and heaters, as well as repairing the generator car that provides power.
The train is truly one for the ages. The diesel locomotive, which Street refers to as their “winter workhorse,” was built in 1950 and is one of only 70 ever produced. It will pull between four and six cars for this year’s Santa Train, including their two most recent arrivals: a dining car built in 1953 and a coach car from 1954. They once served as part of the Grand Trunk Western Railway service in Chicago.
Street said the railway could fit up to 500 people on the train at a time, but chooses to limit each run to about 300, “because we want to make sure Santa has quality time with each family.”
It was the enormous popularity of the Santa Train’s initial run in 2008, and the addition of the heated cars this year, that persuaded the group to organize the event again. Street hopes to make it an annual event.
Once in St. Jacobs, the train will take a 30-minute break before returning to Waterloo to allow families to make a stop at the restroom, take a photo with Santa, or even look at the old steam locomotives that the Southern Ontario Locomotive Restoration Society is working on at their new shop, which was completed last summer. Current restoration projects include a locomotive built in 1923 in Montreal, and another from 1931 built in Kingston.
“You don’t get to see them torn apart like this very often, and normally we don’t let the public see it, but this year it’s sort of a little bonus,” noted Street.
Tickets for the Santa Train are $16, and are available online at www.steam-train.org.