'Polar Express' operations end on Iowa Pacific

Companies failed to agree on royalty issues
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Iowa Pacific's E9 No. 101 operates on a Polar Express excursion out of Middleton, Wis., in 2015. Due to an ongoing dispute, Iowa Pacific will not operate Polar Express trains this year.
David Lassen
DURANGO, Colo. — Polar Express trains will not be stopping at tourist railroads owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings and the company's subsidiaries in 2017.

Officials with Rail Events Inc. say in a recent news release that they decided not to license the event at railroads owned by Iowa Pacific due to an inability to negotiate an agreement to pay royalties from the 2016 season.

“We worked hard to be a good partner with Ed Ellis and Iowa Pacific for three years,” Al Harper, founder of American Heritage Railways, which owns Rail Events, tells Trains News Wire.

Warner Brothers owns the rights to Polar Express merchandise and events flowing from its production of the 2004 animated film of the same name and based on Chris Van Allsburg’s 1986 children’s book, "The Polar Express." Warner Brothers licenses the right to sell Polar Express merchandise and develop themed train rides around the world to Rail Events, which contracts with tourist and shortline railroads, such as Iowa Pacific, to put on shows and sell related items.

Rail Events filed a lawsuit in January 2017 to recover $3 million the company claims it is owed. The two entities have been in negotiations but failed to reach a settlement in time for the 2017 Christmas season.

“Actually, it was our decision not to run the trains,” Ed Ellis, Iowa Pacific founder and president, tells Trains News Wire. “We ended 2016 owing some money to [Rail Events.] We shook hands on a deal to repay it, but they backed out and came out with something we couldn’t live with, and we decided to do the trains ourselves.”

Ellis says excursion trains Iowa Pacific will operate this year are called “The Train to Christmas Town.” The name and the train excursion are based on an illustrated book of the same name written by Ellis’ wife, Peggy. Iowa Pacific was once a significant contractor for Rail Events regarding Polar Express trains throughout the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

The decision by the two companies will affect Polar Express trains planned for the Cape Cod Central Railroad in Massachusetts; the Eastern Flyer in central Oklahoma; the Grenada Railway in Mississippi; Oregon’s Mount Hood Railroad; the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway in California; the Saratoga & North Creek Railway in New York; the West Texas & Lubbock Railroad in Texas; and the Dartmoor Railway and Weardale Railway in the United Kingdom.

Polar Express trains will return to the Texas State Railroad, which Iowa Pacific ceased to manage in early 2017 after the Texas State Railroad Authority Board decided not to renew the operating contract.

Rail Events says that Polar Express trains will still operate at 45 other properties throughout the United States.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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