Friends of the 261 prepare for North Pole Express trips

RELATED TOPICS: STEAM/PRESERVATION | RAILFANNING | MIDWEST
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2016NorthPoleExpress
No. 261 powers 'North Pole Express' trips at St. Paul Union Depot in 2016.
Steve Glischinski
MINNEAPOLIS – There will be main line steam operating today in the Twin Cities, as Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 pulls the annual North Pole Express at the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul. The locomotive moved Nov. 29 from its shop in Minneapolis to the depot via BNSF Railway. This is the fourth year the Northern-type locomotive has pulled the trips, which have become a holiday tradition for thousands of riders. In 2016 the North Pole Express carried 11,000 passengers. This year, trips will operate Nov. 30-Dec. 3 and Dec. 7-10 with multiple runs each day.

Beginning Nov. 30, the North Pole Express will offer a 60-minute train ride on the Union Depot grounds. After departing the depot platform, the trains travel to the east end of the depot property to Santa’s Workshop, a structure built by Friends volunteers. Santa then boards the train and collects letters written to him by passengers. He visits with each child on the trip back to the depot. Volunteers offer children cookies and hot chocolate in the depot head house on their return.

Passengers now enjoy a slightly longer ride because depot owner Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority extended the tail track on the east end of the depot property by 251 feet in 2016.

North Pole Express trains will operate on the following schedule:
  • Nov. 30 and Dec. 7: Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. (Dec. 7 only), 3 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
  • Dec. 1 and 8: Fridays at 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
  • Dec. 2 and Dec. 9: Saturdays at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
  • Dec. 3 and Dec. 10: Sundays at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 4:30 p.m., and 6 p.m.
Special trains will also operate. On Dec. 1 and Dec. 7 trips for the Minnesota Wild/Ronald McDonald House will run at 6 p.m. On Dec. 8 a 4:30 p.m. trip will be run for North Pole Express sponsors, and on Dec. 9 another trip will operate at 4:30 p.m. for sponsor Bell Bank.

Sponsors for the 2017 North Pole Express include BNSF Railway, Bell Bank Mortgage, Broadway Pizza, Hilltop Carrier and RV, JJL, ReMax Advantage Plus, Trademark Title Services, Inc., and Union Depot.

Tickets are $25.95 for adults and $19.95 for children (under three are free). New this year will be First Class tickets in parlor car Wisconsin Valley. First Class tickets are $39.95 for adults and $29.95 for children (under three are free). First Class includes priority boarding, a Christmas treat on the train, more time with Santa and a souvenir.

For tickets and information, go to www.261.com.
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