Friends of the 261 puts North Pole Express tickets on sale

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Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 pulls the North Pole Express at St. Paul Union Depot on Dec. 9, 2018.
Steve Glischinski
ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Friends of the 261, owners and operators of Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261, put tickets on sale Sept. 15 for its annual “North Pole Express” at St. Paul Union Depot. This is the sixth year the Northern will pull short trips at the depot. The dates are Dec. 6-8 and Dec. 12-15.

Since 2014 No. 261 has been pulling the “North Pole Express.” The train operates on short runs on Union Depot property with a mix of bi-level and single-level equipment. It’s one of the non-profit Friends biggest fundraisers of the year, especially now that Amtrak has in effect prohibited main line steam excursions with its charter train policy.

The train runs from the west end of the depot to its east end, where a special “North Pole” stage assembled at the Friends shop in Minneapolis has been moved into position. Each trip the train pulls up alongside the structure and children can watch as “elves” work and Santa emerges to board the train.

The train has become a tradition with many families: many of the passengers are repeat customers - the trains sell out every year - who return year after year, some traveling from adjoining states to take the one-hour rides.

This won’t be the only outing for the 4-8-4 this year. No. 261 will pull “Gourmet Express” trains on Twin Cities & Western Sept. 21-22. In a change of past practices, the trains will board in suburban St. Louis Park dues to changing operating conditions on BNSF near the Friends Minneapolis shop, and the construction of a light rail line along the train’s route. The change will actually avoid back-up moves and some 10 mph running that have hindered past trips. The train will depart St. Louis Park at 1 p.m. Sept 21 and 10:30 a.m. Sept 22.

For more information on the Gourmet Express and North Pole Express, go to

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