CSX Santa Train makes its 77th journey

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Clinchfield Railroad office car No. 100 brings up the markers of the 77th annual train at Clinchco, Va., on Nov. 23, 2019.
Chris Anderson
KINGSPORT, Tenn. — CSX’s long-running Santa Train has put another trip in the books.

The railroad celebrated the 77th running of the Santa Train on Saturday in rainy conditions for most of the day. Despite the wet weather, large crowds still turned out trackside along the former Clinchfield Railroad main line, part of today’s Kingsport Subdivision on CSX’s Florence Division. The train was led by two of the railroad's former Amtrak F40PH-2 diesels, Nos. 9998 and 9993.

CSX’s Eric Hendrickson, director of network planning and special projects with the railroad, says the rain only slightly affected the railroad’s execution of the train, mainly forcing an even more intense focus on safety, for which he praised the safety team which guarded each of the train’s stops. “If anything, the rain may have dampened down the crowd sizes just a little bit this year, but we still have a lot of people out for it,” he says. “With our guys on the ground, there was just a more heightened focus on safety because when you’ve got people on or near wet ballast and rail, it can be very slippery. But those guys did a great job and there were no injuries, and everything went smoothly other than the rain.”

This year’s train featured the return of a long-absent staple of Santa Train's past, Clinchfield Railroad office car No. 100, which has not been on the train for 37 years. The car served as this year’s “Santa car,” where Santa stood, tossing gifts off the rear of the train at 13 designated locations along its 110-mile Shelby, Ky., to Kingsport, Tn., route. The addition of the car was the latest effort by CSX to acknowledge the Santa Train’s Clinchfield heritage, efforts which also include the 2017 Santa Train being led by former Clinchfield EMD F7 No. 800. The CRR 100 is owned and newly-refurbished by the Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society and Museum in Johnson City, Tenn. Hendrickson says the 1911-built Pullman diner was “perfect” and “exceeded (CSX’s) needs” for the Santa Train with its high ceilings, which allowed for gifts be stacked high near Santa for distribution. The train also featured Watauga Valley's former sleek stainless steel Southern Railway 1949 Pullman-built sleeper/lounge, Crescent Harbor, the last of three remaining Pullman cars built for the Southern and the only one of which is operational.

Country music legend Marty Stuart served as the celebrity guest for this year’s train, along with his band, the Fabulous Superlatives. The Santa Train stood as Stuart’s first train ride. Hendrickson says the musician approached him about riding the train after watching a documentary about the event and was overwhelmed by his experience riding through the former coal mining communities along the Santa Train’s route through Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia. “As much as you try to explain it to people, you can’t really explain it until you actually see it,” Hendrickson says. “Marty came to me and said, ‘It was like a dream back there.’ He was really taken over by all the kids and how happy they were to see Santa and the train. That’s why we keep doing this.”

Hendrickson added that he, himself, was struck by the generosity he saw in the crowds at the train’s stops. “I really noticed it for the first time this year how generous and sharing everyone was. It seems like everyone was happy getting their one gift and letting others get their gift,” he says. “You also had a lot of people handing gifts to people that may not have had one. It was amazing to witness that.”

The Santa Train, which runs each year the Saturday before Thanksgiving, is a joint venture of CSX, the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, Food City grocers, and several other sponsors. The items distributed from the train are all donated by numerous sponsors and donors.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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