Railroads & Locomotives History When the reindeer are off, Santa Claus rides the rails

When the reindeer are off, Santa Claus rides the rails

By David Lustig | December 7, 2023

| Last updated on January 15, 2024

The big guy in the red suit knows he can always rely on railroads and railroaders when the reindeer are down for maintenance

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Santa Claus rides the Sierra Northern Railway, Ventura Division

Santa waving from holiday decorated train
Sierra Northern Railway provides an appropriately decked out heavyweight observation car so Santa can see all his friends in the Santa Clara River Valley, Calif. Nick Martinez

Have you ever wondered what happens when Santa’s sleigh and reindeer, his traditional form of transportation, needs its regularly scheduled inspection and servicing?

Let’s face it; over the millennium the jolly guy in the red suit has circumnavigated the world more times than Magellan. He and his reindeer know the route by heart. So, no one wants to hear that Santa and his sleigh are held up due to heavy airline congestion over Newark, hooves not meeting safe wear standards during a runby in Columbus, or a glitch in the software knocking Precision Scheduled Reindeering offline in Barstow.  On-time delivery of warmth, good tidings, cheer, and toys is imperative.

In the event those glitches pop into the flight plan, the reindeer need a breather, or the sled is down for routine maintenance, Santa Claus, being as wise as he is caring, always has a backup plan ready to be put in place.

train wrapped in holiday lights on tracks
Waiting for Santa Claus to board his special train on the Sierra Northern is a decorated genset, flatcar and a passenger car. Chris Mohs

That backup plan is railroading. It matters not whether it is an expansive Class I, a mid-sized regional, or a short, short line, he knows that railroading and railroaders won’t let him down, no matter what the weather, the terrain, or the time of day.

The manner of propulsion — steam, electric, or diesel — doesn’t matter; nor does the number of cars on the train or their vintage. It’s all about the onboard passengers; Santa Claus, his elf helpers, and railroaders of all stripes volunteering to lend a hand. Together they will bring joy and merriment to children and their parents — everywhere. Sometimes gifts are given to all those lineside, other times children bring toys to Santa so he can give to those who cannot afford them. He tries to include everyone, young or old and all those in between.

And when his special train pulls out to head to the next stop farther down the line, the big guy in the red suit — waving goodbye until next year — knows he was kept on schedule thanks to railroaders. The youngest among us, having seen Santa Claus in person trackside, are truly mesmerized by the experience.

Who says Santa Claus doesn’t exist? Not me.

group standing by holiday-themed train with Santa
This is what makes it all worth it, happy kids of all ages being with Santa thanks to the Sierra Northern Railway, Ventura Division. Nick Martinez

For more photos of holiday trains, click here.

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