Santa express delights kids -- commuters, too


By Tara Burghart

Date of Publication: December 22, 2003
Source: Chicago Sun-Times


You know Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen . . . but how about an open subway car that pulls Santa Claus and his sleigh through grimy, dark tunnels at 50 mph?

The brave Santa is just one of the features of the Chicago Transit Authority's Holiday Train, which zips through the city's subway tunnels and on top of its elevated tracks this time of year, surprising commuters and delighting youngsters.

Holiday music booms over the speakers, hand poles are wrapped in red and white paper to look like giant candy canes, and Santa Claus rides on a sleigh placed on an open flatbed car in the middle of the train -- when he's not inside listening to children's Christmas wishes.

The train, which costs a regular $1.50 fare, alternates trips on the city's train lines on weekends and some Mondays between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Its last runs of the year will be today on the Orange, Red and Purple lines.

Despite a close call Saturday evening, when one of the four cars in the special train derailed on the southbound Brown Line near the Sedgwick stop but remained upright, the train was back in business Sunday, said CTA spokeswoman Kimberly Myles. No one was injured in the mishap, which required the evacuation of about 150 riders -- and Santa Claus himself -- to another train and the temporary use of shuttle buses. The cause was under investigation Sunday, Myles said.

A recent rider, 5-year-old Alexander West, said his favorite part is the candy canes given out by CTA workers dressed as elves. His mother is more impressed by Santa Claus.

"I love the fact that Santa rides out in the open car. They go so fast, it must be cold," Sarah West said. "And it seems like he's always out there."

The Holiday Train began in 1992 with a few modest decorations on the outside. This year's version is draped in garland, wrapped in a special seasonal vinyl covering and twinkles with 50,000 lights inside and out.

Although a schedule is posted on the Internet, many riders end up on the train by chance. Along with excited children whose parents planned the trip, plenty of sour-faced commuters break into silly grins and laughs when the train pulls into the station and they find their normally drab, beige train car turned into a winter wonderland.

"It's beautiful!" exclaimed Rochelle Sims as she boarded the train last week after work. "This puts me in the Christmas mood. It makes commuting more fun." AP

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