All Aboard the Polar Express to West Virginia's North Pole

Dec 23, 2014

Over the last six weeks, 15,000 people rode the Polar Express train in Randolph County. 35 other Polar Express trains exist across the country. But the one in Elkins is the only Polar Express in the Mid-Atlantic region- so it's extremely popular. This themed train also supports dozens of local jobs- at least seasonally.

The train is inspired by the film, The Polar Express, based on the children's book of the same title. The main character is a young boy who is questioning whether he believes in Santa Klaus. On Christmas Eve, a steam engine train stops in front of his house and the conductor invites him aboard to ride all night to the North Pole to meet Santa Klaus.

Riley Galloway said this was the first time she's ever been on a train. "I like the song when they do the hot chocolate."

Riley was there with her cousin Haley and her grandfather. They drove to Elkins from Pittsburgh to ride the Polar Express.

"It's all she's been talking about for the last 2 months, since we got our tickets, Quite an experience for them I think," her grandfather said.

Once aboard, everyone aboard this train was served hot chocolate, and local actors did the hot chocolate dance- Riley's favorite part of the Polar Express.

The performers on board are paid actors from the Old Brick Playhouse. But volunteers also help- by inviting Santa himself into their community to greet the train. Defying time and space, the small town of Bellington transforms each evening, with the help of dozens of community volunteers.

"The North Pole is actually a volunteer project by the Belington On Track," said Bonnie Branciaroli, the marketing director for the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad, the railroad that operates the Polar Express.

“So when you get to the North Pole later this evening you'll see the Belington on track folks all dressed in their elf outfits and their Mrs. Klaus, and that's where Santa boards, and then he'll go through the train. I know he boards there, though I don't know where he comes from!" said Branciaroli.

When we arrived at the North Pole, Santa climbed aboard and distributed magic bells to all the riders-magic because only those who believe in Santa Claus can hear it ring.

Aboard the train, the children silently sipped their hot chocolate, as the Polar Express book is read aloud over the speakers.

We traveled through cold, dark forests where lean wolves roamed and white tailed rabbits hid from our train as it thundered through the quiet wilderness. We climbed mountains so high it seemed as if we could scrape the moon.

And aboard the West Virginia Polar Express, we too rode the train through the darkness, and the trees of the forest loomed large against the window pane. Children snuggled against their parents, and the slow motion of the train rocked many of them into a brief, but peaceful sleep.