North Pole Express in Essex to see changes amid pandemic


ESSEX, Conn. (WTNH) — Some changes are coming for the Essex Steam Train this holiday season. The usual “North Pole Express” is impossible to hold due to COVID-19 restrictions, but there is still fun in store for children of all ages.

The good news is, Christmas-themed trains will be running in Essex. The bad news is, Santa, Mrs. Claus and the rest of the cast will not be walking the aisles in person.

“Unfortunately, because of COVID and restrictions, we can’t produce that on our trains this year because of the actors and the close proximity,” said Essex Steam Train & Riverboat President, Kevin Dodd.

With what they call “Reindeer on the Rails,” little kids will get to see Rudolph, and everyone else, at a distance from the train. It’s an hour-long trip on one of the vintage train cars with either breakfast or lunch.

“The kids are going to be keep occupied on the train working on letters to Santa,” Dodd said. “They’re going to be making some reindeer ornaments, things like that.”

They will do that while sitting in between plexiglass barriers at socially-distanced tables.

“If you’ll notice, all the tables are out of one side of the train cars,” said Dodd. “There would be a lot more people in here, but again, we’ve reduced the capacity as required by the Phase Two.”

Reduced capacity means the organization is making a fraction of the money it usually does. On the plus side, the rail bikes have been a popular, pandemic-friendly activity. In fact, they are all sold out. The dinner train remains popular, too.

This is what it looked like in pre-pandemic times. It is two hours with a gourmet meal. They usually pause that this time of year, but it keeps selling out. With income down more than 90% from last year, they will keep the diner train going until Christmas. Whichever train you plan on riding, don’t just show up and expect to get on.

“It’s important for people to buy their tickets online so they’re not waiting in line here at the station,” Dodd said.

As they should, they are starting their Christmas time operations right after Thanksgiving. You can make a reservation online.

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