The “Cowtown Santa Express” will return to the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad this coming holiday season, as the organization expands its 2023 schedule to include more trains stocked with hot chocolate and cookies, holiday music and, of course, Santa himself.
According to the railroad, they hauled over 1,000 passengers for the holiday train’s inaugural season in 2022, which forced A&SV officials to significantly increase seating capacities for this year.
“Last year, we were new at developing holiday trains and anticipating their popularity,” said A&SV President and General Manager Ross Boelling. “We actually had to turn away people because our trains quickly sold out, so we’ve significantly increased the number of trains we will run this season.”
The 2023 holiday schedule features 30 trains that will run from Wednesday, November 22, the day before Thanksgiving, and conclude on December 23. Two trains will run each evening at 5:00 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The train and the 1887 Rock Island Depot will be decked in holiday lights, and the railroad’s heated antique passenger cars will be decorated inside.
This year, the A&SV is offering “value” and “premium” pricing levels, with fares increasing as time draws closer to Christmas. Families will be allowed to reserve full tables in the Chicago car, while single seats will be available in the Enterprise coach. Families reserving tables in the Chicago car will be required to purchase an entire table of four.
Volunteer decorators will begin outlining the engine, passenger coaches, and the caboose in lights while also decorating the interior of the passenger coaches after the railroad’s November 4 dinner train. Boelling said it takes about two weeks to transform the A&SV train consist into a festive holiday experience.
Although A&SV officials were surprised at the demand for tickets on last year’s Cowtown Santa Express, Boelling recounted a reason for the train’s popularity: nostalgia.
“There’s something about trains and Christmas that go so well together,” said Boelling.
“At one time, train travel was the major mode of holiday transportation when people traveled across America to visit relatives. Today, trains are still popular at Christmas, as so many grownups likely developed an interest in railroads because they got electric trains for presents as kids. And movies like The Polar Express have increased train popularity with new generations young people.
“We’re happy to bring those associations to life and give kids of all ages a Christmas they will never forget,” Boelling said.
Cowtown Santa Express tickets and seating reservations are available at the A&SV website, asvrr.org.
Photos via Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad