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1/21/2014 10:24:00 AM
Polar numbers down slightly this season
Williams-Grand Canyon News

The Grand Canyon Railway's Polar Express, now in its 13th year, finished this season with close to 90,000 riders.

The final tally for paid seats on the Polar Express, not including charity trains, was 89,778. Last year's event attracted about 91,200 riders, according to Bruce Brossman, Arizona regional director of sales and marketing for Grand Canyon Railway.

"We got off to a slow start in November," Brossman said. "I don't know why-warm weather, no early snow, nothing wintry to really get people thinking."

Brossman added that the company aired its television commercials a little later this year compared to last year.

"But we're still very happy and we're looking forward to next year, obviously we're happy with those numbers," he said.

Usually 100,000 tickets are available for the Polar Express each year. While not every train was sold out, Grand Canyon Railway added about four departures to the schedule because of certain sold out dates, said Stephen Pelligrini, Grand Canyon Railway's public relations manager.

"We were definitely aware that demand is still there," Pelligrini said.

Closely following "The Polar Express" book by Chris Van Allsburg, this nighttime trip from the Grand Canyon Railway Depot in Williams travels through the starlit wilderness to the North Pole and features a special reading of "The Polar Express" while passengers enjoy hot chocolate and cookies.

Upon arrival at the North Pole, Santa Claus and Elf Bernard welcome passengers before Santa boards the Polar Express for the return trip to Williams. Santa makes his way through the passenger cars, greeting every child and presenting each one with a special gift - a jingle bell signifying their belief in Santa Claus.

This year, Grand Canyon Railway added a few new buildings and additional lights to the North Pole. In addition, half of the train cars featured new sound systems this year, and the remaining cars should be updated in time for next year's event.

Pelligrini said many families have made riding the Polar Express an annual tradition.

"It's such an interactive experience and it really makes a memory," he said. "It's not something you do, it's something you experience, it's something you take part in."

Local business owners said the annual Polar Express event brings much needed business to Williams in the tourist off-season.

"I remember back in the day in October when the streets literally rolled up until they thought of Polar," said Anna Dick, Grand Canyon Coffee and Cafe owner. "I got quite a few families from Polar."

Wild West Junction owner and Mayor John Moore agreed.

"I think as a town we should be thankful that we've got Grand Canyon Railway and thankful that they do Polar Express," Moore said. "It definitely brings winter business to the town."

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