Trusted local news leader for Williams AZ and the Grand Canyon
Mon, Oct. 19

Polar runs resume Friday
More than 55,000 expected to ride to the North Pole

The Grand Canyon Railway is reminding would-be passengers that tickets for the 2005 Polar Express runs are still available.

"We will sell more than 55,000 seats this year and so far, we've sold 51,000, so there are still seats available," said GCR Public Relations Manager Heather Gearhart on Nov. 3.

This marks the fifth year that the GCR will be performing their railroad adaptation of the popular children's book by Chris Van Allsburg.

What started out as a weekend event with only 5,600 passengers has turned into a must-see holiday phenomenon for not only Arizonans, but also railroad fans throughout the world.

Starting tomorrow, passengers will board the train ‹ which leaves at 6:30 p.m. ‹ for a fun-filled ride to the "North Pole," a fantasyland façade of brilliantly lit Santa workshops and other buildings. Servers distribute cookies and hot chocolate while helpers read the Polar Express story aloud to passengers in each car.

Once at the Pole, passengers are greeted by Ol' Saint Nick himself, who boards the train and begins passing out silver bells to children as the train reverses direction and begins the ride back to Williams. The GCR servers and helpers then do Christmas carol sing-alongs with riders until the train pulls back into the GCR depot.

The Polar Express was a 2004 recipient of the Governor's Tourism Award and due to its popularity, GCR heads expanded this year's capacity to accommodate over 55,000 passengers on 12 cars from 42,500 in 2004, 23,000 in 2003 and 12,500 in 2002 with no signs of stopping.

"It's not concrete, but the expectation is that additional nights will be added to next year's schedule to allow more families the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful holiday tradition," said GCR Trainmaster Ervin White.

This year's extended runs are scheduled to last through Jan. 7.

The lighting displays at both the GCR depot and its "North Pole" have grown in proportion to the number of Polar passengers. For the 2004 run, the GCR boasted over 400,000 lights for its grounds and the Polar Express. This year, White approximates the count to be at 500,000.

The Polar Express has been a welcome addition to tourism efforts in Williams due to the town's slower winter season. In 2004, the event helped increase December visitation by 18.1 percent over December 2003, retail trade by 10 percent, restaurants and pubs by 11 percent and lodging by 12 percent.

In addition, the first 2005 runs tomorrow offer something special for local charitable organizations. The GCR will be donating 900 seats on the 8 p.m. run tomorrow and 500 on the 8 p.m. run Friday to Flagstaff/Yavapai/Central Arizona Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Williams Head Start, and Kinder Kare of northern Arizona. The charity runs also allow two groups ‹ the American Red Cross and Literacy Volunteers ‹ to volunteer their time helping out and receive a lump-sum donation from the GCR.

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