All Aboard to See Santa: The Southwest Chief

While representatives of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) were putting the finishing touches on the La Plata, Missouri Amtrak station ahead of Santa and Mrs. Claus’ arrival on the evening of Tuesday, December 9, 2014, the Southwest Chief was making a special stop outside of Galesburg, Illinois to pick up the jolly duo. With Christmas just over two weeks away, Santa made the decision to give Rudolph and their other reindeer a night off… and ride Amtrak the rest of the way across western Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. With a little over two hours to kill before his arrival into La Plata, Santa decided to pay a visit to all of the children aboard the train. His first stop was in the two sleeping cars towards the front of the train. Each sleeping car has five deluxe bedrooms, one family bedroom, one accessible bedroom, and 14 roomettes… so Santa was quite busy hearing what everyone wanted for Christmas.


Santa and Mrs. Claus visit with a young boy heading to California with his family; they were riding in a roomette.

Santa’s next stop was in the Superliner Dining Car. Since Santa and Mrs. Claus got on the train around 6:00 p.m., dinner was in full swing with passengers enjoying their tasty Amtrak steak, chicken, fish, or pasta dinners. The old saying goes… “Nothing is finer than dinner in the diner.”… That’s especially true when you are joined by visitors from the North Pole. The crew was even able to scamper up some milk and cookies for Santa.


Mrs. Claus is having fun with passengers in the dining car.

After wishing everyone well in the dining car, it was off to the adjoining Sightseer Lounge Car, which became magically transformed into a “winter wonderland” of Christmas lights, streamers, ribbons, and tinsel. It looks like Santa’s elves were hard at work to set the mood for passengers. A Trails & Rails program, sponsored by Amtrak, the National Park Service, Texas A&M University, and the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF), also took place in the lounge car that afternoon. Trails & Rails helps passengers learn more about the historic sites, people, and places along the train route; volunteers make two round-trips each week between Chicago and La Plata, Missouri during peak travel periods. The program’s third year will debut on May 12, 2015; there are four trips remaining still in 2014.


Amtrak’s Southwest Chief out of Chicago on Tuesday, December 9, 2014 was decorated for Christmas.


Chicago Trails & Rails Coordinator Robert Tabern (right) and Chicago Trails & Rails Assistant Coordinator Kandace Tabern (left) enjoy the Christmas lights up in the lounge car.


Tinsel, Christmas lights, streams, and more greeted passengers on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

After making their way through the Sightseer Lounge Car, it was off to visit the well-behaved children in three of Amtrak’s coach cars. The Southwest Chief will typically have between two and four coach cars depending on the time of the year and demand from travelers. Traveling by coach is an economic way to go, and the roomy seats provide a lot of leg room and recline far back at night so that passengers can enjoy a good night’s rest.


Santa and Mrs. Claus visit passengers in Amtrak’s coach cars on the Southwest Chief.


What do you think they want for Christmas? A family traveling from Chicago to Kansas tell Santa their wishes.


Nothing beats a hug from Mrs. Claus.


A passenger heading to Los Angeles on the Southwest Chief told Santa and Mrs. Claus he’ll never be too old to smile when he sees them.


A family heading to California was glad to see Santa; they said they might not have gotten to visit him otherwise with their busy holiday travel plans this year. Glad Santa and Mrs. Claus were able to make an appearance on Amtrak for you this year!

At Fort Madison, Iowa, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief makes an extended stop in order to do a crew change for engineers. This usually allows passengers about five minutes to get off the train and smoke or get a breathe of fresh air. Santa used this as an opportunity to get off the train and visit with some children he saw out on the platform.


About an hour before arriving in La Plata, Santa made a quick stop in Fort Madison to visit with some girls who were waiting on the platform.

Last, but not least, Santa visited with some members of the Amtrak crew. Most of the crew members, except the conductors, were 2,000 miles away from their home crew base of Los Angeles, California.


Santa and Mrs. Claus pose with one of our favorite conductors, Gerald.


Santa, Mrs. Claus, and a very happy Los Angeles-based Amtrak coach attendant who loves to smile.


Santa and Mrs. Claus were made “honorary crew” by the conductors on the Southwest Chief.

After visiting everyone on the train, it was time for Santa and Mrs. Claus to get their belongings together and begin to head down to the lower level of their coach car to begin de-training in La Plata, Missouri.


Santa and Chicago Trails & Rails Assistant Coordinator Kandace Tabern in the vestibule moments before stepping off the train in La Plata.

While all of this was going on aboard the Southwest Chief — what was happening at the station in La Plata? Stay tuned… as APRHF President Bob Cox is preparing to write his own blog to pick up the story from here and tell about everything that happened in La Plata, MO during the 2nd annual “All Aboard to See Santa” event.

This year’s “All Aboard to See Santa” event was put together by Bob & Amy Cox, the President and Vice-President of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation in La Plata, Missouri, with special help from APRHF Trails & Rails volunteers Frank & Ruth Maxwell, Robert & Kandace Tabern, and Kathy Bruecker. If you enjoyed this year’s event, you are encouraged to contact Bob & Amy Cox and share your opinon, and of course, donations to the on-going efforts of the non-profit organization are always welcome as well.



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