All Aboard

The Polar Express comes to Batesville to take children to the North Pole.

AllAboard

Written by Melanie Crownover

The Polar Express became a holiday institution with the publication of the popular children’s book in 1985 and subsequent movie adaptation in 2004. This Christmas, fans can live out the story by boarding the Polar Express Train on the Grenada Railway in Batesville, bound for – where else? – the North Pole.

“It’s definitely a beloved story and movie that’s become a family tradition for so many around the holidays,” Premier Rails Collection marketing director Sarah Munley said. “We like to give those families near our railways the chance to really engage with it on our trains. The magic of Christmas gets us there.”

The hourlong journey begins with a departure from the Batesville Depot, preferably with children clad in pajamas. After the conductor punches each golden ticket, a recorded narration by the book’s author guides passengers as they read along with the text while the train rumbles down the tracks. Dancing chefs bring in hot chocolate and cookies, with a few turning the pages and displaying the illustrations from the book to help children feel like they’re living out the story.

But the main stop is the North Pole, where Santa and his singing elves board each passenger car to visit with children. St. Nick delivers a silver bell to each child as his or her first Christmas gift. He also asks what each child wants for Christmas and takes time to pose for photos.

The magical ride is new to Mississippi this winter, with Batesville serving as the state’s only departure, but Premier Rails Collection (PRC) began its annual service to the North Pole almost a decade ago with the Mount Hood Railroad and the West Texas and Lubbock Railway. There are now seven locations in the United States, from Wisconsin to New York, as well as two in the United Kingdom.

PRC officials anticipate a total of about 330,000 passengers visiting its Polar Express events this winter. The company has already added more cars to the Batesville train to accommodate demand after the first round of tickets sold out quickly.

In Batesville, the economic benefits of that promise were already evident long before the three-month setup process began. New construction downtown means new light poles and enhancements to traditional holiday decorations. Many local businesses have permits for adding paint and awnings before December, and additional stores are coming to the square.

“We always have a wonderful time here together around the holidays, but if the impact on business here is any indication, I can only imagine what this will do for the Christmas spirit for everyone involved,” Batesville Main Street Director Colleen Clark said.

PRC transferred in passenger cars from all over the country for the event as Batesville typically no longer offers passenger rail service.

“Our town began on the river and moved to the rails. The Rev. Bates, the man for whom the town is named, was even a conductor,” Clark said. “Just like most places, the interstate system shifted things away from the rails. When Batesville leased them to preserve that history, I don’t think they had any idea something like this could ever bring them to life again.”

The Polar Express departs from Batesville up to five times a day Nov. 20-22 and 27-29 and Dec. 2-6, 9-13, 15-23 and 26-27.

Ticket prices vary based on seating class, which are diamond class, first class and standard. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit grenadapolarexpressride.com or call 877-334-4783.

Categories: Current Features