At the Saratoga Springs rail station, children and their families wave Nov. 11 to elves transporting letters to Santa on the Saratoga-North Creek Railway toward the legendary North Pole. The event was staged by the railway as a kickoff of their extremely popular Polar Express holiday storybook excursions which start Nov. 15 and continue through December.
Accompanied by his grandfather, Kai Fronk — a 12-year-old boy from Wilton — gazed wide-eyed at a bright-red caboose as it was pulled out of the Saratoga train station Monday Nov. 11.
The caboose’s porch was filled with young adults dressed as elves, bearing bags full of letters penned by area children and addressed to Santa. The youngsters who wrote the letters were on the station’s platform, cheering and waving at the train as it sounded its horn, fired up its locomotive and headed off for the legendary North Pole.
The event was a promotion to kick off the Saratoga-North Creek Railway’s Polar Express storybook holiday excursions, running several trains six days per week through Christmas.
Minutes after the train’s departure, Kai Fronk’s expression was transformed into a gleeful smile, as he was one of three children chosen from among dozens of contestants to be a “Junior Conductor” on a Wednesday run.
The random choice could not have been more appropriate. Since he was a toddler, the boy has played with model trains with his father and grandfather, building extensive train layouts in his family’s basement, the boy explained after his selection was announced.
“I’m obsessed with trains,” Kai said, noting he was given his first train model set just months after his birth.
The family’s enthusiasm for trains has extended to taking quite a few trip on the Saratoga-North Creek Railway, explained Kai’s grandfather, William Fronk Sr.
“We’ve had a wonderful time,” he said, hugging Kai.
Hillary Izzo of Stillwater and her young children Daniel and Isabella were among those delivering holiday letters to the elves for delivery to Santa.
“This is a great event to find out about the Polar Express — my kids are really excited — and we’ll be taking our first trip this year,” Izzo said.
Jacqueline Staples, 17, one of elf character that gathered the holiday letters, sported a broad smile through the Polar Express kickoff event.
“I love this — it’s so much fun to see the joy the children are having,” Staples said as she boarded the caboose.
A similar sentiment was voiced by one of several special Guest Conductors for the 2014 trips — state Sen. Kathy Marchione (R-Halfmoon).
“This is a thrill of a lifetime,” she said of her invitation to be a figurehead for one of the Polar Express trips. Also invited to serve as Guest Conductor are Assemblyman Dan Stec and State Sen. Betty Little.
Monday’s event also featured distributing vouchers to U.S. veterans and active military personnel for a free train ride during 2014.
The event served as a roll-out of the railway’s Santa letter promotion. The railway has established specific drop-off points for such letters, which are specified online at: ww.sncrr.com
The Polar Express trips begin Nov. 15 and run through Dec. 29. The excursions re-tell the classic children’s story of a magical Christmas train, a tale that was turned into a movie in 2004.
The series of 70 or so Polar Express train trips, taking children to “the North Pole” and back, were a first-ever for the Capital Region when introduced in 2011 — and the excitement over the experience hasn’t faded since.
During the one-hour excursions, the classic tale comes to life, complete with singing elves, dancing chefs and a visit by Santa. The story is read aloud and the music of the movie plays aloud during the trip, prompting sing-alongs. The excursion features cookies, cocoa and caroling.
Santa boards the train at the North Pole to greet passengers and all children receive the “Silver Bell” made famous by the treasured tale. Children and family members are invited to attend in pajamas.
The one-hour trips are taken daily at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. daily (except for Monday) from Nov. 15 through Nov. 30 — but not on Thanksgiving Day— then Dec. 1 through Dec. 22, plus Dec. 23, 27 28 and 29.
Boarding is at the Saratoga Springs Train Station, 26 Station Lane. Premium tickets include a commemorative mug. Prices range from $15 to $50 depending on age and class of service.
The Saratoga-North Creek Railway also offers scenic trips to North Creek and back throughout the year, as well as special dinner trips and “Snow Train” service that transports skiers in style from the Capital Region to Gore Mountain — as well as various small towns along the way.
For details on schedules, events, services and pricing, visit: www.SaratogaPolarExpressRide.com or see: www.sncrr.com or call 877-726-RAIL (7245).