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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ride a steam train with Santa this weekend

Posted By on Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge santa_in_745_cab.jpg
Rail transportation has been part of New Orleans’ history since the Pontchartrain Rail Road began carrying passengers between the Faubourg Marigny and Lake Pontchartrain in 1831. There are many opportunities to ride the rails today on streetcars and AMTRAK, but residents rarely have a chance to ride a steam-powered train — especially one with Santa Claus aboard.

The Louisiana Steam Train Association (LASTA) is offering a one-night-only chance to take a nostalgic ride on Santa’s North Pole Steam Train Saturday, Dec. 16, to attend a holiday party and have a ride along with St. Nick.

The train departs from The Fly behind Audubon Zoo at 3 p.m. and travels to Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World, where passengers leave the train for a holiday party with hot chocolate, cookies and a screening of The Polar Express. Passengers then get back on the train and pick up Santa Claus at the foot of Canal Street. As the train travels back to The Fly, Santa will walk through the passenger cars handing out invitations to a party hosted by LASTA the following day as well as a free family membership to LASTA for 2018.

Tickets to the family-friendly event are $125 and are available at Seating is limited to 120 people. All children must be accompanied by an adult.
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The locomotive pulling the North Pole Steam Train — Southern Pacific (SP) No. 745, named Spirit of Louisiana — was built in 1921 by the Texas & New Orleans Railroad and has been featured in movies including The Strange Case of Benjamin Buttons and Jonah Hex. Passengers will ride in restored old-fashioned parlor cars “from the golden age of railroading,” provided by New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, says LASTA President Walt Pierce.

The event was conceived as a way to educate area residents about steam railroads and let them experience what travel was like before electric and diesel trains became the standard. Railways began converting to electric and diesel-powered locomotives in the 1930s, and most steam locomotives had been retired by the 1980s. Though there are several surviving steam locomotives in Louisiana today, none provide regular passenger service.

“Around the nation and indeed around the world, there are steam-operated tourist railroads,” Pierce says. “However, such steam trains are rare down here. Those of us at the Louisiana Steam Train Association hope to change that with the success of our Santa’s North Pole Steam Train. People here in New Orleans and the Louisiana/ Mississippi Gulf Coast would be prime customers to ride a steam train. Currently the momentum is building for a steam train operation in this area, with the SP 745 as the star attraction.”

The engine has been exhibited and used for various events over the years. It is steamed up and available for viewing each year at Gretna Heritage Festival, and in 2005, No. 745 pulled an exhibit train around the state as part of the Louisiana bicentennial.

“Through all those years people have been asking, ‘When are you going to take people for rides on a train pulled by this magnificent steam engine?’” Pierce says. “Well, that day has finally arrived.”

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