Crossroads boards Holiday Express
Aug. 30, 2014 at 3:21 p.m.
Updated Sept. 1, 2014 at 2:47 p.m.
On the railroad tracks on the east side of Victoria on a Saturday evening stood the six-car Holiday Express train outlined by Christmas lights and painted with elves, gingerbread cookies and reindeer.
Smoke puffed from the top of the smiling engine. Jan Blevins, 57, of Victoria, stood in front of the 1,500-foot-long line of people waiting to walk through the train.
"It's just beautiful," Blevins said. "It's just gorgeous."
Blevins said she first saw the Holiday Express train four years ago with a friend.
"It made me feel like a little kid again," Blevins said.
The 13th annual Kansas City Southern Holiday Express train stopped in 20 communities in six states on 24 dates in 2013, said Grant Elliot, KCS staff member and "head elf" of the train. Access to the train is free.
The train opened 30 minutes early at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. By 4:15 p.m., 456 people had walked through the train cars, which hold Santa Claus, model train sets and shelves of Christmas decorations. By 7:45 p.m., 2,660 people had passed through.
Lindsay and Casey Sulak, of Santa Barbara, Calif., brought their three kids from Inez to see the train. They waited in line for 45 minutes, the couple said. Their son William Henry Sulak, 4, enjoyed the model trains most.
"It was awesome," William Henry said.
Elliot said the train stays open until all of the people in line make it through. About 25 volunteers who dress up like elves help escort families through the exhibits on the train, he said.
The Holiday Express Program also donates gift cards to the local Salvation Army in each town where the train stops.
In 2013, the program gave away $174,290 in gift cards along the route, said C. Doniele Carlson, a Kansas City Southern spokeswoman. She said the gift cards are for purchasing children's warm clothing and other necessities.
Carla Sullivan, 34, of Yorktown, said the experience was worth the 45-minute wait.
"That was our Santa picture for the year," Sullivan said.
Sullivan's 9-year-old son, Konnor, had his own takeaway from the train.
"And I liked the goody bag," Konnor said with a candy cane in his mouth.
The Holiday Express began in 2001 and was inspired by the Santa Train, which ran on a railroad purchased by Kansas City Southern in 1997. The Kansas City Southern Holiday Express project has donated more than $1.3 million in gift cards since its inception.
Because the Holiday Express cannot cover the entire U.S. network each year, the train alternates line segments and stops in different communities each year.
The train has also made stops in Edna, El Campo an Wharton.