Tickets on sale Monday, Nov. 25 – Santa Train ride is Saturday, Dec. 14
One of the most popular Christmas traditions in our area is back: theSanta Train rides offered by Virginia Railway Express (VRE). This one-day event features trains departing from four VRE Stations (Woodbridge, Fredericksburg, Manassas, and Burke Centre) on a short ride during which they get to meet Santa. The popular event is a benefit for Operation Lifesaver, which was founded in 1972 to promote highway-rail grade crossing safety. We may think rail accidents happen rarely, but according to Operation Lifesaver, about every three hours a person or vehicle is hit by a train. The Santa Train, VRE says, is “not just for fun, but it also has a serious and important message: ‘Look, listen, and live.’”
I’ve gone on the Santa Train for three years now so the information below is presented partially from information VRE has provided and partially from my own experience. It’s a fun event and certainly something your family should try at least once. While most young kids would enjoy it, I would say (again, my own personal experience) that it’s ideal for kids ages 2-7.
So what happens on a Santa Train?
The ride itself is pretty simple: you board the train and take a short ride (usually about 40 minutes) away from the station and back; this is an excursion and ride times vary by station. During that time, staff passes out Operation Lifesaver coloring books and candy canes to the kids, and may provide short tips on rail safety. Local school choral groups come through the train leading riders in a holiday sing-a-long, and eventually Santa and Mrs. Claus make their way through each car to visit briefly with the kids. (PS – you can take photos but need to be quick, as Santa and Mrs. Claus are mostly just “passing through.”)
Tickets for Santa trains always sell out, and very quickly (as in, within a few minutes)! Traditionally tickets have gone on sale at 9 am the Monday after Thanksgiving, but this year the sale is the Monday BEFORE: November 25, 2013. If you’re planning on going, you pretty much HAVE to be online by 9 am or at a ticket outlet by the time it opens (half the tickets are sold in person and half online). There are no tickets sold the day of the event so if you don’t get them before, you may be at the mercy of people re-selling them (for more money) on Craigslist.
You’ll need to buy tickets for each person. Per VRE, “all passengers, regardless of age, must have tickets,” so this means babies, too. Tickets cost $5 at outlets (see the links for each station at the bottom ofthis page) and $6 online. Please note due to the popularity of the event, online sales for most trains are limited to 6 tickets per person (VRE is very strict about this). If you’ll buy your tickets in person, arrive early. If buying them online, have the browser page open for the specific train you want (they’re sold by station and ride time) and your credit card (or PayPal account information) ready. Online ticket sales are paid for by major credit card or PayPal. If you have a PayPal account, it is a good idea to sign into PayPal a few minutes ahead of time so you can pay quickly. Seating on the trains is not reserved but general admission. If buying at the specific station or outlet, you can ONLY buy tickets for trains departing from there, but online you can buy for any train, so have our second and third choices selected in case your first choice of train station and time sells out.
Find out about station parking, particularly if you are going to a station you’re not familiar with. Plan enough time to park and walk comfortably to the platform. Since only riders with tickets get to board, if you have yours you will definitely have a seat, but if you want to see the train pulling into the station (as kids often do), arrive early before the platform gets crowded. Wear Santa hats and Christmas clothing for extra fun and photo ops!
Activities at/near the stations
If you plan to do something before or after Santa Train, think about your location. The Manassas VRE station, for example, has several restaurants and shops within walking distance of the train, plus ice skating at the nearby Harris Pavilion. The Burke Centre station, on the other hand, is by an office building, so you’d need to drive somewhere else for food or fun.
Toys for Tots
Santa Train stations also serve as collection sites for the Marine Corps’ “Toys for Tots” campaign. This is completely voluntary, but if you’re going to participate, just bring a new, unwrapped toy. See the
Have a great time on the Santa Train. Maybe we’ll see you “all aboard!” Finally, enjoy these photos from past Santa Train events, courtesy of VRE!