Many Americans have a Christmas tradition that was not familiar to me; a train ride on a Christmas train. You can find them all over the country, and here in the San Francisco Bay Area alone there are at least seven different operators. In many cases, it is the railway museums who offer these rides with old vintage trains, but also some regular trains will decorate for a Christmas ride they will announce beforehand. We did a Christmas Train ride in the city of Fremont in California.
Niles Canyon Railway operates on one of the first railroad tracks of California. Construction of the track was first started in 1865, and they were part of the First Transcontinental Railroad, otherwise known as the Pacific Railroad. During the year 1987 the tracks were repaired, and they started the historical train rides with both diesel and steam locomotives. The timetables and the calendar for this train can be found here.
The train left right before dawn around 4.30 pm, and rode slowly through Niles Canyon to Sunol, and back. We were able to see the canyon during the light and the train lights after it got dark, so this was a perfect time. Each car in the train is different, and the brochure we were given recommended walking through the whole train. We sat down inside a warm enclosed car, but every once in a while we walked outside to the open car to see the views. If you plan to do this train ride, don't forget to dress up warmly since after the sun goes down, it can get pretty chilly.
Everyone in the train seemed to be in a Christmasy mood, and we got to listen to some traditional Christmas music. Many had brought a proper picnic with wine, but they also sold some hot apple cider, hot chocolate and cookies in the train. There was also a Santa Claus who was talking with kids and posing for pictures. Also the conductors were very nice and talked with passengers a lot. Announcements in the train were very funny, and told us about the history of the railroad, and the decorations.
We enjoyed the Niles Train of Lights, and especially our little daughter had fun. This event was very well done. Even though the ride was sold out, we felt like boarding the train and parking worked very well. The train didn't feel crowded at all. No wonder that this Christmas train is so popular, and the tickets sell out in one day.
This was our first time on a Christmas train, but perhaps we will make this our new holiday tradition!