Here comes Santa Claus right down CTA lane

By Kaci Watt

Twinkling lights, joyous sounds, tasty treats and even Santa Claus himself can be found aboard one of the famous CTA holiday transportation services.

Most people do not know the CTA Allstate Holiday Trains, in their 27th year, serve two purposes: providing a fun subway experience and delivering food baskets to charitable agencies and communities throughout the city.

“The Holiday Train began on the Blue Line in 1992, when a ‘Season’s Greetings from the CTA’ sign was placed on the front of an out-of-service train used to deliver those food baskets to charities,” CTA spokesperson Jon Kaplan said in a Nov. 28 email to The Chronicle.

Food baskets are packed with full tradtional holiday meals. According to Kaplan, CTA employees donate  time and money to purchase groceries and put the food baskets together before they are delivered across the city.

“This year, we’ll donate approximately 500 food baskets to local community organizations. Since 1992, more than 7,500 food baskets have been delivered,” Kaplan said.

Junior ASL-English interpretation major Alexis Simmons said she was unaware the CTA holiday trains were used to transport meal baskets throughout the city. Simmons said the CTA should do a better job of advertising that aspect and should consider opening up donations to the public.

“I first learned about [the trains] on Chicago touristy Facebook and Instagram [pages], so they should advertise [the donation] part first,” Simmons said.” I don’t want to stand in line with a bunch of people, but I would to support a cause.”

Wrapped with holiday images and thousands of lights, the Holiday Train is a regular train that operates on each of the eight rail routes with six passenger cars and one flat car for Santa. 

Inside the cars are strands of multi-colored lights, red bows, garland and candy cane-style hand poles.

The train runs on a limited schedule that includes select weekdays and Saturdays leading up to Christmas, Kaplan said.

In 2016, a second train was added to the line up: the Elves’ Workshop Train, Kaplan said. This train only operates on Saturdays, to accommodate the extra demand,  and follows the Holiday Train, he added.

“The Elves’ Workshop Train is a six-car train wrapped in green that resembles the Holiday Train. It is festooned with thousands of colorful lights, garlands, bows and festive winter scenes,” Kaplan said.

Each year, decorations are recycled and reused but new additions are also added, such as new LED panels, Kaplan said.

The CTA also has the Holiday Bus, a 60-foot bus decorated with white and multicolored lights inside and out. The exterior wrap features “Ralphie the Reindeer” and his green nose. Customers are greeted by a snowman inside the bus.

“The Holiday Bus was designed and created by CTA bus personnel as a way to say ‘thank you’ to customers and to make their commutes brighter and more cheerful this holiday season,” Kaplan said. “Unlike the trains, the bus allows you to get up-close with Santa, talk to him, give him your holiday wish list and take a photo.”

Freshman advertising and public relations double major Taylor Boydston said she has not been on the  Holiday Train yet but would like to.

“I’m from a really small town, so coming here, I had no idea [it] even existed,” Boydston said. “If other cities [implemented] it, it would be cool for the urban kids and specific to them and their childhood.”

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