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KCS holiday train stops in Port Arthur; Beaumont visit today

(The following story by Paul S. Martinez appeared on The Enterprise website on November 27.)

PORT ARTHUR It wasn't a "choo-choo" train that rolled into Port Arthur Monday; it was a "ho-ho-ho" train.

The Holiday Express, six tourable railcars decorated inside and out in a holiday theme, is making its way through Southeast Texas - with stops Monday in Port Arthur and today in Beaumont.

"It's cool," 8-year-old Zachary Williams said after going through the railcars housing Santa Claus, elves and several elaborate model trains and dioramas at his eye level.

"Science stuff," is what the third-grader at Sam Houston Elementary School requested from Santa as he went through the exhibit with his mother, Tracy, and little brother Laurence, 2.

"Every year the Holiday Express has a theme," said Patti Tamisiea of Kansas City Southern, the railroad company sponsoring the 26-city tour.

Santa Claus is this year's theme, she added.

Kansas City Southern has been operating the Holiday Express since 2000 after the railroad company purchased Gateway Western Railroad Company, Tamisiea said.

Gateway Western, which was based in St. Louis, Mo., used to operate a "Santa Train" that would tour Missouri and Illinois.

"KCS employees noticed that the Santa Train was the only Christmas some kids had," Tamisiea said. "The employees were so touched that they committed to elevating the project to the experience that communities enjoy today."

Volunteers spend 8,000 hours a year transforming the four retired box cars and two cabooses into the holiday wonderland on rails that it is.

Kansas City Southern also raises money for the Salvation Army - 149 $25 Wal-Mart gift cards were donated to the chapter in Port Arthur on Monday.

"It's people like this who make a merry Christmas possible for many people," said Capt. Leonel Ortiz of the Port Arthur Salvation Army.

The railcars are tended by volunteers in elf suits like Ronnie Rode, a Port Arthur native who now lives in Humble.

He took one week of his vacation to volunteer for one leg of the three-week, eight-state tour.

He gets fulfillment from watching children's faces light up when the Holiday Express rolls into town.

"A few years ago, we were getting into Vicksburg, Miss. There was an elementary school and the children - I mean the entire school - lined the fence to watch the train go by," he recalled. "When it got to the Holiday Express cars (which are pulled at the back of the train) you should have seen how happy the children became - words can't describe the feeling when you see something like that."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

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