They came in throngs to greet the train

Posted by Hayley Enoch
on Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The word on the street is that it’s a wait of at least three hours to take a stroll through the Kansas City Southern’s Holiday Express,  and the briefest of glances is enough to counter any suspicions that the number might have been exaggerated through repetition. If the line of guests were yanked straight--it has, like water settling into the lowest point of the valley, formed a tortuous route through the streets and around the structures in downtown Greenville, Texas-it might stretch a half mile or more.  

The guests at the front of the line appeared to claim their spot several hours before KCS 1 and 2 purred on site and deposited the train in front of the Robin Hood grain elevator, still the highest peak in the town even though Greenville’s industrial heyday has long since passed. The train crew logged 2,600 visitors the night before in Wylie and estimates that by the time they open the display cars up to the guests, there are already more people than that waiting to enter. 

Here, there is nowhere near the amount of complaining, the visible impatience, that typically sours the experience of whatever it is that lies across the threshold of a line this long. On the whole it’s a festive mood, and the guests all seem genuinely enthused by the train and the displays inside. It is designed as a rolling Christmas celebration, after all, and children leave with small gifts in hand and with their seasonal desires whispered to Santa Claus.The train is a personification of the long body of Christmas artwork showing that when the jolly patron dispenses with the reindeer, the rails are his natural second choice.

Much of the mood of this train is attributed to the workers who travel with the train and serve not just as stock Christmas characters, but as the public face of the railroad. The majority of them are volunteers--they are on board for no other reason except that they want to be there-- and they approach their duties on the train with the same reverence that one carries out family traditions that have endured for generations.

It is notable thing about the crowd is how few of its members appear to be composed of railfans. There is no photoline to greet the approaching trains; there are few photos taken at all except for opportunistic cell phone shots. Few of them came here specifically for the thrill of the F-unit's throttling-up resonating deep in their bones, but, few of them would deny that these more visceral aspects of the railroad help to make the experience memorable. 
The sheer elegance of the train is appreciable even without the erudition to understand the motive power's origins in a temporal niche when steam had died but there was still hope that the passenger rail service might be spared. No knowledge of the pre-merger railroads are needed to appreciate the taproot of deep pride that anchors the train’s operations. It is apparent with a glance. Most of all, people seem to subconsciously appreciate that the presence of this train and its more pragmatic freight-bearing counterparts prove that the entire world did not stop turning when the cotton industry pulled out of East Texas. 

That may be another benefit of trains like these, a practical one that goes beyond creating holiday cheer and giving back to local communities. They offer members of the public a rare and personal introduction to the equipment. They reify the idea of a train from the sounds of distant sounds and quick glimpses into something comprehensible, something tactile, something overwhelming in its proportions but of known value.  

The Christmas trains may make the holidays brighter for the visitors, especially those in need.  Who knows, though, how a glimpse of this train may lodge itself in the mind of a child, or a young person trying to decide on a career path, or an established member of the community who might hold some sway over policy. Those benefits can never be quantified.--HKE 

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