Holidays on the rails: Canadian Pacific rolls in to Austin for Yuletide display

The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train is heading into Austin once again later this month. Photo courtesy of Canadian Pacific

The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train is heading into Austin once again later this month. Photo courtesy of Canadian Pacific

The rail lines of Canadian Pacific are becoming festive yet again, as Austin and communities throughout America and Canada will welcome CP’s Holiday Train.

It’s been two years since the decked out train has clicked and clacked its way through Austin, adhering to an every-other-year schedule. This year it will be swinging through Austin on Dec. 7 with an arrival time of 5 p.m. at 550 11th St. NE. The train will face the west. Festivities get under way at 5:15 p.m. and go to 5:45 p.m.

The train’s goal is two-fold: Ring in the Christmas spirit and fight hunger – two areas the railroad and its employees feel strongly about.

“When we started this employee-led initiative we asked our employees what issues they have in their community,” company spokesman Andy Cummings said. “We realized that hunger in the community touches everybody.”

Along the way, at each stop, food and cash donations are accepted and dished out to North American food banks. In Austin that means giving a helping hand to the Salvation Army, who has reaped the rewards of the train and its performer’s activities several times throughout the 17-year history of the train.

“It’s been phenomenal,” Lt. David Amick of the Austin Salvation Army said. “We fill two or three tubs full of food and on top of that, from the Holiday Train itself, we got almost $7,000 for our food shelf last year.”

 A site to behold

You don’t miss the train as it comes steaming into town. There are two trains for the annual tour — one for Canada and the other for the U.S.

That’s an expansion from the Holiday Train’s inaugural tour in 1999. After seeing how successful it was, CP launched the second train.

“We’re amazed every year at the community turnout,” Cummings said. “It’s about neighbors helping neighbors fight hunger.”

The trains are about 1,000 feet in length with 14 rail cars decked out in hundreds of thousands of LED lights that are never turned out, giving people in the country who see it a festive feel as it steams across the countryside.

HT_2014_LogoBut its true magic is when it visits the towns and is greeted by the people who come out to watch the show.

“It’s a wonderful addition to all the other holiday festivities we have going on,” said Convention and Vistor’s Bureau executive director Nancy Schnable. “It’s fun to see the people come to Austin when it comes to town.”

It’s the cheerful looks of delight in the people’s eyes,” she added. “It’s the time of year that everybody comes together and enjoys everybody’s company.”

Music of the season

The train is more than the lights adorning those 14 rail cars.

The CP Holiday Train brings with them a host of musical talent that truly makes the night.

One side of a car will lower to form a stage from which the acts perform from.

This year Austin will get to hear Canadian artists Doc Walker and Kira Isabella. Doc Walker is a four-year veteran of the tour and the group is excited to be back.

“This will be our fourth year,” said lead singer Chris Thorsteinson, who comprises the group along with guitarist Dave Wasyliw. “We’re really excited to be able to head down south in the Chicago area.”

Thorsteinson admits he is a convert of the train, admitting that early on the idea of being confined to a train did not seem like a lot of fun.

“Three, four years ago when we first did this, being locked in a train for three weeks was not something we wanted to do,” he said. “But when you see what this does to help out families this time of year. Christmas is a good time of year to spend with family. For others, it’s very disappointing. They just don’t have food.”

The excitement remains for Doc Walker though and it has become something they have come to look forward to.

“For us to be able to on stage when that door comes down, the smoke, the lights are on … It really put me in the Christmas spirit,” Thorsteinson said.

Like so many others who take part in the train or come out to witness the spectacle, the train is a demonstration of people coming together to help others and Thorsteinson is happy Doc Walker is part of that.

“It’s always a really good vibe,” he said. “It’s great to see how the CP staff is dedicated to this. Every year they are excited about it.”

 Everybody coming together

The train, for all the good it does in raising money, food and awareness, also comes in the benefit of the season and what it means.

Most everybody can see it when the train comes out of the dark, lit as it is.

“This is a free event,” Amick said. “It gives them a chance for an hour or so to possibly put their issues behind them, come out and enjoy, side by side, the night with those trying to help them.”

And for the staff of Canadian Pacific and those working to make the trains happen, that’s what it boils down to.

“This really is about neighbors coming out and helping neighbors,” Cummings said. “We’re amazed at the people that come out.”

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