WOONSOCKET – The train whistle of the Polar Express will soon be sounding from the former Providence & Worcester Railroad Depot at Depot Square as another holiday season of rides to the North Pole begins on Sunday.
Bob Billington of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council said yesterday that the final touches of putting the Polar Express Station together at the Depot will be completed early this week and the local recreation of the Chris Van Allsburg holiday classic ready to take off on its first run Sunday afternoon.
“The Depot really makes a great setting for rides, and there couldn’t be a better setting anywhere,” Billington said of the role of the city historic train station and now the local headquarters of the Blackstone Valley Heritage Corridor plays in the recreation rides.
The Providence & Worcester Railroad will once again be providing a six-car passenger train, including a dining car for the Polar Express, and the staff of 60 running the weekend tour rides will again include a re-enactor of Van Allsburg’s story.
With more than 10,000 visitors expected to come to the Depot and board one of the trains over the 12 days they will run, Billington said the Polar Express will once again have a big impact on downtown businesses in the city.
“The whole idea is that Woonsocket is in a very unique position to do this,” Billington said. “The city is a beautiful city and looks very much like the settings for the book,” he said while referring to the 1850s and 1890s historic Main Street buildings still surrounding the old Depot. The Depot itself has not been overlooked in its historic value and was used several years ago as a focal point in the movie “Hachi,” starring Richard Gere, Joan Allen and Jason Alexander.
The Polar Express rides themselves go off in a highly-organized manner that usually sees the riding families show up about 45 minutes before their departure time so they can take in the dressed-up and holiday decorated Depot and special additions, such as a train store and entertainment.
Then conductors put them on the train and get them to their seating before the Express chugs out of the station on its way north into Massachusetts.
In each car, a different Polar Express character relates their part of the story to the excitement of the youngsters aboard. The train’s cars are named for Santa’s reindeer and, yes, he will be on the rides as well. Children will also have an opportunity to have their photograph taken with Santa when they return home to the Depot. Each ride north lasts about an hour and half, according to Billington.
“It goes off like a ballet with people coming and going,” Billington said. The local runs of the Polar Express began more than 13 years ago, even before Tom Hanks portrayed the conductor in the film version of Van Allsburg’s story.
Everyone boarding the train is treated to cookies made by Pranzi Catering of Providence and a hot chocolate by B&M Catering in Pawtucket.
In all, Billington said the rides distribute more than 10,000 cookies and 10,000 cups of hot chocolate before the Polar Express makes it final run.
Each child goes home with a Polar Express coloring book, and this year they will also receive a song book that was put together with the help of sponsoring businesses and the Polar Express mug from their hot chocolate, Billington said.
Sunday’s season-opening ride will set out at 1 p.m. and be followed by another at 4 p.m.
The Polar Express will then continue every weekend with rides at 1 and 4 p.m. on weekends and some special 7 p.m. runs through Dec. 22.
Tickets for a ride on the Polar Express range from $36 to $54, depending on the location of a rider’s seats on the train.
For more, visit the website Blackstonevalleypolarexpress.com, or call the BVTC’s headquarters at 175 Main St., Pawtucket, at 724-2200.