All aboard The Holiday Express

The Portland tradition is hosted each year by the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation

Groups of families sit in a train car decorated with holiday themed lights and garlands

Riders get a unique perspective of the winter wonderland along the Willamette River.

Photo by @owenmeschter

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Choo, choooo. Do you hear that? It’s the holiday season barreling toward us like, well, a train.

Soon, the simile becomes reality in Portland, with the return of the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation’s annual tradition, The Holiday Express.

Whether you’re familiar with riding its bedecked vintage rail cars and sipping hot cocoa, or are simply wondering what the elves it’s all about, here are some tips for the tracks.

Things to know

  • Santa will be on board every traingolly he is busy — which run every 90 minutes, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from Nov. 25 until Dec. 18. Riders are asked to arrive 20 minutes in advance.
  • A new steam locomotive, a Polson No. 2, will be pulling the carriages this year.
  • Since its inception, passengers have boarded The Holiday Express at Oaks Park station — but this year, the journey will begin and end at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center located at 2250 SE Water Ave.
  • At the museum and engine house, guests can pose for family photos in front of the resident “iron horses” — the P4449, SP&S 700, and OR&N 197 locomotives, all festively lit.
  • Kids can enjoy the 9-ft tree with a model train running beneath it on a double helix track. There will also be a separate model train display.
  • Tickets regularly sell out, so securing your seat early is encouraged by staff.
A vintage steam locomotive chugs along a track

It’s a beaut.

Photo via ORHC/Jim Thomas

Before you depart

The Oregon Rail Heritage Center celebrated its 10th anniversary in September 2022. Throughout the year, the nonprofit provides programming to help preserve, educate, and celebrate Portland’s railroad history and industrial heritage. Learn more about its efforts to restore the Brooklyn Turntable, a 102-ft rotating platform built in 1924 by the American Bridge Company, to its former operational capacity.

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