The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train is coming to town, and it’s far from quiet in the hamlet of Port Henry, NY. With just under 2,000 residents, Port Henry is one of many small communities along the CP system. “It helps bring everybody together,” said Peter J., a firefighter with the Moriah Fire Department. The department provided crowd control and assistance for the Port Henry event, which had not occurred since 2019. Despite a two-year gap, Peter isn’t skeptical of the train’s future or its importance for Port Henry. “It’s a great event, and hopefully our kids and their future kids can get to see it too.”
It’s nearly 4:30, but the crowd remains loose enough for me to spot a couple I can’t help but talk to. Herb and Lisa, sporting iconic Santa caps, have traveled from Wilmington simply to “See what it’s all about”. The Port Henry stop, in addition to attracting many locals, is an ideal place for residents of the Adirondacks to catch the train.
I made my way to a position between other rail photographers for the prompt arrival of the train. Canadian Pacific formally calls it 02H, but the two-of-a-kind consist is usually spoken of as simply “Holiday Train”. CP 2246, a GP20C-ECO, leads the U.S. edition of the train as it has since 2014. Bells ringing, the crew pulls the first six boxcars and two generator cars of the train past the platform. The unique “stage car” comes to a stop at the center of the now-large crowd. While waiting for the stage to come down, I marvel at the true ingenuity of the car, built in the early 2000s and improved over the past 20 years. Initially using sliding boxcar doors, the car is now equipped with drawbridge-style doors on both sides. A young boy in front of me is taking it all in: this is likely the first train he’s seen. His mother shares that the family has been attending the Holiday Train event for several years, and is excited about the post-pandemic return.
At 4:45, a mysterious hand presses the magic button within the boxcar that kicks off the event: The west stage platform begins folding down as Canadian country artist JoJo Mason steps up to the mic to perform his song “Broken Umbrella”. By this time the crowd I thought I was on the edge of was fully surrounding me, the train, and the station area. A couple of lighted holiday decorations on Lake Champlain & Moriah #20 switch on as darkness falls. The ex-CP RS18u and trailing display is normally the center of attention for visitors to the station, but it’s barely noticed as CP’s “rolling light show” sits on the mainline. A Canadian Pacific representative now steps up to address the crowd. After a handful of speeches by local dignitaries, CP presents a $4,000 check to the Moriah Food Pantry.
For many, the Holiday Train is a community event, free entertainment, or just CP’s way of thanking the towns for putting up with their trains. However, here we see a much deeper reason for the train’s annual appearance. In addition to CP’s contribution, attendees of the event are encouraged to bring food or monetary donations, which keep many small town food pantries able to provide through the winter. Calgary-based Lindsay Ell now has the stage, mixing holiday favorites like “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” with country-pop originals such as “Right on Time”. Ell’s fantastic guitar playing kept me watching until “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” began, signifying the end of the Port Henry show.
At Beach Road on the north side of town, dozens of families and railfans await the departure of 02H. Bells ringing and iconic horn blaring, the train rolls by, hustling to make advertised arrival in Plattsburgh at 7:00. I followed the train north to my hometown of Peru, amazed at the hundreds of people I saw at every location along the way. Waiting at the Bluff Point siding was CP train 528, Albany-bound ethanol. With the Holiday Train clear, 528 roared south, reminding many that Canadian Pacific still has freight to haul. As the Holiday Train performed for another packed crowd in Plattsburgh, I headed home, once again amazed by CP, the community, and the common goal of spreading cheer for the holiday season. –HS