Sunset North Pole Express. Just a few minutes from official sunset, the first of the Valley Railroad's 5 North Pole Express Trains rumbles north across the Deep River Creek Bridge on its way to North Chester. On point today is Mikado #40, a 1920 product of the American Locomotive Company, which came to the Valley Railroad from the Aberdeen & Rockfish Railroad in 1977.
Although many tourist railroads have built successful Christmas Train operations over the past several years, none has approached the scope or success of the program at Connecticut's Valley Railroad. After years of sell-outs and ever-increasing demand, the Valley offered its biggest schedule yet during the 2016 season. The railroad operated 6 days a week from mid-November to just before New Year's. On Tuesday through Friday, they offered 4 of their premium North Pole Express Trains each night. The weekends featured 11 departures each day, with 6 daytime Santa Specials and 5 more night-time North Pole Express departures. All of the trains featured 7 or 8 car consists and all featured steam power. Two complete trainsets were operating each day, and each train required separate daytime and nighttime crews. At any one time, there were likely about 100 people on the payroll between train crews, on-board entertainment, food services, platform passenger service personnel, parking lot attendants, etc. It was a well-oiled MACHINE. Although no numbers have been formally announced, conservative estimates are that the railroad carried well north of 60,000 patrons, nearly all of which were advanced sales. Tourist operations that are considering starting up a Christmas Train program would do well to pay a visit to Essex between Thanksgiving and Christmas.