Tips for Riding the CTA Holiday Train with your kids

Tips for Riding the CTA Holiday Train with your kids

I really love the CTA Holiday Train -- and my kids do too. But you must have a good plan in place if you want this excursion to go smoothly. The Holiday Train moves fast. And it is crowded. If you learn one thing from this post, don't bring your stroller. It won't work.

The 2013 CTA Holiday Train gets rolling this weekend. These are my tips (many learned the hard way). Read before you hop aboard!


As a Chicagoan, you've likely had the opportunity to ride the El. But for just a few weeks each year, the Chicago Transist Authority transforms one regular train into the Holiday Train-a truly one-of-a-kind holiday opportunity for Chicagoans of all ages.

The six-car passenger train features an open rail car carrying Santa along with his sleigh, reindeer and other festive decor. The train is wrapped with a winter holiday scene and colored lights outline the doors and window. Each rail car also features illuminated signs with holiday messages.

Car interiors are decked out with bows, garland, red and green lighting. Hand poles are wrapped to look like candy canes. CTA employees pass out candy canes while holiday tunes blare in the background.

Customers look forward to this time of year, and thousands have made it a part of their annual holiday traditions to take a ride on the festive train, says CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski.

The Holiday Train tradition began in 1992 when a Season's Greetings sign was placed on the front of an out-of-service O'Hare train that was used to deliver food to charities. A flatcar with Santa and his reindeer was added in 1995.

As the Holiday Train grew in popularity, the schedule was expanded to have the train run more frequently during December on all eight lines.

If you go

The CTA offers the following tips to families taking part in the Holiday Train tradition for the first time:

  • Traveling light. Many families make the Holiday Train a part of their holiday traditions and the cars get crowded. The CTA suggests that families use collapsible strollers.
  • Boarding. Because the train will become more crowded as it travels down the rail line, the CTA recommends that families board at a station close to the beginning of the route. Note that rail cars toward the front or back of the train will be less crowded compared to those immediately adjacent to Santa's sleigh.
  • Taking photos. The Holiday Train is an in-service train and has to stay on schedule, so it can't dwell in stations. Don't miss your opportunity to board because you are trying to grab a photo! Board the train first and then take photos of Santa or the train when exiting at your destination.
  • Photos with Santa. On select Saturdays, families can take photos with Santa at rail line terminals. Check the website for dates and specific times.

Visit for the full Holiday Train Schedule. Normal CTA fares apply.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of Going Places Magazine. 

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