Santa Train Brings Cheer to Kids in Appalachia for 81st Year: ‘The Joy Makes It Special’

The annual event delivers presents to any families who attend, with a special appearance from the man in red himself

Santa Train 2023
Santa Train 2023

This Santa Claus doesn't need any reindeer!

The Santa Train took its 81st ride recently, spreading holiday joy to children in eastern Kentucky, east Tennessee and southwest Virginia.

For the last eight decades, CSX freight railroad company has shut down the 110 miles of track to hand out holiday gifts to children in Appalachia.

“It’s the longest Santa parade in the United States,” says Bryan Tucker, 44, vice president of corporate communications for CSX.  “The joy that we see on the faces of the people is what makes it the most special for me.”

Santa Train 2023
Santa Train 2023

Founded in 1943, the Santa Train distributes 15 tons of toys, treats and clothes each year.

Ruth Mann Collins, 80, remembers walking more than a mile with her five brothers and five sisters to meet the Santa Train as a child; now she volunteers for the adventure, helping load and distribute gifts.

"The train coming around the track, blowing that horn and the children screaming and laughing and jumping up and down,” Collins says. “It’s just worth every minute …. It is just wonderful."

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Collins says her parents couldn’t afford Christmas gifts for 11 kids, so they visited the Santa Train.

“They never let us down,” she says. “Without them, I wouldn’t have got very much for Christmas.”

The annual holiday train has had celebrity guests like Amy Grant, Allison Crowse, Marty Stewart, Ricky Scaggs and the Judds through the years.

Santa Train 2023
Santa Train 2023

Collins works alongside about 100 volunteers – about 30 from her own family – helping load and unload the train, handing out cookies and breakfast cereal along with the toys and winter clothing.

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"I want to give back, to make sure other children get something for Christmas, like I got," she says. "Because I was that child on that track years and years ago."

She says she loves seeing the happiness on children's faces.

“We make sure that every child has a Christmas,” Collins says. “It may not be a lot, but to a child, just one toy makes them happy. That makes me smile.”

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