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The CTA Holiday Train is a Chicago 'L' train which traditionally runs during the winter holidays, from November to December. Six of the seven cars are traditional passenger cars adorned with seasonal decorations and bright lights. The interior of these cars are decked out with multi-color lights, red bows, garland, and red and green overhead lighting. The hand poles are transformed into inedible candy canes. Santa Claus rides on an open-air flatcar and waves to the passengers coming aboard from his sleigh.
The CTA Holiday train began in 1992. That first year, employees posted a sign on the front of the train that read, "Seasons Greeting from the CTA." The train delivered food to various charities around the city. Since then, the decorations have become much more elaborate. Now, there is a flatbed for Santa and his reindeer; and the interior is covered with lights, paper, streamers and decorative signs.
The Holiday Train visits every Chicago 'L' station on every line throughout its run during November and December. The train operates from about 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on select weekdays and makes all scheduled stops at stations along the respective line.
Over the period of three days, the CTA Holiday Train delivers food baskets to local community organizations at various stops. Food baskets contain various foods for a complete meal; these include canned ham, potatoes, mixed vegetables, fruits and a desert.
It is often the case that Chicago residents have heard of the train but never ridden on it. This makes sense as there is only one train that runs for a limited amount of time. As a result, those that do catch the train are encouraged to take photos and send them to the RedEye so they can be shared in a communal photo gallery.
Despite the fact that the ride aboard the train is often crowded, and the train's progress is often slowed by people taking pictures, the experience of riding the train is repeatedly described as "magical". It is often the case that passengers will smile at each other and wish one another a Merry Christmas.
It narrowly avoided being shut down by CTA president Frank Kruesi after the budget cuts of 2004. A spokesman said, "It didn't seem appropriate to devote resources to this project when 1,250 positions are being eliminated". He was, however, overruled by CTA board chair Carole Brown.
Today the cost to the CTA to run the train is minimal. Decorations are reused from year to year or donated by CTA employees. As the trains run regular service, most workers are either on their regular schedules or volunteering their time.