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The Santa Train

What: The 35th annual Illinois Central/Canadian National Railroad's Christmas Special, which is called the Santa Train.

Where: Several communities in Central Illinois.

When: This weekend at the following communities on these days and times:

• Saturday

Onarga, 8:30 a.m. arrival and 10 a.m. departure; Gibson City, 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.; Melvin, 12:45 to 1:45 p.m.; Roberts, 2:15 to 3:15 p.m.; Thawville, 3:45 to 4:45 p.m.; Gilman, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

• Sunday

Danforth, 9 to 9:45 a.m.; Ashkum, 10:15 to 11:15 a.m.; Clifton, noon to 1:30 p.m.; Chebanse, 2 to 3:30 p.m.; Kankakee, 4 to 6 p.m.

By Dave Hinton

GIBSON CITY — The 35th annual Illinois Central/Canadian National Railroad's Christmas Special (the Santa Train) will ride the rails, bringing St. Nick to area children Saturday and Sunday. And for the first time, the train will stop in Gibson City.

Santa will not leave any town before all the children have been seen. Arrival times are subject to the number of children at the previous town and the operation of the railroad, which must take priority.

The children will visit with Santa and tour the train, including the 1913 parlor car, business car and freight locomotive, where they can ring the bell and blow the whistle. There is no charge.

People may bring cameras and take as many photos as they like. Children should be bundled up because they will be outside until it is their turn to step onboard.

John Childs of Highland, Ind., rail traffic controller, said a federal law enacted three or four years ago provided stricter regulations for train safety. "We thought we were complying with it, but last year they told us we weren't," Childs said.

The law said there must be a permanent train speed limit of 20 mph in areas where the Santa Train is set up unless there are electric lock switches on the siding.

The law affects not only the Santa Train but the entire railroad operation. No train may clear the main track without electric lock switches with the signal system that is in use on the main line.

Once electric lock switches are installed at Paxton and Ludlow, Childs envisions the train schedule will alternate, one year visiting Gibson City and the next year making the southern trip.

The Christmas Special began 35 years ago with Arvid Cook, a locomotive engineer on the Illinois Central, as a strictly all-volunteer operation.

His fellow employees have kept that tradition through the years.

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