SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (FOX 2) - The North Pole Express in Michigan is back in 2021 and it started its first trip from Owosso over the weekend and runs every Saturday and Sunday until December 19.
The annual trip on the rails was put on hold in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic but the Steam Railroading Institute (SRI) brought the trip back as the state has increased vaccinations over the past few months.
What is the North Pole Express?
The North Pole Express has been an annual tradition run by the non-profit SRI since 2004 and grows in popularity every year. The engine is the world-famous Pere Marquette 1225, a 1941 Berkshire-type steam locomotive that is the pride and joy of the SRI collection.
The locomotive was built in 1941 by the Lima Locomotive Works for the Pere Marquette Railroad but was retired and donated to Michigan State University in 1957 for display as an outdoor artifact.
In 1969, a group of students started restoration on the engine to get it back to operation. In 1983, it was moved to Owosso and in 1988 restoration work was finally complete.
It's perhaps best known for its role in the 2004 Christmas classic "The Polar Express" as its blueprints and sounds were used as the prototype for the locomotive in the movie.
Do you have to wear a mask on the North Pole Express?
Yes, a mask is required on the North Pole Express to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Face coverings must be worn by all SRI staff and passengers over the age of 2 while in the SRI Welcome Center and while on the train.
The only exception is when you are actively eating or drinking.
Michigan's COVID-19 cases are the highest in the nation, again, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an advisory to wear a mask while indoors, despite vaccination status.
When will the North Pole Express run?
The North Pole Express started on Saturday, Nov. 20 and will now run every Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 19.
Saturday's rides are set for 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. while Sundays are at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
There is a special ride on the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 26 at 10 am and 5 pm as well.
When did tickets for the North Pole Express go on sale?
Tickets for the 2021 North Pole Express went on sale at 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 1.
Tickets typically sell out quickly but, as of Nov. 22, there are still a few options available but they're running out.
FOX 2 browsed through the SRI's website and found most trains are entirely sold out or only have single seats available.
How do tickets work?
If you moved quickly enough and got tickets - lucky you! - you should know that the ticketing process is different.
Every ticket will be digital or printed at home and you must bring your printed ticket or mobile with you to be scanned when you arrive.
There will be no tickets at will call.
The SRI is still making it possible to get a special keepsake for tickets. Each passenger will receive a commemorative ticket once on the train and the Conductor will punch those for you.
How do you board the Polar Express?
When you leave Owosso, you'll pull up to the station at 405 South Washington street for your scheduled departure. Once you've presented your ticket, make your way to the correct car that you've paid for.
On all morning trips (Saturdays, Sundays, and Nov. 26), the train will leave at 10 am and arrive in Ashley at 11:15 a.m. You then have two hours to explore and then be back by 1:15 p.m. to head back to Owosso.
Saturday evenings, the train will leave at 6 pm and arrive in Ashley by 7:15 p.m. It then leaves Ashley at 9:15 p.m. and is back in Owosso by 10:30 p.m.
Sunday evenings and Nov. 26, the train will leave Owosso at 5 p.m. and arrive at 6:15 pm with service returning home at 8:15 and arriving at 9:30 p.m.