BRITTON, Mich. — On a windy, chilly November night last year, carloads of people parked and waited in the dark for hours on rural roads to watch a festively decorated train roll by.
They waited along Norfolk Southern railroad tracks that angle across parts of Monroe, Lenawee, Fulton, and Williams counties. The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train passed through the open farm fields southwest of Britton about 10:45 p.m. that night, having entered the United States from Windsor, Ont., several hours earlier.
The 14-car train, decked out with a brilliant display of animated Christmas lights, had been delayed in Detroit to clear customs. It then waited for a freight train in Milan, Mich. — both the sort of delays that make the time of its appearance uncertain.
It reached Adrian shortly before 11 and rolled on into the deepening night through Alvordton, Montpelier, and Blakeslee, Ohio, on its way to Chicago.
Unlike when it runs on Canadian Pacific’s own tracks, the holiday train does not stop in Michigan, Ohio, or Indiana, except to pass other trains and for a crew change in Elkhart, Ind.
But it is scheduled to pass through the rural countryside north and west of Toledo again this year — this time, on Thursday evening — and CP leaves the light show playing even though there are no official stops.
In southern Ontario, northern Illinois, and other parts of its route that CP owns, the train makes several stops each afternoon and evening. Onboard musicians play a concert during each stop, typically about a half-hour long, while staff from local food banks collect donations.
The performance stop closest to Toledo is in Windsor, where the train is scheduled to arrive at 5:20 p.m. Thursday and play its show, featuring Canadian country singers Jim and Devin Cuddy and Kelly Prescott, from 6 to 6:30 p.m.
After that performance, the train enters the United States at Detroit and operates over the Norfolk Southern line through Adrian the same way CP freight trains do, as a shortcut to Chicago. Its next scheduled performance is Saturday afternoon in Gurnee, Ill., in Chicago’s northern suburbs.
Now in its 19th year, the Holiday Train has raised more than $13 million in Canadian money and 4 million pounds of food for North American food banks, according to the railroad.
But even without stops on the Michigan side of the border, the train has become something of a spectacle for communities along its route — particularly closer to Detroit, since it runs earlier in the evening there.
In Allen Park, Mich., a local food bank has for several years held its own donation drive next to the tracks where families gather to wait for the train’s passage.
Michelle Dewey, the city of Adrian’s executive assistant, said no such event is planned there; instead, Adrian has its Christmas-tree lighting ceremony and food drive two nights earlier.
But the nearby hamlet of Sand Creek, Mich., often has a local gathering to watch the train go by, Ms. Dewey said.
The train has become popular enough in Lenawee County that a special Facebook page — “CP Holiday Train through Lenawee” — has been set up to disseminate information about it.
For the first time this year, the Holiday Train page on Canadian Pacific’s Facebook site includes a link to a real-time tracking service for the train as well — which could cut down on the amount of time spectators spend waiting in the dark at rural crossings before the train shows up this time around.
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