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Three train cars decorated with holiday images on The Allstate CTA Holiday Train at the CTA Skokie Shop

Three train cars decorated with holiday images on The Allstate CTA Holiday Train at the CTA Skokie Shop, Thursday, Nov. 16.

Anthony Vazquez

Making the holiday trains: How CTA decks the L’s at Santa’s Skokie workshop

Beneath the chilly strip lighting of the vast warehouse and just to the south of the oil drums, hydraulic lifts and gunk-smeared train wheels, a magical thing twinkles and sparkles.

It hums every so slightly — almost like it’s purring.

It’s almost time.

The Allstate CTA holiday train is smothered with 62,500 lights, all working as they should. The sleigh and reindeer are in place. And Santa Claus is on his way, journeying from his home in the faraway north.

“The holiday train can be stressful as far as getting it together because you want everything to be perfect, but it all pays off when you turn around and see the smiles on those kids’ faces,” said Enrique Rosa, the Chicago Transit Authority rail maintenance worker who oversees the agency’s holiday train preparations.



A red-nosed Rudolph helms the reindeer leading Santa’s sleigh that sits atop a special flatbed car on the CTA Holiday Train at the CTA Skokie hub on Thursday morning.

A red-nosed Rudolph helms the reindeer leading Santa’s sleigh that sits atop a special flatbed car on the CTA Holiday Train at the CTA Skokie hub on Thursday morning.

Anthony Vazquez

The train — six cars and a flatbed car for Santa and his sleigh — sit in a giant CTA warehouse in Skokie. Late Thursday, the towering garage-like doors were expected to be lifted and the trains wheeled out in preparation for their Nov. 24 first run of the season.

It isn’t simply a matter of flipping the power switch. It takes about three months of prep work.

“A lot of different trades have to get involved,” Rosa said. “We basically strip the train of all of its exterior lights and wraps. So every year, we have to reapply all the lights, the wraps. Before we do any of that, we run the trains through their exercises to make sure there are no mechanical or electrical faults.”



Enrique Rosa, the Chicago Transit Authority rail maintenance worker who oversees the agency’s holiday train preparations, stands in front of the trains at the CTA’s Skokie hub.

Enrique Rosa, the Chicago Transit Authority rail maintenance worker who oversees the agency’s holiday train preparations, stands in front of the trains at the CTA’s Skokie hub.

Anthony Vazquez

The Santa Train will screech, grind and rumble along all eight of the CTA’s rail lines.

“Elves,” a much coveted job title, will greet passengers with tiny candy canes — about 150,000 are handed out each season during the train’s run, according to the CTA.

It’s the 32nd season for the Santa train, in case you were wondering.



One of the train cars decorated with holiday images on The Allstate CTA Holiday Train at the CTA Skokie Shop.

One of the train cars decorated with holiday images on The Allstate CTA Holiday Train at the CTA Skokie Shop.

Anthony Vazquez

“We see the same elves year after year. They are very excited to be back when the season starts,” said Maddie Kilgannon, a CTA spokeswoman.

If you want to have a photo taken with Santa, bring a device. A CTA employee will take a picture for you on a first-come, first-served basis on select dates at select stops (check the schedule at the CTA’s holiday train website) according to the transit agency.

To catch a ride on the train or just take a picture of it, go to transitchicago.com/traintracker.



The interior of the CTA’s Holiday Train.

The interior of the CTA’s Holiday Train.

Anthony Vazquez



The crew of the CTA Holiday Train that maintains the train and helps customers board the train at L stops is photographed at the rail hub in Skokie in front of its festooned fleet.

The crew of the CTA Holiday Train that maintains the train and helps customers board the train at L stops is photographed at the rail hub in Skokie in front of its festooned fleet.

Anthony Vazquez



The driver’s seat in Santa’s sleigh atop the CTA Holiday Train.

The driver’s seat in Santa’s sleigh atop the CTA Holiday Train.

Anthony Vazque

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