By Tricia Pursell
The Daily Item
— SUNBURY - After a year off the rails, a passenger train-car operator can once again say “all aboard!” to those wishing to celebrate the Christmas season with a beloved tradition.
An agreement was reached earlier this month to open the lines again to passenger train excursions that were canceled for the first time last year since they began in 1999.
Area railroad officials recognized just how much passenger train excursions were missed when historical groups and other interested parties near the lines of the North Shore Railroad Company, based in Northumberland, remained passionate about continuing these popular passenger excursions and urged officials to begin them again.
According to John Gummo, chairman of SEDA Council of Government’s Joint Rail Authority Passenger Rail Excursion Committee, the JRA also has a “desire to establish awareness throughout the communities served by our railroads.”
As a result, an agreement was reached earlier this month between the JRA, coach operator Jeff Pontius, and railroad operator North Shore Railroad Company, to run the special trips again this year, just in time for the Christmas season.
Gummo said the authority has been working to reestablish this service since April in an agreement between Pontius and North Shore.
Jeff Pontius, through his operating company, Penn Valley Lines, owns seven vintage train car coaches, from the 1930s and 1940s, that will be used for the Christmas passenger train excursions.
“They’ve all been brought forward to current safety standards,” Gummo said. “He’s worked hard to put all these coaches back on line.”
The coaches will be pulled by an engine operated by North Shore.
Pontius said the excursions began in 1999 for a library fundraiser.
The first excursion this year, beginning in Sunbury on Dec. 4, will benefit Fort Discovery.
The rides teach children tradition, Pontius said, and allows those who remember the days of daily passenger train rides to their destinations, to keep history alive.
“Seeing this train is nostalgic to them,” Pontius said.
For some families, it is a tradition every year. They reserve certain seats, and ride in the same coach, he said.
Christmas music is played throughout the approximately hour-long rides at about 10 miles per hour, and riders can have fun with a variety of Christmas characters, including Frosty, Rudolph, the Gingerbread Man, elves, and of course Santa Claus.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Pontius said.
The coaches are heated, and blankets are available for those on board.
Gummo expects passenger train rides to continue throughout the year, including holiday trips, summer excursions, and rides in autumn to view the beautiful fall foliage.
“The railroads historically were so significant in the development of our country,” Gummo said. “They provided tremendous infrastructure support to the factories.”
“To be able to have children understand that to a greater extent, is part of our reason for being,” he said.