Tis the time for Santa specials

By | Category: Travel rumblings

the lucky Talyllin Railway

Heritage railway companies vie with each other at this time of year for running Santa specials. That Santa ditches his reindeer and clambers aboard an old steam train to dispense presents and ho –ho’s with youngsters seems to have become more appealing every year. And if the steam train happens to look a bit like Thomas the Tank Engine as well, so much the better for the parents, the retailers of every type of railway connected gift under the sun and, of course, the children.

But is this tourism or is this retailing? And does anyone ponder this question other than me?

Heritage railways have become big business. Throughout Europe it is estimated to be worth more than £4 billion. Existing on the goodwill and energy of volunteers with just a few paid staff, they attract hundreds of thousands of us each year. Santa specials are a busy and vital time in providing an opportunity to garner that extra cash. They can’t all be as lucky as the Talyllyn railway in north Wales that was left a six-figure legacy last week.

But mainstream train companies haven’t jumped on the Santa bandwagon yet which is a little surprising given that they are forever trying to find another way to make a pound or two. Perhaps that is because they look on themselves just as transport providers despite always talking about “improving customer experience.”

In the US state of Oregon last week, Amtrak unveiled a carriage on its Cascades train. This train travels from Vancouver in Canada to Los Angeles and travels through some of the most stunning countryside you can imagine as I wrote a couple of years ago. The carriage has a “graphically driven exterior wrap and retrofitted interior featuring furnishings, art and décor from beloved Portland retailers and vendors,” to attract visitors and passengers will able to travel in this promotion of Portland from now until march next year – but only between Vancouver via Portland to Eugene in Oregon. But isn’t this just a promotion? Why couldn’t each carriage be themed throughout the year so that many of the places through which the train passes pays homage to that city. There could be information leaflets, images and a rolling video or what there is to see. Then the train would be a real tourism “experience.”

Now I look forward to Southern Trains putting that into operation on the Sutton to Victoria line with each of the eight carriages highlighting the delights of Sutton, Hackbridge, Carshalton, Mitcham Junction, Mitcham Eastfields, Balham (gateway – as Peter Sellers claimed -to the south) and Clapham Junction. In December, the eighth carriage could be a Santa special to cheer commuters in the week and children at the weekend!

For the rest of the year it could be a quiet coach where no mobiles are allowed. But that’s a different story.

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