Parents and kids wait in line to board the Alberta Prairie Railway train during one of its free holiday rides on Tuesday

Parents and kids wait in line to board the Alberta Prairie Railway train during one of its free holiday rides on Tuesday

Families enjoy free ride on Prairie Railway

The Alberta Prairie Railway was a hot ticket last week as hundreds of kids, parents and other guests rode the rails for free.

The Alberta Prairie Railway was a hot ticket last week as hundreds of kids, parents and other guests rode the rails for free.

As has become an annual tradition, the railway offered free train rides on Tuesday, Dec. 23, in conjunction with The Night Before the Night Before, a holiday event organized each year by the Stettler Downtown Business Association.

Rides were offered every two hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., with lines forming outside the train station on the east side of Stettler. The train rides were an hour long, taking guests south of Stettler and back.

General manager Bob Willis reported that more than 1,700 people rode the train altogether on Tuesday. While that’s a great increase over their usual passenger load, he said the staff handled it well.

“That is significantly more people than we normally carry,” he said, adding that the staff “just did an absolutely superb job, in our opinion.”

The railway began offering the free holiday rides in 1997.

Willis said it requires a great deal of planning, adding that the weather was excellent.

“It’s our way of saying thank you to our community that we live in,” he said, explaining that the railway offers the annual rides to ensure that all local people get an opportunity to ride the train.

During the trip, staff members and volunteers made their way through the train to offer cookies and juice to guests.

Each child on board was also presented with a stuffed toy as a Christmas gift.

Kids were also greeted by a few familiar faces, as Dr. Seuss’s character the Grinch and his faithful dog Max walked up and down the aisle, followed later by Sylvester the cat and Tweety Bird.

Kids were invited to ride free of charge, while parents and other adults were asked to contribute $5 each or a donation to the Stettler and District Food Bank.

Betty Birch, chairwoman of the food bank board, reported that well over 1,200 pounds of food was donated by the train passengers, in addition to generous cash donations.

“That support for the food bank is amazing,” she said.