The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

My original plan was to photograph this train as it chugged through Watervliet.  That didn’t work out as I had planned.

But what happened afterward … was so much better.

And I’m glad I braved the cold to pull this off.

The Canadian Pacific Railway runs two “Holiday Trains” – one in Canada, one in the United States.  Each train makes stops, one of the boxcars opens up, and country music performers give a half-hour show.  Spectators are encouraged to bring non-perishable items or financial donations to the local food bank, the CP Railway donates a check to the local food bank, and the train chugs away.

In fact, here’s what the CP Holiday Train looks like.

Oh my God I want to photograph this.  How amazing would this look if I could capture this illuminated train as it crossed over a snow-covered trestle in the Adirondacks?  This would be amazing.  This would be colossal.  This would be …

Well, there’s no snow around right now.  Maybe a few flakes here and there, but nothing that screams winter wonderland.

I looked at the route the train would have to take through our area.  Since the train can only operate on CP-owned track, it would have to travel through Watervliet.  So all I need to do is drive to Bob’s Diner, park in the parking lot, walk across the track, and I can photograph the train on its journey.

I checked the CP Rail’s website.  There’s a GPS tracker on the train.  So once it moves out of the Albany rail yard, I can track its whereabouts online.  And once it leaves the yard, I can drive over to Watervliet and photograph the train as it clickety-clacks along the way.

4:00.  The train’s still in Albany.

4:10.  Oh wait.  The train’s moving.  It’s on its way to Menands.  Move it, Chuck.  Grab the gear and get going.  Nikon Df at the grip.  Irix 15mm super-ultra-wide lens on the chassis.  Fully charged battery and clean SD card.

Do this.

Off to Watervliet I go.

Made it to the parking lot.  And…

4:30.  No train yet.

4:40.  No train yet.

4:50.  No train yet.

“You waiting for something?” someone shouted.

“There’s a train coming through here,” I called back.

“If you’re waiting for that glowing train,” he replied, “that passed by here five minutes before you got here.”

Aw, fruitcake.

Okay, looks like my next best opportunity is to haul ass to Mechanicville, where the train will stop and perform one of the shows. The show starts at 6:00 p.m., with the train arriving at 5:45 p.m.

Come on, Dracourage, it’s Christmas time.  Next stop, Mechanicville.

I make it there.  5:25 p.m.  Plenty of time.

Of course, now I have to find parking.

5:40 p.m.  Finally found a spot.  Now to get to the train tracks.

I find a spot near a white fence that separates the tracks from pedestrians.

“You got a good spot here,” an elderly gentleman said to me.

“I hope so,” I said.  “I had originally hoped to photograph this train as it crossed a snowy bridge.”

“Best spot for that is in Gansevoort,” he said to me with a smile.  “The train has to go from Mechanicville to Saratoga Springs, and then from there to Fort Edward for the next day.  So it has to pass through the bridge at Gansevoort.”

“Thank you,” I replied.  “I can use that idea next year when there’s snow on the ground.”

“This your first time with the Christmas train?” he asked me.


“You’ve picked a good spot to photograph.  The train engine will go right past us, and we might get the special boxcar in front of us.”

“Special boxcar?”

And just like that, the crowd around the train tracks started oohing and aahing.

The CP Holiday Train – train number 2246 – arrived.

CP Holiday Train. Nikon Df camera, Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Oh man this is so freakin’ awesome.  And I just kept on snapping picture after picture as the train’s illuminated boxcars shuttled past me.

Four boxcars – each one said “TRAIN – HOLIDAY – PACIFIC – CANADIAN.”  Damn it, I should have photographed the rain from the left side … oh well…

Then came some shots of Rudolph and Santa, snowmen and snowflakes.  And the Irix camera lens not only captured the lighted boxcars … it also captured the people photographing the boxcars.

Rudolph on the boxcar. Nikon Df camera, Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

And slowly, the train ground to a stop.

And look what’s right in front of me.

It’s the performance boxcar.

CP performance boxcar. Nikon Df camera, Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Right smack freakin’ dab in front of me.

I couldn’t have planned this any better if I tried.

“Hey,” I turned to say to the elderly man, “thanks very much.  I appreciate your tips.”

But the man was gone.  Either he moved to another vantage point, or he disappeared in a collective of children and mothers and fathers.  Hey, for all I know, maybe he was a little Christmas elf giving me some ideas for next year.

You know what, little man… next year at Gansevoort for sure.  As far as I’m concerned, this is now a personal challenge. ๐Ÿ˜€

An announcement.  “Ladies and gentlemen, our show will begin in one minute.”

And one minute later, the CP boxcar doors dropped…

And right in front of me was country music singer Kelly Prescott.

Kelly Prescott. Nikon Df camera, Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Since the boxcar alternates between the two stages, Prescott moved back and forth to sing to both sides of the boxcar.  She performed the Donny Hathaway Christmas song – you know the one, “And this Christmas will be / a very special Christmas / shake a hand, shake a hand…”  Yes, it’s stuck in your head now.  You’re welcome.

Next up was a performance on keyboard by Devin Cuddy, as he and his band are booked for the American leg of the Holiday Train.

I figured with this performer, I’d try to get a shot of him at the keyboards – while angling the camera to pick up the illuminated boxcars.

Devin Cuddy. Nikon Df camera, Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Damn, this works.  This Irix lens is like a gem.

After Devin Cuddy performed a couple of songs, an announcer let people know that the train has generated millions of dollars and millions of pounds of food for needy families and charities in the past two decades.  And tonight would not be different – CP presented the local Mechanicville food bank a check for $3,500.

Donation. Nikon Df camera, Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Now it’s time for more performers.  And taking the stage now is Jim Cuddy.

Wait … wait … Jim Cuddy?

As in Blue Rodeo lead singer Jim Cuddy?


Jim Cuddy. Nikon Df camera, Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. Photo (c) Chuck Miller.

Oh man this concert is something special.  I’m having a great time.  You should see the big goofy grin on my face.  In fact, I’ll take a selfie right now …

Hey wait a second.  Over by the corner of the stage, there’s a CP police officer.  And he’s not smiling.

I’m thinking he’s either too cold or he’s just not enjoying the music.

I make a motion to him to get his attention.

Two fingers to the corners of my mouth.

He gets the message.

A few more holiday songs.  And for the final song, Jim Cuddy, Devin Cuddy and Kelly Prescott are all performing together.  Sweet.

Holiday Train concert 2017. Nikon Df camera, Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

And barely thirty minutes after the concert began, it was over.  The boxcar doors went back up, and the train chugged away, on its way to Saratoga Springs.


Heck, even Channel 13 happened to be at the event.  And if you look at the video … you might even see someone packing a Nikon Df and enjoying the show.

Much thanks to Canadian Pacific and its employees for a wonderful night.  And thanks to Jim Cuddy, Devin Cuddy and Kelly Prescott for an outstanding holiday performance.

And next year … if there’s snow on the ground … I’m going to try to get that Canadian Pacific train at the overpass in Gansevoort.

Mark my calendar.