'Polar Express' train visit knocked off track

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'Polar Express' train visit knocked off track

Unread postby Guest » Sat Oct 23, 2004 11:13 am

'Polar Express' train visit knocked off track
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Bad news for "Polar Express" fans eager to climb aboard the real deal -- plans for the steam engine's visit to Grand Rapids have been derailed, according to this report by Tricia Woolfenden published by the Grand Rapids Press.
The Pere Marquette steam engine No. 1225 that was the model for the Warner Bros. film, scheduled for a Nov. 5 world premiere at Celebration Cinema, no longer is headed to town as promoters expected. The movie is adapted from Grand Rapids native Chris Van Allsburg's acclaimed children's book.

The train was to roll into Grand Rapids on Nov. 3 as part of the advertising blitz surrounding the opening of the Tom Hanks' movie. But CSX Transportation officials this week nixed the idea, saying the steam engine's 90-mile trip to Grand Rapids would inconvenience the railroad's freight customers.

Officials from Hospice of Michigan, the beneficiary of proceeds from the $250-per-ticket evening, are more than disappointed by the decision.

"We're heart-broken," said Jim Fahner, vice chairman of the Hospice of Michigan foundation board. "So many dedicated volunteers donated their time and money to this. There were certainly a lot of children and adults looking forward to this. We understand (CSX's stance), but we hold out hope that we can work with them."

Dennis Braid, executive director of the Steam Railroading Institute of Owosso, owns the steam engine. He learned Wednesday that CSX declined to allow his train to motor into Grand Rapids.

Plans called for the train to head from its home in Owosso south to Howell, then use CSX tracks for the 90-mile trip to Grand Rapids.

Braid in January petitioned CSX to use the tracks and claims he received verbal confirmation that the journey could commence, pending approval by risk management and local transportation authorities. Braid said local safety approval was granted in the last month.

Earlier this month, hospice officials put out a press release promoting the train's visit.

Ultimately, CSX determined the cost and extensive resources -- the use of the track, assistance in moving the steam engine and five passenger cars into a railyard in Grand Rapids, several days storage on a CSX lot at Fulton and Winter streets and the use of several CSX crew members -- would be too great a diversion from their freight customers' needs.

"We carefully reviewed the request," said Meg Scheu, a railroad spokeswoman. "It was a substantial commitment of our resources. Fall is our peak season, and it's been a record-breaking year.

"We honor our steam engine heritage, but we are a modern freight company. We have customers."

The tracks Braid needed to use are the rail company's main freight lines, Scheu said.

"I think we're just going to have to file (the plan) away at this point," Braid said.

Ron Van Timmeren, vice president of Jack Loeks Theaters, doesn't believe the absence of the steam engine will dampen the enthusiasm that is building for the movie premiere.

"That was going to be the gravy for the event," Van Timmeren said. "We were looking forward to having the real Polar Express train in town, but the movie is the main event and that will still be here."

Fahner, the Hospice board member, isn't giving up.

"I am still hopeful," Fahner said. "This project has been true magic. Every time we've reached a hurdle, someone in some way has stepped forward and helped out."

Hospice still is waiting to hear if Hanks and other cast members will accept its invitation to the premiere.

(The preceding report by Tricia Woolfenden was published by the Grand Rapids Press on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2004. Press reporter Nate Reens contributed to this report.)

October 22, 2004
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Unread postby Guest » Sat Oct 23, 2004 11:15 am

This story is off the UTU News Web site
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