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Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Making the holiday trains: How CTA decks the L’s at Santa’s Skokie workshop

It takes three months to ready the festive rail cars, which will start picking up passengers Nov. 24.

Beneath the chilly strip lighting of the vast warehouse and just to the south of the oil drums, hydraulic lifts and gunk-smeared train wheels, a magical thing twinkles and sparkles.

It hums every so slightly — almost like it’s purring.

It’s almost time.

The Allstate CTA holiday train is smothered with 62,500 lights, all working as they should. The sleigh and reindeer are in place. And Santa Claus is on his way, journeying from his home in the faraway north.

The reindeer leading Santa’s sleigh sit atop their special flatbed car on the Allstate CTA Holiday Train at the CTA Skokie Shop on Thursday morning.

A red-nosed Rudolph helms the reindeer leading Santa’s sleigh that sits atop a special flatbed car on the CTA Holiday Train at the CTA Skokie hub on Thursday morning.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“The holiday train can be stressful as far as getting it together because you want everything to be perfect, but it all pays off when you turn around and see the smiles on those kids’ faces,” said Enrique Rosa, the Chicago Transit Authority rail maintenance worker who oversees the agency’s holiday train preparations.

The train — six cars and a flatbed car for Santa and his sleigh — sits in a giant CTA warehouse in Skokie. Late Thursday, the towering garagelike doors were expected to be lifted and the train wheeled out in preparation for its Nov. 24 first run of the season.

It isn’t simply a matter of flipping the power switch. It takes about three months of prep work.

Enrique Rosa, the Chicago Transit Authority rail maintenance worker who oversees the agency’s holiday train preparations stands in front of The Allstate CTA Holiday Train at the CTA Skokie Shop

Enrique Rosa, the Chicago Transit Authority rail maintenance worker who oversees the agency’s holiday train preparations, stands in front of the trains at the CTA’s Skokie hub.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“A lot of different trades have to get involved,” Rosa said. “We basically strip the train of all of its exterior lights and wraps. So every year, we have to reapply all the lights, the wraps. Before we do any of that, we run the trains through their exercises to make sure there are no mechanical or electrical faults.”

The Santa train will screech, grind and rumble along all eight of the CTA’s rail lines.

“Elves,” a much-coveted job title, will greet passengers with tiny candy canes — about 150,000 are handed out each season during the train’s run, according to the CTA.

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Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

It’s the 32nd season for the Santa train, in case you were wondering.

“We see the same elves year after year. They are very excited to be back when the season starts,” said Maddie Kilgannon, a CTA spokesperson.

If you want to have a photo taken with Santa, bring a device. A CTA employee will take a picture for you on a first-come, first-served basis on select dates at select stops (check the schedule at the CTA’s holiday train website) according to the transit agency.

To catch a ride on the train or just take a picture of it, go to transitchicago.com/traintracker.

The interior of the CTA’s Holiday Train.

The interior of the CTA’s Holiday Train.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The crew of the CTA Holiday Train that maintains the train and helps customers board the train at L stops is photographed at the rail hub in Skokie in front of their festooned fleet.

The crew that maintains the Holiday Train and helps customers board it is shown at the rail hub in Skokie.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Check out the view from behind Santa’s sleigh atop the CTA Holiday Train.

Check out the view from Santa’s sleigh.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The interior of the rail cars on the CTA Holiday Train.

The interior of the rail cars on the CTA Holiday Train.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The driver’s seat in Santa’s sleigh atop the CTA Holiday Train.

The driver’s seat in Santa’s sleigh atop the CTA Holiday Train

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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