Polar Bear Express returns as transportation museum’s largest fundraiser

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - A popular holiday event is back on the tracks, and has a new route. The Polar Bear Express, a family-oriented program that runs along an Indiana railway, is up and running this winter after having to skip the winter season last year.

The Polar Bear Express had become quite the tradition for many in central Indiana over its first 20 years. It benefits the Indiana Transportation Museum, which announced last November that it would not be able to keep the tradition alive leading up to Christmas of 2016.

The news was a big financial hit to the museum. "Close to 80 percent of our revenue for the Indiana Transportation Museum comes from ticket sales," said the chairman of the museum, John McNichols.

The event used to take a train line between Noblesville and Indianapolis. This year, it will travel between Logansport and Kokomo, on what is called the Winamac Southern Railway. The new location has put new and old faces on board.

“It’s a mix of people who have been doing it for years, with the tradition," said McNichols. “Because we’re moved a little bit north, we’ve got people coming from Lafayette, Chicago, Fort Wayne, and Ohio. We’re getting a lot bigger audience up there in Kokomo and Logansport.”

Click here to see the complete schedule for the season.

2015, the last year the program was running, saw 11,000 people make the journey. McNichols said the museum raised roughly $375,000 that season.

Ticket sales are expected to be a record setter this year.

The loss of the fundraiser forced leaders at the museum to adapt. Over the last year, its started running a train through Forest Park in Noblesville. The park is also home to the museum. It also held other events, such as wine tastings.

Funds from the Polar Bear Express goes to putting on educational programs at the museum. It sees between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors each year.

“We really have a regional asset," McNichols said. "We are the Indiana Transportation Museum, not the Noblesville Transportation Museum. We basically looked around and had other communities in the state contacting us, asking us to come there and put on events.”

McNichols added the organization is already looking at ways to expand the Polar Bear Express in the years to come, and find a way to once again incorporate a stop in Indianapolis.

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