I rode the Bay Area's Niles Canyon Railway Train of Lights

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A slightly grumpy trip on the Bay Area's Polar Express.
If it were entirely up to me, I would not have chosen to board the Screaming Baby Holiday Express alone on a Sunday evening.

But tickets for Niles Canyon Railway's annual Train of Lights are a hot commodity, so in the name of journalism, I bought the first ticket I could find ($30).

For the uninitiated, the Train of Lights is basically the Polar Express of the East Bay. It's a festively decked-out locomotive chugging through Niles Canyon, a canyon formed by Alameda Creek in Fremont, after dark. Santa Claus himself is even on board, making this the sort of event that small children go wild for — and not necessarily one tailored to a solo childless 20-something. The train's commissary car doesn't even serve alcohol.

Still, there would be hot chocolate, so I gritted my teeth and headed out.

Around 7 p.m. on a Sunday, I parked in the gravel lot at the train station in Sunol. The train wasn't scheduled to depart for another 30 minutes, but legions of babies in puffy coats and Santa hats, along with their beleaguered parents, were already lined up to board. I hurried to grab my ticket from the ticket counter, then smooshed into the back of the zig-zagging line to board, the whines of impatient children ushering me forward.

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I'm not exactly what you'd call a Christmasphile. I roll my eyes at people who start decorating before Thanksgiving, and I can't stand most Christmas songs (notable exception: "All I Want for Christmas Is You"). But when the Train of Lights rolled into the station with a cheerful "CHOO-CHOO!" all aglow in flickering lights, reindeer, candy canes and polar bears, my little Grinch heart grew three sizes.

"LOOK, it's Santa!" shrieked one little…
Madeline Wells
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