This story is part of News Channel 11’s coverage of the Santa Train’s 80th run. An hour-long documentary special will air at 7 p.m. on Thursday, and more stories about the train’s return can be found in the Santa Train: Celebrating 80 Years tab above.

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Somewhere in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, a CSX executive experiencing his first Santa Train announced on Saturday that the 80-year tradition would continue for the foreseeable future.

In an interview aboard one of the Santa Train’s executive cars, CSX president and CEO Joseph Hinrichs announced that the event isn’t going anywhere.

Hinrichs speaks to the press in the CSX Harrison executive lounge car. (Photo/Ted Overbay, WJHL)

“We’ve actually had some conversations about where do we take it from here,” Henrichs said. “How do we take it further? So you can bet that we’ll be here next year.”

Henrichs was appointed to CSX’s board in September 2022 after previously serving as president of Ford Motor Company’s global automotive business. After transitioning to CSX, Henrichs learned about the Santa Train’s existence for the first time.

“What I heard about it was how impactful it was for the community,” Henrichs said. “How important it was for our history.”

Henrichs gave the train the green light, and VP of operations Jamie Boychuk got to work cutting a deal with union representatives to ensure enough crew could staff the train.

“Without the help of our union groups, our partners of our employees, this train would not be running,” Boychuck said. “So we’re very thankful for that.”

Once Henrichs boarded the train and began his trip from Shelby, Kentucky to Kingsport, Tennessee, he learned exactly what the experience means to families.

A child watches the back of the train while volunteers throw toys to the crowd. (Photo/Ted Overbay,WJHL)

“It’s been an amazing experience so far,” Henrichs said. “When you look at how many people we touch and how thankful they are, that’s been really rewarding emotionally. There’s been a lot of tears shed, but in a positive way.”

The logistics involved with the train are immense, and Henrichs said the undertaking can put a strain on the already-stretched staff of CSX. Nevertheless, the route persists.

“It means so much to these communities,” Henrichs said. “The challenge we’ve given ourselves is what more can we do? More to come on that.”