All aboard! Kids ride the rails with Santa Claus at annual event

BY Raven Santana, Correspondent |

Hundreds of children with special needs and who are less fortunate got their own special time with Santa. He left his sleigh at the North Pole and boarded a special NJ Transit train at Hoboken Terminal.

“The kids just go nuts,” said Santa Claus.

Michael Phalon has been doing it for years as a member of the Railmen For Children Organization. It’s a role he takes seriously when it comes to the annual Santa Train ride. The organization, made up of train conductors and engineers, have sponsored the event for the past three decades through annual fundraisers and charitable events.

“About 35 years ago, a bunch of conductors, they had extra change, and so they were putting it in coffee cans and they said let’s do something with this, and it all started like that. We raise money through, we have a golf tournament and through donations. We have a train set in the terminal where you can put money in, and we accept that of course,” Phalon said.

“It’s great because a bunch of kids that don’t get anything are going to get something. They’re going to get whatever they want,” said retired train conductor Joseph Phalon.

The exciting train ride comes with fun treats, decorations and lots of presents.

“I feel great about it,” said Jahri Harley, a student at Regional Day School in Jersey City. “I got a Fire 7.”

The goal is to give kids like Harley a chance to participate in something that other families take for granted.

“This is, I could cry. I am going to cry. This is just so special for our children, it really is. We forget them. They are the forgotten few in our community,” said teacher Helen Doyle Lynch.

In total, six schools participated in the train ride that made five different stops on it’s way to Harriman, New York. The entire trip takes about four hours and everyone receives a lunch box on board the train. In total, between $15,000 to $20,000 was raised for this year’s trip.

“The fact that they’re remembered and given this wonderful opportunity, it’s just touching,” said Doyle Lynch.