The Polar Express Wiki
The Polar Express Wiki

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The Polar Express is the titular magical 2-8-4 wheel configured American Berkshire type steam locomotive that transports children to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. The locomotive pulls five passenger cars (however, some scenes show the train with more or less), including an abandoned toy car at the front and an observation car at the back.

Role in the film

The train makes two stops in Grand Rapids, Michigan to pick up Hero Boy and Billy the Lonely Boy respectively. Later in the film, Smokey and Steamer, the locomotive's fireman and engineer, have to fix the light, so Hero Girl is put in charge of driving. Suddenly, Smokey and Steamer see something ahead on the track and call out to Hero Girl to stop the train, but she and Hero Boy have trouble figuring out which lever applies the brakes. Eventually, Hero Boy applies the brakes and the train stops just before it crashes into a huge herd of caribou.

After the caribou get out of the way, Smokey and Steamer return to the cab and start the train again. However, the throttle jams due to the cotter pin coming loose, causing the train to accelerate uncontrollably. The pin eventually comes off, along with the throttle, and falls into an air vent. To make matters worse, the train is approaching Glacier Gulch, the steepest downhill grade in the world, so the Conductor ties Hero Boy and Hero Girl to the safety bar at the front of the locomotive to keep them from falling off. While the train goes down the gulch, the pin comes back out of the air vent and Steamer catches it with his mouth, but accidentally swallows it. Next, the train speeds onto the Ice Lake and Smokey gets the pin out of Steamer by hitting his back with a shovel, but that sends the pin flying out of the cab and into the ice, causing it to crack. The train crashes through an iceberg and leans sideways, causing Hero Girl to nearly fall off the locomotive, but she is saved by Hero Boy, the Conductor, and the Hobo. Smokey finally uses the pin from his hair to fix the throttle, allowing Steamer to control the speed again. Everyone soon notices the cracking ice, so Smokey and Steamer get the train back on the tracks with the Conductor navigating.

The Conductor, Hero Boy and Hero Girl later walk across the locomotive to get back to the passenger cars.


Chris Van Allsburg based the locomotive in the book on the Pere Marquette 1225, a 1941 Berkshire N-1 class 2-8-4 locomotive built at the Lima Locomotive Works. He chose this design because he used to play on the locomotive while attending games at the Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan, where it was placed on static display at the time. He was also inspired by its number, which is also the date of Christmas.

The locomotive's design was used in the film, as well as its sounds, with the exception of its whistle, which came from Sierra Railway No 3. Drawings and blueprints of the locomotive were used to create the 3D model.

Today, the 1225 is housed in Owosso, Michigan and is operated and maintained by the Steam Railroading Institute. The 1225 frequently hauls passenger excursions in Michigan throughout the year, including the world-famous North Pole Express trips throughout the months of November and December.


In both the original book and the film adaptation, the Polar Express is painted black along with its tender. Its tender in the film, unlike in the book, has the words "Polar Express" in white on both sides.

In some merchandise, the wording on the tender is yellow. The locomotive often also has the number 1225 (with its color matching the wording on the tender) under its side cab windows, like Pere Marquette 1225, even though it has no number in either the book or the film.


  • The Polar Express's whistle is from Sierra Railway No. 3, which was featured in Back to the Future Part III, another film directed by Robert Zemeckis.
  • Contrary to its basis, the locomotive in the book has a 4-8-2 wheel arrangement.
  • The engine has some differences in appearance compared to its prototype:
    • The Polar Express lacks a feedwater heater (between the stack and bell), number boards (on each side of the bell), and builder's plates (on the sides of the smokebox) that its prototype features.
    • The Polar Express's headlight is recessed into the smokebox, similar to many Delaware & Hudson locomotives, rather than sitting on a platform attached to the smokebox.
    • The cowcatcher is larger than that of the prototype, with slats that extend to the top of the pilot beam, and lacks a front coupler.
    • The whistle is mounted on the upper right-hand side of the boiler, rather than on the top of the boiler, and is positioned upright as opposed to horizontally as is the prototype's.
  • In the film, Know-It-All refers to the locomotive as a "Baldwin 2-8-4 S-3 class Berkshire type steam locomotive" and says it was built in 1931 at the Baldwin Locomotive Works. He also mentions the locomotive weighing 456,100 pounds. In reality, Pere Marquette 1225 weighs 442,500 pounds (which, including the tender, brings the total weight up to 805,900 pounds), and is an N-1 class built by Lima in 1941, a full ten years after his claim.
    • However, there was a series of S-3 class steam locomotives built in 1949 at Lima, which look very similar to Pere Marquette 1225, having the same wheel arrangement. They weigh 440,800 pounds.[1]
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan and the North Pole are over 3,000 miles away from each other, so in reality, the train would have to travel hundreds of miles per hour to complete a round trip and that is only considering those two stops. Pere Marquette has a top speed of 70 mph, meaning it would take 92 hours to complete the journey, which is nearly 4 days.
  • Each of the tickets in the film all have a seven-digit number on them. 1225, the Pere Marquette's number, always appears as part of that number with zeroes filling in the remaining places. The order of the 1225 and three zeroes varies depending on the ticket.
  • While the locomotive usually appears pulling five passenger cars, throughout the film, the number of cars varies from as little as four to as many as twenty. This could either be a rendering mistake, or simply the magical nature of the train.


Merchandise Gallery


  1. Barris, Wes. "Erie 2-8-4 "Berkshire" Locomotives of the USA".
Preceded by
The Polar Express
Followed by
Abandoned Toy Car