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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, 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 heard of caribou.

After the caribou get out of the way, Smokey and Steamer get back to the cab of the locomotive and get the train on its way again. However, Steamer finds the throttle is jammed due to a lose pin, causing the train to accelerate uncontrollably. Because of this, the Conductor ties Hero Boy and Hero Girl to the safety bar at the front of the locomotive to prevent them from falling off as they go down Glacier Gulch. The pin falls out and into an air vent, but comes out when the train goes down the gulch. Steamer manages to grab it with his mouth, only to swallow it by accident. When the train ends up on the Ice Lake, Smokey manages to get the pin out of Steamer's stomach by hitting his back with a shovel, but it works too well as the pin flies out of the locomotive and lands on the ice, causing it to crack. Smokey eventually decides to use the pin from his hair to fix the throttle and Steamer is able to control the speed again. Everyone soon notices the cracking ice, so Smokey and Steamer try to get the train back on the tracks with the Conductor navigating and succeed.

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


The engine in the book appears to be a generic 4-6-2 Pacific passenger locomotive typical of railroads from 1904 to the 1930's.

The Polar Express in the film is based off of Pere Marquette 1225, a 1941 Berkshire N-1 class 2-8-4 locomotive built at the Lima Locomotive Works. The locomotive's design were used in the film, as well as its sounds, with the exception of its whistle, which came from Sierra Railway No. 3. Drawings of the locomotive were used to create the 3D model. Chris Van Allsburg 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.

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 also has the words "Polar Express" in white on both sides, something which is not in the book.

In some merchandise, the words on the tender are yellow instead of white. The locomotive is also often depicted with the number 1225, always in the same color as the words on the tender, under its side cab windows, like Pere Marquette 1225, but no number appears in neither the book nor 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.
  • While the engine in the film is modeled from Pere Marquette 1225's drawings and design, it has some differences in appearance compared to its prototype. The most noticeable differences include:
    • The Polar Express does not have the feedwater heater (between the stack and bell), number boards (on each side of the bell), or the 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 does not have 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.
    • 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.
    • Also, the Baldwin Locomotive Works built 35 locomotives of the S-3 class in 1928, which weighed 457,500 pounds and also had a similar appearance to Pere Marquette 1225. They were all scrapped between 1950 and 1952 But Only 1 Was Saved 4 The NKP 757's Replacement as The 3rd out 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10! 2 Save up & Then 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-0
    • .[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.


Merchandise Gallery


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