PIKE COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) -- Rising country music star Kree Harrison is making a return appearance on the Santa Train.
The train runs along a 110-mile route, beginning in Shelby, Ky., and traveling through part of Virginia before ending in Kingsport, Tennessee.
Along the way, it distributes more than 15 tons of gifts, including toys and food.
The date for this year’s train is November 23.
At the end of the route, Santa departs the train and climbs onto a fire engine to anchor Kingsport's Yuletide Parade.
This will be Harrison's second trip on the Santa Train. She first rode in 2001, when she was 11 years old.
Now the "American Idol" runner-up is working on her debut album and recently made an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry.
“I’m incredibly honored and excited to be a part of the Santa Train again,” Harrison said. “The first time was such an amazing opportunity to help spread the joy of Christmas to the people of this region that I can’t wait to have an even greater appreciation for the experience the second time around.”
This is the 71st year for the Santa Train.
The Santa Train rolled into town and kids could not wait to see what Saint Nicholas would bring.
Families lined up in Shelbiana as early as 5:30 Saturday morning.
The train made 14 stops in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee to give out nearly 15 tons of gifts for children and families.
Not only did Santa himself throw goodies from the train, but his helpers passed out items like stuffed bags for children of all ages and even wrapping paper.
This is the 70th annual ride through the Appalachian Mountains, and for many it is a family tradition.
“It started out that we would just go to Elkhorn city; then as we got older we would come to Shelby; then we would hit just as many stops as we can just following the train,” said Chris Anderson of Jenkins.
CSX officials said it is part of their job they were happy to do.
“Seeing the little kids that enjoy Santa so much and believe in the spirit of Christmas and seeing maybe some kids that otherwise maybe wouldn't have a gift,” said Carla Groleau.
The last stop was in Kingsport, Tennessee, where country group Thompson Square performed and officials held a parade.
Volunteers will load 15 tons of toys, food and other gifts onto the train Wednesday for its 110-mile run on Saturday from Shelby, Ky., through southwestern Virginia, and on to Kingsport, Tenn.
Country music husband-and-wife duo Thompson Square will be the special guests during the 70th annual run of the special train.
There will be 14 stops along the trip at which the gifts will be distributed. No gifts are tossed from the train while rolling and people are cautioned to stay back from the rails.
• Shelby: 6:30 a.m. train departure
• Marrowbone: 6:45 a.m. train arrival; 7 a.m. train departure
• Elkhorn City: 7:25 a.m. train arrival; 7:45 a.m. train departure
<> UPDATE 10/4/12
PIKE COUNTY, Ky, (WSAZ/AP) --Award-winning country music duo Keifer and Shawna Thompson of Thompson Square will return to the Santa Train on Nov. 17 as this year’s celebrity guests.
Now in its 70th year, the Santa Train runs along a 110-mile route through Appalachia, making 14 stops in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee.
The Santa Train begins its journey in Pikeville, Ky., and rolls to a final stop in Kingsport, Tenn.
Thompson Square, Santa Claus and dozens of volunteers will distribute gifts to families from the surrounding areas at each of the 14 stops.
“We are extremely honored to be asked to ride the Santa Train again for the second straight year,” said Shawna Thompson. “Last year brought many new opportunities for Keifer and me, but interacting with the families along the route and sharing a piece of Christmas with the children is a memory we will never forget.”
“We fell in love with the region and with the people,” continued Keifer on the duo’s decision to return for the Santa Train’s 70th anniversary run. “We’ve been so fortunate over the last couple of years that we wanted to return to Appalachia again this year to help give back.”
Thompson Square won Vocal Duo of the Year from the Academy of Country Music in April and recently was nominated by the Country Music Association for Vocal Duo of the Year and New Artist of the Year.
The CSX Santa Train hit the tracks early Saturday morning in Pike County.
Starting at 5 a.m., the kids lined up to meet Santa Claus and catch some Christmas cheer.
"Santa Claus is my favorite because this is my favorite holiday," said Hannah Ray, a 4-year-old girl from Floyd County.
Sam Sparks drove from Morehead with his two kids just to see Santa.
"They loved it. They weren't particularly fond of getting up at 5:30 in the morning, but they've come on stronger in the end," said Sparks.
Families from a homeless shelter in Pikeville joined in on the Christmas fun, too.
Sparks says he works at that shelter and loves seeing them enjoy the holiday season.
"It's just really nice that someone will provide something like this," said Sparks.
The event ended with a performance by Thompson Square and a parade in the streets of downtown Kingsport, TN.
The run begins Saturday morning in Shelby, Ky., and rolls south to end in Kingsport.
Husband-and-wife country music act Thompson Square are the celebrity guests aboard the CSX train, from which 15 tons of toys and gifts will be distributed at 14 stops along the 100-mile route. Keifer and Shawna Thompson will perform a short concert on the train platform in Kingsport at the conclusion of the run.
CSX, Food City, Kids Wish Network and the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce sponsor the trip.
The Wish Network donated more than $500,000 worth of toys for this year's run.
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