A NORTH-EAST railway has become the portal to a North Pole wonderland.

The first Polar Express ride ran on the Weardale Railway yesterday with at least 20,000 visitors set to experience the festivethemed trip in the run up to Christmas.

It is the first time the Polar Express has run in the UK with the journey between Stanhope station, in Weardale, and a North Pole town created eight miles down the line based on the Warner Brothers film and a book by Chris Van Allsburg.

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Ed Ellis, president of British American Rail Services, which operates Weardale Railway, said: “We have delighted children and their parents and grandparents at locations across the US for years, and the story’s messages of hope and belief are ideal for the holiday season.”

Passengers are encouraged to wear their pyjamas like the children in the film and they will meet favourite characters and enjoy a sing along.

Father Christmas will also board the train.

Weardale Railways events manager Dean Boyes said: “The Polar Express will be our biggest event to date and is expected to attract many new visitors to Weardale, along with opening opportunities to boost tourism in the North East region.”

The Polar Express train ride schedules include 5pm and 7.30pm departures throughout this and next month. Prices start from £20 per adult and £15 per child (aged two to 12).

A limited number of firstclass tickets are also available and are £35 for an adult and £25 for a child, or £5 for children under two.

Along with upgraded seating, all first-class passengers will get a Polar Express ceramic souvenir cocoa mug.

For tickets and event information, call 0800-023- 2383 or visit UKPolar ExpressRide.com