FREMONT -- A touch of the North Pole will visit Niles on Friday, when the Niles Canyon Railway will kick off the Christmas season by starting its monthlong "Train of Lights" rides.

The festivities start at 4:30 p.m. as trains covered with holiday lights and yuletide decorations will take a round trip between Niles and Sunol stations. A train taking the opposite route will depart Sunol's depot at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 per person.

Train organizers encourage riders to make their purchases in advance, as the popularity of the eye-catching lights and nighttime views of pristine Niles Canyon often lead to sold-out trains, said Richard Alexander, a Niles Canyon Railway volunteer.

"I enjoy talking to riders about the canyon's history and the impact that rail travel had on the West in the late 1800s," Alexander said. "Plus, the camaraderie (among) volunteers and riders is fantastic."

The Niles district's annual Festival of Lights Tree Lighting and Parade, meanwhile, is scheduled to begin nearby at 6 p.m. First, Mayor Bill Harrison will light the Christmas tree at Niles Town Plaza, located along Niles Boulevard, between I and * streets.

That will be followed by a holiday parade, said Barbara Niedzielski, board member of Niles Merchants Association, the nonprofit group organizing the festivities.

The parade -- featuring more than 60 floats, balloons, vehicles and school marching bands -- will run along Niles Boulevard, between F and J streets.

The tree lighting and parade have been held annually for more than a decade and have become holiday traditions in Niles, Niedzielski said. Attendance is usually in the thousands so revelers are encouraged to arrive early to minimize traffic in the area, organizers said.

When the parade ends, the rustic neighborhood's shops, restaurants and taverns will remain open so the holiday celebration can continue.

Car attendant Matt Maksel, right, of the Niles Canyon Railway steps off a caboose at the Sunol Station to pickup passengers for the Train of Lights ride to
Car attendant Matt Maksel, right, of the Niles Canyon Railway steps off a caboose at the Sunol Station to pickup passengers for the Train of Lights ride to Niles and back on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 in Sunol, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Staff)

"Out of all the events we do in Niles, this is the most spectacular one," said Niedzielski. "The boulevard is lit at night and it's beautiful. Nobody in the area does it like this."

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.

If you go
  • WHAT: Festival of Lights Tree Lighting and Parade
  • WHEN: 6 to 9 p.m.
  • WHERE: Lighting will be at Niles Town Plaza, 37592 Niles Blvd., Fremont. Parade will be along Niles Boulevard, between F and J streets
  • INFO: http://nilesmerchants.com
  • WHAT: Niles Canyon Railway's "Train of Lights"
  • WHEN: Friday to Dec. 29
  • WHERE: 37001 Mission Blvd. (between F Street and Sullivan Underpass), Fremont and 6 Kilkare Road, Sunol
  • INFO: www.ncry.org