Train buffs celebrate National Train Day at LA's Union Station

Visitors were given tours of private rail cars, Amtrak, and Metrolink trains on National Train Day at Union Station on May 8, 2010 in Los Angeles, Calif.
Visitors were given tours of private rail cars, Amtrak, and Metrolink trains on National Train Day at Union Station on May 8, 2010 in Los Angeles, Calif. Newly Paul/KPCC

Train buffs gathered at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday to celebrate the third National Train Day.

The cavernous station resembled a carnival ground as jugglers, face painters, the USC Marching Band, railway engineers, and Amtrak representatives entertained and informed people about the history and future of rail travel in California.

Michael Vanmeter, 42, from Pasadena took the Metro Gold Line with his wife and 3-year-old daughter to the exhibition.

“It's very interesting when you realize that this form of travel is no longer existent,” said Vanmeter, after touring a private rail car. “It's incredibly comfortable. It's soothing and you can imagine even in a sitting train that when it must be rolling on the tracks, it must be serene and calming.”

His wife, Heather, 40, said the exhibition was a great way to show their daughter the importance of supporting public transportation and learning more about the city's rail program.

Matt Rippon, 34, from Fullerton, was visiting the exhibition with his wife and son. The Rippons had planned to take the train together to get to Union Station, but while boarding, the door had shut on Matt, while his wife and son had managed to get into the train.

“It's ironic that this happened on National Train Day,” said Matt Rippon, with a laugh, adding that the trip was a great experience for his son. “He has books on trains and it was great to take him on his first train ride.”

The event at Union Station featured exhibits showing Amtrak's eco-friendly travel options, the history of dining on Amtrak trains, with cooking demonstrations by chefs, train equipment displays, and model train displays. Saturday's event was held in three major locations — Chicago, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia — and more than 170 communities nationwide.

A unique exhibit to L.A was about Hispanics, or Braceros, who came as guest workers to the U.S. during World War II, to build and maintain the country's railroad system.

Pablo Velasquez, a former bracero who had come to the U.S. in the 40s, to work on railroads in Arizona, said he remembered a time when railways were the main form of travel.

“But even today, like in the earlier days, field and railroad workers are not paid very well,” he said.

Amtrak spokesperson Vernae Graham said the event aimed to celebrate the history of rail in America, and to help potential passengers embrace rail travel as an alternative and greener way of getting around.

Organizers said this year the event was more crowded than last year. By 1 p.m., with three hours to go before closing time, organizers estimated about as many as 5,000 visitors to the exhibition. Last year, a similar number of people visited the exhibition through the day.

Ada Carson, 41, of Redondo Beach, came to the event for the first time Saturday.

“It's a lot of fun, and is really educational,” said Carson, who came with her son and husband. “It makes us want to reconsider taking the train as a little vacation ... maybe up the coast from L.A. to San Francisco.”

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