April 30, 2013

CHICAGO (April 29)—Everyone in Illinois who loves trains knows May means National Train Day and lots of fun at Chicago Union Station.

But you won’t have to travel to Chicago to celebrate the nation’s railroad heritage when National Train Day 2013 arrives on May 11. That’s because this year National Train Day celebrations also will be held at Amtrak depots in Springfield, Normal, Princeton, Plano, Kewanee and Macomb.

As in past years, the most elaborate festivities will be held in Chicago’s historic Union Station. Little kids will be able to enjoy interactive activities provided by Chuggington, producers of the popular Saturday-morning railroad-themed TV show for youngsters. They’ll also enjoy model-train displays and souvenir giveaways.

And kids of all ages—and their parents—will enjoy the chance to get up close and on board real trains, including static displays of Amtrak cars and locomotives as well as privately owned luxury passenger railcars.

Best of all, Amtrak’s popular excursion train will return this year, offering 40-minute shuttle trips from Union Station out to Amtrak’s 14th Street maintenance base and back. Tickets are $5 each, but children under 12 ride free. Tickets can be purchased at the Track 2 platform gate, and trains will leave at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein and Amtrak officials will open the event with an 11 a.m. ceremony in the station’s Great Hall.

“The National Train Day activities at Chicago Union Station are a great chance for kids and adults to learn the facts about trains, and to learn safe practices around equipment and tracks alike—and to get the feel of trains in action,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy. “If you live in the Chicago area and are not working on May 11 I urge you to take the family downtown to enjoy this exciting event.”

For Downstate residents who can’t get to Chicago the local Amtrak station will be the site of educational displays inside and real trains coming and going on the tracks outside.

The Springfield Amtrak Station at 309 E. Washington will hold its celebration from 11:55 a.m. to 2 p.m. Amtrak will supply free handouts to children, while National Park Service volunteers will be on hand to direct visitors to local attractions such as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Old State Capitol, the Lincoln family’s house and the Dana Thomas house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Amtrak’s Lincoln Service train No. 303 will make its regular stop at the depot at 12:50 p.m., and it’s possible that a Union Pacific freight train could roll through as well.

Princeton will hold a family fun day in its restored Burlington Railroad depot at 107 Bicentennial Drive from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be a train display, activities for children and refreshments, as well as a visit by Amtrak’s eastbound Southwest Chief at 12:58 p.m. Numerous BNSF intermodal, coal and merchandise trains also can be expected to highball through Princeton on this busy main line.

Plano, located on the same BNSF main line, will use National Train Day 2013 to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of its former Burlington Railroad depot between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Historic artifacts will be on display, and the mayor will drop in for coffee. Amtrak’s state-supported Carl Sandburg train will make its regular westbound stop at 8:33 a.m., the eastbound Illinois Zephyr will stop at 9:25 a.m., the eastbound Southwest Chief will thunder past at around 2:30 p.m. and the westbound California Zephyr will do the same at about 2:50 p.m. The eastbound California Zephyr will go through about 12:30 p.m., and in between the passenger trains the main line will hum with some of North America’s busiest freight traffic.

Macomb also will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of its handsome brick station, built by the Burlington Railroad, at 120 E. Calhoun St. A children’s coloring contest will be held, and local volunteers will pass out complementary snacks, fresh fruit and beverages. Hours will be generous—from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., enabling visitors to observe the westbound Carl Sandburg stopping at 11:04 a.m. and the westbound Illinois Zephyr at 9:24 p.m., plus the respective eastbound runs at 7 a.m. and 6:18 p.m. BNSF freight trains are frequent on this busy single-track line and generate a real sound-and-light show as they rumble through while whistling for Macomb’s numerous grade crossings.

Kewanee, also located on BNSF’s former Burlington main line, will be showing off its new Amtrak station and inviting visitors from Galesburg, Quincy and Macomb to ride the eastbound Illinois Zephyr to Kewanee to have breakfast next door at the Stationhouse Restaurant. The Kewanee Farmers Market will be selling local produce, and local historian Brian “Fox” Ellis will be on hand to tell about Kewanee’s early railroad history. The first 100 Breakfast Train passengers will receive a T-shirt and goodie bag. Hours are 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., so visitors can catch the 9:44 a.m. arrival of Amtrak’s Carl Sandburg from Chicago as well as plenty of BNSF freight action.

Normal will be showing off its brand-new $43-million intermodal station, the Uptown Transportation Center at 11 Uptown Circle from 10 a.m. to 3p.m. A model railroad will be on display and literature and displays will highlight the environmental and economic benefits of rail transportation. But the real displays will be out on the platform, where Amtrak’s northbound Lincoln Service train No. 302 will be stopping at 11:39 a.m. and its overnight Texas Eagle is expected to make its northbound stop at 11:08 a.m. Some freight intermodal activity may be on tap as well as Union Pacific now operates three daily container trains in each direction over this increasingly busy route.

“It’s great to see so many of our Downstate cities getting into National Train Day,” Guy said. “Those local depots may not be as big or busy as Chicago Union Station, but they offer our kids a great up-front view of freight and passenger trains in action.

“And with so many volunteers and railroad people on hand these local stations are a great resource for teaching our kids about how to be safe around moving trains and why they need to respect those flashing red lights and bells. Now that railroading is again one of America’s fastest-growing industries, let’s use National Train Day to get that message out.”