National Train Day arrived Saturday, a week ahead of schedule, with a big show at the Toledo Amtrak Station at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Plaza, near downtown.
The station’s ground floor and third floor were filled with all manner of displays relating to railroads, including elaborate model trains. Outside on the tracks was a Norfolk Southern freight locomotive that had plenty of sightseers, but the real attraction was an Amtrak passenger train with a two-hour line of people waiting for a tour.
Mike Pauly, an Amtrak conductor, said the cars and engine had just been refurbished and were in mint condition. The lounge car and sleeping car were popular enough, but the locomotive was a bigger draw, with people climbing the stairs to the cab and snapping photos of each other beside it.
Jake Hall, 8, of Sylvania Township found the passenger train “very cool.” He was there with his father, John, and said he hoped to take an overnight train trip some day.
The Amtrak train was the reason National Train Day was observed early in Toledo, said Rob Greenlese of the Northwest Ohio Passenger Rail Association, whose group was one of the day’s organizers. The train was unavailable for the show next Saturday, the official date of train day.
Steven Rathke, aka “Engineer Steve,” was by far the biggest human star of the show.
Mr. Rathke, a locomotive engineer with Norfolk Southern, put on a performance for children that emphasized safety. He was assisted by Bri Mullinger, a Holland teenager who lost her left leg when she was hit by a train while walking to Springfield High School on Dec. 16, 2009. Her best friend, Cody Brown, was killed in the accident, which occurred as they tried to run across tracks on McCord Road ahead of a speeding Amtrak train.
Mr. Rathke, wearing his striped engineer’s coveralls and hat, instructed the children to pay attention to signs and signals at railroad crossings. He explained that the sign with “the big white X” is a called a crossbuck.
He told the children of the importance of gates and warning signals and said, “Look, listen, and live. If you look and listen, you will live.”
“It wasn’t worth it. We should have waited the 30 seconds for the train to pass,” she said.
On a lighter note, the Swanton Model Railroad Club was another big draw with a model railroad setup that was 16 feet wide and 58 feet long.
Member Jim Etchie, who lives in Wauseon, said the equipment normally was in storage and he was happy to see it being used.
“Kids definitely like to come see us,” he said.
Contact Carl Ryan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.