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National Train Day: A day of celebration, commemoration, and appreciation

An historic railroad icon since 1908, Washington DC Union Station is one of many hosting train terminals of National Train Day.
An historic railroad icon since 1908, Washington DC Union Station is one of many hosting train terminals of National Train Day.
David Kriso

Everyone has ridden a passenger train before. Whether they have ridden on a train three times a year, ten times, or five days a week, there are plentiful reasons to enjoy doing so. May 10th, 2014 marked the seventh annual National Train Day, presented by Amtrak. For forty-three years, Amtrak has been America’s railroad. For seven years and counting, National Train Day has been a smashing success. Millions have traveled from many miles around to the closest railroad city hosting the occasion. The city which hosted the most amazing National Train Day celebration was Washington DC Union Station. With a smorgasbord of well-known museums, and monuments, Washington DC Union Station was the perfect place to commemorate the rich traditions of passenger rail travel.

Whenever passengers walked through the glorious halls of Washington DC Union Station or arrived by train to participate in the all-day event, there was a sign of joy and happiness in the air. When people travel by train, something special happens to them. They become kids again. Whether young or old, there was no shortage of that evidence. Everyone had the opportunity to enjoy the many great exhibits which Amtrak, model railroad organizations, and railroad historical societies put together for the general public. At Union Station, there were a series of Amtrak Acela Express excursion rides. They had to be booked ahead of time. Prior to May 10th, all of the excursions were sold out. That is enough evidence to show that National Train Day was well-anticipated and many thousands were looking forward to having the time of their lives. All throughout the day, many thousands of train enthusiasts and avid train travelers from all over the northeast and the DC area shared in the celebration.

Aside from the Acela Express excursions, there were plenty of exhibits to be enjoyed and appreciated by rail fans of all ages. All throughout the Union Station grandeur, there were model railroad exhibits. Plus, there was a National Train Day gear store. Those attending the festivities had the opportunity to purchase t-shirts, engineer hats, and other keepsake items to commemorate their visit to Washington DC Union Station and National Train Day. The one favorite item purchased by the visitors were hats that said, “Trains Matter”. That they do! In the station platform area, there were even more exhibits on display. On the stub-end tracks, visitors were given the opportunity to go on a walk-thru tour of a pair of private passenger cars. Amtrak employees showed visitors all of the upscale amenities in both cars. In addition, visitors were given the opportunity to tour a variety of Amtrak passenger coaches, especially Amtrak’s long distance coaches. Another set of exhibits was the Superliner cars from the Amtrak Auto Train, Amfleet II coaches used between New York City and Florida, and one of Amtrak’s original Metroliner coaches. The Metroliner was the precursor to Amtrak’s Acela Express.

Next door to Washington DC Union Station, visitors had the chance to visit the National Postal Museum. Throughout our country’s history, the U.S. Postal Service and the railroad have shared a longtime bond. Wherever people mailed their letters and packages to, there was always a good possibility of them being transported by train. In the middle of the National Postal Museum’s main exhibit area, there was another model railroad setup. The setup was a bit different from the model railroad setups at Union Station. There wasn’t anything different in regards to track setup, but it was the theme that made it all the more unique. Many of the freight and passenger cars sported a U.S. Mail theme. With the combination of the U.S. Postal Service and Amtrak, the festivities were truly amazing and unforgettable. The exhibits were most definitely “First Class”.

The real treat and the hottest of the exhibits featured at Washington DC Union Station was Amtrak’s brand new ACS-64 electric engine. The ACS-64 “Cities Sprinter” was built by Siemens in California. The ACS-64 was built to develop 8,600 horsepower, and designed to pull trains at a top speed of 135 miles per hour. There are only a handful of the ACS-64's in service. When fully operational, there will be seventy of them on the rails. The ACS-64 will ultimately replace Amtrak’s entire fleet of AEM-7 and HH-P electric engines. Since the early 1980s, Amtrak’s AEM-7s have been the workhorses of the Northeast Corridor. They were built to develop 7000 horsepower and pull trains up to 125 miles per hour. The HHP-8s have been in service since 2000. They were built by the French Canadian company Bombardier. They were designed to develop 8000 horsepower and pull the long distance trains (ex. Silver Star and Silver Meteor). What was even more exciting was that visitors had the opportunity of a lifetime to climb into the cab of the ACS-64 and try out the engineer’s seat. There they posed for photographs with their hands on the controls. For small children who often dream about being a train engineer when they grow up, it was indeed the perfect opportunity. It was truly a memory cherished by all.

The railroad has been an iconic form of transportation in our nation’s history. At Washington DC Union Station, there was indeed no shortage of that. The event being celebrated at an iconic train terminal couldn’t have made it all the more impressive and memorable. Whether it involves taking Amtrak to a much anticipated vacation destination or riding commuter trains to and from work, the train has taken us on a journey through time. National Train Day, without a doubt, brings all of those snapshots together. From discovering the passenger coaches of old, to experiencing the passenger coaches of today, and getting a glimpse of locomotives of the future, National Train Day encourages us remember three important things. National Train Day enables train enthusiasts to celebrate the never-ending adventure of train travel. Further, the event empowers train enthusiasts of all ages to commemorate the past, the present, and future of train travel. Ultimately, National Train Day is genuinely by far the day to appreciate the symbolism and the vitality which the railroad has demonstrated in our ever changing way of life. Indeed, people of all ages coast-to-coast are “all aboard” this annual love affair in connection with this epochal and exemplary element in our everyday lives, the railroad.