Text and photos by Vivienne Mackie
3rd annual on May 8, 2010. The slogan, “Discover The Rail Way”.
Amtrak, the main passenger train company in the USA, is presenting this special day, as a way of trying to raise awareness of the vital role rail plays in the nation’s transportation system and to increase greater use of trains.
Amtrak celebrated its first annual National Train Day on May 10th, 2008. May 10th was chosen as the date for National Train Day as it holds special meaning: It is the anniversary of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah in 1869. At Promontory Summit, the east coast and west coast were connected for the first time by rail. For many years after that, Americans had a love affair with trains, until love of cars took over.
Now, with global warming, concern over the environment, and ways to find alternative sources of energy at the top of many lists of environmental concerns, the rail industry is pushing for more rail use. Many other countries in the world have excellent rail systems that are extensively used by locals and visitors, so I hope that the return of train travel in USA can become a reality.
Amtrak began service in May 1971, after Congress created the passenger train corporation to take over the rail lines, previously run by private freight lines. The rail lines operate across the country, with over 500 stations and destinations. In 2007, more than 25.8 million passengers traveled aboard Amtrak trains. So, the first National Train Day was organized, partially as a way to celebrate this success of increased passenger numbers and enjoyment over the past several years.
Amtrak hosted events at its main stations—Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles—and TV personality Al Roker (and an avid train lover) was the spokesperson in 2008.
This year, 2010, many more events are planned and actor Taye Diggs will kick-off the festivities on May 7th with a ceremony at New York’s Penn Station where he will unveil an elaborate train-themed cake display. He will then board Amtrak and travel to Washington DC to host the celebrations at Union Station.
Besides at New York and Washington, DC, Amtrak is hosting events at its other largest stations—Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Events will include train equipment displays, live entertainment, model train displays, book signings and sweepstakes drawings for Amtrak Vacations® packages for two which include rail travel, hotel accommodations and sightseeing tours. Amtrak’s mascot, ARTE (Amtrak Recognizes the Environment) will be on hand at all stations to entertain children and share information on traveling “green” on Amtrak.
Many other cities and towns across the country are planning their own events, even our small university town on the Amtrak route between Chicago and New Orleans. We’ve traveled this route a number of times, so I’m interested to see that for music lovers, Amtrak is also organizing a multi-day trip from New Orleans to Chicago as a Blues Journey. On Friday May 6th, Muddy Waters’ blues performing sons Big Bill Morganfield and “Mud” Morganfield will board the “City of New Orleans” train in New Orleans and that evening will perform at Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale (Mississippi) along with the band of Grady Champion. Events begin 8pm.
On Saturday May 7th, Bobby Rush will board the train and on Sunday Rush and the Morganfields will perform train-themed songs at Chicago’s Union Station. Sounds like a lot of fun.