Train Lovers Day Brings in Rail Fans

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The Transportation Museum’s restored safety car.
The Transportation Museum’s restored safety car.

by Beverly Amsler

Hundreds of people braved frigid, windy weather to attend the second Train Lovers Day at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in downtown Roanoke. There were free train rides, a vintage rail handcar for visitors to operate and ride, a craft area for the kids, and the debut of the Museum’s restored safety car #418.

Executive Director, Beverly T. Fitzpatrick, Jr. said, “The car was formerly used by Norfolk & Western to do safety videos all over the system. . . It’s a 48-seat theater car and we have a video in there playing that talks about the 611 when it came back to Roanoke after it was rebuilt, which was Roanoke’s bicentennial gift from Norfolk Southern before it went into excursion service.  We’ve redone the whole car.  It’s now got heat and air conditioning which it didn’t have in the past, which makes it much more comfortable.”

“The free train rides are the big reason,” why Zack Price and 2-year-old son Caleb came to Train Lovers Day.  “He loves trains,” said Price who added that Thomas the Train started his son’s interest. “We’ve got a ton of Thomas stuff at home.”  They were playing in one of the life-sized trains and then on their way to take a train ride.  The train was operated by members of the Roanoke Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and went almost to the 10th Street Bridge and back to the museum.

Jo Burroughs from Christiansburg and her 6-year-old grandson, Tate and Jennifer Bond and her 4-year-old son Kobi, took one of the train rides after looking at the model trains.  Burroughs thought the model trains were wonderful.  “The boys are real excited about this (the train ride).”  Tate says he likes riding the train the best and Kobi didn’t want the ride to stop.  “I want more,” he said.

That kind of enthusiasm is just what Fitzpatrick and his staff are looking for.  More than 1,000 people attended last year’s Train Lovers Day.  Fitzpatrick says museum membership has increased from 350 to more than 600 in almost a year, thanks to a new employee who is putting emphasis on new memberships.  Attendance at the museum is up 182% in five years.  “What we’re hoping is that we’re now able to provide something special to people in a way that we couldn’t when we first got things back in order here.”

He’s proud of the increase in attendance from residents of the Roanoke Valley and says 40% of visitors are from outside Virginia, meaning the museum is becoming more of a destination spot.