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Grab a Ride on the Rail : Both parents and their kids are right on track for a good time at the train-themed amusement parks in Griffith Park.

August 20, 1993|KAREN E. KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Karen Klein is a Monrovia writer.

Kids love trains--and so do lots of adults. If you or your offspring are among this legion of rail fans, don't miss Griffith Park's collection of steam engines, antique train cars, model trains and kiddie-sized locomotives at Travel Town and the Griffith Park and Southern Railroad.

A morning at the park, especially during summer months, can get hot. Especially if you go with children, plan to bring or buy snacks and lunch.

10 to 10:10 a.m.: As we enter Travel Town, we check out the Operation Lifesaver display on the right, complete with a train crossing sign that instantly captivates the 3-year-old boy in our group. There is valuable information given here by the major railroads and public transportation agencies on rail safety. Next, we pick up a brochure that explains Travel Town and helps identify the railroad cars on display.

10:10 to 10:30 a.m.: We stroll past the railroad depot (for the time being) and cross over the tracks. "Chug-chug" noises being broadcast over loudspeakers throughout the park lend an air of authenticity. We enter the building on the left for a tour through transportation history. This part of the museum features an assortment of early vehicles and a red-hot collection of historical fire trucks guaranteed to excite even those who are lukewarm on trains. Here you can view truly "horse-powered" milk wagons, early automobiles and a model train village.

10:30 to 11:15 a.m.: Once you exit the indoor museum, the main attraction of Travel Town is to the left: row after row of historic steam locomotives, oil tankers, coaches, baggage cars, boxcars and cabooses. There are 40 railroad cars on display, including what the museum says is the largest collection of steam locomotives in the Western United States. Take a look at your brochure, which details the make and year of each car, or check out the information posted in front of most. For young children, take note of the safety tips. Climbing on top of, underneath or between the cars can be very dangerous. Care should be taken as well when climbing the sometimes steep ladders and steps leading to closer inspection of the cars.

11:15 to 11:30 a.m.: The little ones (and the adults) are ready for some refreshment. There are benches and picnic tables set on a grassy area behind the train cars. Reasonably priced snacks and lunch can be purchased at the snack bar in front of the picnic plaza.

11:30 to 11:40 a.m.: Now for the piece de resistance , the part the kids have been clamoring for since we got here. We walk back toward the entrance and purchase our tickets at the miniature depot for a ride on the Travel Town Railroad. The little train leaves every few minutes to make a double loop around the park, complete with lots of whistle blasts, waving and hollering on the part of younger riders, and some enthusiastic parents. The conductor takes our tickets, welcomes riders and booms the obligatory "All Aboard!"

11:40 to 11:50 a.m.: We drive out of the Travel Town parking lot and make a right turn at the exit, following signs that say "Los Angeles Zoo / Western Museum." Once we pass the zoo exit, we follow signs that say "Los Feliz Blvd. / All Other Park Facilities."

11:50 to noon: We park in the lot in front of the railroad depot, then go into the Griffith Park and Southern Railroad station to purchase train tickets. Inside the station is a gift shop featuring train-themed toys, T-shirts and books.

Noon to 12:15 p.m.: Disaster! The train has broken down at the station. The 3-year-old's bottom lip begins to quiver. We quickly hustle down the short path to the pony rides, hoping that the engineer will fix the train before we get back. Over at the stable, two turns around a large ring can be had for $1.25 per rider. The ponies are grouped by the skill level of the riders, with one entrance for children 1 year old and older, another for 3-year-olds and another for kids older than 7.

12:15 to 12:30 p.m.: Families who want to ride together should climb aboard an open, hay-filled wagon pulled by two horses. Buy the $1.25 ticket at the pony-ride window and board the wagon next to the pony rings.

12:30 to 12:40 p.m.: We are saved. The train is chugging around the track again. We line up to ride on the short line that makes a figure-eight around the station.

The train was established in 1947. It pulls into the station, and the conductor hollers our destination, "New Mexico." The train pulls out of the station, past a miniature water tower, and whizzes past pens where llamas, ponies, horses and goats live. We cross back past the station and into a Western town. Then it's past an Indian village, a gold mine and back into the station again.

12:40 to 1 p.m.: We spread a blanket over one of the nearby picnic tables. A nice way to end the excursion is to lay out your homemade lunch or buy lunch at the snack bar between the train station and pony rides.

Where and When Location: Travel Town Museum, 5200 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, at the northwest corner of Griffith Park, across the Ventura Freeway from the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank. Griffith Park and Southern Railroad is on Crystal Springs Drive near the park entrance at Los Feliz Boulevard and Riverside Drive. Hours: Travel Town is open 10 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Trains run until 4:15 p.m. Closed Christmas Day. Griffith Park and Southern Railroad is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekends. Price: Free admission to Travel Town Museum and the park. For all the trains, rides are $1.75 adults, $1.25 children 19 months to 13 years, $1 senior citizens. Group rate is $1 each for 15 or more people. Children younger than 19 months old ride free. Call: For Travel Town, (213) 662-9678; group reservations or school tours, (213) 662-5874. For Griffith Park and Southern Railroad, (213) 664-6788.

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