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National Train Day 2011: Amtrak stations, others to celebrate rail travel Saturday

May 06, 2011|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • National Train Day celebrates passenger rail. Above, Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner, which travels along the California coast.
National Train Day celebrates passenger rail. Above, Amtrak's Pacific… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

The fourth National Train Day, a kind of grass-roots celebration of all things rail, will kick off Saturday with more than 200 exhibits and displays nationwide. The biggest events will take place at Amtrak stations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

These activities had been planned well in advance of news Thursday about the discovery of documents indicating that Al Qaeda last year may have considered terrorist attacks on rail networks.

In an email, Amtrak said its employees remain at "a heightened state of vigilance." The passenger rail company, which turns 40 this year, pointed to its Partners for Amtrak Safety and Security program, in which passengers are invited to report suspicious activity; random bag screenings; and expansion of its canine unit, trained to sniff out explosives.

In fact, dogs from that unit will demonstrate their skills as part of free events Saturday at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. The events, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. , will include sample train meals, made by chefs Marcel Lagnaz and Tom Douglas, and live entertainment from Radio Disney and the Never Land Pirate Band.

The most popular happenings each year are tours. You can take a look at more than 15 rail cars, such as a historic first-class Pacific Parlour car, dining and sleeping cars, freight cars and luxury private cars. Planning tip: Download free tickets for a particular time rather than getting stuck in long lines; look for "Train Equipment Reservations" on the National Train Day home page.

Fans and volunteers plan each year's events, which look to the history and future of rail travel.

"There's a tremendous amount of train love out there and often you won't find it until you engage someone in conversation," said Amtrak's marketing manager David Lim.

Celebrities also get in on the act. At Union Station in the nation's capital, Gladys Knight, who with the Pips immortalized the song "Midnight Train to Georgia" (and whose grandfather was a Pullman porter, Lim said), will appear at a meet-and-greet Saturday.

The 40th Anniversary Exhibit Train -- two locomotives and three baggage cars -- stuffed with exhibits about the history of passenger rail will make its debut in D.C. The train will take a 12-month tour of the country, stopping in California too, Lim said, though dates aren't yet available.

For all events and details, check out the National Train Day website.

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