The legacy of the railroad in both the Toledo area and around the country will be celebrated once more during National Train Day Toledo, held for the 11th year at the Amtrak station in Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza on Saturday, May 5.
Train Day, a free and open house where attendees will learn about the heritage of the railroad as well as safety around train tracks, shines a spotlight on trains’ contributions to the area economy.
“It’s a family-friendly educational event,” said Bill Gill, organizer, Train Day Committee chair and Toledo-area event founder. “To increase community awareness of the role of passenger and freight rail in our transportation system, the day celebrates and provides information about the past, the present and a vision for the future of all things rail. And I think it provides citizens the opportunity to realize that passenger rail travel is a viable option,” Gill added.
A national legacy
Encouraging people to reconsider passenger trains was the original inspiration for National Train Day in 2008. “The whole idea of Train Day began with a movement out of, what was called then, the National Association of Railroad Passengers, or NARP,” Gill explained, referring to the group now known as the Rail Passengers Association.
“And they organized Train Days around the country, to promote the idea that [the story of] passenger trains had to be told.”
Gill has been passionate about the railroad his whole life. Growing up in Toledo, he recalls going with his dad to Westwood Ave., a place where more than a dozen sets of tracks crossed the road, to sit and watch the passenger trains roar by. When he attended graduate school in Nashville, he worked as a ticket agent to pay the bills. And now, he and his wife regularly travel around the country via Amtrak.
“Trains have always been in my life, from very early on. And the last 15 years or more, I’ve been spending more time in advocacy work — working with the local organization, as well as statewide, while also holding positions on the board nationally,” Gill said.
Return to prominence
Gill has seen National Train Day Toledo grow and evolve over the past decade. This year’s event will see several special guest speakers, including State Representative Michael Sheehy, who formerly worked for the railroad industry. There will be several model train layouts on display, including one created by middle-school students from Eastwood.
“The teacher there, Bill Gau, contacted me about some of his students — mostly those with special needs, learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities and so on, as well as some non-disabled students,” Gill said. “They have a hobby club, and they have put together a Lionel train layout. And talking to the kids, many of whom have come to Train Day before, they were saying, ‘Boy, wouldn’t it be great to display our layout at Train Day at the Amtrak station!’ And he talked to me about it, and I said, let’s look into it.”
Gill hopes attendees will garner a better appreciation of passenger rail as a viable form of travel — a piece of Americana that has faded in recent years.
“It always surprises us, every year, people come to Train Day and say, ‘My goodness, I didn’t know Toledo had a train station anymore! I didn’t know you could get on a train and go to Chicago, or New York, or Boston or wherever.’ We’re always surprised by it.”
National Train Day Toledo | Saturday, May 5 | 9:30am
415 Emerald Ave, Toledo | Free