National Train Day: Railroads Past and Future in Jamestown

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Train-Station-4-27-train-dayBy next year Suzuki and Porsche are supposed to give drivers about 40 mpg on the highway. Most 4-wheel trucks won’t even reach 30 mpg.

So why not get 480 mpg? “That’s what we call standard mileage,” Carl Belke, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad (WNYP) recently told community leaders at a Rotary luncheon in Jamestown. “It’s normal fuel economy for every ton we move along our more than 300 miles of tracks, including the main line through Jamestown, New York.” Railroads are roaring back to life across the United States where the average freight train now moves as much as 90 fully loaded 18-wheelers,” Belke said.

“Railroads move America,” said Ken Springirth, popular author of 26 books on railroads and trolleys, recently on hand at the Jamestown Gateway Station to help in the planning for Train Day on May 9. “The people of Jamestown should be proud of the vital role they have played in the nation’s railroad history,” Springirth added, “especially for the preserving their own historic and beautiful station. It is one of only a handful left of the 719 Erie stations the railroad operated a century ago.”

In the 21st Century, passenger rail traffic is growing rapidly. Amtrak carried nearly 13 million people throughout New York alone during 2014, with 330,000 of those in WNY, a significant part of the 31 million people and 17 billion passenger miles traveled on Amtrak last year throughout the nation. Boosting New York’s economy, Amtrak spent nearly $210 million in the state in 2014.

“National Train Day celebrates the future even more than the history of our railroads,” Ken Springirth said.

The Golden Spike

Every year Train Day is set for whatever Saturday falls closest to May 10, the anniversary of the driving of the “Golden Spike” in Promontory, Utah in 1869, famously marking the completion of the first railroad to cross America from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The first train ever to reach Jamestown arrived to great fanfare, parades, bands and headlines on August 25, 1860. The Jamestown Journal and the Chautauqua Democrat are said to have bannered its headlines, “Ain’t I Glad To Get Out Of The Wilderness”.

That first train opened the entire region to national trade and inevitable prosperity. As a result, Jamestown also celebrates National Train Day 2015 to mark that landmark event 155 years ago. That first train, however, arrived less than a year before the April 12, 1861 start of the U.S. Civil War, which though tragic was like most wars – a powerful goad to commerce…and Jamestown was ready to meet the challenge.

Jamestown’s Celebration

Amtrak launched the National Train Day observance in 2008. Jamestown is now one of more than 300 cities across the nation to join in the commemoration. One of America’s most beautiful and prestigious train stations, now restored to its original grandeur as it was in the golden age of the railroad – the historic Jamestown Gateway Erie Train Station – will host the Train Day celebration on May 9, beginning at 10:00 on Saturday morning.

Gateway Stationmaster, Lee Harkness, promises “a great day for train lovers and everybody proud of Jamestown and its history.” The Gateway Station open house will offer a chance to see rolling stock operated by the WNYP Railroad, a rail visit by an authentic, historic steam engine from an earlier age, a reenactment of The Great American Train Robbery, and indoors, operating toy train layouts, toy train shows and sales and train displays and exhibits by the Western New York Railroad Historical Society.

Cocktail Party

Stationmaster Harkness invites readers to, “…join us for our ‘Turn of the Century’ Cocktail Receptions on May 9 from 6 pm to 8 pm, on board the Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad and trackside at the restored 1930 Jamestown Erie Train Station.” There will be food, entertainment and a cash bar. For more information or for reservations (limited and required): Fax 716-487-1729, phone 716-483-3041 or email reservations (name, address, phone, email and number of persons). Tickets will be held at the door. Couples discount is priced at $40 while single tickets are $25.

trolley 93Trolley No. 93

Another special highlight of the day’s events will be an exhibition of the Trolley No. 93 restoration project in the East Wing of the Gateway Train Station. This rare trolley car, one of the last of its kind in existence today, remained in operation on the Jamestown Street Railway Company lines until 1938. It was purchased by the railway owners, the Broadhead family, specially outfitted with Corinthian leather upholstery and rich, polished mahogany woodwork gracing the interior.

The Jamestown Street Railway started operations on June 19, 1884 with horse drawn cars. Electrification began in1891. When personal car and intra-city bus travel began to increase, the Jamestown Street Railway Company trolleys began losing riders. Old Number 93 – one of eight (No. 91 through No. 98) purchased in 1926 from the St. Louis Car Company – proudly rode the rails on the Willard Street and Newland lines as part of one last, heroic attempt to win their riders back.

It is now being artistically and lovingly restored to its original luxury standards by Jim Mitchener, the restoration project lead, Bob Johnson and a team of leading local businesses and dedicated volunteers for the invaluable, historic role which the light rail system – the trolley cars – made to the economy and the social fabric of the region.
Readers can learn more about the abandoned trolley’s rescue from decay as a rundown hunting camp deep in the woods and its donation to the restoration project by its last owners, the Lucariello family, at the Gateway Station on Train Day and by visiting http://jamestowntrolley.org/trolrest/.

Come on Down!

Stationmaster Lee Harkness, WNYP Railroad President Carl Belke, well known author and railroad historian Ken Springirth and the Trolley No. 93 Restoration team invite one and all to the Gateway Erie Train Station to celebrate National Train Day with them on Saturday, May 9.

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.