Tampa event tracks railroad past
Tampa railroading past and present will be on display today at the sixth annual National Train Day at Union Station.
The Tampa event sponsored by Amtrak, Friends of Union Station, the Florida Coalition of Rail Passengers and nine other businesses and organizations drew more than 3,000 people a year ago.
Beyond the event’s railroad-oriented focus, visitors can get a sense of how the fortunes of the historic station that opened May 15, 1912, rose, fell into decline and were restored — not unlike the area on the edge of downtown where it is located.
“Things were pretty bleak both for the station and downtown Tampa in the 1970s and early 1980s, but the community has raised its profile and with Amtrak’s commitment to the community, it is putting the spotlight on Union Station,” said Jackson McQuigg, president of the Friends of Union Station.
While just one northbound and southbound Amtrak train serve Tampa daily on the Silver Star’s New York-Miami run, Union Station was Amtrak’s third busiest station in Florida in fiscal 2012 with 150,844 passengers, a 7.1 percent gain over the previous year.
Tampa ranked behind No. 1 Sanford, which serves the Auto-Train to Lorton, Va., and No. 2 Orlando, which has two daily trains northbound and southbound but only 21,658 more passengers than Tampa.
“It’s a great rise in ridership when you realize in the late 1990s, Union Station served just 40,000 passengers,” McQuigg said.
The free event from 10.a.m. to 5 p.m. includes Amtrak equipment displays, with tours inside an Amfleet II coach, a Viewliner I sleeper and a lounge car. A 4,200 horsepower Amtrak P42 diesel locomotive will be on display, but federal law bars tours of the cab.
In addition, volunteers will showcase interactive locomotive simulators and a telegraph exhibit — aka 19th Century Tweeting — along with two dozen other displays ranging from four operating model railroads to Atlantic Coast Line & Seaboard Air Line Historical Society souvenirs and books.
Burger Culture and Nate Paul’s Q4U food trucks will be on hand, while three local acts will provide music.
Visitors can park at the Twiggs Street Garage, less than 1½ blocks away from the station.
Highway construction has limited station parking primarily to handicapped parking for the event.
A complete schedule of events is available at tampaunionstation.com.