For many in the southern part of the metro area, trains represent the annoyance of lengthy traffic backups on U.S. 41 as long freight trains sever the road with impatient drivers lined up north and south, but in the Bay area, they are — and have been — much more than that.
Tampa is served by passenger rail, Amtrak’s Silver Star, through the beautiful and historic Union Station. The station, unlike many of the nation’s train stations, harkens back to a past age in which everything seemed limitless. That optimism, reflected in the architecture, has managed to hold its ground despite the progress that has impeded upon it — the adjacent parking area is literally, perhaps ironically, covered by freeways.
In many ways it was rail, as much as and in conjunction with the natural harbor of Tampa Bay that created the city. The first rail service came to the Bay area in 1884 with a line running through Ybor City, into downtown Tampa and along the city’s wharves. It was rail that brought the first residents, the first tourists, the first land speculators and made the early businesses possible.
Tampa’s Union Station, more than a century old and located at 601 N. Nebraska Ave. near downtown, is often a quiet refuge from the city but remains a working station with the daily Silver Star service.
A nonprofit group, Friends of Union Station, is working to preserve the historic building and to ensure that generations a century from now will still be able to enjoy it, for its use and its long history.
On Saturday, they made strides towards that goal by hosting Train Day.
nearly every aspect of life, particularly for young people, trains would seem an anachronism. But as dozens of families with their children turned out to visit Union Station and the model trains and historic information on display, clearly the mystique and romance of the rails is not lost on the youngest generation. The smiles, the fascination and the old-style engineer caps proved that for children, life contains far more than pixels on a flat screen or smartphone. Trains, as they have for generations, still hold a special fascination for those both young and old.
The free family event was sponsored by the Friends of Tampa Union Station. There were exhibits from the Morse Telegraph Club, the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, the H.B. Plant Railroad Historical Society, Amtrak and other organizations.
For more information visit www.tampaunionstation.com.