All Aboard: Train Your Eyes on This Ghost

Chemistry in Place_The Bridge1-with credit
Ken VoigtBy Ken Voigt, PE

When you get hit by the Ghost Train in Shorewood, Wisconsin, your senses and imagination take an unforgettable ride in this village just north of Milwaukee. The public artistic sensory display of lights and sound commemorates the history of the Twin Cities 400 train that passed through Shorewood from 1935 to 1963. The first of its kind public art installation enables visitors to travel back in history, imagining the round-trip journey.

The Ghost Train started running on Halloween 2016 and “crosses” the Oak Leaf Trail bridge over Capitol Drive twice each night, once in each direction, at 8 and 8:30. Beginning March 16, times for the illusion will switch to 9:30 and 10 p.m. This project provides a classic example of urban “placemaking” enjoyed by Village residents and visitors.

Historic Runs

The Twin Cities 400 train made daily trips between Chicago, Illinois, and St. Paul, Minnesota, continuing on to Minneapolis, for almost 30 years. The train took its name from the 400 miles traveled between the cities in 400 minutes, just under seven hours. It was billed as the fastest train in the nation when Chicago and North Western Railway began its run and was notable for its luxury service and accommodations.

Making It Work

The Shorewood Historical Society joined up with the Shorewood Public Arts Committee to create the Ghost Train’s show of light and sound to mark the historical sensation of the train passing through Shorewood. Lighting designer Marty Peck used cascading dots of light to create the impression that a train is moving over the pedestrian bridge at 50 mph. The Ghost Train takes about 30 seconds to “cross” the bridge with the total event lasting about one minute.

A Ghost Train Committee of volunteers worked for 18 months to coordinate the vision and execution of the project.

An Assist From Ayres

Ayres Associates assisted in getting the train up and running by helping the Village gain approvals from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the City of Milwaukee, and Milwaukee County. Our traffic engineers provided services relating to nearby traffic signal operations and timings to promote safe viewing of the Ghost Train by motorists and pedestrians.

Where to Watch

Videos and information about the Ghost Train and the history of the 400 can be viewed at the Village’s website. The Ghost Train was featured in a segment of “The Arts Page” series, Episode No. 516, on Milwaukee PBS TV station WMVT. The show can be watched on the station’s website.

Watching the running of the train in an online video is neat, but the real experience comes when viewing the illusion in person. It’s worth the trip when visiting southeastern Wisconsin.

Ken Voigt, PE, a senior traffic engineer at Ayres Associates, is in his 50th year of providing traffic engineering services to clients. Safe street operation is nearly impossible without quality traffic engineering. Ayres Associates offers a variety of traffic engineering services with in-house engineers committed to creating great communities.

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