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It's that magic time of the year again. The Duke Energy/CSX Holiday Model Train Display returns on the Friday following Thanksgiving, to the lobby of the Duke Energy building downtown at Fourth and Main Streets. This is the 65th anniversary of the display that has delighted more than 9 million visitors, old and young, and has become a holiday family tradition since its inception in 1946.

The trains will run through December 31 and will be open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays noon to 5 p.m. (Closed Christmas day).

The display, one of the largest portable models in the world, measures 36½ by 47½ feet long and is authentic “O” gauge in which a quarter inch on the model is equivalent to one foot on a real train. Rail cars, tracks and buildings are 1/48th actual size. The Duke Energy/CSX display includes approximately 300 train cars and 50 locomotives on 1,000 feet of track. During the holiday season, the trains will run over 100,000 scale miles.

The theme of this year’s display is After 65 Years of Memories, It’s Still A Time To Dream. The centerpiece is anchored by a glittering castle surrounded by snow tipped trees and bright stars hanging from the ceiling above.  An old stage coach is recreated and surrounded by toy soldiers that welcome visitors to come home to their “own” castle.

Assembly and testing of the display begins approximately 30 days before the annual opening ceremony. A small group of volunteer Duke Energy employees and retirees spend hundreds of hours throughout the year handcrafting replacement parts and adding to the collection of miniature buildings and structures.

A Rolling History of Railroading

Often called the "father of American railroads," the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad was chartered in 1827, becoming the first U.S. railroad for the public transportation of passengers and freight.  Many years later, in 1963, the B&O affiliated with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, forming the C&O/B&O, which became known as the Chessie System, Inc., in 1972.  In 1980, the Chessie System merged with Seaboard Coast Line Industries, Inc., of Jacksonville, Florida, to form CSX Corporation.   Chessie System Railroads and Seaboard System Railroads operated separately until July 1, 1986, when the two companies were merged into CSX Transportation, Inc., a business unit of CSX Corporation.  Today, CSX continues a long railroading tradition.

The B&O Railroad introduced its first model railroad in 1936.  That original model, with its three main loops, its locomotives and cars, is just part of what you'll see in Duke Energy's lobby display.  The portable model grew, as the railroad grew, through the 40s, the 50s, and into the 60s.

During the early years, our B&O model trains represented exactly what was traveling the real tracks.  Every time the B&O took an older locomotive out of service or added a new car to its system, a miniature reproduction was removed or added to the model.  Then, in the 1950s, B&O made the decision to bring back some of the retired models for their historical value.  So, today, you'll see early steam locomotives operating on the same tracks with the more modern Diesel engines.

What You'll See in Our Miniature World

Like the real thing, B&O models were built to last.  Always handmade, sometimes from the same materials as their life-size prototypes, the models were hand-painted and hand-lettered with authentic railroad paints.  The miniature B&O trains are faithful reproductions of the real trains -- down to the smallest details.

Duke Energy's model train display is what model railroad buffs call an "O" scale model.  That means that every one-quarter inch on the model represents one foot on a real train.  So, everything you see is 1/48th of actual size.  The same scale is used for the railroad cars, the track, even the buildings and structures along the right of way.

While it may seem that our trains travel slowly, it's important to remember that they are traveling at actual scale speed.  The basic 3-track loop is 1/48th of a mile around, representing a full mile of real track.  If a model train travels that loop in one minute, it is traveling at 60 miles per hour - not at all slow for a real train.

Our train display simulates the Cumberland (Maryland) Division of the old B&O, still part of the route traveled by today's CSX Transportation.  That's where the main northwest and southwest lines, from Chicago and from St. Louis, come together.   While the display doesn't represent any particular point on the line or any specific part of the Maryland countryside, it is designed to demonstrate a variety of actual train operations in a landscape typical of the Cumberland region.  The elevated area simulates the "Magnolia Cut-off" which is known as the "High Line" and is used exclusively for freight service.

Three Tracks Instead of Four

One of the special features of our model railroad is its three-track operation, unique to the B&O Railroad and typical of the heavily traveled Maryland Division.   On the model, as on the real thing, the center track is wired for signal operation in both directions and is used strictly for passing.  So, unlike the typical operation - where freight trains had to pull over and wait for a passenger train to proceed - B&O's three-track operation prevented costly time delays.

With three tracks, when a B&O passenger train caught up with a freight, the freight was switched over to the center track where it could continue to travel until the passenger train passed by.  Then, the freight was switched over to the outside track, behind the passenger train.

Color-Position Light Signals

The miniature color-position light signals on our B&O model railroad work exactly like the real thing.  By watching the signals, on the signal posts and on the overhead bridges spanning the main track, you'll know what's ahead. 

For example, two red lights in a horizontal position tell you that the track ahead is blocked.  If you were the engineer, you'd stop the train, moving ahead only when the lights changed from red to green or amber.

Two amber lights in a diagonal position mean that the next block of track is clear, but there's a train in the second block ahead.  As the engineer, you'll proceed with caution, expecting a stop signal at the next signal bridge. 

Two green lights in a vertical position tell you that the next two or more blocks of track are clear.  So, it's full steam ahead!

While you're watching the red, amber and green lights, you'll also want to check the white lights on the signal bridges at switches or crossovers.  When the top white light burns with either the amber or green, it tells you that the track alignment is straight enough to travel at normal speed.  If the lower light is burning, the switch is set for crossing over to the next track.  So, it's okay to proceed, but only at medium speed.  As you're checking out the safety crossing signals on our model, be sure to notice the safety crossings as well.  Railroad crossing signs with flashing signals are used to warn automobile traffic that there's a train approaching.

Those Marvelous Miniature Trains

As you watch our miniature trains travel by, you'll discover almost every variety of railroad car that ever traveled our country's railways.

You'll see many kinds of powerful locomotives, ranging from the vintage steam driven models to the more modern Diesel-powered streamliners.

Whether or not you've ever traveled by rail, you'll be captivated by the magic of our pint-sized passenger trains featuring coach cars, dining cars with tiny tables and chairs, Pullman cars complete with bunks, dome-topped observation cars, baggage cars, and postal cars for carrying the U.S. Mail.

You'll be fascinated by our model freight trains with cars capable of carrying almost any cargo imaginable.  Look for box cars, flat cars, tank cars, low-sided open gondola cars, cattle cars, coal cars, piggy-back cars for hauling trucks, and of course, the ever-popular "little red caboose."

As you compare the older cars to their more modern versions, you'll notice important changes in technology.  Our refrigerator cars, for example, range from the more primitive models that kept perishables cold with giant blocks of ice, to newer models with built-in refrigeration systems.

To spot one of our work trains, look for the "big hook" car with its large crane.  Responsible for railroad maintenance and emergency runs, the work trains even include camp cars with sleeping and cooking facilities for the hard-working crew.

Little Buildings by the Train Tracks

Most of our visitors will quickly recognize miniature homes and shops, factories and farm buildings in our model railroad countryside.  But, unless you're familiar with railroad operations, you may not recognize some of the important buildings and structures which are typically found along the railroad right-of-way.

Control towers, for example, function much like airport air traffic control towers, acting as the central control points for the railroad.  Employees in the towers keep an eye on train traffic, control the signal bridges, and communicate with other towers along the route.

Section houses, which are living quarters with tool sheds, function as work locations for railroad crews known as section gangs, responsible for maintenance on specific sections of track.

To keep steam-powered locomotives rolling, it takes a lot of coal to fire the boiler and plenty of water to produce the steam.  So, all along the railroad, you'll see miniature coal tipples - the coal storage stations with chutes for filling the locomotive's coal tender - as well as numerous water tanks.

The sandbins serve an important purpose, too, providing trains with sand to be dumped along the track for traction when the rails get wet or icy.

At the railroad terminal, centrally located to serve both the passenger terminal and the freight yards, you'll see additional coal, water, and sand facilities as well as the large roundhouse and turntable.  The roundhouse functions as a service garage for locomotives.  Within the roundhouse, flues are cleaned, equipment is checked, and the train is prepared for its next run.  The turntable swings the iron horses around, sending them out on the proper track for their next journey.

Railroad stations, or depots, are also found all along the route - varying in size and scope depending on the size of the town.  These are, of course, where passengers boarded the trains and where they met their family and friends when they reached their destination.