The Party Train

Abhijeet Chavan's picture

Toy trainMetrolink is Southern California's regional rail system linking several counties. The 15-year old system with 7 lines, 54 stations, and 388 route miles serves over 40,000 passengers in the Southland. Metrolink says its mission is "to provide the people of Southern California safe, reliable and environmentally friendly commute option." Sure, but can it also serve as an interesting venue to host a 4-year old's birthday party?

One birthday boy in particular loves trains and is a fan of a popular TV series featuring trains. His mother told me that their family trips were often planned around using rail transit to get to destinations in Central and Southern California. So what better way to celebrate his birthday than to invite his friends -- accompanied by parents of course -- for a trip on a commuter train? Children that age are probably more used to birthday parties where they are entertained by clowns or magicians. Would these children, growing up in Southern California's car-centric culture be entertained at a party where the view through a train window was the main attraction?

The mother who organized the party said that the toughest part about planning the party was figuring out a route. She wanted to plan a round trip of about two hours that did not require changing trains. The Metrolink representative she called had some difficulty understanding this unusual request but eventually they decided on a route: board an afternoon Metrolink train at Anaheim in Orange County, go to Los Angeles Union Station, and then take the same train back to Anaheim.


Metrolink route map

Source: Metrolink Map (PDF)


This was one train you could not afford to be late for. Miss the train and you miss the party. Everyone arrived at Anaheim station well in advance. The Amtrak and Metrolink Anaheim Station is about three miles east of Disneyland and just across the parking lot of Anaheim's Angel Stadium. (Map)

Angel Stadium of Anaheim

Angel Stadium from Anaheim Station

Anaheim Station

Anaheim Station

Our small group of 12 children and accompanying parents waited for the train. The children were very excited and cheered when the train finally made its dramatic appearance.


The train arrives



The Metrolink Train


We boarded and climbed up to the upper level of the passenger car. Since it was the weekend there were only a few commuters inside.

Inside Metrolink passeger car
Source: Wikipedia

There was much excitement as the children rushed around trying to select the perfect seat. Eventually they calmed down and soon became interested in what they could see through the windows. To encourage the children to observe their surroundings, the parent organizing the party had put together a handout with drawings of objects and structures you might see along a train route such as signals and signs. The children had to check off all those that they spotted through the window. Surprisingly these 3-7 year-olds were quite engaged in the activity, observing and asking many questions. Most fascinating were the strange industrial equipment and buildings that lined much of the route.

Food was the next attraction: pizza and fruit, with bottles of water and juice. There was a large chocolate cake too. We passed out plates to the few commuters in the adjacent seats. Maybe the unexpected snack made up for having their quiet commute disturbed by a group of excited children.

Inside the trainCutting the birthday cake

We reached Los Angeles Union Station and after a brief wait, the train headed back to Anaheim. Through the windows, the views were mostly of the backs of industrial buildings, warehouses, freight cars, and the edges of neighborhoods. Closer to the Los Angeles Union station there were taller buildings, bridges, concrete-lined waterways, and graffiti.

Train stationWaterwayFreight trainFreight trainIndustrialIndustrialParkBridgeWaterway and freight trainConstruction equipmentNear Los Angeles Union StationGraffitiFreight trainBridgeIndustrial buildingsIndustrialFreight trainSpeeding trainSuburban developmentTrain station

When we arrived back at Anaheim, the children did not want to leave the train. Getting everyone in our group off the train before it departed again was a close call. Reluctant children had to be persuaded. Extra pizza was distributed to other passengers before we exited the train. Then we counted the children. Then we counted the children again.


I told the mother who organized the party that everyone seemed to have enjoyed the experience. She said with a smile that the best part of organizing a party like this is that it starts and ends on time. And there is no need to clean up afterwards.

Waiting at Anaheim station were birthday boy's uncle and aunt. They had missed the train...and the party. They were held up in traffic on a Southern California freeway.
Abhijeet Chavan is co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of Planetizen.



Young People "Training" For the Future

Excellent! Thanks for sharing, Abhijeet. I had fun just reading about it. :)

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