Shorewood - It's been more than 50 years since the signature yellow streak of the "Twin Cities 400" train passed through Shorewood, but with the help of some complicated lighting and sound effects, the train will once again roar to life this Halloween.
A portion of Capitol Drive will be shut down Halloween night as spectators watch the return of the Chicago and North Western Railway's "Twin Cities 400," which transported passengers from Chicago to the Twin Cities in only 400 minutes, making stops in Milwaukee and six other cities along the way. Touted as the fastest passenger train in the world, the "400" ran from 1935 to 1963. In its early days, as many as 50 cars would regularly park at the Shorewood crossing to catch a glimpse of the train as it streaked by at 90 miles per hour.
"It was modern, sleek and fast," said Gretchen Fairweather, a Shorewood resident who took the train when she was 8 years old to visit relatives in the Twin Cities.
Fairweather said passengers would dress in their finest attire to take the "400" train, and guests would ride in comfort with air conditioning, radio and fine dining on white tablecloths.
"It was an exciting time for me. I remember details of it so well," she said. "To this day, whenever I'm stopped at a train crossing, I will roll the windows down and turn the radio down to listen to the train. When you hear that train and see it go by, you have this flood of little details - the smell of grease and diesel and the swaying back and forth when the train starts up."
Those memories will likely resurface again Halloween night, when the ghost of the "400" returns to its old route on the former Capitol Drive railroad bridge, which was converted in 2010 to a bridge for runners, walkers and bicyclists on the Oak Leaf Trail. The northbound train will appear at 7 p.m., and the southbound train will appear about five minutes later.
The maestro behind the light show is Marty Peck, whose lighting design work can be seen at Summerfest, the Potawatomi Casino and the Mitchell Park Domes. He said spectators on Monday night can expect to hear a distant train, and then the sound of signal bells as lights on each of the four beacons flash. After about 40 seconds, 10 train cars will pass by over the course of about 30 seconds, and then the sound of the train will fade away. The entire production is expected to take about a minute and a half.
Pulling back the curtain a little on his magical illusion, Peck explained how he uses computer software to orchestrate 78 strips of light along the bottom of the bridge. The strips are 4 feet long, but Peck can program them by the foot. He uses different shades of yellow and green on these lights, which project upward onto the side of the bridge.
Peck creates the windows of the train using flashing bars of lights along the top of the bridge. When the lights at the bottom and top of the bridge are combined, it creates the illusion, or as Peck says, "suggestion" that the "Twin Cities 400" is passing through.
"It's not in any way intended to be realistic," he said. "It's something where you have to use a little bit of your imagination, but that's the fun part of art."
Once the special opening ceremony is completed, the Ghost Train will have regularly scheduled hours. The northbound train will pass at 8 p.m., and the southbound train will pass at 8:30 p.m. Those hours will change on March 16, when the train hours are pushed back to 9:30 p.m. for the northbound train and 10 p.m. for the southbound train. The train will switch back to its winter hours on Oct. 1.
When the train runs, traffic will be stopped in all directions to prevent confusion for drivers, as well as to simulate an actual train crossing. The nearest stoplight on the west end of the bridge is across the Milwaukee River at Humboldt Boulevard. The coordination of the stoplights and other factors required approval from the village of Shorewood, city of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and the state of Wisconsin.
When the train is not running, Peck will use all of the lighting infrastructure on the bridge to create abstract "color play" effects that will be more subtle than the Ghost Train. Peck has programmed 25 four-minute light shows to be displayed from dusk to the early morning hours when the Ghost Train is not running. He said he can create literally millions of different color combinations with the 3,200 lights attached to the top of the bridge, as well as the light bars along the bottom of the bridge.
The sound system consists of eight large speakers under the bridge. The train horn will be quieter than an actual sound of a train horn, but Peck said he was reluctant to make it too quiet. He said the village will collect feedback from neighbors about the volume of the train, as well as other neighborhood factors like the run time of the train.
On the night of the Ghost Train's debut, Capitol Drive will be shut down from Morris Boulevard to Wilson Drive between 6 and 7:30 p.m. A celebration will be held in front of Culver's during that time, with the train making its appearance at 7 p.m. After the train runs, the celebration will shift to Metro Market, where a costume contest and party will be held from 7:30 to 9 p.m. At the Metro Market, a question-and-answer session will be held with Peck, Fairweather and Shorewood Historical Society President Karen de Hartog. There will be music and Halloween-themed refreshments for kids and adults.