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All Aboard! Holiday Trains Steam Back Into Cincinnati Museum Center

The beloved holiday train display that's been delighting Greater Cincinnatians for generations is back after a two-year hiatus.More than 300 rail cars and 60 locomotives chug along 1,000 feet of track in a newly renovated space at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Creating a permanent home for display was part of the just-completed $228 million Union Terminal restoration.

"They are now in a space that you can see [the trains] from above," says Chief Learning Officer Whitney Owens. "You can get closer to them now than you ever could before."

Visitors will now enter the exhibit hall from an elevated walkway that wraps partially around the display offering better vantage points, especially in crowds.

Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
Visitors now enter from a ramp above, providing sweeping views of the trains.

"We've also brought back a number of historic train layouts, some of them dating back to as early as 1904. For our train enthusiasts and kids alike, they will really like seeing those."

Gracing the clouds above the train metropolis are replicas of the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky skylines connected by the Roebling Suspension Bridge created by Michelle D'Cruz of Reverb Arts and Design.

Andrea from Camp Dennison brought her two-year-old granddaughter Isobel (she asked that their last name not be used) to see Holiday Junction. She remembers visiting the trains when she was a child.

"It was a big deal to come all the way from where I lived to Downtown and have lunch and see the trains."

She smiled when asked about being able to bring her granddaughter now.

"It's really special. This is the first time I've gotten to do it and it's just a really unique experience."

View this post on Instagram The beloved @Duke_Energy #HolidayTrains are back @CincyMuseum after a two-year hiatus. Chief Learning Officer Whitney Owens says more than 300 rail cars and 50 locomotives traverse a thousand feet of track. Some pieces of this historical set date back to 1904. Read more about the #UnionTerminal restoration by following the link in our profile. A post shared by 91.7 WVXU (@917wvxu) on Nov 14, 2018 at 10:04am PST

This is the 72nd holiday season for the annual display that began in 1946 as a public relations effort by the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad. It's one of the largest portable models in the world.

"It was scratch built by the B&O Railroad PR people in the early 1930s," Trainmaster Jack Thompson told WVXU in 2015. "A lot of people think these are just toy trains. These were scratch built by two people! All scratch built, engines, cars... track, everything was scratch built. Then they used it for PR around the B&O system."

The trains summon memories and nostalgia for many across the Tri-State. "I think this is going to feel to everyone like coming home," Owens says.

Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
The train team is running through final testing to make sure the models all run properly.

Fun Facts Courtesy Of The Cincinnati Museum Center

  • At 36 ½ by 47 ½ feet, the Duke Energy Holiday Trains are one of the largest portable models in the world.
  • The trains are authentic "O" gauge, meaning that a quarter-inch on the model is equivalent to one foot on a real train.
  • The rail cars, tracks and buildings are 1/48 actual size.
  • Though the trains may seem to travel slowly, they are traveling at actual scale speed. If a model train travels the loop in one minute, it is traveling at 60 mph
  • During the holiday season, the trains will travel more than 100,000 scale miles.

Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
Two-year-old Isobel shows her grandmother, Andrea, how to run the trains.

What To Know If You Go

"Holiday Junction Featuring the Duke Energy Holiday Trains" is open Nov. 17, 2018 through Jan. 27, 2019.

Museum hours are daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

All-museum Discovery Pass:

  • Adult: $14.50
  • Child: $10.50
  • Toddler: $5.50
  • Senior: $13.50
  • Member Adult: Free
  • Member Child: Free