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Duke Energy Holiday Trains display taking hiatus

Posted: 5:00 AM, Oct 07, 2016
Updated: 2016-10-08 13:53:15-04

CINCINNATI --  For the first time since 1946, the Duke Energy Holiday Trains display won't be a part of annual Christmas festivities in the Queen City. 

"It's something we don't take lightly," Cincinnati Museum Center spokesman Cody Hefner said.

The Museum Center decided to put the display on hiatus as Union Terminal undergoes $212.7 million in renovations.

"The trains are simply too fragile and too large to move to another space, so to prevent the risk of damaging them we won’t be displaying them this year," Hefner said.

The display is being "sheltered in place" in the basement of the Museum Center until its new space is finished in the fall of 2018, he said. However, museum officials are working on several possibilities to try to display the train exhibit in 2017, Museum Center CEO Elizabeth Pierce said.

Once renovation work is complete, the holiday trains will be moved to where the lower-level Flatboat Gallery is currently located. A mezzanine will allow visitors an overhead view of the train display.

The Museum Center became the holiday train display's permanent home in 2011 after Duke Energy approached staff about maintaining the aging holiday attraction.

Original controls still used on the holiday train display

For 65 years prior, the trains were displayed each holiday season inside the Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co. (CG&E) building's lobby Downtown.

During that time, volunteers assembled and then dismantled the display's 300 miniature rail cars, 60 engines, 1,000 feet of track and detailed diorama, which was shipped and stored at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore in between holidays.

Photos: Go inside the train display

The now-defunct B&O Railroad Co., which built the display to train the U.S. military how to run rail yards in the buildup to World War II, gifted the display to the energy company in 1946 to celebrate the end of the war.

"That's how we view and how we treat it -- a collection item in our history section," Hefner said. "There is a lot of mileage on those trains and on that track."

Hefner said the Museum Center understands people will be disappointed that the holiday train display will not be around this Christmas. If the display was just that, a static display inside a case, the museum might have considered moving it, he said.

But the point of permanently housing it at the Museum Center was to protect it from further wear and keep all of its intricate parts moving for years to come.

"It's more important that it's here for the next generation," Hefner said. "We take the long view on that."

The absence of the display does not mean the Museum Center is forgoing the holidays completely. Portions of Union Terminal remain open as renovations that began in late 2015 continue.

Hefner said Santa will make his annual arrival at the Museum Center (usually by helicopter) the day after Thanksgiving. He will then hear children's Christmas wishes in the lobby next to the Duke Energy Children Museum.

There also will be four other train layouts that museum-goers can see: a mountain scene; a layout from the Greater Cincinnati Garden Railway Society; an interactive Lionel layout that allows children to push buttons to raise gates and flash lights; and a castle layout with Thomas the Tank Engine and friends.These trains will go in display Nov. 18.

There may also be some of the cars and engines that make up the holiday train display in cases for people to at least see.

"There will still be a lot that people will recognize from holidays past," Hefner said.