2016 brings a lot of change to Halloween in Southern California. Sadly, not all of that change is good news. Case in point, Ghost Train, an incredible family event that has thrilled guests of all ages for the past 15 years in Griffith Park will not be returning. In an executive decision made by the Los Angeles Live Steamers board of directors this summer, it was decided that the beloved Halloween event would not return this year.
The word of Ghost Train’s sudden demise came in the form of public announcements from LA Live Steamers Railroad Museum on their official website as well as Facebook page – which fans immediately spoke up against. As a result, those early posts (and a slew of public outcry) were deleted, and a much more abbreviated and under-the-radar announcement is all that’s left on the organization’s website, offering no explanation regarding the situation or decision.
Shortly after it was announced that the board had done away with Ghost Train, Theme Park Adventure was contacted by Jay Carsman, who appears to be an active member of LALS. Mr. Carsman was very concerned that people would read about Ghost Train on TPA and be confused, thinking it would return this year; he asked us to remove all Ghost Train content from our site – which we declined, of course. Since Jay reached out to us about the matter, I asked him why the club had opted to do away with its most popular event of the year; one that brings a lot of income to Los Angeles Live Steamers and keeps the trains operating year-round for people to enjoy. Mr. Carsman was very kind to respond with a detailed explanation of the organization’s decision, which everyone should be privy to.
“The LA Live Steamers Ghost Train’s popularity finally outgrew our volunteer club’s ability to manage it,” said Carsman. “Of course, there were other issues too. For 2015 [sic], we really did not plan to have a Ghost Train at all because of the water pipeline project underway on Zoo Drive. The pipe was huge and due to the tunnel boring and the collapse of part of the old pipe, a fairly long stretch of our railroad began to sink in the ground. Just a few weeks before Halloween 2015 [sic], the city’s contractor for the pipe project shored up the mess and injected cement into the ground to stop the sinking. We went ahead and did the Ghost Train but everything was very rushed and stressful. We managed to do it, but the small group of volunteers who really made it happen were exhausted.
“Compounding the problem for future Halloween Ghost Trains were some financial issues, the city advising that our Ghost Train had become a major safety issue for the park due to the crowds, traffic on Zoo Drive, and parking issues,” stated Carsman. Last, they said absolutely no more flames, torches, and exposed hazardous electrical wiring. Then there was the continuing problem of the scale-model railroad is just not designed for such concentrated heavy use. The trains are models, not amusement park machines and the track is a very small scaled-down version of real train track. Carrying ten or fifteen thousand people on the little railroad during a 10-day period is just brutal for such small machines.
“I guess a decent summary would be that it was great fun for many years but it became too popular and complicated for us to continue. Maybe someone might try convincing the Travel Town train concession to do a Halloween event. They run the train at Travel Town and at the park entrance near Los Feliz Blvd. Their trains are much larger than our models and were designed to carry heavy loads.
“As you know, I’m not in any way a spokesperson for the club and I’m not a member of the board of directors. However, I think I’ve given you a pretty accurate description of what happened.”
We thank Jay for being so open with us and appreciate a look into what’s taken place within the LA Live Steamers organization. This is likely more information than we’d have received if we’d requested an “official” statement from the group, so we appreciate Mr. Carsman’s willingness to help us understand this situation and pass it on to our readers and the thousands of Halloween fans affected by this decision.
As residents of Los Angeles with jobs in Burbank, we often pass through Griffith Park – along Zoo Drive past Travel Town, LA Live Steamers, the Zoo, and Autry Museum. There rarely is a crowd at LALS, except for Halloween, when people come out in droves to appreciate and love what the club has done. From an outsider’s point of view, it’s pretty mind-boggling that a non-profit organization that lives or dies by donations would kill off the single-largest money-maker they host each year. I’ll be the first to admit, I am not very familiar with the way model trains work, but I do work in the themed entertainment industry and have a comprehensive knowledge of attraction operations and machines/ride systems that convey people. These trains are designed for the weight loads they carry – whether on a Sunday afternoon in the summer or a chilly night in October. The weight loads also fluctuate depending on how many passenger cars the volunteers put on behind one of the engines; I have to believe the men and women who run LALS would not strain their rolling stock, regardless of how busy they might get during October. As for the train track not being strong enough to carry the load of the trains during Halloween – I just don’t see how that is a factor, either, unless the entire property is on a sinkhole.
We’re not saying Mr. Carsman is wrong – he obviously is very tapped in to the LALS organization and knows whatever is going on much better than we do, and we appreciate his candor. There are just things that don’t make sense to us, from a practical or business standpoint.
Theme Park Adventure has covered a lot of non-profit attractions and events over the years; not once have we ever seen one turn its back on a financial windfall. Nor have we ever seen a non-profit suggest their wildly-successful event be transferred to another organization. The whole thing is just so strange to us, you know?
True, parking and traffic can be nasty during peak times for Ghost Train – then again, have you ever tried to find a parking spot at the LA Zoo on a beautiful weekend in the spring or summer? By definition, Griffith Park is just that – a massive, sprawling property with limited space for roads and parking. As Angelinos, we deal with it, just like we deal with our freeways and non-existent parking in many parts of the Southland. It is what it is; and it’s not something unique or detrimental to Ghost Train. Further, to the best of our knowledge, there has never been a major accident or pedestrian hit by a vehicle while on Zoo Drive trying to get to Ghost Train. Any time we have driven through the area during the Halloween event, we have observed cars traveling very slowly and respectfully, as there are families with children walking along and crossing Zoo Drive. We’ve never seen the event as unsafe or a major concern traffic-wise; obviously, the LA Live Steamers board sees things differently for some reason.
Of course, all the he said, she said round and round doesn’t change the fact that Ghost Train has been shut down by its board of directors, and the entire Southern California community has suffered a tremendous loss because of it. We personally know people who come from great distances – much further than the Greater Los Angeles area – who look forward to this event year after year. In the past 15 years, families have made Ghost Train a tradition that is cherished and enjoyed by thousands and thousands of people. Of all the Halloween events Theme Park Adventure covers, Ghost Train is one of our favorites, and we look forward to it each season; losing it is heartbreaking to us.
The LA Live Steamers Railroad Museum is a great little piece of history and fun here in Los Angeles. It’s the home of Walt Disney’s train barn, and houses some really wonderful pieces of Disneyland history as well. We’d hate to see any of that jeopardized because of a short-sighted decision to eliminate the biggest money-maker event the organization has all year.
Are we upset by this decision? Hell yes; can’t you tell? Is it a convoluted situation? I cannot imagine that it’s not, since so much of what we were told makes no common sense to us. To an outsider, it smacks of a political or cost-cutting agenda, but that’s a rabbit hole we don’t need to go down. At the end of the day, the community, the fans, the families – we have all lost a seasonal treasure in Ghost Train. Ironically, there is already very little in the way of family-friendly Halloween events/attractions here in Los Angeles. Now, perhaps the biggest and best has just been snuffed out.
And that, dear readers and distinguished members of the LA Live Steamers board of directors, sucks.
- Rick West