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Ghost Train 2008 Review

Travel Town in Griffith Park is haunted. Dozens of ghosts, spooks, spectres, spiders, and skeletons lurk in the darkness, haunting houses, floating among the trees, and otherwise terrorizing the tracks of the Ghost Train. This is the 7-1/2 inch gauge motorized train that the  Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum operates on Sunday year-round during daylight hours; now, for October, it has been specially decorated with over thirty supernatural scenes for after dark, turning it into the most family friendly event for Halloween in Los Angeles.

This is not a traditional Halloween haunt. Nothing jumps out at you.  Most of the figures are static mannequins; a few have some kind of mechanics to make them pop up, and there is a nicely staged group of ghosts dimly glimpsed in the distance as they fly through the air in circles (presumably on wires). In a way, the effect is a bit like driving past a series of well decorated yard haunts, situated so that you do not have to exit the vehicle to enjoy them.

We encountered a slight problem finding the train. The official address for Travel Town is 5202 Zoo Drive; our GPS device guides us directly to the Travel Town gate, which was closed and gave no indication that any event was happening anywhere nearby. Simply follow the road to the left of the gate (in an Easterly direction) until you see the cars parked in the dirt lot; there is a clearly marked “Ghost Train” sign above the entrance.

Opening night lines were short on Friday; our wait was less than ten minutes. The tiny trains are more ideally sized for children; they looked ready to topple over beneath adult riders, but we managed to hunker down and keep our center of gravity steady without too much discomfort.

The darkness and foliage of Travel Town, enhanced by a little artificial fog, adds a teasing layer of mystery: as you stand waiting, you cannot see the full extent of the track and therefore have no idea how extensive the ride will be. With various twists and turns (you circle around and also double back on certain sections, the Ghost Train’s duration exceeds twenty minutes.

Decorations range from simple Jack O’Lanterns and skeletons to more elaborate figures and even a few arranged tableau. There are some tunnels crawling with over-sized spiders and/or bats hanging from the ceiling. A few stretches are without Halloween decorations, but for most of the length the track offers multiple sights; even the undecorated areas add to the charm, the darkness providing a sense of anticipation for what awaits round the next bend. The fact that the train doubles around gives you an opportunity for a second glimpse or a chance to catch something you missed the first time.

The only problem we encountered was with an officious ticket-taker, who objected to our camera and refused to allow us access to an area where we could get footage of a talking skeleton (it tells bad jokes and reads off the rules for riding the train). Considering that the engineers and ticket takers were lamenting the low turn-out, they should have been a little more accommodating to someone trying to give them a little free publicity.

Bottom Line: Is it scary? Not really. The Ghost Train is more spooky. But if you are a parent looking for something to do with your children for Halloween in Los Angeles, this is the place to go. Sure, there are several family-friendly yard haunts around town, but most of those do not open until the last week of October. Some of the professional haunts, which are open now, offer kid-safe afternoon matinées, but that doesn’t help you when night rolls around and the children are eager for ghosts and goblins. The Ghost Train is the perfect solution. Kids will love, and their parents will enjoy it, too.

The Ghost Train runs October 17-19, 24-26, 29-31, from 7:00 to 10:00pm nightly. Suggested donation for a ticket is $5.

Click here for the event’s flier.

NOTE: There are height and weight restrictions. Children must be over 34 inches; adults must be under 350 pounds.