Making Tracks to Ventura : Trains: Passenger service is back with the opening of a new platform--20 years after the city’s old station closed.


Local actors Braden McKinley and Michelle Kinder were dressed as a couple from the Roaring ‘20s. Rubin Bryant, dressed as an old-fashioned porter, poured champagne for the well-dressed crowd on the train station platform.

No, this wasn’t a shoot for a scene from “The Great Gatsby.”

These scene-stealers, along with scores of onlookers and some city officials, gathered on a 500-foot-long platform at Harbor Boulevard in Ventura to welcome Amtrak’s 10:05 a.m. San Diegan.

The occasion marked the official opening of Amtrak’s new Ventura station 10 blocks west of the former Southern Pacific station on Front Street. That station went the way of the steam engine in 1972 due to dwindling ridership.


Loud applause and whistles blended with the San Diegan’s rhythmic, staccato cadence as it slowed alongside the concrete platform Wednesday.

“The train was on time, but it was 20 years too late,” quipped City Councilman Gary Tuttle, who emceed the celebration. “It’s an exciting time for Ventura, particularly the downtown area,” he said as Bryant, a professional hip-hop dancer, turned porter for a day.

The new station will put Ventura on the Amtrak map, said Miriam Mack, city redevelopment administrator. “I can’t imagine a better location,” Mack said. “For starters, it will benefit the fair, not to mention the hotels.”

Many in the crowd placed pennies on the track, retrieving them after they were crushed by the train.

Three-year-old James Ellias was delighted with his keepsake. Dressed in a blue-and-white-striped railroad engineer’s overall with neckwear fashioned from a natty red bandanna, he took great pride in showing others his prize.

Mayor Greg Carson, one of four city officials who spoke at the ceremony, recalled a speech by a predecessor: “Our city owes a great deal to the railroad,” Mayor Paul Charlebois said in his 1887 state-of-the-city message.


Carson said the occasion and recollection of that speech gave him a feeling of deja vu .

“The re-establishment of train service to our city will probably not have the same far-reaching effects as it did 105 years ago,” he said. “But I see the trains’ arrival as a symbol of continual revitalization for our historic downtown.”

Across from the Ventura Fairgrounds, where parking has been set aside for 44 cars, the station boasts a 40-foot passenger shelter, benches, decorative railings and lighting.

The station’s furnishings are somewhat modest, however, compared with those of its predecessor a century ago.

Richard Molina, who was working at the Front Street station when it closed in 1972, said it had been adorned with Italian marble and tiles, with living quarters for workers upstairs. “This is far from the nice big station we used to have,” he said, looking at the new, open-air station. “This is just a platform.”

Molina said that during the station’s heyday, he flagged down Southern Pacific’s venerable LARK, an overnight train that connected Los Angeles and San Francisco. It was not unusual to catch a glimpse of such legends as Bing Crosby and Judy Garland as they boarded, Molina said.

The LARK stopped for the last time in Ventura on April 8, 1968. Now, passengers can catch Amtrak’s San Diegan twice a day to San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.


The San Diegan is equipped with a custom class car where passengers can enjoy light snacks, said Charles Seifert, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

On its way south to Los Angeles and San Diego, the train is scheduled to stop at Ventura at 8:26 a.m. and 4:01 p.m. seven days a week, Seifert said. Northbound from San Diego and Los Angeles, it is scheduled to arrive at 10:05 a.m. and 9:42 p.m., he said.