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Can't Stop a Train

Memphis Railroad and Trolley Museum gears up for expansions.

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If you didn't know it was there, you might walk right past the Memphis Railroad and Trolley Museum at 545 South Main.

Museum organizers aim to change that. By 2014, they hope to complete the second phase of the museum's expansion project, which would extend the museum, situated on the ground floor of downtown's Central Station, into the station's 700-foot railroad tunnel.

A model railroad would span the length of the tunnel, demonstrating the development of railroads in Memphis throughout history. Phase two of the development would cover 1900 to the World War I era. Phase three, which volunteer Margaret Dagastino says should be under way by 2016, would showcase World War II to the present day.

Volunteer Steve Albers, a model railroader by hobby and by trade, says the goal is to make the model railroad the longest in the country.

"We want to break the Guinness World Record," he said.

The Memphis Railroad and Trolley Museum began as a partnership between the Memphis Area Transit Authority and local model railroaders. With the encouragement and financial backing of commodities trader Charles McVean, the museum opened its doors in April. It has since been chosen as the trailhead for the Harahan Bridge Project, which would create a greenline over the Mississippi River into Arkansas.

In addition to the expansion into the railroad tunnel, Albers says some upgrades to the museum space are in store. For instance, while the museum currently has a mixture of Memphis and non-local railroad artifacts and model railroads, Albers eventually wants all of the items in the museum to reflect exclusively the history of railroads in Memphis.

Albers also hopes to add video interviews with former and longtime rail yard workers to the museum experience. According to Albers, some of these workers were around when railroad tracks had to be switched manually. (Today, everything is handled electronically from a remote location.)

"What we're trying to get across to the kids is that so much used to be physically done," he said, adding, "There's lots of things we'd like to do. It just takes money."

The museum has budgeted $250,000 for phase two. Phase three, which includes a continuation of the model train and the addition of real, full-sized train cars, would ring in a bit higher. The museum is looking to fund-raisers, corporate sponsorship, and grants to finance the next two phases of development.

For now, an old train bell, maps, a book of train-hopping hobo lexicon, old luggage carts, railroad signs and lights, and more bring to life the world that once revolved around rail travel.

"From the 1800s until the end of World War II, rail was the primary way of traveling," Albers said. "Car ownership didn't come about until after World War II."

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