Organizers of the project plan to decorate homes, businesses and lampposts lining the railway with lights, transforming Ashland into a real-life holiday postcard for riders aboard the nearly two dozen commuter trains that travel to and through the sleepy town daily.
Lights will stretch for about a mile along the track, skirting the Randolph-Macon College campus and ending along England Street, where stately Victorian homes will be lighted by homeowners. Dan Bartges, a board member on the Ashland Main Street Association, is hopeful the effort, called “Light Up the Tracks,” will draw national visibility.
The decorating will culminate in a grand illumination at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 5, and the lights will remain illuminated through the new year. Amtrak and CSX each plan to mount a GoPro camera on one of their locomotives to capture the perspective of riders as they chug along the lighted railway, Bartges said.
At its Oct. 6 meeting, the Town Council voted to move $7,500 from its unreserved fund balance to its general fund to help finance the project, though Bartges said the project likely will come in under budget. The Main Street Association also set aside $1,700, he said.
Twenty-one Amtrak trains and 42 freights pass through the town daily, and a quarter of a million travelers come through Ashland during the holidays, he said.
The town’s rich tradition with trains spans nearly two centuries. A resort that was opened in the town’s early years was built around the tracks, the premium residential real estate is situated along it, and people on the street are commonly seen waving at engineers and travelers aboard passing trains.
The community has embraced the event, Bartges said. Elementary school students crafted the ornaments hung on the tree, and at least one organization has independently planned an event to coincide with the grand illumination, which will feature a choral group made up of whomever wishes to partake.
He said: “It’s a good thing for everybody. The town gets exposure; the travelers are going to get a nice, uplifting surprise and a nice holiday greeting.”