—By: Marty Peck – Linked-In Article—
This is the story of The Ghost Train. It’s not a spooky tale at all, but one of community and creativity. It started when the Shorewood (Wisconsin) Public Art Committee wanted to illuminate this prominent bridge as a gateway to their two-square-mile progressive community bordering Milwaukee. With the goal of telling a story with light, I began by researching the history around the pedestrian bridge and discovered it once carried an important, historic train. The C&NW 400 was famous for being the very first high speed luxury train, travelling from Chicago to Minneapolis in 400 minutes, at speeds reaching 100-MPH. It ran from the ’30’s to the ’60’s, and it’s passage was a major daily attraction in Shorewood.
An idea percolated with the usual “wouldn’t it be cool if…” thought: to combine lighting and control technology with creative programming to create an allusion of the passage of the train over the bridge…a suggestion that would be a “ghost” of the train. To explain our Ghost Train concept, I illustrated this unique combination of history, art and technology with an animated suggestion of the new bridge with the old train. The Committee was able to raise over $300,000 from local residents in 90 days.
The Color Kinetics fixtures, Pharos controller and audio system were installed in three weeks by contractor Staff Electric with audio and integration assistance from Clearwing, just in time for the Halloween “first run”. That night over 1500 people watched as the allusion began with the mournful sound of a distant approaching train horn, as adjacent traffic signals were cycled to red to prevent driver distraction. Crossing bells began to clang and crossing “signals” started blinking on top of the bridge towers as the train sounds grew. Then the approaching headlight swept along the top rail of the bridge, as the horn and rumble of the train reached authentic volume. The headlight and engine barreled across the bridge at speed, followed by nine passenger cars and glowing windows, finishing with a red tail light and a swoosh of sparkling dust.
To suggest the movement of the train engine and cars crossing the bridge, a continuous row of very narrow-beam LED’s located along the bottom bridge arch wash up and graze the side of the bridge. There are 312 programmable 12″ segments, which are sequenced to move from side to side in blocks of the C&NW yellow and green colors. To suggest the passage of the headlight, windows and taillight, “rivets” of 3200 programmable pixels in rows along the top bridge rail move in patterns at the same speed. Sound effects were edited to realistically move and echo with the visual passage, though eight speakers and four 8kw amplifiers.
Since the first run, 50 to 150 people have gathered to watch The Ghost Train each night, as it passes once a night each way at similar speeds and schedule as the original historic train (currently scheduled at 8:00 & 8:30 in winter and 9:30 & 10 in summer). At other times there are 26 different artistic-themed lighting routines that each last 3-4 minutes, randomly shuffled to offer a continuously-changing dynamic color play of light and kinetic movement on the bridge.