Thursday, March 5, 2015

Zombies by rail: It’s not just a show, it’s a trip


The Doctor is ready to inoculate you against zombies, if his pet zombie Buddy doesn't get you first. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

From page A1 | July 27, 2014 |

Join the fray
What: The Zombie Train
Where: 400 N. Harbor Blvd., West Sacramento
When: Fridays (6:30 and 9 p.m.), Saturdays (4, 6:30 and 9 p.m.) and Sundays (4 and 6:30 p.m.). Attraction alternates between sites. Check online for dates.
Tickets: $50, includes laser gun; $35 without laser gun

The living dead have been projected onto the big screen, filled comic books and captured the imagination of many. Now, thanks to brothers Chris and Mike Hart, they’ve taken up a new frontier: the train.

“We were sitting around, having a few beers on the train one day and thought to ourselves, what would make this better?” said Sierra Railroad Company president Mike Hart. “Shooting zombies!”

The Sierra Railroad Company — which operates the Sierra Dinner Train, the Sacramento River Train and the acclaimed Skunk Train — brought the idea to life last year with The Zombie Train. September 2013 was the inaugural trip of the apocalyptic adventure with a five-weekend mini-season to see if the idea would work.

“We get all age groups, from kids during the day shows to middle-aged adults during our later trips,” said Chris Hart, president of tourist operations for Sierra Railroad Company and a UC Davis alum along with his brother.

The Zombie Train returns this year with outings typically every other weekend — check online for dates — on Fridays (6:30 and 9 p.m.), Saturdays (4, 6:30 and 9 p.m.) and Sundays (4 and 6:30 p.m.). When the Zombie Train isn’t running in West Sacramento, it’s offered through the company’s sister railroad in Oakdale. For $50 ($35 without a laser gun), riders may enjoy the interactive experience of shooting zombies.

The 4 p.m. train on a recent Sunday played host to a wide variety of passengers, from locals to visitors from as far away as Idaho and Washington. One elderly couple came all the way from Ohio, saying, “we think it imperative our grandsons learn how to shoot zombies before they’re 12.”

Other riders, such as Elizabeth and Lorenzo Mateos, decided it would be the perfect place to celebrate their six-year anniversary.

“She loves scary movies and all that scary stuff,” Lorenzo said, pointing at Elizabeth. “She jumped at the chance to shoot some zombies.”

Other couples were polar opposites, such as Bryan and Vicki Hart, who brought along their 15-year-old daughter and her friends.

“We saw the movie ‘The Polar Express’ a few years ago and thought a train ride like this would be fun,” Bryan said.

The show starts well before passengers enter the dystopian world. Passengers are quarantined and prepped — learning safety instructions for the ride — by the commander of the train Sgt. Tom Pressler and his first Lt. Dan. They, along with other covert characters, take center stage when not passing by a horrific zombie scene.

As the train begins to rumble and pick up speed, passengers with laser guns take up posts along the sides of the back two open railroad cars.

“The laser guns we use are the same ones used for Army simulations,” Chris Hart said.

The targets, a contingent of actors from Sacramento’s local zombie club, are volunteers from all walks of life.

“Our acting club includes stand-up comedians, serious actors and models,” said zombie club president Tom Presler, no relation to Sgt. Pressler. “It’s the most unique entertainment in this area, and it will help you escape your mundane, day-to-day life.”

As the train chugs along, the backdrop of farmhouses, fields and expansive trees is replaced by bloodthirsty zombies intent on finding their next victims. The whole trip runs parallel to the Sacramento River, but not too close so as to confuse the general public.

“We’ve had the cops called on our actors a couple of times,” Mike Hart said. “People have called in saying there is a crazy girl walking around the parking lot or that someone is getting eaten on the hood of a car.”

As Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” fades out of the train’s speakers and the wheels begin to stop, a fence appears through a thicket of bushes. The silence is quickly replaced by the sounds of climactic music and fake gunshots as if the train had been transported to Universal Studios. On one side of the fence is an uncontaminated human trying to hold off the attacking zombies who are working to break through.

“I looked up YouTube videos on how to shoot zombies last night,” one exuberant boy yells.

“I think that’s my ex-wife over there,” shouts another.

After each and every zombie has been shot, the jolt of the carriage signifies it’s time for the next mission.

Appropriately, The Cranberries’ famous single, “Zombie,” begins blaring through the speakers as a gravesite comes into view. A zombie hub, the graveyard features freshly sprouted zombies and creatures alike. To the dismay of the militia, however, one of the rescued survivors has seen her missing shoe out in the scene, requiring a heavy dose of cover fire as she retrieves it.

As the trip begins to wind down, passengers start turning on each other with their laser guns, posing for pictures with the cast and enjoying the bar.

“We have families get really into it,” said Chris Hart. “On one trip there was a family who all got matching orange zombie hunting outfits.”

With a season continuing to Halloween, there’s still plenty of time to get ready for the apocalypse.

This is one train you don’t want to miss.



Evan Arnold-Gordon

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