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Lincoln Park Zoo's new train ready for all to get aboard


There’s excitement, and then there’s how Desmond Jablonski-Vovola felt when he learned a few weeks ago that a new train was coming to Lincoln Park Zoo.

“When we found out it was going to be a train — holy cow! — he almost pooped his pants with joy,” said the three-year-old’s mother, Wanessa Vovola, who lives on the North Side.

There was a lot of that Thursday, as legions of pre-schoolers swarmed around the brand new Lionel Train Adventure to take an inaugural ride. The gleaming train — which runs on a curvy road, not tracks — seats 28 passengers and passes over a “quaint country bridge” and through a “craggy canyon,” among other features.

The new ride is a partnership between the zoo and the Lionel train company, which has been selling model trains since 1900.

Wanessa Vovola and her son, Desmond enjoy the free train ride at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The Lionel Train Adventure opened to the public on Thursday. | Al Podgorski / Chicago Sun-Times

Howard Hitchcock, Lionel’s president, said the project is a “great way to engage the youth of today with a hobby that has been loved by so many for 114 years.”

The train, unlike the zoo’s previous train, features a red-brick station — with a roof, which, zoo staff say, will come in handy for families caught in a rainstorm. Tickets are $3 per passenger and are sold at the zoo’s train station. The ride will stay open on weekends through the end of the month. In the colder months, the ride is expected to be open on weekends when the weather isn’t too dreadful.

Little Desmond lined up for about half an hour Thursday. The wait was almost too much for him.

“I want to get on it,” he kept repeating at regular intervals.

When he finally boarded, he stared with wide-eyed wonder at his surroundings and seemed at a loss for words.

“This is good,” he said. “I can’t wait.”