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Ashland’s magic mile, a postcard-like gift of lights for railroad travelers

ASHLAND, Va. -- Long before Ashland became known as "the center of the universe," it has been proud of being a quaint, picture-postcard railroad town.

"We would feel like our heart stopped beating if (the trains) didn't come through," said Ashland resident and writer, Phyllis Theroux.

That would be 62 of them a day, freighters and passenger trains. Rail fans flock there from far and wide to lovingly snap photos and shoot videos.

A year ago this close-knit and quite proud community decided to add holiday lights to their rail show - a mile-long "seasonal gift for all these thousands of people" rolling through their town, said Dan Bartges, a board member of the Ashland Main Street Association.

Any cool idea in this increasingly hip little destination and residential town is immediately embraced, said town council member Kathy Abbott.

And so businesses and homeowners along this mile of lights jumped right in.

For the second year now, a nearby nursery donated a big Christmas tree. The garden club got busy. And up, up, up went the holiday lights, window candles, wreaths and bows.

And no, don't expect eye-frying "Tacky Tour" light displays. This is Ashland, after all, a town with roots laid down by railroad magnates building large and elegant vacation homes by the tracks.

For passengers, it's like suddenly riding into a landscape of happy lights after many miles of darkness.

"It was really pretty," Amtrak passenger Danene Taylor told me after we had rolled through. "Some of the houses had individual candles in every window and the rest of them had Christmas lights. Very refreshing."

Join us on a video tour of this magic mile as we ride Amtrak 83 through the "center of the universe."