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Tunnel vision: Just what this trip needs

It's dark, maybe a little spooky, and lasts about 15 seconds. Warm steam may hit your face as the light vanishes.

Where are you?

This would be the Largo Central Railroad in Largo Central Park. The popular miniature train railroad opens this morning with an added feature _ a tunnel.

After raising $25,000 with help from parents and children donations, the miniature train will unveil its newly built 155-foot-long tunnel, for the kids of course.

"It's totally cool," said Tammy Helgren, mother of 2-year-old Julius. "It's just like you're on a real train."

Julius, nearby, played Thursday with a shovel in the sandbox at Largo Central Park.

"We go in the tunnel," he says. His voice lowers to a whisper and he leans in to add: "And it gets da-a-a-ark."

But Julius doesn't get scared, his mom says. He loves it.

The family plans to make it to the tunnel's grand opening, even though they got to ride through it before it was finished. They wouldn't miss it. The train's operating schedule is hanging on their fridge at home.

The train has public runs on the first full weekend of each month.

The colorful 75-foot miniature trains hold up to 25 people, plus the conductor and engineer. Grownups and kids straddle the cars as the train takes passengers on a 15-minute ride through Largo Central Park. They pass through the neatly manicured lawn and trees, pass over a small pond, go by a miniature waterfall, and then, the tunnel.

The tunnel, about 8 feet in diameter, was built by the owners and operators of the train, LCRR. The nonprofit charitable organization _ members must be devoted to large-scale model railroading and live steam engines _ opened the 1.2-mile track in 1991. Since then, the train has pulled over 400,000 riders, according to the club's Web site. Club members expect 5,000 visitors this weekend.

They do not charge train riders a fee, they just accept donations.

George Taylor, LCRR member and spokesman, said the project has been in the works for about two years. Along with a donation from the LCRR, the new tunnel was paid for by public contributions.

"(We started accepting) nickels, dimes and quarters," said Taylor. "All has been paid by kids and parents in the area." The club is still looking for a sponsor to help add two waterfalls and other attractions to the tunnel.

The city gave the 1,500 cubic yards of dirt and small shrubs that cover the top of the tunnel, club officials said. The tunnel sits on the park's edge near Seminole Boulevard.

_ Angie Green can be reached at 445-4224 or agreensptimes.com.

Largo Central Railroad, a miniature line that carries passengers on a winding trip around Largo Central Park, is opening its new curving tunnel this morning.

If you go:

WHAT: Grand opening for Largo Central Railroad's tunnel.

WHERE: Largo Central Park

WHEN: Today 9:30 a.m.

INFORMATION: (727) 399-1199

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