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The Sound of Zombies on a train? Ka-ching

Groan. Stumble. Groan.

That’s the trademark sound of the undead we know so well: zombies.

But there’s another sound associated with them: “Ka-ching.”

From books to movies to video games, the zombie theme has proved very profitable.

How profitable? Hollywood tells the tale best. The latest zombie-themed film, “World War Z,” has grossed $540million to date in worldwide box office. On TV, 12.9million viewers saw the season finale of “The Walking Dead.”

The wide appeal of the zombie has not been lost of Christopher Hart, president of the Sacramento River Train, which runs passenger, dinner and entertainment trains between Sacramento and Woodland.

The Sacramento River Train has been mining the zombie theme with trains traveling halfway to Woodland that the company describes as “one part passenger train, one part killing machine.”

The passenger train part consists of a two-hour train ride. The killing machine part consists of passengers firing at attacking zombies hired from the Sacramento Zombie Club – provided they pay $15 to rent a laser rifle that looks a lot like an AR-15 assault rifle. The train ride costs $35.

“Ka-ching.”

Hart said the idea for the Zombie Train came to him a year ago and grew out of the company’s “Great Train Robbery” trips. “I always thought it would be fun to take the great train robbery to the next level – where you would have people being able to shoot at the bad guys,” he said.

Hart said the response to Zombie Train offerings has been strong. “We started on Sept. 28 then we had a grand opening on Oct. 11.”

Though the train seats 250, only 42 laser rifles are available for rental. This week, the company is running trips on Thursday (Halloween), Friday and Saturday, though the rifle tickets are becoming scarce.

“Pretty much every trip we have run has been a sellout,” on the rifles, Hart said.

He said he came up with the idea a year ago, but realized he was missing the most important ingredient.

“I got to the point where we were actually going to doing this – that’s when I thought, ‘I need some zombies.’”

He found them when he discovered the local Zombie Club. On Friday’s trains, as many as 30 club members participated as zombie actors, said Jason Shillinsky, coordinator of the Zombie Train zombies.

Hart is paying the club “a few hundred dollars” for its contributions, said Shillinsky.

For now it provides the club with some extra income – though it is an amount Shillinsky feels will have to be revisited.

On Saturday, he was too busy to think about money, as he worked to get his zombie actors into their makeup and their roles.

It would prove to be a 12-hour day for him. That’s a big time commitment for someone who also works at a civil engineering company.

That would suggest Shillinsky is a die-hard fan of the undead. Not so, he said.

“I joined the Zombie Club because I got divorced and I needed something to do to get me out of the house,” he said. “Otherwise I would just go to work, come home and sulk.”

The Sacramento River Train is owned by the Mendocino Railway, and was launched in 2005 on tracks that have been in place since 1912. The Mendocino Railway also operates the Oakdale-based Sierra Railroad Dinner Train and the Skunk Train in Fort Bragg. The three trains run 900 trips yearly, Hart said. The company also hauls freight as part of its operations between Woodland and Sacramento.

“We think this (Zombie Train) makes tremendous sense because we’re making better use of the track,” said Hart. “Most railroad companies that haul freight don’t want anything to do with passenger operations. This is the first time that we know of that anyone has ever done anything like this.”

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