The American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s Rail Rangers program will continue providing onboard educational programs for passengers on the Hoosier Train between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois on select Sunday mornings through February and March 2017. For no additional cost besides a regular coach or business class ticket, passengers can enjoy learning about some of the important historical and natural sites along the route through Northwest Indiana and Northeast Illinois. In November 2016, the Indiana Department of Transportation and Ed Ellis, President of Iowa Pacific Holdings, reached an agreement with the APRHF Rail Rangers to provide four months worth of onboard educational programs for passengers. The agreement is also co-sponsored by the Hilton Garden Inn and Campus Inn hotels in West Lafayette, Indiana, which provide the lodging needs for Chicago-based guides during their layover in Lafayette, Indiana.
Upcoming programs on Train #851 include the following Sunday mornings: January 29, February 5, February 19, February 26, March 5, March 19, and March 26. Programs take place between approximately 7:30am Eastern Time and 10:00am Central Time in the upper level of the business class dome car and in the table area of one coach car, however guides roam the entire train several times between Lafayette and Chicago.
Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern explains, “We have been really excited the past couple of months to bring our onboard educational programs to passengers on the Hoosier Train. Normally Rail Rangers only provides our service to passengers on private rail excursions. It’s nice to expand beyond that role and interact with passengers on a regularly scheduled public train. Iowa Pacific and the Indiana Department of Transportation have been amazing to work with the past year to get things up and going. It’s nice to work with two organizations who are proud of Indiana’s rich history and beauty — and aren’t afraid to have us share that knowledge with passengers who are interested in learning it. I don’t know if our program expanding to a public train like this could have been possible anywhere else in the Midwest right now.”
Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern adds, “This is really a very cool win-win partnership for everyone. I say ‘win-win’ because we are volunteering our time and talents to enhance the train experience for passengers. Having our group of ten interpretive guides providing programs comes at zero cost to both the railroad and the State of Indiana. That’s important in this time of budget cuts and financial restraint. The Rail Rangers also don’t have any major expenses in the whole agreement either thanks to the Hilton Garden Inn and Campus Inn agreeing to provide rooms in exchange for having their logos on our printed handouts, route guides, and our website. In fact, we are raising money for local food banks thanks to the sale of our route guidebooks on the train. We have sold over a dozen copies so far!”
On Sunday, January 8th, Bob and Amy Cox, the President and Vice-President of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation, traveled from La Plata, Missouri to pay a special visit to Indiana to observe the Rail Rangers in action. The Coxs, along with their daughter Karri, rode along on the Hoosier Train from Lafayette to Chicago, observing three interpretive guides in action… and even getting in on the fun by narrating a few of their favorite stories.
APRHF President Bob Cox says, “I was really impressed with everything I saw. The program is very laid back and that is what I like. If people want to listen to the narration they can sit in the half of the dome car with the speaker in it — if they don’t — they can sit in the other half. It makes everyone happy. But honestly most everyone we met enjoyed hearing about Indiana from the Rail Rangers. People were shocked to know that a lot of important things happened, and happen, along the train route. The rail line goes feet from the Battle of Tippecanoe site, you pass through the historic railroad town of Monon, and you cross the beautiful Kankakee River, which has been designated recently as a National Water Trail by the National Park Service, and you go right by where they make the buns for White Castle cheeseburgers. A great mix of knowledge about Indiana. People came up to me and thanked the APRHF for having our guides on and said they wanted to come back and ride again and hear more stories.”
Come out and ride with the Rail Rangers on one of our seven remaining trips on the Hoosier Train! Again, the dates are: January 29, February 5, February 19, February 26, March 5, March 19, and March 26.
So… what’s next for the Rail Rangers on the Hoosier Train? In early March, the Rail Rangers are expected to have a meeting with its interpretive guides, INDOT, Iowa Pacific, and its two hotel sponsors in West Lafayette to see if there is enough interest in making the program a permanent feature starting around April 1st. If all parties agree, programs are expected to be presented between two and three Sunday mornings per month.
Lead Interpretive Guide Robert Neil says, “Things have been running smoothly so far — we have found our niche now that all of our guides have been trained. We provide a fun and laid-back atmosphere for passengers. We like when people come up to our table full of props and begin to ask questions. Even passengers who would rather snooze most of the trip are grateful to have us aboard because as they wake up between Dyer and Chicago, they want one of our Downtown Chicago maps and have questions about how they should plan their day in the Windy City. We are there for hat kind of service too.”
Meanwhile, the Rail Rangers are also working with their five other private car partners to come up with a schedule of 2017 private rail trips; some trips are expected to be announced as early as next month. The Rail Rangers will have guides on-hand at the Mad City Train Show in Madison, Wisconsin on February 18th and 19th to talk about upcoming trips. Likewise, guides will have a table at the Chicagoland Railroad Memorabilia Show on Sunday, April 2nd in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
For more information about the APRHF Rail Rangers, check out www.railrangers.org. Our Hoosier Train specific website can be found at www.hoosiertrain.com. To purchase a copy of the Rail Rangers’ Indianapolis to Chicago route guidebook, you can check out www.chicagorails.com.