If you’re looking for something fun to do this summer or fall in the Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana area that won’t break your budget… then consider joining the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s (APRHF) Rail Rangers aboard the historic and scenic South Shore Line! Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides will be presenting onboard educational programs about the people, places, and history that can be seen along the 90-mile train route between Downtown Chicago and South Bend, Indiana. Programs presented in September and October will highlight the brilliant fall colors seen from the train while passing through the Indiana Dunes State Park and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Those who attend the Rail Rangers’ programs will have a better understanding about the four National Park Service affiliated sites and two Indiana State Parks that are located near the train route, in addition to areas on the South Side of Chicago, the historic steel mill area of Northwest Indiana, and the “bread basket” farming region of La Porte and St. Joseph Counties in Indiana. These educational programs are presented in partnership between the 501(c)(3) non-profit American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), which operates the South Shore Line train service.
APRHF Vice President Robert Tabern explained, “Our Interpretive Guides have presented 30 programs over the past year on the South Shore Line… and the reaction from passengers have been extremely positive. You’re on the train for sometimes over two hours if you are going all the way from Chicago to South Bend… so people are very happy to have some fun and educational entertainment for their journey besides their I-pod or phone. We share stories that even seasoned residents of Chicago or Northwest Indiana don’t know about.”
APRHF Secretary Kandace Tabern added, “We have some people who ride the train just to hear our onboard educational programs… sometime they’ll ride the whole round-trip with us from Chicago. Often times, passengers will ride with us to Dune Park… hike around for a few hours… and then catch us back on the westbound return trip. Other times, passengers just catch us by chance not knowing we are on… and are pleasantly surprised they will have a fun history lesson on their trip that morning or afternoon.”
Volunteers from the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation began presenting onboard educational programs for passengers in May 2013; including for two years aboard Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route under the banner of Trails & Rails. The APRHF Rail Rangers was founded in July 2015 with the mission of presenting onboard educational programs on private rail excursions across the Upper Midwest. Their schedule expanded to doing public programs aboard the South Shore Line in August 2017. The South Shore Line is recognized as one of the last true ‘interurban’ electric railroads left anywhere in the United States.
Rail Rangers Interpretive Guide Kathy Bruecker mentioned, “The South Shore Line has been so supportive of our ‘history talks’ on their trains… they’re so great to work with. Many passengers don’t realize that the railroad has a rich history that dates back over 100 years. The current management of the South Shore really embraces their history… and even though our onboard programs are more about what passengers are seeing out their window than about train history… it’s something people get quite the kick out of. There is one location near Michigan City where travelers can see what the train cars in the 1920’s and 1930’s looked like when we pass by what appears to be a scrap yard.”
The APRHF Rail Rangers’ eastbound onboard programs will take place on the below dates aboard Train #503, which departs Chicago (Millennium Station) at 8:40am CT and arrives at South Bend (Airport Station) at 12:10PM ET. Meanwhile, westbound onboard educational programs take place on the below dates aboard Train #506, which departs South Bend (Airport Station) at 1:05PM ET and arrives into Chicago (Millennium Station) at 2:39PM CT:
*Saturday, August 11, 2018
*Saturday, August 25, 2018
*Sunday, September 9, 2018
*Saturday, October 20, 2018
*Saturday, November 3, 2018
*Sunday, November 18, 2018
*Saturday, December 15, 2018
*Sunday, December 23, 2018
Passengers have the choice to ride with the APRHF Rail Rangers for the entire round-trip journey, an entire one-way segment, or any portion of the route they want. Narration by the APRHF Rail Rangers is only provided in one designated car of the eight-car train set; often times the ‘Rail Rangers Car’ is located in the center of the train and is designated by yellow signs hung up in the car. There is no additional fee to listen to an APRHF Rail Rangers program above the standard South Shore Line fare/ticket (a round-trip to South Bend costs less than $30!). No reservations are needed or accepted; seating in the ‘Rail Rangers Car’ is on a first come, first serve basis. It is recommended passengers who want to hear the program board at the origin station, that being Chicago Millennium Station for the eastbound program or South Bend Airport Station for the westbound program to have a better chance of getting preferred seating in the ‘Rail Rangers Car’.
In addition to the public programs being offered this summer and fall, the APRHF Rail Rangers are scheduled to provide at least three onboard educational programs for private groups — this includes on Monday, August 20th for Country Travel DISCOVERIES’ ‘Farmers on the Bum’ Tour Group… Saturday, September 15th for the Duneland Seniors Group… and on Saturday, October 6th for the 20th Century Railroad Club who is planning an outing to the Hesston Steam Museum.
APRHF President Bob Cox adds, “The APRHF Rail Rangers are always available to give special programs for groups too! We have presented onboard educational programs for senior and other travel groups… plus we have provided off-the-train Power Point presentations about the history of the South Shore Line and a look at private rail cars of the Midwest for groups. Just contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to set something up.”
If you are not able to travel with the APRHF Rail Rangers on any of the above dates, but would like to still learn about the train route… you have three other options. The APRHF Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides have written and published a 100+ page railroad route guidebook for the South Shore that passengers can use on their own. “Outside the Rails: A Railroad Route Guide from Chicago to South Bend Airport” is available in both traditional soft-cover book form and a downloadable e-book PDF version at www.MidwestRails.com. And brand new… also available at the website… passengers can also enjoy a downloadable MP3 podcast narration of the route. Both an eastbound and westbound version are available. A portion of the proceeds from the books, e-books, and podcasts, go to support the APRHF Rail Rangers’ onboard educational efforts on the South Shore Line.
You can also meet some of the APRHF Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides during the upcoming TrainFest 2018 at the State Fair Park Expo Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Saturday, November 10, 2018 and Sunday, November 11, 2018 from 9:00AM to 5:00PM. Guides will be on hand to answer questions about our programs and will be selling all 11 editions of the railroad route guidebooks they have written for the various railroad routes across the Upper Midwest, plus their popular ‘Junior Rail Rangers’ Kids Activity Book.