APRHF Rail Rangers South Shore Line Educational Programs: August – December 2018 Schedule Announced

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.

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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.”

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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’.

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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 info@railrangers.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.

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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.

Mark Your Calendars: APRHF Rail Rangers Annouce Summer 2018 South Shore Schedule

This spring and summer will definitely be a busy one for the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s Rail Rangers program. Volunteer Interpretive Guides with our 501(c)(3) non-profit organization will be presenting more than one dozen on-board educational programs on the South Shore Line between the months of April and August. Get your calendar out and plan to join us for a trip or two! The best part is… there is no extra cost above your regular train ticket to participate. One-way adult fares are $13.50 or less… making it extremely affordable for families to travel and learn about the people, places, and history right outside their window between Chicago and South Bend. There’s no reservations needed either — just hop on and off where you want.

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For the past eight months now, volunteers with the APRHF Rail Rangers have been riding the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana, on select weekend dates, sharing interesting facts with passengers about what they are seeing out their windows. The South South Line is one of the very last electric interurban railroads left anywhere in the United States; it connects Downtown Chicago with communities such as Hammond, Gary, Dune Park, Beverly Shores, Michigan City, Hudson Lake, and South Bend. The train line is quite scenic, passing through (or very close to) four National Park Service units — including the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor, Pullman National Monument, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the Kankakee River National Water Trail.

Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern says, “The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, who runs the South Shore Line, has been incredibly supportive of having APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides aboard. Their management team received such positive feedback from passengers about our programs that our initial six-month test period was extended into 2019 now. We are so glad the NICTD agrees with us — that passengers get so much more out of their rides when they know about the cool things out their window.”

Interpretive Guide Kathy Bruecker, who has narrated on several South Shore Line trips for the APRHF Rail Rangers adds, “I really enjoy telling people about the lesser-known stories along the route. In Michigan City, the route of the South Shore crosses where President Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral Train passed through on May 1, 1865. Residents of the town turned out by the thousands and built a giant arch to commemorate the slain leader. A bit down the line, there is a small lake that contains jelly fish. People don’t expect that in Indiana. These jelly fish are just about the size of nickles and contain very small stingers. No one really even know how they got there. There are even swamps we pass by in St. Joseph County that contain carnivorous plants. Even regular South Shore Line riders are stunned at some of the things out there they didn’t know about.”

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Passengers can learn about these stories and much more by riding with the APRHF Rail Rangers this coming spring and summer on the South Shore Line.

Interpretive Guides typically ride one round-trip between Chicago-Millennium Station and South Bend-Airport Station two to three Saturdays per month. Eastbound trips leave Downtown Chicago at 8:40am Central Time and arrive in South Bend at 12:10pm Eastern Time. Westbound trips leave South Bend at 1:05pm Eastern Time and return to Downtown Chicago at 2:40pm Central Time. Programs are presented on one car of the train – just look for the yellow Rail Rangers signs to see what car Guides are in. Seating is on a first come, first serve basis… no reservations are taken.

Upcoming Spring/Summer 2018 Program Dates are below:

APRIL: April 7*, April 14 & April 28

MAY: May 5* & May 19

JUNE: June 3* & June 16*

JULY: July 8* & July 14

AUGUST: August 11, August 20* (for a private group), August 25

(Dates with an asterisk indicate our ‘enhanced’ programs that feature our Junior Rail Rangers program and our APRHF Passport Program Cancellation Stamps)

Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern says, “We are really excited about the positive response travelers have had to our programs. We have even got contacted by several private travel groups in the past couple of months that want us to narrate for them. In March, we did a special private program for more than 40 members of the Duneland Seniors organization. At the end of August, we are doing another special private program for Farmers on the Bum, a group of friends from Appleton, Wisconsin who travel together every year somewhere. It’s really cool they heard about the Rail Rangers and want to check out the amazing South Shore Line.”

Passengers who travel on other South Shore Line departures when Interpretive Guides are not aboard, can still learn about the sites out their window through a route guide book written by the Rail Rangers. “Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to South Bend, IN”, which contains more than 100 pages of information, is available online at MidwestRails.com as both a regular hard copy book ($20) and a downloadable e-book PDF file ($15). We’re told a podcast version is even in the works for later this summer! Proceeds from the sale of route guides go toward funding the APRHF Rail Rangers’ program on the South Shore, including expenses for route guide sheets and other handouts, a wireless speaker system, and the insurance required by the NICTD. A limited number of route guidebooks are sometimes for sale on select South Shore Line excursions, too.

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The American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation began its on-board educational programs in 2012, co-sponsoring an Amtrak/National Park Service Trails & Rails route through Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. In 2015, the APRHF’s Trails & Rails program transitioned into the APRHF Rail Rangers. The organization’s main focus is providing on-board educational programs on private rail excursions on historic private rail excursions across the Upper Midwest. Public programs on the South Shore launched on August 5, 2017.

For more information about the APRHF Rail Rangers, check out their websites, DunesTrain.com and RailRangers.org, or drop their management team an e-mail at info@railrangers.org. You can also connect via Facebook and Twitter.

APRHF Rail Rangers’ Spring & Summer 2018 Private Rail Schedule: Illinois, Missouri, Michigan & More…

The APRHF Rail Rangers have been working hard with their private rail partners over the last few months to design memorable excursions once again in 2018. Tickets are on sale now for all three of these trips – so here is a sneak peek:

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CHICAGO TO ST. LOUIS, MO: Join APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guide Dave Poole on Friday, April 27, 2018 for a trip on the old Alton Route between Chicago and St. Louis, MO. This trip is organized by Zephyr Route Tours and will feature a private full-length dome car. The train departs Chicago Union Station at 9:25am and arrives into St. Louis Gateway Station at 3:00pm. Dave will narrate about interesting landmarks such as the I&M Canal, Route 66, the Lincoln sites of Central Illinois, and the Gateway Geyser and St. Louis Arch. You’ll enjoy the 284-mile-long trip in style with meals prepared freshly aboard the train. While narration will only be provided on the southbound leg, this trip is part of a three-day package offered by Zephyr Route tours, who you will need to purchase tickets through. Travelers will have all day to explore St. Louis before returning home on Sunday, April 29, 2018. The per person fare of $749 from Chicago includes deluxe roundtrip travel on board the restored dome car (with Rail Rangers narration one way), meals and beverages aboard the train, and transfers to/from the hotel with two nights lodging. Lower fares may be available from Bloomington and Springfield (subject to availability). An optional trolley tour of St. Louis will be offered during the weekend for an extra cost. Those interested in making reservations should contact Zephyr Route Tours directly at (630) 542-3607, or zephyr360@att.net.

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CHICAGO TO KALAMAZOO, MI: Join APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guide Fred Glure on Saturday, May 5, 2018 for a trip through the south side of Chicago, the historic steel-mill region of Northwest Indiana, and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore en route to Kalamazoo, Michigan. APRHF Rail Rangers will be teaming up with the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago for a weekend trip between Chicago and Kalamazoo, Michigan. Passengers depart Chicago at 7:20am CT and arrive in Kalamazoo, MI just before Noon ET. This is a charter of an Amtrak coach car and will feature either Amfleet or Horizon equipment. Fred will provide commentary about the route through Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan and will have free APRHF Rail Rangers route guide sheet handouts for all of the passengers. From Kalamazoo, passengers will head to Holland, Michigan for a special Tulip Time presentation. Note the APRHF Rail Rangers are only providing narration one-way from Chicago to Kalamazoo on May 5th… however, this trip package has travelers overnight-ing in Michigan and returning on Sunday, May 6, 2018. The price is $329 per person double occupancy for the weekend package. Those interested should contact the 20th Century Railroad Club directly to purchase their tickets at trips@20thcentury.org or (312) 829-4500.

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CHICAGO TO GALESBURG, ILLINOIS/QUINCY, ILLINOIS/HANNIBAL, MISSOURI: APRHF Rail Rangers will also be teaming up with Zephyr Route Tours for a day-trip between Chicago and Hannibal, Missouri on Saturday, June 23, 2018. Passengers depart Chicago at 7:35am and have the option of either riding in a full-length restored dome car to Galesburg (approximate 10:15am arrival) or Quincy (approximate Noon arrival). Those going to Galesburg will have seven hours to spend at the annual Galesburg Railroad Days event. Those going to Quincy will head to Hannibal, Missouri via motorcoach for an afternoon of fun that can include exploring Mark Twain’s hometown, or possibly taking a riverboat ride on the Mississippi River (additional fee). Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern and Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern will be on the westbound journey to narrate and hand out free route guide sheets. Interpretive Guides Robert Neil and Dave Poole will be on the eastbound trip back to Chicago to point out additional landmarks. Learn about sites such as the busy BNSF “Racetrack”, Cicero and Al Capone, the Cherry Mine Disaster, the “high bridges” west of Princeton, Illinois, and the camel farm. Yes — there really are camels visible from the train between Galesburg and Quincy. Will you have a sharp enough eye to spot them?Those interested in making reservations should contact Zephyr Route Tours directly at (630) 542-3607, or zephyr360@att.net. The price is JUST $199.00; this includes the train ride and meals aboard the train, plus round-trip motorcoach between Quincy and Hannibal. This is a GREAT opportunity for those interested in seeing what a private railcar trip is all about!

UPDATE: ABOVE TRIP IS NOW “SOLD OUT”… PLEASE CALL TO BE PLACED ON A WAITING LIST

If you can’t make any of these trips — don’t worry! Additional private railcar trips to Wisconsin and Minnesota are expected to be announced soon for later in the summer and/or early fall. Be sure to be among the first to get notice of these trips by signing up for the APRHF Rail Rangers’ e-newsletter through their website, www.railrangers.org.

Remember, the APRHF Rail Rangers also offer their onboard educational programs two to three times per month on the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend, For a complete schedule head to www.railrangers.org or www.dunestrain.com. Programs depart Chicago at 8:40am CT and arrive South Bend at 12:10pm ET… then depart South Bend at 1:05pm and arrive back in Chicago around 2:40pm CT. Roundtrip fares on the South Shore are $27 or less. Rail Rangers’ programs take place in one car on the train and seating is strictly on a first come, first serve basis. We are usually towards the center of the train — just look for our bright yellow signs and Interpretive Guides in black uniforms sitting forward the middle of the car.

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Upcoming program dates for the South Shore are: March 10 (narrating for a private group Dune Park – South Bend R/T), March 24, April 7, April 14, April 28, May 5, June 2, June 16, August 20 (narrating for another private group – One way Chicago to South Bend). Additional summer dates will be released next month.

For more information about the APRHF Rail Rangers, contact APRHF Vice President/Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern at info@railrangers.org.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year from the APRHF Rail Rangers

As 2017 comes to a close and you are busy spending today (Christmas Day!) with your friends and family, we at the APRHF Rail Rangers would like to take a minute out of the busy holiday period and thank you for your support this year… and yes… we continue looking forward to serving you with what will likely be a record number of rail excursions with our Interpretive Guides aboard in 2018.

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As we have mentioned in several posts so far… this month we have been celebrating the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s 5th Anniversary of sponsoring on-board educational programs. Prior to this happening, much of the activity of the APRHF focused solely on the various rail-themed venues in La Plata, Missouri, such as the Exhibition of Amtrak History and Lookout Point Park. While this was all well and good, the decision was made in December 2012 by the APRHF Board of Directors to also expand the 501(c)(3) non-profit’s mission beyond the confines of just one city. An agreement was signed on December 3, 2012 with the National Park Service, Amtrak, and Texas A&M University to co-sponsor a Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief through portions of Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. We reached out to over 50,000 Amtrak passengers during the course of our 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons. If you rode the Southwest Chief during this time, you may have seen our volunteers in the Sightseer Lounge Car in their signature green shirts talking about such landmarks as Cherry Mine, the Mississippi River at Fort Madison, or maybe Gorin, Missouri, once home of the world’s tallest woman, Ella Ewing.

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When Trails & Rails decided to end the agreement in July 2015, it was because of YOUR support and YOUR positive calls and e-mails, that the APRHF Board of Directors decided to keep our on-board educational programs “on track” with the formation of the APRHF Rail Rangers program. It was something we would have direct control over and be able to better administer to the wants of our passengers. The rest has been history and amazing almost three years now of having our Interpretive Guides aboard dozens of private rail excursions — and now programs every two weeks or so on the South Shore Line.

APRHF Vice President Robert Tabern says, “Things have worked out so well with the APRHF Rail Rangers thanks to our supporters — especially folks who are APRHF Members. When we started the program back on July 20, 2015, we didn’t know what would happen. Obviously, we didn’t have the funds to organize our own private rail excursions. All we knew was because of Trails & Rails’ exclusive agreement with Amtrak, we have to find some other venue to do our programs. Private rail excursions was about the only route for us to go at the time.”

Succeed the APRHF Rail Rangers did. The organization currently has eight different partnership agreements in place to put its programs on for both public and private rail excursions; these include Friends of the 261, Zephyr Route Tours, American Rail Excursions, Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, Paxrail, South Shore Line, the National Park Service (Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore), and the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago. This doesn’t even include special short-term partnerships the APRHF Rail Rangers have had to do special programs, like with Iowa Pacific on the Hoosier State and the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP).

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APRHF Secretary and Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern says, “We are so happy when we get a round of applause at the end of our programs from passengers. We always have people coming up to us on the train and asking how much more they have to pay to listen to our narration. Or sometimes we have people saying we have the best job in the world to be paid to narrate on trains all day long. It’s at that point, we explain we are part of a volunteer group called the APRHF Rail Rangers. It doesn’t cost you anything more to listen to us — we do it because we want people to be educated on what they are seeing out their window. And even though we DO think we have the best job in the world being part of the APRHF and the Rail Rangers, it’s a volunteer job. We don’t get paid anything for what we do. All of our Interpretive Guides have paid jobs during the week — we just do this on the weekends because we love spending time with all of the grateful passengers. It’s not about us — it’s about giving back and enhancing passengers’ experiences.”

Since the end of 2017 is just a week away, it’s time to look back and look forward.

The year 2017 saw some pretty exciting private rail excursions for the APRHF Rail Rangers. The “premiere” trip of the year took place between August 19-22, 2017, when more than 50 passengers boarded a full-length dome car in Chicago. Our partner for the weekend was Mike Abernathy and Zephyr Route Tours. The destination was the APRHF Headquarters city of La Plata, Missouri. It was there all of the passengers spent two days and three nights. Stops in the area included the Walt Disney Museum in Marceline and a guided tour at Thousand Hills State Park. An unplanned stop to see the Weinermobile in Kirksville was even thrown in there! The real reason people made this trip was to see the Great American Total Solar Eclipse. Instead of fighting crowds and traffic, a special viewing was arranged at a private horse farm near Boonville, Missouri. The clouds broke just in time for everyone to witness the rare phenomenon. We even had Timm Bottoni aboard, who is an expert astronomer from the Chicagoland area to explain what everyone was viewing. It took everyone’s breath away when the horses and cattle began coming back to the barns when they thought it was sunset… but then they turned around and walked back out to the fields after the eclipse happened and it began to get lighter.

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Other private rail excursions in 2017 included trips to St. Louis, Springfield, and the Twin Cities with American Rail Excursions. The Friends of the 261 offered up their annual North Pole Express steam trip earlier this month in Saint Paul, Minnesota — our Interpretive Guides worked seven of the departures in just one day! Zephyr Route also featured trips to Galesburg, Quincy, Hannibal, and the Twin Cities.

Of course another big development in 2017 for the APRHF Rail Rangers happened with our public rail trips. We started the first two months of this year continuing on with our narration aboard the ex-Santa Fe dome car on the Hoosier State on select Sunday mornings between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois. Unfortunately, on March 1, 2017, Amtrak took back over the route from our partner – Iowa Pacific Holdings. Even though the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) got positive reviews about our onboard educational programs, Amtrak decided it did not want our Interpretive Guides aboard. Our last Hoosier State program took lace on Saturday, February 25, 2017. After some re-shuffling, INDOT made the initial contact to get our public program shifted over to the South Shore Line. Our Interpretive Guides spent much of the spring and summer leaning the new route – with the first program launching on Saturday, August 5, 2017. In just five months, a whole new program was developed! That’s pretty good for an all-volunteer group. The South Shore Line received so much positive feedback from passengers, a long-term deal was recently signed with even the National Park Service coming aboard to be a co-sponsor. Again, all of this happens because of YOUR e-mail and YOUR support… including YOU becoming a new APRHF Member or by renewing your membership.

This time of the year is also one to look ahead.

Right now, we continue to work with our private rail partners on 2018 trips. Some of the destinations we may be headed to in the New Year? Well, St. Paul, Duluth, Hannibal, Quincy, Galesburg, Springfield, St. Louis, and many more are in the planning phases. We are not quite ready to announce any dates yet — but we are hoping to have something for you by late February or early March, if not even sometime next month. Stay tuned! Of course, feedback on where you would like to go in a historic dome car or observation car is always welcome. Just drop us an e-mail at railrangers@aprhf.org.

We also are excited to continue our South Shore Line program in 2018. We’ll be going out this Saturday (December 30, 2017) and three times in January 2018 (January 6, January 20, and January 27). We will also be posting our February, March, and April dates on here soon! Check back for a post on this website on New Years’ Day that will list those… we are expecting to do at least seven additional programs during this period. The best part of the South Shore programs are — there are NO reservations. Just hop on when you want on an assigned Rail Rangers dates and enjoy. It’s just $27 round-trip from Chicago to South Bend. You get more than 4 hours worth of narration during that time and a 180 mile train ride.

So, time to get off the ol’ computer and wrap this up… so we can enjoy some time with our families opening presents today! But, once again, THANK YOU for being an APRHF Member and/or supporter of our APRHF Rail Rangers program. If you haven’t already, please give us a “like” on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/railrangers. We are very close to getting 400 “likes”! A little elf told us that there’s even a special Christmas message LIVE from Union Station over there for you to watch now. If you have ridden with the APRHF Rail Rangers, but haven’t taken the full leap of becoming an APRHF Member — we encourage you to do that in the New Year. Memberships start at just $10 per year — that’s like 83 cents per month. We also offer higher membership that will further your experience. For example, for just $65 a month, you get a NARM reciprocal membership deal that also lets you into hundreds of museums across the country for free. You can easily make up that $65 you spend in membership dues with what you save by visiting other museums. All of the money raised goes towards the various APRHF venues in La Plata, but also for supporting the Rail Rangers program — and upkeep on our wireless speaker system, research, and paying for the maps and handouts we give out to passengers for free.

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Rail Rangers Update: NPS Added as Partner, Long-Term Deal Reached for South Shore Line Educational Programs

BREAKING NEWS! There have been two exciting new developments concerning the APRHF Rail Rangers’ program on the South Shore Line that we are happy to share with you.

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First, a meeting was held earlier this morning (Thursday, November 30, 2017) between the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s Board of Directors and management of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (owners/operators of the South Shore Line). The purpose was to assess how things have been going the past four months since Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides started giving programs on the train. Since early August, Guides have been aboard two to three Saturdays per month, doing a program round-trip between Chicago-Millennium Station and South Bend, Indiana. During the meeting, both South Shore Line and APRHF officials reported that there has been nothing but positive feedback received, with several dozen passenger riding specifically to hear the Rail Rangers’ live narration. This includes at least one group of senior citizens and a special excursion organized in early November by the National Association of Railroad Passengers for their Rail Nation Event in Chicago. Extensive media coverage, including from South Bend’s CBS affiliate, WSBT-TV, was also given to the program. The initial six-month “test period” was set to expire on January 31, 2018. However, due to the positive feedback received from passengers in the first four months, NICTD and the APRHF have agreed to waive the test period and a proceed immediately with a long-term agreement. Contracts will be finalized in the coming days and weeks ahead.

APRHF Vice President Robert Tabern says, “We are happy that our educational programs are beneficial to the South Shore, the APRHF, and most importantly – the passengers who ride between Chicago and South Bend. It is exciting our initial “test period” has been lifted and we can focus our efforts even more on providing a better quality program, knowing the deal is for the long-term now.”

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The APRHF Rail Rangers began providing educational programs on publicly-operated trains in November 2016, when it partnered with Iowa Pacific Holdings to have Guides in the dome car on its Hoosier State train between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago. Just three months later, Iowa Pacific lost its contract to operate the line. When Amtrak took operations back over in March 2017, the APRHF Board of Directors was informed Rail Rangers guides would no longer be welcome on the train. That decision resulted in many people contacting the Indiana Department of Transportation to have the Rail Rangers re-assigned to another route. The only viable option was the South Shore Line, which runs 90 miles between Downtown Chicago and South Bend Airport. South Shore Line/NICTD officials were very enthusiastic about the program, with the initial run taking place on Saturday, August 5th, 2017.

APRHF Vice President Tabern adds, “Our main focus with the Rail Rangers will remain private rail excursions. However, due to the costs of running private cars and their dwindling availability here in the Midwest, it’s nice to have a public program, too, that our supporters can enjoy. Instead of just six or seven private rail excursions per year, our fans can ride with us two to three trips per month on the South Shore if they want to. It gets our name and mission out there more, too. Plus, we know not everyone can pay for a private rail ticket. The South Shore is less than $30 round-trip for adults… making our educational programs accessible to just about everyone who wants to come out and join us and learn what is out their window.”

Meanwhile, APRHF President Bob Cox made the announcement today that the APRHF Rail Rangers have become official partners with the National Park Service. In the coming months, the Chief of Interpretation and Supervisory Ranger at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore will be working with Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides to help them learn more about the park’s history and natural features. The result will be even better informed Interpretive Guides on the South Shore Line. The National Park Service will also promote the Rail Rangers’ program at its Visitor Center on State Highway 49 in Chesterton, Indiana, and possibly in its park newspaper and its website in the future. In exchange, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore will get to count the Rail Rangers’ hours towards its Volunteer-in-Parks program, which ultimately means more funding for the park. Even though the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is 150 smaller than Yellowstone in area, it has about the same amount of annual visitors and actually has even more diverse plant and animal species than places like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon.

APRHF President Bob Cox explains, “This is a real win-win situation for both the APRHF and the National Park Service. The program on both private railcars and the South Shore will retain the ‘Rail Rangers’ branding that we have worked so hard to develop over the past three years now. We will not be merged into Trails & Rails again. Likewise, the black uniforms worn by Interpretive Guides will not change. We will be adding a National Park Service green Volunteer-in-Parks patch to the left sleeve to signify the partnership. And, we will strictly be dealing with National Park Service personnel at the local level in Indiana only. Plus, the APRHF Board of Directors will retain complete control over the day-to-day operations of the program.”

You may recall that the APRHF partnered with Amtrak and the National Park Service to co-sponsor a Trails & Rails program that operated on the Southwest Chief between May 2013 and July 2015. During the course of that program, Trails & Rails docents reached out to 50,000 passengers between Chicago and La Plata, Missouri. The program ended when Trails & Rails officials, based out of College Station, Texas, decided to terminate its agreement with the APRHF. The APRHF covered most of the costs of the program, including housing docents overnight at the Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata, MO on their layover. This moved displaced 35 Trails & Rails guides and has left Chicago without an interpretive program on any Amtrak long-distance train. The APRHF quickly rebounded by forming its Rail Rangers program, with the focus on providing onboard educational programs on private rail excursions. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore does oversees its own Trails & Rails program on Amtrak’s Wolverine Service, however this will be managed independently than the Rail Rangers program. Passengers actually see a lot more of the park by riding the South Shore Line than the Amtrak line; the South Shore Line actually has several stops located inside the park.

Because of the long-term deal being struck between the South Shore Line, the National Park Service, and the APRHF, the Rail Rangers program is now looking for new Interpretive Guide Trainees to volunteer on the South Shore Line. Those interested should send a resume to: vp@aprhf.org. Preference will be given to good public speakers and those interested in the National Park Service, travel, and history. Education or teaching or communications backgrounds a huge plus, too. Those interested in railroading are also encourage to apply, however be aware the program is more a general knowledge presentation and does not focus on railroad history very much, except on the rare occasion we have a rail history group riding with us.

Rail Rangers November/December 2017 Events: NARP Chicago, Trainfest, South Shore Trips, North Pole Express

November and early December 2017 is shaping up to be another busy period for the APRHF Rail Rangers with special excursions planned for NARP’s 50th Anniversary ‘Rail Nation’ Celebration in Chicago, a memorable weekend at Trainfest in Milwaukee, two special South Shore Line trips that coordinate with the busy Thanksgiving travel season, and the Friends of the 261’s North Pole Express in St. Paul, MN In fact, we have events going on 5 weekends in a row! How about that for staying active in the community?

Let’s provide a quick rundown of what we have going on:

Earlier this week, the APRHF Board of Directors received a phone call from Bruce Becker, NARP’s Vice President of Operations. He inquired if the APRHF Rail Rangers would be able to serve as Interpretive Guides on two special excursions that were being planned for the organization’s ‘Rail Nation’ Event in Chicago on the weekend of November 4th and 5th. Since the APRHF and NARP share some of the same goals of advocating the advancement passenger rail, we were happy to oblige, even with the short notice.

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SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2017 – Dome Car to Milwaukee Roundtrip: Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern, Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern, and Lead Interpretive Guide Robert Neil will be presenting an onboard educational program for passengers on the NARP’s “Afternoon Hiawatha” round-trip excursion between Chicago and Milwaukee. Passengers will board at 1:05pm at Chicago Union Station, have a brief 25 minute layover in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and return back to Chicago at 4:39pm. Those who buy tickets for this special excursion will be treated to amazing views of the passing Illinois and Wisconsin countryside aboard the Friends of the 261 “Super Dome #53”, which has been featured on many previous APRHF Rail Rangers journeys. Tickets include round-trip seating in the dome car, the onboard educational program/narration by the APRHF Rail Rangers, a lite lunch (assorted sandwiches, chips, and cookies) and soft drinks, 2 free beers and/or wines, and additional beer or wine available for purchase. Those who purchase tickets for this excursion will be able to take a tour of Chicago Union Station at 11:45am and view various special Amtrak equipment displays — even a new Viewliner II Dining Car is expected to be shown. Come and join the Rail Rangers to learn about such sites as the cabbage fields of Racine County, historic mansions that once lined the tracks around Lake Forest, the Great Rondout Train Robbery, the famous ‘Save Ferris’ water tower in Northbrook, and a historic airbase that several former Presidents served at… plus much more. The Rail Rangers will be selling copies of their Chicago to Milwaukee and Chicago to St. Paul, MN route guidebooks on this trip with a portion of the sales being donated to NARP. As of October 26th, a very limited number of tickets were still available for $149 for registered NARP Rail Nation attendees or $169 for the general public. Ticketing is handled through NARP (Rail Rangers, nor Friends of the 261 is handling ticketing). For more information and a link to get your tickets, please check out their website: https://www.narprail.org/events/rail-nation-chicago/

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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2017 – South Shore Line to Michigan City Roundtrip: After riding with the APRHF Rail Rangers to Wisconsin on Saturday, why not head the other direction to Indiana on Sunday and really see the whole tri-state area? We will once again be partnering with NARP to present a rare Sunday morning onboard interpretive program on the South Shore Line between Chicago-Millennium Station and Michigan City, Indiana. This excursion departs Chicago-Millenium Station at 10:45am on Train #603, arriving in Michigan City-Carroll Avenue at 12:30pm. After a 20 minute layover, we’ll board westbound Train #506, which leaves Michigan City-Carroll Avenue at 12:52pm and arrive back at Chicago-Millenium Station at 2:39pm. This trip is also presented in partnership with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District/South Shore Line. Narration will be presented going eastbound to Michigan City, with Interpretive Guides roaming the train and answering questions from passengers going westbound. Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern, Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern, and Lead Interpretive Guide Robert Neil will once again be your hosts for this special excursion. Travelers will have the option of purchasing on of the Rail Rangers’ 120-page route guidebooks for the South Shore Line, with a portion of each sale being donated to NARP. Travelers who have their Passport To Your National Parks passport books will also want to bring them along, because guides will have a special cancellation stamp for the South Shore for Pullman National Monument, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the Kankakee River National Water Trail. Ticketing information for this trip is provided on NARP’s website (the Rail Rangers can not hold seats, nor do we handle any ticketing issues): https://www.narprail.org/events/rail-nation-chicago/

As they say, there is no rest for the weary — as the following weekend the APRHF Rail Rangers will be busy attending their biggest outreach event of the year — at Trainfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Simply put, it’s the largest model train show anywhere in the world. Come out an join us between 9:00AM and 5:00PM on either SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2017 or SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2017. The APRHF Rail Rangers will be making their third appearance in a row at Trainfest to meet with attendees and talk about private rail excursions and their year-round programs on the South Shore Line. As always, the APRHF Rail Rangers will be selling copies of all 11 editions of their route guidebooks and their Junior Rail Rangers program (prices range from $10 to $35). On Saturday afternoon, Junior Ranger Aida Frey, who is 16-years old and has visited 299 National Park Service units will be making an appearance to talk to visitors about taking trains to national parks and be signing copies of her new book. Aida is known as the ‘Sweetheart of the National Park Service’. Members of the National Park Passport Club will also be having a special event at our booth on Saturday afternoon, as they come out to get some new cancellations stamps exclusively available through the Rail Rangers. In addition, APRHF Vice President Robert Tabern and APRHF Secretary Kandace Tabern will be giving special talks at Trainfest for the first time this year. On Saturday, November 11th at 2:00pm, learn about what it takes to write railroad route guidebooks. The Taberns will share some thoughts about what makes a good writer and route guidebook, in addition to sharing some of their funny experiences over the past five years writing their books. On Sunday, November 12th at 1:00pm, the Rail Rangers will hold a special clinic to talk about some of the private cars theyhave rode on in the past three years as part of the program. The special programs are included with your Trainfest admission, but you must pre-register at: https://www.trainfest.com/events/list/?tribe_paged=2&tribe_event_display=list

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This year will feature an expanded set-up for the APRHF that will include SIX tables (versus the usual TWO). One table will be for book sales, two tables will feature model railroad car displays, one table will feature information about how you can earn Junior Ranger badges on trains, and another two table will feature displays about the APRHF Rail Rangers private railcar and South Shore Line trips.

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and what better time to ride the South Shore Line to get to Grandma’s house this year? The APRHF Rail Rangers continue to present onboard educational programs aboard the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend. Programs will be presented on SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2017 and SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2017. Come out and learn about the interesting things along the 90-mile route… including the buildings of Downtown Chicago, the historic steel-mill area of Northwest Indiana, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the rural farmscape of La Porte and St. Joseph Counties. Live narration will be provided on one car, with the program being presented at no additional cost beyond your normal South Shore Line fare. Our eastbound programs begin at 8:40am CST at Chicago-Millenium Station and end at 12:10pm EST at South Bend-Airport Station. Our westbound programs begin at 1:05pm EST at South Bend-Airport and end at 2:39pm CST at Chicago-Millenium. Route guides will be available for sale on both of these trips; Passport cancellation stamps will be available on the November 26th trip only. We are offering a special program on Sunday, November 26th, as this is one of the busiest travel days of the year following the Thanksgiving holidays.

And finally, mark your calendar for SATURDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2017, as the APRHF Rail Rangers will once again be working with the Friends of the 261 to staff the North Pole Express in Saint Paul, Minnesota this day. There are multiple departures, including 10:00am, 11:30am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm, 4:30pm, 6:00pm and 7:30pm. As of October 26th when this press release was written, tickets are available for some excursions, however some trips have already sold out. Traditionally, all departures have sold out weeks in advance, so do not wait much longer! APRHF Rail Rangers Robert Tabern, Kandace Tabern, Robert Neil, and Dave Poole will serve as car hosts on this train, welcoming people aboard and building up the anticipation to Santa. This is the largest fundraiser of the year put on by our partner organization, the Friends of the 261, which operates Milwaukee Road Steam Locomotive 261. The Friends of the 261 has been a strong supporter of the APRHF Rail Rangers and one of our original partners – so we enjoy ‘paying back the kindness’ and working this magical holiday train every year. Ticketing is handled exclusively by the Friends of the 261, with tickets available on their website at: https://www.showclix.com/event/north-pole-express-2017

Explore Fall Foliage with the APRHF Rail Rangers

It’s beginning to get colder outside and the leaves on the trees outside are changing from summer green to the brilliant yellows and reds of autumn. That means it’s the perfect time for a train ride before the busy holiday season is here before you know it. And what better way to ride a train than with the APRHF Rail Rangers… where you can learn about the sites outside your window. During the month of October, the APRHF Rail Rangers will be presenting onboard educational programs through no less than four states in the Upper Midwest.

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Three APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides will be aboard the Zephyr Route private rail excursion that will take place between Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities between October 13th and October 15th. Two private cars will be placed on the back of Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder on Friday, October 13th through Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Passengers will have the entire day on Saturday, October 14th to explore around the Twin Cities, including the Mall of America and other sites. Then, the private cars will be placed back on Amtrak’s eastbound Empire Builder train on Sunday, October 15th for the 410-mile return journey. Those aboard will be treated to beautiful fall colors in the urban Chicago-Milwaukee corridor, through the Driftless Area of Central Wisconsin, and along the Mississippi River in Minnesota. Making the journey will be CB&Q observation cars Silver Lariat and Silver Solarium. This excursion has unfortunately been SOLD OUT for several months now. Be sure to keep watching the Rail Rangers’ website (www.railrangers.org) if you wish to be part of this trip in 2018. We anticipate dates to be chosen and tickets to go on sale around February or March 2018.

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You can still join the APRHF Rail Rangers and enjoy the season’s colors by participating in one of their excursions on the South Shore Line. In case you haven’t heard — the APRHF and the South Shore Line have joined forces to educate passengers about what they are seeing out their window through Chicago and Northwest Indiana. Our Interpretive Guides will be on select weekend departures of the South Shore Line round-trip between Chicago-Millenium Station and South Bend-Airport Station. Upcoming programs are slated for October 6, October 21, November 18, and November 26. Guides leave Chicago on the 8:40am CT train and arrive in South Bend at 12:10pm ET. After a brief layover, guides will present a similar program for westbound passengers on the train that leaves South Bend at 1:05pm ET and arrives back in Chicago at 2:40pm CT. Narration will take place in one designated car (usually towards the middle of the train). The train line between Chicago and South Bend passes through or near four units of the National Park Service — including the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor, Pullman National Monument, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the Kankakee River National Water Trail. Enjoy varied landscapes during the 2.5 hour train journey — as we move from the skyscrapers of Downtown Chicago to the historic steel-mill region near Gary to the Indiana Dunes and finally the farm lands of La Porte and St. Joseph Counties.

The best part is the program is FREE once your paid the standard fare for your South Shore Line ticket. Seating in the Rail Rangers car is on a first come, first serve basis only; we are not able to reserve seats for people in advance.

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Finally, an APRHF Rail Ranger guide will be aboard the 20th Century Railroad Club’s Amtrak coach charter between Chicago and Springfield, Illinois on Saturday, November 11th. Learn about such interesting landmarks as Route 66, coal mining in Illinois, and our 16th President Abraham Lincoln. More details on this trip, including possible ticket availability, can be found on the 20th Century Railroad Club’s website at www.20thcentury.org.

You can also mark your calendars for two special outreach programs that will also take place during this time period. Guides with the APRHF Rail Rangers will be giving a one-hour presentation at the Morton Grove Public Library in suburban Chicago at 11:00am on Saturday, October 21st. Learn how the Rail Rangers was formed, the connection between railroads and our national parks, plus more about our route guidebook series. Then, join us on Saturday, November 11th or Sunday, November 12th at Train Fest 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers will be on hand to talk with you about private railcars and out railroad route guidebooks. Special guests this year include APRHF President Bob Cox and APRHF Treasurer Amy Cox who will be bringing the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s layout to Trainfest for the first time. Be sure to check out www.trainfest.com for more details. You can even register to attend two special lectures being put on by APRHF Vice President Robert Tabern and APRHF Secretary Kandace Tabern. The duo will speak on November 11th at 2:00pm about writing railroad route guidebooks and on November 12th at 1:00pm about private railcars that have made recent appearances in the Midwest. You must pre-register for these clinics on the Trainfest website.

It’s a busy October and November for the Rail Rangers — and we hope you can be part of our fall!

And don’t forget — we will be getting together in late November with several of our private rail partners to discuss 2018 trip ideas. If you have a great idea for a destination — drop us an e-mail at info@railrangers.org before November 20th.

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Passengers Attend APRHF Rail Rangers’ Inaugural Run on the South Shore Line

This past Saturday (August 5, 2017) marked the inaugural run for the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s Rail Rangers program on the South Shore Line between Chicago, Illinois and South Bend, Indiana. Dozens of passengers turned out to listen to the new series of live on board educational programs that cover a wide variety of topics, including the downtown and south side neighborhoods of Chicago, the historic steel mill region of Northwest Indiana, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the “breadbasket” agricultural region of western La Porte and St. Joseph Counties.

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Things got underway with the departure of South Shore Line Train #503 at 8:40am Central Time from Millennium Station. Even though the APRHF Rail Rangers have been involved with dozens of private rail excursions out of Chicago over the past two years, this was the first time that our guides have done a program departing Millennium Station. All other programs have been out of Union Station, which is located about two miles away across the Loop. The original station on the site was constructed by the Illinois Central Railroad in 1856 and was known as ‘Great Central Station’. It changed names to Randolph Street Station, and finally Millennium Station (in 2005). South Shore Line trains operate out of the first level; the second level of platforms below is used by Metra Electric commuter service to University Park, Illinois. South Shore and Metra Electric trains share stations and trackage for the first 14.5 miles of the South Shore’s trip to South Bend, Indiana (until Kensington/115th Street). No long-distance passenger trains use Chicago’s Millennium Station.

At the conductor’s request, our interpretive guides set up the program in the third car back from the front of the train going eastbound (which became the sixth car back going westbound). One of the benefits of doing programs on the South Shore’s eight-car train sets is that one car can easily be designated for narration. Those who want to hear the program can have a seat and enjoy learning about the surrounding landscape. Those who want a more quiet experience and/or don’t care to learn about what is out their window have the ability to move to one of the other cars on the train. Aboard for the first run were APRHF Vice-President/Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern, APRHF Secretary/Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern, and Rail Rangers Lead Interpretive Guide Robert Neil. Nearly 80 passengers were in attendance in the Rail Rangers Car both ways to hear the program — several traveled just to hear the narration since the program was advertised in media around Northwest Indiana and South Bend during the week prior.

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While passing through the south side of Chicago, Interpretive Guides pointed out various major landmarks like the Field Museum, Soldier Field, McCormick Place, and the Museum of Science and Industry. All are with-in easy walking distance of the tracks used by the South Shore Line. One of the “lesser known” attractions that caught the attention of a lot of passengers was live narration about Woods Oak Cemetery, located just west of the South Shore Line tracks near 67th Street. More than 4,000 Confederate Civil War Prisoners of War are buried here. They died while being held between 1863 and 1865 at Chicago’s Camp Douglas. It was considered the “Andersonville of the North” and was the largest Prisoner of War Camp operated by the Union Army. Even several life-long Chicagoans on the train admitted that they didn’t know about Camp Douglas or that thousands of Confederate soldiers are buried in a mass grave on the south side of Chicago.

Both rail enthusiasts and those who knew little about railroad history alike enjoyed passing by Pullman National Monument. The South Shore Line travels right by the clock tower and administration building of the old Pullman Factory. George Pullman set up shop here in the late 1800′s to make sleeping cars. The area morphed into a “company town” with its distinctive row houses. The area became a national monument in 2015, with the National Park Service planning a major restoration in the coming years.

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After stopping at Hegewisch (the last station stop in Illinois), passengers began passing through the steel mill and industrial area of Northwest Indiana. Cities along the way include Hammond, East Chicago, and Gary. One highlight was passing through a field of fuel storage tanks. Interpretive Guide Robert Neil explained to everyone that if you added up the capacity from all of the tanks, it would equal 1.3 million gallons. Inside was fuel, jet fuel, and ethanol. Pipelines connect the storage tanks to places as far away as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and far Southwestern Illinois. Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern explained how iron ore pellets are brought down from Northern Minnesota on Great Lakes barges to the steel mills in Gary, which sits on the southernmost point on Lake Michigan. Meanwhile, Executive Director Robert Tabern played a clip of the song ‘Gary, Indiana’ from the musical ‘The Music Man’ for everyone over the PA system when we stopped at Gary’s Metro Center station. Gary was also the birthplace of pop singer Micheal Jackson.

The next section of the journey includes passing through the very heart of the Indiana Dunes National Lakehore, a unit of the National Park Service. The park was created in 1966 after the Port of Indiana was built, destroying a large area of sand dunes – some of which were upto 200 feet high. The National Park Service maintains a visitor center, trails, campgrounds, and even horse trails. Four stops on the South Shore Line are in or adjacent to the National Lakeshore, meaning people can use the South Shore to get to the park without having to deal with busy traffic on I-80, I-90, or I-94. Several beaches on Lake Michigan are even with-in walking distance of the train line.

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APRHF Vice President and Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern says, “The APRHF and the Rail Rangers are looking forward to working with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the National Park Service in the future to enhance and further promote our new onboard educational programs on the South Shore Line. We have already signed an agreement that our interpretive programs are officially part of the Indiana Dunes Volunteer-Guided program schedule. All of our volunteer hours will be given to the park… this helps them get more funding for programs and things that need to be done in the park. We have a meeting down in Indiana with park management on October 22nd to figure out how we can even better collaborate on this. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has wanted to have onboard guides on the South Shore Line for many years, but it wasn’t until the APRHF got involved that we were able to bring all sides together to make something like this to happen.”

 

You may remember that the APRHF previously worked with the National Park Service between 2012 and 2015 when both organizations co-sponsored a Trails & Rails program on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, MO. When Trails & Rails decided to terminate the Chicago-based Trails & Rails program through Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri, the APRHF Rail Rangers was formed to focus on private rail excursions. The Rail Rangers expanded to public rail programs in November 2016 with the start-up of programs on the then-Iowa Pacific operated Hoosier State train between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago. When Amtrak took the route back over in March 2017, the Rail Rangers set their focus on partnering with the South Shore Line. After six month of research and paperwork, the first program launched August 5th.

 

Tabern says, ” Things are a little different in this renewed partnership with the National Park Service. The South Shore has been amazing to work with every step of the way. When we were under the Trails & Rails umbrella, we had to work with Amtrak officials. With the Rail Rangers program on the South Shore, we are going to be working directly one-on-one with the staff at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to promote our program and better educate our guides about the park they are doing programs about. When we did Trails & Rails, we worked remotely with some ranger 1,000 miles away in Texas. That just didn’t work for us. Also, Rail Rangers and the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation Board of Directors will be maintaining day-to-day operational control over the programs on the South Shore. Amtrak and the National Park Service had the controlling interest in the APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief and the ability to end the program. We won’t be giving that up this time around with the Rail Rangers on the South Shore based on what happened with Trails & Rails two years ago.”

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After leaving the Indiana Dunes, the train passes through Michigan City and rural farm landscapes before reaching South Bend. Some of the sites mentioned to passengers include the former Monon Route used for Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral Train, a boarding school that the current Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court attended, a lake that has fresh water jellyfish, and new natural gas power plant being built, and a bog containing insect-eating plants.

The first eastbound program  ended at 12:10pm Eastern Time when the train rolled into the South Bend Airport South Shore Line station. After a 55-minute break, a similar program (except presented in reverse) was given to westbound passengers on Train #506 between South Bend and Chicago. Crowds were even bigger for the run back to Chicago, with many passengers attending a music festival that evening at Grant Park in Chicago.

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If you missed the inaugural run of the Rail Rangers on the South Shore, don’t worry!  More programs will be presented two to three Saturdays per month. Upcoming dates include August 26, September 9, September 23, October 7, October 21, and October 28. Additional dates in November 2017, December 2017, and January 2018 will be announced soon. For more information about the APRHF Rail Rangers and our new program on the South Shore Line, contact Executive Director Robert Tabern and our team of Interpretive Guides by e-mailing info@railrangers.org.

APRHF Rail Rangers Begin New Program on the South Shore Line in Illinois and Indiana

Rail passengers who plan to travel between Chicago, Illinois and South Bend, Indiana  are in for a real treat this summer and fall.  Earlier today, APRHF President Bob Cox  announced that  a new agreement has been signed, allowing APRHF Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides to present onboard educational programs on South Shore Line trains, beginning next month. The South Shore Line, now owned and operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District,  is one of the last electric interurban train routes left anywhere in the country, spanning 90 miles between Chicago, Gary, Michigan City, and South Bend. Guides will enhance passengers’ journeys by providing live narration about landmarks on the south side of Chicago, the historic steel-making region of Northwest Indiana, the scenic Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the ‘breadbasket’ farm region of LaPorte and St. Joseph County, Indiana. A new 120-page route guidebook will also be offered, along with free handout sheets.

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Interpretive Guides with the APRHF Rail Rangers will be available to present programs on the South Shore approximately two to three Saturdays per month, with the first program slated to occur on Saturday, August 5, 2017. Eastbound programs will be on Train #503, which departs Chicago-Millennium Station at 8:40am CT and arrives at the South Bend Airport Station at 12:10PM ET. Westbound programs will be on Train #506, which departs the South Bend Airport Station at 1:05pm ET and arrives back into Chicago-Millennium Station at 2:39PM CT. Those wishing to hear the Rail Rangers’ program have the option of riding the entire round-trip or boarding from any of the intermediate stations stops along the route; that includes Chicago-Van Buren Station, Chicago-Museum Campus/11th Street, Chicago-McCormick Place, Chicago-57th Street, Hegewisch, Hammond, East Chicago, Gary/Chicago Airport, Gary-Metro Center, Miller, Portage/Ogden Dunes, Dune Park, Beverly Shores, Michigan City-11th Street, Michigan City-Carroll Avenue, and Hudson Lake.

Upcoming interpretive program dates through mid-fall 2017 include: August 5, August 26, September 9, September 23, October 21, and October 28. The initial test period between the APRHF and the South Shore Line continues through January 31, 2018. Program dates for November, December, and January will be announced soon. If things go well, Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides hope to become a permanent fixture on the route.

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The APRHF first began presenting educational programs in December 2012 through a partnership with the National Park Service and Amtrak; the result was a new co-sponsored Trails & Rails route through Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. Volunteer docents were stationed in the lounge car on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief train four days per week during the summer to educate passengers about the history and geography of trackside towns on the 300-mile stretch of track between Chicago and La Plata.

APRHF President Bob Cox remembers, “Passengers who were traveling the entire distance between Chicago and Los Angeles, but who had never been to Northeast Missouri, were fascinated with the stories our Trails & Rails guides would share on the train. We would talk about the ghost town of Dumas, which is supposedly haunted following a major train derailment near the Des Moines River in the 1880’s. It’s not even a blip on the state highway map today; I think there is a solitary house you see from the train there. Another one of the favorite stories was about Ella Ewing. She was from the small town of Gorin, and is said to have been the tallest woman ever to live. Ella traveled with the circus and used her money to build a custom-made house for her eight feet, four inch height. People also loved the passing look they got of the old Santa Fe Railroad Hotel in Baring too.”

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The APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails programs between Chicago and La Plata quickly earned national recognition. During the 2013 and 2014 summer seasons, docents reached out to over 50,000 Amtrak passengers. The group’s leaders even wrote a 350-page route guidebook for passengers who wanted more stories than guides had time to share during their five hours aboard; it is entitled, “Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to La Plata, MO.” (copies available at www.aprhfstore.com).

Despite the incredible accomplishments, Trails & Rails management made the decision to end its partnership with the APRHF in July 2015. This closed the door on the docents’ onboard educational efforts on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief through Northern Missouri. In the weeks that followed, the APRHF’s headquarters was flooded with hundreds of e-mails and phone calls, encouraging volunteer guides to find a new outlet for their onboard programs. Since providing talks on public Amtrak trains was no longer an option, the APRHF’s Board of Directors issued a direct appeal to private railcar owners. These small groups of individuals own and operate collections of historic train cars from the early-to-mid 1900’s that are used primarily for group excursions or private charters. About a half-dozen owners quickly signed on to have APRHF volunteers aboard their trips in the Upper Midwest during 2016. The APRHF decided to brand its new outreach program as ‘Rail Rangers’; it seemed fitting since guides provide historical programs on trains, much like land-based rangers do at state and national parks.

In the past two years since the program began, the APRHF Rail Rangers have participated in nearly two dozen private rail excursions across seven states in the Upper Midwest – Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Current private rail/excursion partners include Friends of the 261, Zephyr Route, American Rail Excursions, Paxrail, Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, and the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago.

While the primary mission of the Rail Rangers will always remain providing educational programs on private rail excursions, leaders of the group also look forward to opportunities to expand programs to public rail trips too. APRHF Vice-President/Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern says, “Private rail excursions can be pricey; it’s just the nature of the beast. By expanding our educational efforts to public train rides too, we are able to reach out to a whole new group of rail passengers who also want to know what is out their window. Passengers can pay less than $10 for a ticket to hear the Rail Rangers’ program on the South Shore Line and that is pretty cool.”

The Rail Rangers were lucky enough to expand their efforts from just private railcars to also include public trains  about a year ago, thanks in large part to support from Ed Ellis, President of Iowa Pacific Railroad. Mr. Ellis just happened to be riding on the Rail Rangers’ private rail excursion to Galesburg, Illinois in June 2016. Being so impressed with the narration he was hearing, Mr. Ellis approached APRHF Vice-President Robert Tabern about having the organization’s Interpretive Guides ride on the Hoosier State train through Indiana and Illinois. At the time, Iowa Pacific provided the onboard services for the Hoosier. After several months of research and training, educational programs began to take place on select Sunday mornings between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago-Union Station in November 2016.  Iowa Pacific and the Indiana Department of Transportation both received incredible feedback from passengers who were finally able to know what they were seeing out their window during the 120-mile journey. Unfortunately, the “test period” to have Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides aboard the Hoosier was cut short when Iowa Pacific ended its management of train services on February 28, 2017. Amtrak chose not to have educational programs as part of their new service model for the Hoosier State.

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Recognizing that for the Rail Rangers to have a successful future, it must have both a private rail and public rail component, the APRHF Board of Directors began immediately approaching several potential new partners when it looked like the Hoosier program was going to fall through. Rail Rangers’ Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern says, “One of the first companies that we approached about having guides aboard was the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, or NICTD. From the first phone call we had with their marketing team in March 2017, they have always been very open and supportive of having our Guides on the train. They knew their route, at two-and-a-half hours in length, and going through varied scenery, was a perfect fit for an educational program. They have been one of the best partners we have had!  We really look forward to serving their passengers and being an outreach tool for them to make passengers’ rides that much more enjoyable.”

A formal agreement was signed between the APRHF Rail Rangers and the NICTD  just a few weeks ago. Per the deal, Interpretive Guides will present programs in one designated car of the train on select Saturday morning round-trip departures between Chicago and South Bend. Passengers must be in the “Rail Rangers Car” to hear the live narration, however Rail Rangers’ Guides will roam the whole train several times to answer questions and provide complimentary maps of Downtown Chicago and route guide sheets. Guides will also be selling copies of a 120-page route guidebook on the train; it is specifically designed for the South Shore route. “Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to South Bend, IN” begins with an introduction about Chicago interurbans from famed railroad author John Kelly. It then launches into a milepost-by-milepost description of the South Shore Line between Chicago-Millennium Station and South Bend Airport. The sale of these guidebooks for just $20 are the most significant source of funding for the Rail Rangers’ program on the South Shore Line. Copies of the book are also available through the Rail Rangers at www.midwestrails.com.

Fans of the National Park Service’s Passport to Your National Parks® program have an added reason to ride with the APRHF Rail Rangers on the South Shore Line. On select trips, special South Shore-specific cancellation stamps will be available to passengers for Pullman National Monument, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the Kankakee River National Water Trail. The train line runs adjacent to Pullman National Monument, right through the heart of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and just a few miles away from the recently-designated Kankakee River National Water Trail. There is a special fourth cancellation just for the program on the South Shore Line that reads “APRHF Rail Rangers” on the top, and “Chicago, IL to South Bend, IN” on the bottom. Those seeking the cancellation stamps must ride on the South Shore Line with the Rail Rangers, as these cancellations will not be available at the parks’ visitor centers.  Cancellations are also available at select outreach events.

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For more information about the Rail Rangers’ new program on the South Shore Line, a new website has been launched. Check out www.southshoreline.org. Of course, the Rail Rangers will maintain their main website, at www.railrangers.org, which covers information on both private and public rail excursions. More information about the program can be obtained by e-mailing the Rail Rangers at info@railrangers.org or by leaving us a voicemail message at (847) 271-1979.

Rail Rangers to Make Major Announcement on July 5th

Mark your calendars! The APRHF Rail Rangers will be making a major announcement about the organization’s future in just a few weeks from now — on Wednesday, July 5, 2017.

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The outreach arm of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation, which has been in operation for two years now,  is expected to share details about a new public train route that its Interpretive Guides will be conducting onboard educational programs on. You may recall that the APRHF Rail Rangers conducted public onboard educational programs on the Hoosier State train between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois beginning on November 1, 2016. The program received immense praise from both passengers, Iowa Pacific, and the Indiana Department of Transportation. Onboard programs came to a premature end on February 26, 2017, when Iowa Pacific’s contract to operate the Hoosierexpired. The Rail Rangers also provide educational narration on private rail excursions across the Upper Midwest.

To be among the first to hear the announcement, sign up for E-newsletters from the Rail Rangers at their website, www.railrangers.org.  Details will also be posted here at railrangers.org and also on TrainWeb.