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.

Rail Rangers & Ales on June 16, 2018: Milwaukee Food and City Tours Dome Car Trips on the Hiawatha Service

Step right up and get you tickets now for Rails & Ales! The American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s Rail Rangers program is proud to announce that it is partnering with Milwaukee Food & City Tours and Paxrail for three round-trip dome car rides on the Hiawatha between Chicago Union Station and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Amtrak very rarely approves private cars to be added to Hiawatha Service trains, so this is a special experience that you won’t soon forget. Whether you are looking to celebrate Father’s Day weekend…. or simply searching for a unique way to learn about some new favorite places, this trip is for you!

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Travelers will have three different options to choose from on Saturday, June 16th:

Group #1 departs Chicago Union Station at 8:25am CT and rides vintage dome car “Stampede Pass” 85 miles north to Milwaukee on the Hiawatha Service. Interpretive Guide Dave Poole will be aboard the dome car to provide narration and will also sell route guide books written by our organization for those who want a more in-depth knowledge of the route. Arrive at Milwaukee Intermodal Station at 9:39am. During our time in Downtown Milwaukee, we’ll enjoy a sit-down lunch and draft beer at Mader’s Restaurant, then head to two of Milwaukee’s newest craft breweries to hear about the masterminds behind these operations. We’ll visit Third Space Brewing for a choice of pint, and then Urban Harvest Brewery Company for a flight of craft beers. Return to Chicago in style on “Stampede Pass”, departing Milwaukee at 3:00pm and arriving back in Chicago at 4:30pm. Interpretive Guide Dave Poole will also be on the southbound trip to present more trivia and interesting facts about Illinois and Wisconsin.

(THIS TRIP IS SOLD OUT!) Group #2 departs Milwaukee Intermodal Station at 11:00am and rides vintage dome car “Stampede Pass” 85 miles south to Chicago on the Hiawatha Service. Interpretive Guide Dave Poole will be aboard the dome car on the southbound trip to provide narration and will also sell route guide books written by our organization for those who want a more in-depth knowledge of the route. Arrive at Chicago Union Station at 12:29pm. During our time in the Loop, we’ll enjoy a sit-down lunch and choice of draft beer at Haymarket Pub & Brewery, then head to two of Chicago’s most beer centric bars. We’ll stop for a flight of beers showcasing some of the 100+ drafts on tap at First Draft, and then enjoy choice of pint at Kasey’s Tavern. Kasey’s Tavern is Chicago’s second oldest tavern and second oldest liquor license in the city. We’ll then head back to Chicago Union Station for a 5:08pm departure of the “Stampede Pass” for our trip home to Milwaukee. Robert Tabern (Executive Director & Founder of the APRHF Rail Rangers) and Kandace Tabern (Chicago Coordinator & Founder of the APRHF Rail Rangers) will provide additional stories to passengers on the northbound leg of the group. We’ll arrive back in MIlwaukee around 6:40pm.

FB_IMG_1530428455569 Continue reading Rail Rangers & Ales on June 16, 2018: Milwaukee Food and City Tours Dome Car Trips on the Hiawatha Service

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

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.