Passengers who travel on the South Shore Line train between Downtown Chicago and South Bend Airport are in for a real treat later this summer and fall. On select Saturday departures beginning August 5th, volunteer Interpretive Guides with the 501(c)(3) non-profit American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) will be aboard to present onboard educational programs. Travelers will be able to hear live informative narration about trackside landmarks as the train travels through the south side of Chicago; the historic steel producing areas of Hammond, East Chicago, and Gary; the scenic Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore; Michigan City; and the ‘breadbasket’ farming regions of LaPorte and St. Joseph counties.
Through a partnership agreement with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), which owns and operates the South Shore Line, Rail Rangers’ Guides will be presenting programs two to three Saturdays per month. Upcoming dates in 2017 include: August 5th, August 26th, September 9th, September 23rd, October 21st, and October 28th. Additional fall and winter dates will be announced soon. Eastbound programs take place on Train #503, which departs Chicago-Millennium Station at 8:40am CT and arrives at South Bend Airport Station at 12:10pm ET. After an hour layover, Guides will present a program for westbound passengers on Train #506, which departs South Bend Airport at 1:05pm ET and arrives into Downtown Chicago at 2:39pm CT. The train makes intermediate stops at five stations on the south side of Chicago, Hammond, East Chicago, three stations in Gary, Portage/Ogden Dunes, Dune Park, Beverly Shores, two stations in Michigan City, and Hudson Lake. Narration takes place in one designated car of the train. Programs are presented at no additional charge for passengers.
While the APRHF Rail Rangers might be new to the South Shore Line train route, they are no strangers to providing railroad passengers with fun and informative educational programs. All Interpretive Guides who are part of the organization have five or more years’ experience in train car hosting, public speaking, and researching sites along a train route. Between 2012 and 2015, APRHF docents reached over 50,000 passengers with their Trails & Rails talks on an Amtrak train that traveled 300 miles through Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. The Rail Rangers program was formally established in July 2015, and has been mainly focusing on providing its services to passengers on private railroad charters and excursions across seven states in the Upper Midwest. The group expanded its educational programs to public trains last fall when it had a four month ‘test run’ on the first class dome car of the then-Iowa Pacific operated Hoosier State train between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago.
APRHF Rail Rangers’ Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern explains, “No one that I know of would watch the Travel Channel or the History Channel on ‘mute’. You would be missing a lot of important information about what you are seeing. The same applies to a train ride. Sure the scenery is beautiful, but do you know what you are really looking at? Starting in just a few weeks, the Rail Rangers’ are going to be there to explain to South Shore Line passengers what they are observing out their windows during their two-and-a-half hour ride through Chicagoland and Michiana. There are a lot of important stories to share. Hopefully our Guides will be able to impress even the most seasoned rider with some of the history we uncovered.”
Passengers who are not able to ride when Interpretive Guides are aboard still get the chance to learn more about the trackside landmarks. As a fundraiser for their efforts, the Rail Rangers have written and published a 120-page railroad route guide for the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend. Copies of “Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to South Bend Airport” are available for $20 at midwestrails.com. Guides will also be selling copies aboard select departures of the train. Money raised from the sale of the route guides goes towards funding the onboard educational programs.
Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern says, “We are really hoping passengers enjoy our new onboard programs and this will become an added value for people to take South Shore Line’s trains instead of driving or the bus. Residents who live near Chicago or South Bend can access many areas of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore by taking the train. It’s a lot better than fighting the traffic on the busy interstate highways around here.”
At this point, the Rail Rangers’ onboard programs are slated to run through at least January 31, 2018. If things go well, the APRHF and NICTD may agree to make these efforts a permanent feature on some of the weekend train departures. The Rail Rangers are also in talks with the management of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to have the National Park Service be a formal co-sponsor of the program in the near future. Some of the early scientists took the South Shore from Chicago to study what would later become the park.
For more information about the APRHF Rail Rangers on the South Shore Line, please contact Executive Director Robert Tabern at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a voicemail message at (847) 271-1979. More information can also be found online at www.dunestrain.com or www.southshoreline.org