Trails and Rails on the Southwest Chief #2

As I write this blog post here (on April 22, 2013) we are halfway done with the Trails & Rails group’s training runs to Galesburg and back. Over the course of six weeks in April and early May… myself, my wife/Assistant Coordinator Kandace Tabern, and Assistant Coordinator Richard DeMink… are responsible for conducting training for the 22 other docents in the group. This isn’t too hard of a task because most people in the group have been part of the former Trails & Rails program that ran on the Empire Builder between Chicago and Minnesota between 2005 and 2010… and some were even part of the original program on the Texas Eagle between Chicago and St. Louis between 2000 and 2004. Both program have become defunct and have transitioned into the new program on the Southwest Chief to La Plata. The exceptions to the “no newbie” thing are my wife Kandace (who is becoming a train junkie and loves kids — a real asset to the junior ranger program which she help design) and docent Kathy Bruecker (who has experience narrating and serving as a car host with me on the 261 steam train). Anyway, we are breaking all docents up into small groups (of between one and five) and sending them from Chicago to Galesburg on the morning Carl Sandburg train (Train #381) and then from Galesburg back to Chicago on the afternoon Southwest Chief (Train #4). So what are we doing? Well, on the westbound Carl Sandburg train we sit in the cafe car and myself or the Assistant Coordinators point out sites to docents to get them to be more familiar with the route. The single level equipment used on this route to Quincy doesn’t really lend itself well to narrating (shh! we don’t want to disrupt those of you in business class!) so we don’t use the speaker system, but we do try and interact with passengers when we can and spread the word about the new Trails & Rails program that will be taking place. Since Trails & Rails has never been done before on the Carl Sandburg train, we are finding that most passengers and crew don’t even know who we are or what we do!! But once they hear what is coming to the route between Chicago and La Plata, we have been getting a very warm reception. Anyway, we usually get into Galesburg around 10:30AM and have about 90 minutes of a turn-around to go over what was learned on the route and for a quick brunch off the train. Around 12:15PM we re-board the eastbound Southwest Chief and the docents take turns narrating portions of the route on the portable speaker system under the direction of myself or Assistant Coordiantors. Usually once docent will narrate from Galesburg to Princeton, another docent takes over and goes to Mendota, and so on… until everyone has a turn. Docents also get a chance to look at some of the safety equipment on the train first hand that was covered during the March 11, 2013 class everyone had to take at Chicago Union Station. While to date there has never been a major emergency aboard an Amtrak train with Trails & Rails guides present, docents are trained to help evacuate passengers under the direction of crew members if an unfortunate event were to happen (that is why we carry flashlights on our belts like the crew does!). Feedback so far has been great from passengers! There hasn’t been a lot of material out from the National Park Service and Amtrak that we will be on the train — so word of a new Trails & Rails program out of Chicago catches even railfans by surprise. So far docents have really been doing their homework and are sound good on the train. If you are interested in hearing a preview of the new Trails & Rails program, you can catch us on Train #381 from Chicago to Galesburg AND Train #4 from Galesburg to Chicago on April 26, May 2, and May 9. ¬†This writing was submitted by Robert Tabern. Robert is the Chicago Coordinator.

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