On Wednesday, April 2, 2014, National Park Service Trails & Rails volunteers who live in four different states came together at Chicago’s Union Station to attend an all-day safety training class and orientation session. A total of 21 volunteers who are in the Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, MO were in attendance; the program is co-sponsored by APRHF.
The day began bright and early at 7:45am in the Union Gallery, off the historic Great Hall. Amtrak’s Traci Robinson was able to secure the space for the group. The Union Gallery was an appropriate place to gather for a group of volunteers who love telling passengers about history, as it was once the location of the historic Fred Harvey Lunch Room. (Note the pillar in the historic photo below that still appears the same as in the above photo!)
Chicago Coordinator Robert Tabern began the day by introducing himself to the new volunteers, as well as his three Assistant Coordinators: Richard DeMink, Dick Holt, and Kandace Tabern. La Plata Coordinator (and APRHF President) Bob Cox was not in attendance this year, but the Assistant Coordinators did a thorough job of explaining Bob’s important role in the Trails & Rails program to everyone. Then, the program’s new volunteers for 2014 were introduced and got to say a few words about themselves. Trainees include: Robert Dirks (Chicago, IL), Eugene “Brownie” Ehlers & Shelley Weiss (Sun Prairie, WI), Clyde & Susan McFaul (Northbrook, IL), Robert Neil (Des Plaines, IL), and James Walsh (Park Ridge, IL).
After a quick morning break, Trails & Rails volunteers re-gathered at 8:30am in the Union Gallery to participate in a classroom-style safety training class. Many passengers don’t realize that Trails & Rails guides are required to assist Amtrak crew members in the event of an emergency. Because of this mandate, all Trails & Rails volunteers across the country must attend a safety training class every two years. Items presented included how to properly evacuate the train, the location of emergency equipment and how to properly use it, and how to reach the train conductor in an emergency vs. non-emergency situation. This year’s safety training class was led by Kerry Denson. Denson, along with Robert Tabern, serve as the only two safety trainers for Trails & Rails’ Chicago crew base. Volunteers from the Southwest Chief’s sister Trails & Rails program, sponsored by Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, were also in attendance for the class. Their program runs select days on the Wolverine and Blue Water trains between Chicago Union Station and Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Following the classroom-style training, volunteers with the Southwest Chief Trails & Rails programs carpooled out to Amtrak’s 14th Street Yards, which is located about two miles south of Union Station. Once there, they attended a safety presentation by George Rudar, Network Safety Instructor for Amtrak. Rudar has held that title since 1990 and is responsible for new employee orientation, as well as 25 courses in the areas of FRA, OSHA, NTSB.
Trails & Rails Chicago Coordinator Robert Tabern explains, “Every year, we have to offer our volunteers the required safety orientation class. But, I also like to offer something different too to keep things interesting for them. Last year, Susan Scott with Texas A&M University, our other sponsor, traveled to Chicago to do a presentation on how to be a better communicator. This year a hands-on safety lecture by Amtrak and a shop tour. Next year… who knows? But, keep it fresh with a new part of our trainingeach year is my goal for the group.”
After a brief presentation in the training room on safety, Rudar took volunteers on a walking tour of the 14th Street Amtrak Yards. Stops included the car repair shop, locomotive repair shop, and the office/crew area of the yards. Trails & Rails volunteers got to walk through a Horizon single-level car that was in the car shop for repairs; Rudar indicated the location of safety equipment including the emergency door switch, blower switch, and sledgehammer.
While safety was definitely the main reason for the shop tour, there was also time the Trails & Rails volunteers to do a little bit of “train watching” while in the yards. Volunteers got to see Amtrak’s Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited turned on the wye and backed in to Union Station. Volunteers got to see two of Amtrak’s special anniversary-painted engines go through the train wash (Phase IV Engine #184 and Phase III Engine #822).
The real surprise was the opportunity to walk through and sit in the cab of one of Amtrak’s switcher locomotives. Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern says, “This was my first time in the cab of a locomotive. One of our volunteers even got to ring the bell… it was really awesome!”
Following the shop tour, the Trails & Rails volunteers returned to the Union Gallery Room inside of Chicago Union Station for a two hour presentation by Chicago Coordinator Robert Tabern and Chicago Assistant Coordinator Kandace Tabern regarding the group’s Standard Operating Procedures and Policies. There are actually a lot of rules and regulations that volunteers with the National Park Service must adhere to. One of the things that was emphasized was that all volunteers must spend time visiting with passengers in the assisted seating areas in the coaches and sleeping cars when on the train. Sometimes passengers aren’t physically able to make it up the stairs to hear the formal Trails & Rails presentations in the upper level of the Sightseer Lounge Cars, however they can still receive a route guide and spend time with volunteers to learn about Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.
The day concluded around 4:30pm with a question and answers session.
So what is next for Trails & Rails on the Southwest Chief? All seven new trainees will be participating in training runs between Chicago and Galesburg, Illinois on Amtrak’s “Carl Sandburg” and “Southwest Chief” trains in late April and early May. They will perform programs in front of actual passengers and then will be evaluated by their trainers. The actual Trails & Rails season begins on May 13.
You will be able to listen to a Trails & Rails program on the westbound Southwest Chief (Train #3) between Chicago and La Plata, MO most TUESDAYS and THURSDAYS between May 13th* and September 23rd*. You can also listen to a Trails & Rails program on the eastbound Southwest Chief (Train #4) between La Plata, MO and Naperville, IL most WEDNESDAYS and FRIDAYS between May 14th* and September 24th*. A similar schedule is also planned from mid-November to late December.
The APRHF is a major supporter of Trails & Rails on the Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, MO. Through donations, the APRHF provided the Trails & Rails volunteers with their wireless speaker system last year… and will continue to cover to the costs of the group’s handouts and other expenses in 2014. The Depot Inn & Suites is also responsible for providing lodging for volunteers during their layover in La Plata.
Hope to see you this summer!! Also, check back for a new blog when training trip to Galesburg, Illinois get underway in a few weeks.
* = You can contact the Trails & Rails Chicago Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org to verify that a program is planned for the days you are traveling; sometimes due to late trains, sold-out hotel situations, etc. programs may not operate on these regularly scheduled days.