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Li, H. Midwest Rail Rangers. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 07 December 2023).
Li H. Midwest Rail Rangers. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed December 07, 2023.
Li, Handwiki. "Midwest Rail Rangers" Encyclopedia, (accessed December 07, 2023).
Li, H.(2022, October 28). Midwest Rail Rangers. In Encyclopedia.
Li, Handwiki. "Midwest Rail Rangers." Encyclopedia. Web. 28 October, 2022.
Midwest Rail Rangers

Midwest Rail Rangers is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to present on-board educational programs to railroad passengers in the Midwestern United States regarding such topics as history, ecology, and geology. Interpretive Guides with Midwest Rail Rangers provide interpretive programs on-board the South Shore Line between Chicago, Illinois and South Bend, Indiana two to three weekends per month, year-round. The Midwest Rail Rangers also partner with the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad to present history talks aboard their Sky Parlour Car, a former Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway ("Santa Fe") Hi-Level lounge car / Amtrak Pacific Parlour Car. Guides with the organization also present educational programs several times per year on private rail excursions featuring heritage railroad equipment from the 1950s and 1960s, group rail charters on Amtrak organized by the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago, and at various railroad museums and train shows. The organization is operated out of Barron, Wisconsin, however most guides living in the Chicago or Milwaukee areas.

ecology geology educational programs

1. History

The Midwest Rail Rangers was officially chartered on July 20, 2015, however its origins date back nearly two decades through an organization called Trails & Rails.

In 1999, Amtrak and the National Park Service established a formal partnership agreement to place park rangers and volunteers on select long-distance passenger trains across the United States to present on-board educational programs.[1] Docents would point out interesting landmarks along the way to passengers, including the history of various towns the train was passing through, ecology, and geology of the landscape. A Chicago-based Trails & Rails program was established in 2000. The Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor sponsored a Trails & Rails program on Amtrak's Texas Eagle between Chicago and Saint Louis, Missouri that ran through 2004. The following year, Trails & Rails decided to move volunteers to the Empire Builder [2] Between 2005 and 2010, volunteers presented programs in the lounge car between Chicago Union Station and either Winona, Minnesota or St. Paul, Minnesota. In September 2010, Trails & Rails management put an end to all Trails & Rails programs out of Chicago due to budget concerns.

In late 2012, the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF), a 501(c)(3) non-profit rail history organization, approached Amtrak and the National Park Service about establishing a new Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, Missouri. Since there were no National Park Service units along the route at the time, it was agreed that the APRHF would manage the day-to-day operations of the program, with additional oversight provided by Trails & Rails National Coordinator James Miculka, who was based in College Station, Texas. A group of 30 Chicago-based Trails & Rails volunteers were chosen, and the first program took place on May 18, 2013. During its two-and-a-half year run, the APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program through Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri reached out to over 50,000 Amtrak passengers, with more than 200 programs given.[3][4][5] In June 2015, Trails & Rails National Coordinator Jim Miculka informed the APRHF Board of Directors that he wished the end the partnership agreement. The final Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata took place on July 19, 2015.

In the weeks that followed, the APRHF received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from passengers who wanted the onboard educational programs to continue. As a result, the organization's Board of Directors announced the creation of the APRHF Rail Rangers program. Since Trails & Rails holds an exclusive agreement to provide narration services on Amtrak trains, the APRHF Rail Rangers decided to focus its efforts on providing interpretive programs on private railroad excursions, non-Amtrak public trains, group charters, and at railroad museums. The name Rail Rangers pays homage to the organization's roots with Trails & Rails, as Rail Rangers was slated to be the original name of Trails & Rails before a last-minute change by Amtrak.

In December 2018, it was announced that the Rail Rangers would be splitting off from the APRHF in order to form an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The name was officially changed to the Midwest Rail Rangers [6] on December 14, 2018. On-board educational programs on both the South Shore Line and private rail excursions continue to operate.[7]

2. Public Rail Programs on the South Shore Line

The main focus of the Midwest Rail Rangers is to provide on-board educational programs on select departures of the South Shore Line between Chicago's Millennium Station and South Bend Airport station. Programs feature live narration in one designated car, free route guide sheets, route guidebooks (for purchase), and a Junior Ranger program for kids and teens aboard. Eastbound programs take place on Train #503, which departs Chicago-Millennium Station at 8:40 am CT and arrives at South Bend Airport Station at 12:10 pm ET. After an hour layover, Guides present a program for westbound passengers on Train #506, which departs South Bend Airport at 1:05 pm ET and arrives into Downtown Chicago at 2:39 pm CT. Upcoming program dates are posted on the non-profit's website dedicated to its South Shore Line programs at These programs are presented in partnership with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District.[8][9][10]

In partnership with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, the Midwest Rail Rangers have also researched, written, and published a 120-page railroad route guidebook for the South Shore Line. This route guidebook, entitled "Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to South Bend Airport" [11] covers the history of the communities along the route of the South Shore Line, including Chicago , East Chicago, Hammond, Gary, Portage, Michigan City, Hudson Lake, and South Bend.[12]

3. Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad "Sky Parlour" Partnership

The Midwest Rail Rangers have a partnership agreement with the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad, which is located near Trego, Wisconsin. On select weekends in the spring, summer, and fall months, volunteers with the Midwest Rail Rangers present on-board educational programs aboard the railroad's Sky Parlour Car. What is now called the Wisconsin Great Northern's Sky Parlour Car once served as a Hi-Level lounge car on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (1956-1971), See-Level lounge car on Amtrak (1971-1995), and most recently as a Pacific Parlour Car on Amtrak's Coast Starlight train. The Rail Rangers present a free program for passengers that includes showing off various historical displays and artifacts about the historic railroad car.[13][14]

4. Private Rail Excursions on Heritage Train Cars

The Midwest Rail Rangers also provide on-board educational programs to passengers on private rail excursions in the Upper Midwest, including through Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Many of these rail trips take place on historic privately-owned 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s rail equipment, such as dome cars and round-end observation cars, built for heritage railroad service. Currently, the Midwest Rail Rangers partner with Private Car Hollywood Beach (Keith White, owner), Friends of the 261, Zephyr Route Tours, American Rail Excursions, Paxrail, Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, Iowa Pacific Railroad, and the 20th Century Railroad Club on private rail excursions. Services provided include live narration, route guide sheets, route guidebook (for purchase), and a Junior Ranger program for kids and teens aboard.[15]


  1. National Park Service. "Partnering to Connect People with Places"
  2. PR Newswire, July 12, 2005. "Amtrak Builds on a Good Thing: Empire Builder to Get Fresh New Look"
  3. Miculka, James E., National Park Service Volunteer-in-Parks Report. "FY 14 Trails & Rails Statistics Final"
  4. Morris, Bonnie. Mendota Reporter, June 18, 2013, "Mendota on line for Trails & Rails program on Amtrak "
  5. Bruner, Monica. KTVO-TV, July 11, 2013, "All aboard for Trails and Rails"
  6. Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, December 14, 2018 Web Post. "‘Midwest Rail Rangers’ Certificate of Non-Profit Status"
  7. Exciting News About the Future of Rail Rangers for 2019 and Beyond, December 2018 TrainWeb Post. "[1]"
  8. Trainweb Report, July 5, 2017. "[2]"
  9. Trains Magazine, July 10, 2017. "[3]"
  10. Lakeshore Public Radio, July 11, 2017. "[4]"
  11. Outside the Rails Book. "[5]"
  12. "Rail Rangers Return to the South Shore Line" New Carlisle Gazette. Retrieved 2018-04-05.
  13. "Historic car, book, and film debut in WGN’s fleet" Spooner Advocate. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  14. "Midwest Rail Rangers - Sky Parlour "Open House" Event" Retrieved 2019-09-15.
  15. "Get tickets for historic train rides aboard 1950s observation car" Chicago Daily Hearld. Retrieved 2019-08-05.
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