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HandWiki. APRHF Rail Rangers. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 15 April 2024).
HandWiki. APRHF Rail Rangers. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 15, 2024.
HandWiki. "APRHF Rail Rangers" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 15, 2024).
HandWiki. (2022, November 22). APRHF Rail Rangers. In Encyclopedia.
HandWiki. "APRHF Rail Rangers." Encyclopedia. Web. 22 November, 2022.
APRHF Rail Rangers

APRHF Rail Rangers is one of several affiliates of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve and promote the role that passenger rail played in the building of the United States of America. Interpretive Guides with APRHF Rail Rangers provide educational interpretive programs on-board the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend, private rail excursions, group rail charters, and at various railroad museums and train shows. The organization is operated out of the APRHF Headquarters in La Plata, Missouri, however most guides live in the Chicago area. Most APRHF Rail Rangers excursions and outreach events take place in the Upper Midwest, including in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

aprhf outreach chicago

1. History

The APRHF 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.[6]

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.[7] 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.

2. Private Rail Excursions

The main focus of the APRHF Rail Rangers is to 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 1940's and 1950's rail equipment, such as dome cars and round-end observation cars, built for heritage railroad service. Currently, the APRHF Rail Rangers partner with 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.

3. Public Rail Programs

Interpretive Guides with the APRHF Rail Rangers currently provide on-board educational programs on select departures of the South Shore Line between Chicago's Millennium Station and South Bend Airport station. Programs take place between two and three weekends per month year-round, and 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 8:40am CT and arrives at South Bend Airport Station at 12:10pm ET. After an hour layover, Guides 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. 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][11]

Prior to the South Shore Line program, Interpretive Guides with the APRHF Rail Rangers provided onboard educational programs for passengers on the Hoosier State (train) between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois.[12] Dubbed "Rail Rangers: Riding the Hoosier Rails", most of the programs took place on Sunday mornings between November 2016 and February 2017, and covered such topics as Indiana history, its famous residents, and sites that passengers could see out their window. Services were provided in partnership with Iowa Pacific Holdings, INDOT, and two hotels in West Lafayette, Indiana. Despite the program's success, Amtrak decided not to allow the Rail Rangers programs to continue when it took over operations of the Hoosier State on March 1, 2017.


  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. American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation, July 19, 2015 Blog Post. "‘Ultimate Junior Ranger’ Rides on Final Trails & Rails Trip"
  7. American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation, July 20, 2015 Blog Post. "APRHF Launches Rail Rangers Program"
  8. Trainweb Report, July 5, 2017. "[1]"
  9. APRHF News Release, July 5, 2017. "[2]"
  10. Trains Magazine, July 10, 2017. "[3]"
  11. Lakeshore Public Radio, July 11, 2017. "[4]"
  12. WLFI-TV Newscast, November 27, 2016. "Rail Rangers Provide Rolling Educational Lessons"
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Update Date: 22 Nov 2022