I had the pleasure of being invited to the Rail Private Car Alliance convention in Tyler over the weekend and jumping aboard a special steam train excursion on the Texas State Railroad courtesy of Iowa Pacific, the operator of the historic line.
While the steam trip was a thrill with a run-by photo shoot over the Neches River, the eyeopener of the convention was the interest in railroading that is bubbling up from millennials (those that are closer to registering to vote rather than those closer to registering for Social Security). There is a keen interest brewing in the younger generations that not only want to learn about railroads, old and new, but they want to be a part of it. It could be with a tourist railroad working part-time while going to school, interest in a college level rail degree in engineering or a desire to move up the ranks with Class 1's in management over time.
Older, "graying" organizations like the Rail Private Car Alliance, The National Railway Historical Society (NRHS), the National Association of Railroad Passengers(NARP) and others that focus on everything from history and private car ownership to influencing public policy are actively helping to foster the next generation that has a passion for rail. And those young professionals are coming out to see what this "rail thing" is all about. To hear some of the stories of how they got interested in railroading on purpose or by accident was inspiring. A seventeen year old high school student talked about how he books special event trains for a tourist railroad and handles tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. Another said she would wave at a train passing by her home every day and got the bug to get involved.
The NRHS hosts a one week rail camp each summer for high school students, NARP has energized college campus students to become pro-active for the high speed rail project here in Texas and has recognized a high school project in Crawfordsville, Indiana that restored the city's passenger rail stop. Other groups around the country are also getting involved.
These are millennials that aren't sitting behind a monitor at home playing video games. They are out in the real world and they are making a difference. These are the people we need to continue to nourish and help them grow.