Railroad passenger car group makes youth the focus of upcoming conference

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TYLER, Texas – The Railroad Passenger Car Alliance will be asking the big question at its annual convention in Texas next month: “How can we get more young people involved?” That question, asked by many groups in rail preservation, will spark a discussion of strategies to entice young people to get involved in passenger rail restoration and operations, but also to sustain involvement in a way that allows the next generation to take the lead on projects.

Ken Bitten from Iowa Pacific Holdings is the convention chairman and says the 2016 convention is “not only an opportunity to attend and learn, but also an opportunity to have your viewpoint heard through a ‘help us figure this out’ approach.” Bitten and others are hoping not only to have younger people engaged in next month’s discussions, but also as an opportunity for railroad owners, operators, and industry managers to collaboratively discuss strategies to get younger people involved.

“What I’ve found over the years is that everybody seems to recognize the importance of getting young people involved, we just don’t know how to go about it. We have had some success in the past. We want a good turnout for young people themselves, so that they can tell us what they like and we can then learn from that,” Bitten adds. “Come out to Tyler and let’s see how to do it.”

The convention will include several presentations, panels, and open discussions between railroad owners, operators, managers, and younger people with an interest in railroad passenger cars and preservation.

“Our biggest thrill would be to get 50 or so younger people, in addition to the 150-175 that attend,” Bitten says. “The board has gone out of their way to make this affordable for young people through a reduced $50 registration fee.”

Max Medlin, operations manager for the North Shore Scenic Railroad in Duluth, Minn., says he largely attributes his railroad career path to the experiences and knowledge he gained from being a part of the Railroad Passenger Car Alliance.

“The RPCA is an organization that is incredibly giving. As an 18 year old, I was awarded the William Fuehring Scholarship, which allowed me to attend the 2011 Conference in Pueblo, Colo. Coupled with mentor Mark Magers, I consider this the real kick start to my railroad career,” Medlin says.

Medlin, like others, recognizes the importance of getting other young people involved. “I think this is one of the largest issues facing rail preservation groups today. For starters, the biggest enemy of preservation is stagnation and the notion that ‘it has always been done this way’. For better or for worse, people under the age of 30 have many different perspectives than those their senior," he says. "This influx of fresh ideas and willingness to try new things is going to be paramount to any organization hoping to stay relevant for the future.”

Medlin started volunteering at the North Shore Scenic at age 13 where he was responsible for wiping down the windows and emptying the garbage on locomotives.

Medlin, at age 23, is now the operations manager for the Minnesota tourist railroad.  “If you don’t treat the younger generation with respect, you are going to lose them,” he says. “Getting the younger generation involved now is, in my opinion, paramount to the survival of not only historical organizations, but also to the survival of historic equipment itself."

Roy Wullich, owner of Rail Journeys West Inc. says that a younger generation helps keep the knowledge and life in the equipment.

“A sign on a static piece of equipment can only tell so much. A living person can interpret and tell the history of a working piece of equipment whether it’s a passenger car, steam locomotive or other artifact,” Wullich says.

Wullich also says that getting younger people involved is not only important for learning the skills and craft, but also for preserving equipment that everyone takes for granted, such as first and second generation diesels.

“History doesn’t stand still. It keeps expanding and getting deeper and broader,” he says.

The RPCA conference will be held Jan. 15-18, 2016 in Tyler with special activities at the Texas State Railroad Museum and BNSF Railway headquarters. For more information, go to www.rpca.com.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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