WIU Honors Students Hit the Rails for Spring Break
March 27, 2014
MACOMB, IL - Seven students from Western Illinois University's Centennial Honors College rode the rails during spring break, March 10-14, as part of the college's "American Railroads" course. Students traveled by Amtrak to Colorado to learn first-hand how the railroad industry operates.
Led by WIU History Department Chair and railroad historian Simon Cordery, students took the California Zephyr to Denver. Arriving on Monday morning, the group toured the Colorado Railroad Museum in nearby Golden with Steve Patterson, a former Santa Fe engineer and museum docent, for a behind-the-scenes look at museum operations.
Tuesday, March 11 the group traveled to Pueblo, CO for a tour of the Colorado and Wyoming Railway, an industrial shortline contained within that city's EVRAZ North America Steel Mill. Trainmaster Dallas Ramos showed students the mill, the largest producer of steel rails in the United States, and explained how the railroad interchanges with BNSF and the Union Pacific, the nation's two largest railroads, to receive and ship commodities.
In downtown Pueblo, students went behind the scenes at the Pueblo Railway Museum, where curator Ron Roach showed off prototype "Rocket Cars" and explained how Pueblo fits into the national railroad picture. He also demonstrated the controls of one of the museum's locomotives.
After the tours, students spent Wednesday on a day of freight railroading on the San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad, arranged by WIU Supply Chain Management Professor Bart Jennings.
A winter storm delayed some of the railroad experience, but students spent much of the day in the cab of a locomotive switching passenger and freight cars in the railroad yard.
One student group then left Alamosa for the trip south to Antonito, near the New Mexico border, where three industrial plants needed empty cars and had loaded ones to take away and the other went west to Monte Vista to deliver grain and potatoes. The two groups spent the day riding along, watching car movements and talking with the crews.
Thursday and Friday presented opportunities to learn about tourism. First came the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, a former Denver and Rio Grande line paralleling the Arkansas River to the silver mines at Leadville. Open air cars and luxury seating presented a marked contrast to the reality of riding in the cab of an operating freight engine.
On the final day of the trip, the group return to Golden to tour the rail-served Miller Coors brewery before once again riding the California Zephyr back to Illinois.
An unexpected bonus of the trip came when one student applied for a railroad-related internship, and others were invited to apply to management trainee programs.
For more information about WIU's Centennial Honors College, visit wiu.edu/centennial_honors_college/.