Volunteering — Blog Post #10

Volunteering, Niles Canyon Railway
Posted: February 19, 2017 at 7:37 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

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Dec 20, 2015

I wanted to help with TOL so I decided to volunteer for the Niles parking lot. I arrived early to meet with the other volunteers and find out how I could help. The Niles parking lot is long and narrow, broken up into several areas. Cars enter at the west end of the parking lot and the east end is where we park our guests that have tickets for the caboose on the TOL. I was given a map and a radio and assigned to the general boarding section of the lot.

The TOL makes two round trips each day it runs. The early run of the day starts at Niles, travels to Sunol and returns. The second, later run starts at Sunol, runs to Niles and back. The first run leaves Niles before sunset, so we started working in the late afternoon sunlight.

The first guests arrive and we direct them to the parking spaces just east of the ticket office. As more cars come in, we park them so that the lot fills up to the west. The TOL arrives from Brightside and the tempo increases. More cars appear that need to get parked and we have to make sure the line of cars doesn’t extend out of the lot, we don’t want to interfere with traffic out on Mission Boulevard.

We want our guests to back their cars into the parking spaces to make it easier for them to leave when their train ride is over. As soon as a few cars are parked, everyone else gets the idea and does the same. Most of the time, this doesn’t present a problem, but a few of our guests aren’t confident backing into a parking place and we have to guide them. Sometimes it works better to just let them park where their car winds up after their first attempt, we can guide other cars to fill up the space between cars.

Once the TOL arrives, our guests are more excited. Some of our youngest visitors want to run across the parking lot to see the train. Many people bring food and presents so they have many distractions as they make their way from car to train. It helps to have more volunteers to watch and make sure we can keep all the cars separated from all of our guests.

The last minutes before the TOL leaves for Sunol are exciting for us because the last cars are hurrying to park and the lot is almost full. We park some of the last cars nose-to-tail next to the platform. The drivers need to be directed because this is different from all the other cars that have backed into place. One of the drivers expressed concern that they wouldn’t be able to get out later. I told them I would be there to make sure they could get out.

The call comes over the radio, the front gate is closed. We can see one more car heading for us and the train is waiting. We get them parked quickly, anywhere we can.

The train departs and it is time to relax, to chat with the other volunteers and watch the sunset. It is suddenly very quiet. Looking to the east, I can see the mountains glowing in the fading sunlight, to the west I see the sunset, streaks of clouds, the sky peach and purple. The breeze comes up and the temperature drops, the light fades, just another California winter evening. It’s time to walk the platform, enjoy the food provided and discuss all manner of things about the railway. Before the train returns we gather all the signs and traffic cones to store them for next time. As it gets dark, the holiday lights of old town Niles get brighter. We can hear the wig-wag clanking back and forth at the Niles station across the tracks. Several Union Pacific and Capitol Corridor trains glide by. If you walk to the east end of the platform you can see the signals where Niles Tower used to be, as trains make the turn east to enter the canyon.

The TOL returns from Sunol and it’s time to perform. The process of parking arriving cars is relatively casual compared to the rush to leave, everything happens faster. While some guests linger to take pictures of the TOL, most people want to leave quickly.

Our guests appreciate us being there to help them and some thanked me for volunteering. It was good to hear that they realize we are volunteers, giving up our time to make TOL happen.

There is a peak, when the line of cars waiting to leave extends as far as I can see. Not too much later, they are all gone and only a few parked cars remain. The TOL departs for Sunol where it will begin the second trip of the evening. The parking lot is quiet again and it’s time to scan the parking lot to make sure all our guests have left, time to get home, to enjoy my recliner and an adult beverage.

I enjoyed seeing our guests. I’ve been volunteering regularly for a year, and while I’ve been helping, it’s been behind the scenes. Clearing brush is needed, but it’s good to see the TOL pick up and drop off revenue passengers, it makes it real that this is a railway. It was good to see how we generate revenue, good to see our customers, and good to be seen by them. I was one of the people our guests interacted with, a representative of NCRY. We are part of an organization that is part of the community. Our guests may not know what it takes to make TOL happen, but they enjoy it and we need their support to continue developing the railway. Every happy TOL guest is one more voice that, when needed, would support us continuing. If you haven’t been part of TOL, I suggest you give it a try. It really is rewarding to be part of something that so many people enjoy.

TOL arrives in Niles.

TOL arrives in Niles.

TOL arrives in Niles.

TOL arrives in Niles.

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