Volunteering — Blog Post #11

Volunteering, Niles Canyon Railway
Posted: April 8, 2017 at 4:47 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

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TOL Niles Parking November December 2016

I worked the Niles parking lot four times during the 2016 TOL season. This was my second season of parking lot duty so I was more familiar with what needed to be done.

Our job is to help our guests get parked, but while we do that, we get asked a lot of questions. Examples include: are there bathrooms on the train, are big bags and strollers allowed and is there another exit to the parking lot. I was also asked how to get a ride in the locomotive. I wasn’t sure what the official answer would be, but I encouraged this guest to become a member and take the training required to be part of the operating crew.

We also handled a number of situations that you can’t really prepare for, you just have to deal with them as they happen. One person drove into the parking lot, dropped off their passengers who were guests on the TOL, and wanted to drive out. With more cars arriving, it really wasn’t possible to have them exit, so we told them to park and wait until the TOL left Niles before they tried to exit.

One time, after the TOL left Niles, we noticed one of the parked cars was running. One of the other volunteers knew that this type of car has remote start. We speculated that the owner must have sat down on the train with the remote for the car in their pocket. Just like sitting on your phone and calling a far away country. We couldn’t think of anything else to do but hope the owner returned with the train, and that the car didn’t run out of gas. It all worked out, but it was odd to have a car running the whole time the owner was gone.

There were memorable events each evening. One of our younger guests, prepared for any possible rain with her umbrella, was concerned that she might miss the train. The station agent saw this concerned guest and assured her ‘we won’t leave without you’. Our young guest gave the agent a very icy stare and the station agent had to repeat this assurance three times before our guest, and her umbrella, were convinced it was ok to get on the train. Of course, if one was concerned about missing the train, you would get on board as quickly as possible. Customer service is just that, you have to do whatever you can to help the customer have the best experience possible.

Early one evening, a car approaches, the driver looks tense. He has a very excited child in back, who I assume has been promised a ride on the TOL. The driver asks me if they have to get tickets ahead of time. Again, what exactly do you say? I had to tell them that the TOL was sold out that evening, but, they could park and ask the station agent if there were any tickets available due to persons not showing up for their scheduled ride. It turned out we did have some no-shows and this family did get their TOL trip. Sometimes it all works out.

One evening it was raining steadily as I arrived at the parking lot. It had been raining all day so a number of parking spaces had enough standing water that they couldn’t be used. We would be short on parking spaces. The rain also meant we, the volunteers, and the drivers, would all have to be more careful in the limited visibility. In addition to my high visibility rain gear, I also used a very colorful umbrella. Several guests told me it helped them see me while they were parking. I’m told that working through the rain is one more step towards my parking lot merit badge! As my shift ended, and the TOL left for Sunol, the rain finally stopped and the moon was visible through the moving clouds. Then it got very cold very quickly.

While waiting for the train to leave Niles, headed back to Sunol, one of the engine crew came down off the locomotive. They asked me if we had been busy. I said we tied the record of 194 parked cars. As we watched the guests that were clearly enjoying the lights on the cabooses, I said, “in a world gone mad, this is really neat.” He paused and then replied. “Yes it is”, he said, “yes it is.” He returned to the cab of the locomotive, and I returned to watching the parking lot. We hadn’t been introduced, but we both got it. We were both volunteers, part of something bigger, and it really was neat.

I’m looking forward to next year, when the TOL season will start again in late November. Working the parking lot is a great way to get started volunteering. We always need more help, and no experience is required. I also want to thank everyone that made TOL happen. I could not have volunteered the four evenings I did unless many other volunteers were also working. I can show up and help because others have already setup the parking lot, fueled the locomotives, decorated the railcars and all the other tasks needed to make TOL happen.


TOL arrives Niles. Photo by Brian Hitchcock

TOL arrives Niles. Photo by Brian Hitchcock

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