Courier March Courier - Page 58

AFTERWORDS Railroads tie scenery, nostalgia together Verde Canyon Railroad passengers get a second seat in an open-air car. They are sometimes hesitant to take a train trip because they think they are trading one “bus-seating” arrangement for another. On our trains we try to dis- pel that notion by giving everyone a sec- ond seat—in an open-air car—so they can move around and not stay seated for the entire journey. Members of a group expect to check off several experiences by the end of their train trip: history, scenery, service, educa- tion and good food. We put a lot of empha- sis on service, and from an operator’s first phone call until their guests get off our train, someone is attending to the group. I tend to brag about our service. The level of personal attention, along with the quality of food and the condition of our train, has only changed to become better. A HUNDRED YEARS ago, rail travel provided personal service that allowed passengers to relax and enjoy the ride. Today, people asso- ciate train travel with nostalgia or romance, and a lot of tourist railroads want to deliver on that. Railroading is an experience that can hit the right emo- tional button for anyone, regardless of age. My railroad roots go back to Grand Canyon Railway. I started as their national marketing director back in 1994, and I fell in love with the idea of showing people diverse terrains, scenery and history—all without leaving a footprint behind. When I met the owners of Verde Canyon Railroad in 2000, I knew I wanted to sell the experience they offer. I love this train and have a confidence in what we offer every day. Often, when I meet with NTA tour operators, they ask me if I own the company. I don’t, but I feel like the railroad belongs to me. We took over Texas State Railroad in May of 2017. Introducing this well-pre- served piece of history to NTA operators was a thrill at Travel Exchange in San Antonio, and I was excited to help them tie our trip into their Texas itineraries. We see a lot of families and couples, but group business is a little different. BY TERESA PROPECK Verde Canyon Railroad hosted group leaders on a Fam tour organized by NTA-member Premier World Discovery. 56 March 2018 We have never—not even in the down years—taken away a single amenity, nor have we reduced the staff-to-passenger ratio we feel is necessary to give the groups the best experience possible. Now that consumers can research and compare excursions and prices online, they aren’t just leaving it up to the tour provider to make the trip as fulfilling as possible. They are making requests—demands, sometimes—on what they want from a tour. I was impressed at Travel Exchange with the appointments I had because the operators were really thinking out- side of their comfort zones. They are working to impress their potential cli- ents with something those consumers might not have found on their own. Travelers’ expectations are high—as are tour operators’—but railroads deliver. I see the wonder in the eyes of a 5-year-old. I hear the memories from a 70-year-old who grew up in Chicago. And I can almost feel the peace wash over every mom, standing on the open- air car with a glass of wine or iced tea in hand, knowing that she has four hours when everything is being done for her family. She is able to relax … and enjoy the ride. Teresa Propeck is vice president of pas- senger services for Texas State Railroad and Verde Canyon Railroad. Email her at