Local leaders unveil plan to get kids excited about railroad industry

Officials Tuesday announced $140,000 in grants to try to foster an interest among the city’s youth.

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker joined other dignitaries Tuesday at Randolph Elementary School in West Englewood to try to drum up an interest in transportation jobs.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker joined other dignitaries Tuesday at Randolph Elementary School in West Englewood to try to drum up an interest in transportation jobs. | Stefano Esposito, Chicago Sun-Times.

Stefano Esposito for the Sun-Times.

With considerable fanfare, city, Cook County, state and federal officials unveiled a plan Tuesday to try to tempt Chicago-area kids into careers their grandparents might once have dreamed about: a life on the railroad.

“For the railroads, Chicago is truly the beating heart of our national network,” said Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads.

Jefferies was among a dozen or so dignitaries — including Gov. J.B. Pritkzker, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — talking to a group of about two dozen students at Randolph Elementary School in West Englewood.

With construction is set to begin next year on the 75th Street corridor — one of the busiest rail junctions in the United States — officials hope to spur interest in transportation jobs of the future, especially for kids in the immediate area of the $130 million project, which is expected to last through 2024. Transportation-related field trips, internships and classroom visits from those in the field are all planned.

Perhaps railroads don’t hold the same thrill, the same promise of adventure they once did for earlier generations.

“I can’t sit still ... So if I drove for too long, I’d either fall asleep or just get off the train,” said Shelbie Grayson, 13, when asked if she had any desire to one day operate a train.

The adults in the room, announcing $140,000 in educational grants Tuesday, spoke lovingly of America’s railroad past and its future.

“How many of you think drones are cool?” Jefferies asked the students. “Railroads are employing drones all over their networks to do all kinds of neat things — inspections and data gathering, using artificial intelligence.”

Myangel Nelson, 14, and her friend, Danyla Seymour, 13, had their own ideas about what a future railroad job might involve.

“To be honest, I’m not too interested in trains,” Seymour said. “I always thought they were dangerous.”

Seymour is considering a career as a veterinarian. Perhaps, she said, she could tend to sick pets while their owners were taking a ride on the train.

Nelson wants to be a cosmetologist.

“People who need to be fixed or want a touch-up, they could come to me on the train,” Nelson said.

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