To operate our Train of Lights each evening, it takes over 35 volunteers to make the train happen. There are a wide variety of volunteer opportunities; some on the train and some off of the train. Some jobs cover both rides while others are just for one ride or even before one ride. The bottom line, however, is that we need a lot of help to make our largest annual fundraiser a success, and we would love it if you can spare just one day to volunteer with us.
Volunteers do not have to be members although we encourage you to join so that your volunteer hours count toward earning tickets for our Members Only Train of Lights trains. Every 30 volunteer hours earns a ticket to one of the two trains we operate each year and you can earn up to 6 tickets.
In all cases, training will be offered to anyone interested so please do not fear that you may not know exactly what to do.
Please have a look and see what you may be able to help with. When you are ready, you can sign up right online via our portal hosted at on our Members’ website, but accessible to all.
Commissary – Snack Bar
Come help us make and serve our famous hot chocolate and help us sell other snacks to our riders. We have two snack bar areas that we sell from and both need volunteers.
For the Train of Lights, the snack bar volunteers would need to work both the 4:30-6:00 and the 7:30-9:00 trains to retain continuity in the snack bar and make sure everything is stocked and ready for both trains, so the day would be from 2:00PM when you would arrive at Brightside, our train yard, and be on the train until 9:30 when it gets back to the train yard. The train departs our train yard at 3:00, and when on the train the snack bar volunteers would bag cookies, stock the snack items in the bins and put items on the counter. They would also help take the snack items to the dome and parlor cars if needed. They would then sell the items to the passengers during the rides. The time goes really fast and it’s so much fun to interact with the passengers selling snacks and drinks during the rides. Everything is $2.00 except water is $1.00.
First Class Dome & Parlor Car Attendants
In our First Class cars, we have three volunteers to aid in our guests first class experience. We have a car captain and two helpers. One person greets people on the platform while the other two serve our guests their complimentary drinks and snacks.
Volunteers can sign up for just the 4:30 train, just the 7:30 train, or if wanting to do both trains, the volunteer needs to sign up for both online. One person would be at the door to make sure only those passengers with dome or parlor car wristbands enter the car and the other 2 would serve the complimentary drinks and snacks. There are 40 passengers in the dome car and 30 in the parlor car. The dome hosts would also make sure the passengers rotate into the 16 dome seats on the top section of the car.
If working on just the 4:30 Niles/Fremont dome or parlor cars, volunteers should arrive at our Niles/Fremont Station (37029 Mission Boulevard in Fremont) by 3:30 when the train arrives and help get the cars prepped for the passenger arrivals. When the train returns to Fremont, after helping clean up the car, the captain will let you know when you can get off the train and go home.
If working on just the 7:30 Sunol dome or parlor cars, volunteers should arrive at our Sunol Depot (6 Kilkare Road in Sunol) around 6:30 to be ready to board the train before the passengers do at 7:00pm when the train pulls in. When the train returns to Sunol, after helping clean up the car, the captain will let you know when you can get off the train and go home.
Parking lot helpers
For both Niles and Sunol, we have a parking lot leader and up to 6 helpers to aid our riders efficiently into parking spaces at both stations. We welcome people to help at one or both stations.
For those working in Niles, we would need you to arrive around 2:30PM and for Sunol, we need you around 6:30PM. Once the cars are parked and the train departs, your job is done for the night.
This is a great opportunity for parents with high school students looking for community service opportunities and hours. For anyone under 18, we need a supervising parent to be present per rules that we do not control. However, this is a great chance for your high school student to get some community service hours in and really helping us get our riders parked.
Unlike most of the cars in our train where our riders can pass easily from car to car, our two cabooses are private and isolated from the train. Therefore, we need a volunteer on each caboose for each ride to keep an eye on things and help our caboose parties as needed during their ride.
This is again a job that can be done for either ride or we hope you will do both. It is quite simple and a great chance to interact with our riders.
Here is a job that you can do at home and bring to the train and Sunol depot. Each night, we have someone prepare food that can be served to our crews while the train deadheads from Niles to Sunol between rides. This ensures all of our crews and volunteers get a hot meal.
During the “empty of passengers ride” from Fremont to Sunol each night (6:00-7:00) is when the train volunteers who work both trains eat dinner so they are ready to volunteer again for the 7:30 Sunol ride. We have some volunteers who make dinner (2 crock pots for the train and 1 for the Sunol depot) each night so if you would be interested in doing that you can sign up online also. You would save and turn in your receipts to get reimbursed for the food ingredients. We’ve had soups, stews, hot dogs and beans, spaghetti, whatever can be heated in a crock pot, and these would be delivered to the Niles Station and put on the train around 3:30 when the train gets there. People usually bring the food in containers and then the snack bar people put the food in the lined crocks to heat during the 4:30 ride and the food is ready for our 30+ volunteers to eat at 6:00. Crock liners are so good for making clean up fast and easy.
Are you known to rock a microphone? Well have we got a job for you. NCRy docents ride our Train of Lights providing information to passengers on a variety of subjects such as safety, where to find the bathrooms and famous hot chocolate along with a little history of our railroad.
There is a special docent seat on the train with a microphone that broadcasts docent information throughout the train. So if you are good at public speaking and have that radio like personality, we have a job for you. And yes, we also have scripts you can read from to make things easier.
We need to have at least one qualified and trained volunteer on board to help get the electrical generators and systems up and running before the train departs our Brightside yard. These people then ride along for the evening to insure that everything runs smoothly and are available to troubleshoot any electrical or mechanical issues that arise. We only need one person per evening.
Santa and Mrs. Claus
We are a group of people, overflowing with the Christmas spirit, who have been deputized to stand in for Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus as needed for the Train-of-Lights on Niles Canyon Railway.
We spread warmth and good cheer to those riding the Train-of-Lights, before, during and after the train ride.
The following skills are required:
- Ability to give a good rendition of “Ho, Ho, Ho” and other exclamations of the Holiday Season. Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad and Joyous Noel are just a few that we use.
- American Sign Language is a major plus!
- Able to relate to children of all ages and be able to “control” photo opportunities to get the most photos of the most patrons during the “hour” train ride.
- The ability to react quickly to the infinite variety of situations that occur will help keep you sane 😉
- Ability to walk the whole 16 car train is a requirement.
We work on the scheduled train rides (Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) during the Train-of-Lights Season (first Friday before Thanksgiving until Christmas. However, if an off-night charter is scheduled, we do work additional days.
Assemble around 2:00 PM in Brightside yard and board the train before it leaves (usually at 3 PM). Generally finish around 10:30 when the train ties up for the night in Brightside. A dinner break is taken on the deadhead run from Niles to Sunol.
If you do not have your own suit, the railroad has one (complete with beard and belly if needed) that you can use. Beyond that, what ever Claus related paraphernalia that adds to the experience.
Station agents – Niles & Sunol
We need a few hands at either station to assist our passengers in converting their online reservations to their actual tickets for boarding. Every group has to pick-up their tickets on the evening of their train ride. We need help at both our Niles station for the 4:30 train and at our Sunol station for our 7:30 train. Again, this is a job where you can help at either or both stations throughout the evening.
We are always looking for new people to join us who are interested in being part of our train crews. Typically people need to pass through one of our Brakeman classes (and yes we have women too) before being able to participate. If you think this is something you may be interested in for the future, please contact us to share your interest, and we will work to get you started.