What Virtual Railroad Club Meetings are Like

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of many if not most local railroad club meetings since last spring.

A few clubs have held meetings online. It’s an idea I’ve long favored although it may not be as easy to do as it seems.

I’m told that the popular online meeting platform Zoom allows a 45-minute meeting for free but beyond that it begins charging a fee although I don’t know what it is.

Given that most meeting last longer than 45 minutes using Zoom may not be ideal. The program alone often lasts longer than 45 minutes.

The Cleveland-based Forest City Division of the Railroad enthusiasts recently held its January meeting online using an account from member Paul Emch at Lakeland Community College.

LLC uses the Ciscso Webex Meetings platform, which I found easy enough to use.

Attendees were able to join the meeting by clicking on a link sent in advance, the same process used by Zoom.

Upon logging in you were prompted to type into a dialogue box your name and email address.

On the screen was displayed those who were at the meeting in a grid that one attendee likened to the TV game show Hollywood Squares.

Attendees had the option of not being visible so their square showed only their name. You could also choose to mute yourself but still remain visible.

In that sense it was like being at a regular meeting with people chiming in with comments whenever they had something to say.

When someone was speaking, their name would pop up on their square.

A list of participants was shown on the right side of the screen. Last Friday’s RRE meeting drew 11 participants.

Jerry Jordak presented a two-part program that featured images made during a September outing to former Erie Railroad lines still in service, including the Akron Barberton Cluster between Barberton and Rittman, and Western New York & Pennsylvania lines in the Keystone State.

He also captures some Canadian National action on the former Bessemer & Lake Erie in Pennsylvania.

The second part focused on his annual “bogus adventure” outing with two friends from Colorado.

Normally their “bogus adventure” involves railfanning on the way to the Penn Central Historical Society convention but the 2020 convention was canceled due to the pandemic.

It would have been held in Michigan, but Jerry and his friends instead decided to focus on regional and short line railroads in Pennsylvania.

The program took up most of the screen but not all of it. Some attendees were still visible at the top of the screen. A separate screen showed the presenter so you could see his hand gestures.

It was not unlike seeing and hearing a digital program during a meeting.

In fact, a virtual meeting was much like being at a conventional meeting aside from the inability to walk up to people and have face-to-face conversations.

And once the meeting was over – the RRE meeting ended about 9 p.m. – you were already home.

If there was a downside to a virtual meeting it was the sometimes lackluster sound quality. I had a hard time understanding some people speaking into their computer’s microphone.

In one instance the person’s voice sounded slightly distorted.

Jerry wore a headset with a microphone and therefore his voice could be clearly heard. I’d recommend that program presenters use microphones as well.

Myself and a few others also wore headsets, which I suspect improved being able to hear the meeting.

Overall, the virtual meeting was a lot like attending a regular meeting and I’d do it again.

Of course this was just one experience. I’ve heard reports that in some instances too many people talking at the same time adversely affected the meeting experience.

Meeting virtually will never be the same as actually being in the same room with everyone else but it is superior to the alternative of having no meeting at all.

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One Response to “What Virtual Railroad Club Meetings are Like”

  1. wezrail@aol.com Says:

    Several clubs in the NY Metro Area have been meeting on Zoom. Last Friday night the Electric Railroaders Assoc. meeting had about 160 people on it. The meeting started @ 7:30 pm and ran past 10 pm. During the meetings the sound seems better if everyone but the current speaker mutes themselves. People have the choice of showing their picture or just the name. For meetings beyond 40 minutes one must have a special Zoom account for which they charge. But I know of two small clubs that shut down after 40 minutes and everyone then logs back on and the program resumes. That’s the “El Cheepo” way of doing it. I much prefer in person meetings but the Zoom meetings can provide some good news and entertainment and keep the chapter together. Walter Zullig

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