All aboard for a good cause: CSX Charity Train Ride benefits community


Contributing Editor

Have you ever taken a train ride for charity? In 2007, my husband Dale and I boarded a CSX train for a wonderful evening filled with great dining, an enjoyable ride aboard a beautiful train all in the name of charity!

Here is how this unusual ride began.

In 2002 CSX Executive Vice President Clarence Gooden was hosting dinner aboard the CSX office car with his guest, the newly elected Sheriff John Rutherford. The sheriff explained how pleased he was to fulfill all the commitments he made during his race for sheriff – with the exception of one very important campaign promise he had made to renovate Mallison Park to rid the area of drug dealers.

According to Sheriff john Rutherford, “The CSX Charity Train resulted from a violent drug problem and a very good community steward.”

This campaign promise, explained Rutherford, would cost approximately $100,000 to set up a Police Athletic league (PAL) program within the park. Gooden told the sheriff maybe he could help him raise that amount. And in that single moment, the idea of the Charity Train Ride came to life!

Gooden suggested to his right-hand organizer Rosemary Thigpen they could charge $5,000 per table to include the private office car ride with dinner and entertainment. All proceeds would go directly to improving Mallison Park. With a plan mapped out and the course charted, the inaugural CSX Charity Train departed Jacksonville’s Prime Osborn Center for a ride to Tampa that would return that evening. An entertainment car was included, and a meal of surf and turf was served. 

CSX’s Goodin, along with 18tables of supporters, helped fulfill the sheriff’s campaign promise. With the $100,000 raised that evening, the First CSX Charity Train that departed in the spring of 2003 was a huge success!

“Since that time,” Rutherford said, “the PAL expansion saved Mallison park, the community enjoyed a dramatic drop in crime and the children have a wonderful place to grow and play.”

The following spring, Gooden decided to host the train again. This time, the train would benefit two charities, Angelwood – a charity supported by the sheriff, who served on its board – and the American Heart Association, a charity with which Gooden was involved. A new route was charted and since 2004, The CSX Charity Train Ride has run to and from Waycross, Georgia. Several of the private cars that are used in the event have served presidents during their presidential campaigns.

 As the Charity Train Ride has grown, so has the addition of new charities. In 2016, 11 organizations received a total of $410,000 raised. Each charity had two representatives attend the Charity Train Ride to receive their check.

Since its first journey in 2003, The Charity Train Ride has raised nearly $4 million for more than a dozen charities, with 100 percent of the donations going directly to charity.

“I have worked at CSX for 37 years,” Thigpen said, “and the Charity Train is one of the most gratifying things I have done.”