Amtrak is not shuttering stations nor reducing service along any of its routes, but specifically along the Empire Builder, which runs through the Northern Tier and North Dakota.

Amtrak is not shuttering stations nor reducing service along any of its routes, but specifically along the Empire Builder, which runs through the Northern Tier and North Dakota.

“It’s a rumor and I don’t know how it started,” said Marc Magliari, spokesman for Amtrak in Chicago.  “Amtrak is making a few reductions in staff, but the Empire Builder is still running.”

Magliari recommends listening to the last five minutes of the May 16, 2018, testimony from Stephen Gardner, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak).  The testimony was on railroad safety, before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (www.appropriations.senate.gov/hearings/review-of-railroad-safety-initiatives).  Sen. Steve Daines, MT, asked Gardner about Amtrak, expressly regarding station closures and reducing the Empire Builder to a triweekly run.

Yes, said Gardner, Amtrak is “destaffing” two stations, both in Montana, Harve and Shelby.  Amtrak prioritized staff from stations, he said, with fewer “than forty daily on-offs,” because each staff position costs about $100,000 a year.  But not all stations are having staff eliminated; most are keeping their ticketing agents.  

These are the only stations losing their ticket agents, Magliari reaffirmed. It wasn’t entirely clear from the testimony but the rest of the ticket agents, said Magliari, in the towns along the Empire Builder’s route will remain.  And no station is closing.

Gardner told the committee in the two Montana towns, Amtrak will do what they’ve done elsewhere: hire a caretaker to maintain and open and close the station when needed as well; or, use community volunteers, “ambassadors,” as Amtrak does successfully throughout Maine.

Haines was concerned about the absence of ticketing agents and the effect on the elderly who may not be as “tech savvy” as the younger people, or have access to smart phones or computers.  The absence of agents could keep many from traveling the only nearby and accessible national transportation available, he said.

The agents themselves are relatively anachronistic today, Gardner suggested, because of technology.  Just because a person may not be able to go online won’t prevent that person from being able to order a ticket.  Most tickets are bought over the phone, and all a person will need is order and pay for the ticket over the phone, get on the train, and have the conductor look up the ticket on a handheld device.  Amtrak is also planning on putting self-service kiosks in stations.

Near the end of the testimony, Haines said to Gardner that groups have called the senator’s office saying that Amtrak was proposing to reduce the Empire Builder to triweekly, and asked Gardner if it was true.

“No,” Gardner said, “there is no intent at this time to reduce or eliminate any service,” and that Amtrak is operating “under Fast Track authorization.”  Any consideration of reducing service will have to occur among Congress, the Administration, and Amtrak when Amtrak is reauthorized in 2020.

“Any conversations about the broad future of (Amtrak’s) network,” said Gardner, “is best placed in the reauthorization context as we approach our reauthorizations.  Any changes will be considered then.”