Texas Rail Advocates has learned that Amtrak will be running its Marshall and Texarkana stations without any paid staff sometime after June 1.
Marshall Depot Board members will hold a news conference, scheduled for 11:00am May 1 at the Marshall Amtrak station to protest the cuts in staffed stations. Marshall is one of 15 Amtrak station agencies to close nationwide, right at the start of the busy summer travel season.
"This seems to be part of Amtrak's new cost-savings strategy under CEO Richard Anderson to cut station staffing and on-board service to the long-distance national network", according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody, who also chairs the nationwide Rail Passengers Association. "In Amtrak's last fiscal year the Texas Eagle service had the highest gain in ridership and one of the highest gains in revenue among the 15 long distance trains. Why in the world would you want to cut service to these cities when you are on the upswing? Removing the local agent means no ticketing or information service available locally, no checked bag service, no assistance for the elderly and handicapped and the loss of an interface with tourism to the economies of Marshall and Texarkana. It's the wrong time and the wrong train to be messing with."
A news release from the Marshall Depot Board stated that the important work of the Amtrak Customer Service Representative/Ticketing Agent includes not only providing for customers in-person ticketing and information services on the local level, but, with the recurrent training they’re required to receive, they also provide services to ensure safe boarding and de-boarding of passengers, safety on the platform, assistance to persons with disabilities and/or special needs, assistance with luggage, and other important services. The Customer Service Representative plays a key role not only in the work of individual stations, but also in Amtrak’s national network which serves America’s urban and rural communities. To many individuals, Customer Service Representatives at local stations are the “face of Amtrak” and are the initial and/or primary contact for the traveling public to access Amtrak’s transportation services
Other stations where staff will be axed include Charleston, WV; Cincinnati, OH; Fort Madison, IA; Garden City, KS; Hammond, LA; Havre, MT; La Junta, CO; Lamy, NM; Marshall, TX; Meridian, MS; Ottumwa, IA; Shelby, MT; Texarkana, AR; Topeka, KS; and Tuscaloosa, AL.
"I'd like to see how much local marketing and local outreach was done in these communities in the past year to actually attract more riders to alert them there is actually train service available", according to LeCody. "Knowing how local marketing and outreach efforts were cut in Texas it would not surprise me that the other towns and cities were also ignored. Why not try to build up ridership before you go and make cuts?"
In addition to the station closings Amtrak is experimenting with cutting hot-meal service on two overnight trains between Chicago and the East Coast starting in June. Passengers will be served a cold dinner meal in their room or in an unstaffed lounge car and breads and yogurt for breakfast. LeCody, who is also Chairman of the national Rail Passengers Association was quoted in their Hotline report. "We understand that Amtrak is under a Congressional mandate to at least break even on food and beverage costs but serving cold meals on an overnight train service has been tried before and it resulted in lower ridership in premium services and was reflected in lower revenue,” said Rail Passengers Chairman Peter LeCody. “Even most airline passengers get a hot meal for dinner on overnight flights. Amtrak management needs to rethink their strategy."