Amtrak Station Agents Come and (Mostly) Go.
As Amtrak’s cost-cutting efforts continue, another Amtrak station will soon be unmanned. This time it’s Rugby, North Dakota. The station agent there is being transferred to Minot, some 65 miles away.
At first, it seemed as though the axe has been falling disproportionally along the Empire Builder’s route. In North Dakota alone, the Builder has seven stops—Fargo, Grand Forks, Devils Lake, Rugby, Minot, Stanley and Williston. But after the transfers and retirements and non-replacements, only three stations will have an Amtrak station agent on duty when the train arrives: Fargo, Minot and Williston.
Here’s why it seemed the Builder had been singled out : from Chicago in the east, to Seattle and Portland on the West Coast, there are 43 stops, not including the termini, and 25 of those stations have no station agent. That’s about 55 percent.
To be fair, as is done in most of the unstaffed stations, Amtrak says a caretaker will be hired to keep the Rugby station tidy and open it up twice a day before each of the Empire Builder’s arrivals.
To see if the Builder was indeed being singled out, I looked at all 13 of Amtrak’s overnight trains. After again eliminating the termini, those trains make a total of 380 station stops and of those, 186 or 49 percent have no station agent. So the Builder does indeed have more unstaffed stations along its route compared to the rest of the other overnight trains, but not by much.
The official justification for this reduction in staff is that most travelers are now buying their Amtrak tickets on line, so someone to sell tickets in smaller stations really is no longer necessary. But there really is more to it than that. No station agent means no checked baggage arriving or departing. No station agent means no one to help handicapped or elderly people off or on the train. No station agent means no one to answer questions. And it means no human face on our national passenger rail system at that station . . . or at a total of 185 other stations. And counting.