Hello, Amtrak? Is Anybody Home?
This is the Amtrak station in Prince, West Virginia, a stop on the Cardinal’s route. Only a few hundred people live in Prince, but the station serves a number of surrounding towns, among others the city of Beckley, the county seat of Raleigh County.
Several years ago, a grassroots campaign was begun by the local residents to raise money for refurbishing the Amtrak station. It was four or five years before any construction was begun and the project is still moving slowly, but there has been real progress.
Then, with virtually no warning, the Prince station became the latest casualty in Amtrak’s ongoing effort to cut costs. There is no longer an Amtrak employee—a station agent—to sell tickets, to handle checked baggage, to help elderly people on and off the train, and to answer questions from passengers or from people waiting for relatives on an incoming train.
So what do the local residents think of that? Not much. Here are some excerpts from an email I received from a woman who lives in the area and has traveled on the Cardinal frequently and for many years:
“This was a HORRIBLE move on Amtrak’s part … I was at the station two times last week, I was ready to cry, it looked horrible, a window was broken out in the door on the platform side, there was trash everywhere, people were so confused and had NO idea that no one was there, and there were no restrooms, even the portable ones were locked. I picked up the trash.
“… I talked to one of the conductors, he said it was really making it hard for them. … His words to me were, “We have no idea why they did this, if you or anyone else could get this station re-opened, that would be wonderful.”
Two people were inside the station … asking where they could check their bags and two more who wanted to buy tickets, I told them they could ask the conductors if they had any room, and buy them on the train but the office wasn’t opened anymore, and there was no more checked baggage… They were all VERY unhappy, and the two with no tickets did NOT get on the train.”
The truth is, average ordinary people aren’t asking for a lot. But they do want safe, reliable and affordable public transportation. The National Association of Railroad Passengers agrees and, furthermore, says a modern, extensive national system of passenger trains is not only feasible, it is essential.
And the anti-rail politicians? The people in Congress and at the state and local levels who are trying to kill Amtrak one small station at a time? What about them? Simple: Use the power of the ballot and boot their sorry asses out.