Grand Forks on the Cutback List.
Amtrak has just announced its intention to stop staffing yet another of the stations on one of its long-distance routes.
Some weeks ago, the bell tolled for Hastings, Nebraska, a stop for the California Zephyr.
Next came Winona, Minnesota, which has about 30,000 residents, but is the stop made by the Empire Builder for people going to or coming from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, just 50 miles to the west.
This time the bell has rung for Grand Forks, North Dakota, the state’s third largest city with almost 100,000 people in the area. Grand Forks is also on the Empire Builder’s route. The long-time station agent, Mark Sivertson, is retiring and apparently Amtrak is simply not going to replace him.
These moves might make sense to the guys with the green eyeshades, but there are consequences—both economic and in terms of good will—that come as the result of unstaffed stations. No one is there to sell tickets; no one to answer questions; no one to handle checked baggage.
So I (and a couple of the other NARP directors) have a few questions:
– How many more stations are on Amtrak’s list to have staff eliminated?
– Will Amtrak make public any changes in ridership and revenue figures for the stations affected?
– Has it been suggested to the cities and towns affected that volunteers could be recruited to take over at least some of the responsibilities? And would Amtrak agree to train and nominally supervise those volunteers?
– What about soliciting proposals from private companies or individuals to take over the station buildings for shops or restaurants with reduced rent offered in exchange for providing some or even all of the services the Amtrak employees were delivering?
And to the government and civic leaders of Grand Forks and Winona and Hastings, and to the people representing those areas in Congress: What are you doing about this?
If I have anything to say about it, NARP is going to be posing these and other pertinent questions to Amtrak and to the appropriate public officials. I will report their responses, if any, in this space.