Volunteerism At a Whole New Level.
As just about everyone knows, for many years–a dozen or so, at least–Amtrak has been in a cost-cutting mode. Just one example: for the past couple of years, despite protests from NARP and others, Amtrak has not replaced ticket agents at smaller Amtrak stations who were transferred or retired.
The subject of unattended railway stations came up during one of the presentations at the NARP meetings today and it was the first time I had heard the story of the station that serves Olympia, the state capital of Washington, and the nearby town of Lacy, both some 75 miles south of Seattle.
The station there was essentially a three-sided shack that barely afforded minimal shelter to Amtrak passengers. And that was a disgrace because Olympia is the capital city of Washington State. The lack of any kind of railway station troubled many of the residents.
They formed a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation, and came up with a Board of Directors. The old shelter was torn down and, with donated materials and volunteer labor, they built their own station. Then they got the local transit authority to buy the land and the building and pay for the utilities and the maintenance.
Then they recruited volunteers to staff to station. That was no small undertaking because a total of 14 trains a day stop at the Olympia/Lacy station–a dozen trains operating between Seattle or Vancouver to the north and Eugene, Oregon, to the south. There are also two Coast Starlights every day, one in each direction.
That schedule requires the station to be open for business and staffed from 6:30 in the morning until 9:30 at night . . . longer than that, of course, when trains run late.
Here’s the thing: they did all this without any support from Amtrak–financial or otherwise–and they’ve been doing it since 1993. Furthermore, they haven’t missed a train in all that time. Not one. And isn’t that remarkable!
I have been volunteer at the Olympia\Lacey station since January of this year and have enjoyed it immensely. Most of the volunteers have been there for years, some for 10 years or more and all are dedicated to providing the best assistance they can. It’s true we have never missed meeting a train since the station was opened in 1993, even it means coming out to meet the Coast Starlight if it comes in at 3:00 am. For an interesting video a Seattle TV news station did on the train station, take a look at http://komonews.com/news/erics-heroes/erics-heroes-the-train-volunteers-that-keep-a-little-depot-open
Thanks for the note. It’s a great story!
In Great Britain, they do something similar, many local stations are godfathered (or godmothered) by a group of volunteers, who look after the station and its surroundings, the flowering, etc, a small station museum, sometimes… And what’s really nice, there is a yearly election of the best kept station, or the activities, or the nicest flowers, etc, generally by region. I’ve seen stations who had won almost every year something, and even if it’s only a plaque, it gives people some sort of recognition for the work they do.
One of those was in Scotland, at the famous Glenfinnan viaduct. It has a small museum inside about the West Highland Line, there are some books to read in the waiting room opposite the station, on the estate behind the station, they have been allowed to track trails for hiking… And I might be wrong, but I have the feeling that stations, even unstaffed ones, that are kept by local people, are less prone to vandalism than those kept by authorities such as the railways themselves, or town councils, etc.
Ironically, the Olympia-Lacey station was the featured illustration on an official Amtrak annual wall calendar in the 1990s. My Amtrak representative thought it amusing that it was thus featured, even though the station wasn’t staffed!
Great story. The station is actually in Lacy. Olympia itself does hot have a station since the BNSF mainline misses the state capital, thanks to a long ago tiff between Olympia and the Northern Pacific when the line was being constructed. Also, there are only 10 trains a day stopping at Olympia, although that number will rise to 14 a day this fall.
Thanks. I should have written “as many as 14 trains a day.”