Havre Daily News - News you can use

Amtrak needs to improve, not cut, service


In an article about the closing of the Amtrak ticket offices in Havre and Shelby in the May 7 Great Falls Tribune, Havre city councilwoman Sarah McKinney is quoted as saying that if Amtrak can justify the savings, it is “probably OK,” and added, “but I could be wrong.”

Let me erase any doubt Ms. McKinney has. She is wrong.

Here is what Havre will lose when the Amtrak ticket office is shuttered:

  1. A wage and benefit loss of over $200,000 annually to the Havre community.

2. Loss of checked baggage service. This will result in all baggage being stored inside the passenger cars of the train, a potentially unsafe situation; the quantity of baggage inside passenger cars is increasing as more and more Amtrak stations are unstaffed. Amtrak may in the future allow passengers to take their own baggage to the baggage car to be checked, but this is of little solace to the elderly, disabled, and the public in general, especially during severely cold weather (Amtrak trains can be longer than three football fields).

3. Loss of Amtrak Express service, which offers next day delivery to and from places like Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Fargo, Spokane, Portland, and Seattle. This includes services such as moving human remains.

4. Loss of specialized ticketing services. Not all ticketing can be done on the Internet or over the phone, especially last-minute purchases. Also, low-income people without access to the Internet or credit card services can end up not being eligible for discounted Amtrak fares.

5. Answers to passenger inquiries. Unlike station caretakers, Amtrak personnel are in contact directly with Amtrak and BNSF operations centers to obtain the most update information such as train status and changes in service.

There are other benefits to a staffed station, but the salient point is that Amtrak is simply cutting service to the Havre community. While 11,570 people got on and off Amtrak trains in Havre in 2017, this is down significantly from ridership of 17,759 in 2008, when ridership was soaring due to Amtrak refurbishing equipment and upgrading service on the Empire Builder. Since then, the train has had its amenities reduced and had reliability issues (due to freight traffic in the Bakken, which have been resolved) without an attempt by Amtrak to market the train to regain patronage.

So, we have established evidence of what happens to ridership when Amtrak cuts service. The people of Havre and Montana’s elected officials need to pressure Amtrak to reverse course and improve their service. The result will be increased ridership that will improve Amtrak’s bottom line and benefit citizens along the Hi-Line, which should be Amtrak’s primary goal.


Rail Passengers Alliance Representative At-Large Mark Meyer lives in Portland, Oregon, formerly in Havre


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