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Council sets special meeting for Amtrak station


Ryan Welch/Havre Daily News

Amtrak's Empire Builder pulls into Havre March 22. After a score of people spoke at the Havre City Council meeting Monday about the need to keep ticekt agents at the Havre station, the council set a special meeting Thursday to approve a resolution urging Amtrak to keep the agents.

After nearly a score of people told Havre City Council Monday of the need to keep ticket agents in the Havre Amtrak station, the council scheduled a special meeting Thursday to approve a resolution urging Amtrak to keep the station staffed.

Amtrak announced earlier this month that Havre and Shelby are among 15 stations scheduled to become unstaffed, citing the use of internet and telephone to purchases tickets making paying ticket agents an unnecessary expense.

Lesli Robertson Shelton, a Havre ticket agent, said during the council's public comment section that having a ticket agent can save lives.

Shelton said that last week, Mike Holland, an elderly train buff, had gotten off of the Empire Builder and checked in a few bags and wanted to watch freight trains from the platform. She checked in his baggage, and later asked him where he was going to stay, since the station was about to be locked. She recommended some hotels, and later a shuttle came and picked him up.

Shelton said the man told her he would be back to pick up a rail pass.

A few days later he was back, sitting in the station with his bags packed, she said.

Shelton said a few minutes later he called her over, saying he feared he might be suffering from internal bleeding, adding he has bled internally before and he needed immediate medical attention.

She said she told him about Bullhook Community Medical Center and Northern Montana Health Care, and offered to call him a taxi or ambulance. He asked for Shelton to call him a taxi, she said, and she agreed to keep his luggage at the station until he could return.

Shelton said he called her later that day, saying he was being airlifted to a Great Falls hospital to be treated for internal bleeding.

A few days passed and the man returned once again to the station, asking Shelton for his bag and acting excited to purchase his rail pass, she said.

If it wasn't for ticket agents the situation could have been much worst or the man could have possibly died, she said. She added she still keeps in contact with the elderly man, and recently asked to use his story to help inform the council of the importance of the ticket agents.

This is just one of many cases ticket agents have seen over their time in Havre working for Amtrak, Shelton said.

Charles Evans asked City Council to speak in "not soft terms, but loud terms for this station."

Havre Mayor Tim Solomon initially said that as City Council's next meeting is in June there is not much action that the council can take before the ticket agents are terminated. He encouraged everyone to get a hold of their representatives, to get a hold of the media, to tell their stories. Let as many people as possible know that "we want this station," Solomon said.

The council members agreed.

Gary Shelton told the council that he has tried to talk to his Congressional representatives and has attempted to contact Amtrak via email. He said he got a response informing him that a caretaker will be appointed and hired locally.

Others in the room said they had similar experiences. They had repeatedly sent letters and emails, repeatedly calling with a similar response, if any, they said.

Many members of the community requested that the council or the mayor take immediate action to contact Amtrak and Montana's congressional delegation, with hopes that they may be able to have better luck communicating their concerns.

"Once its gone we aren't getting it back," many said during the council meeting.

Some people at the meeting said that if the decision made by Amtrak is finalized that they might have to move, some for health reasons and some saying that when the weather gets bad, sometimes the train is the only way out of town.

During the public comment section, many people voiced their concerns for the Havre station such as questions of service to customers who are elderly, disabled or suffer from health conditions that make it difficult for them to travel and to carry their luggage; baggage service; damage to the Havre economy and its effects on tourism and small businesses; security of customers and children who are riding the train alone; checking in fire arms during hunting season; and transporting human remains.

Pam Harada said she has great concerns that this may have a negative impact on Havre's economy. With many tourists from Canada and other parts of the United States using Amtrak and passing through Havre, in the past, ticket agents have directed these riders to local tourist locations and restaurants. She said she also wanted to alert the council that some residents of the Hi-Line strictly use cash, and without ticket agents riders will decrease in Havre and may even result in the city losing the stop completely.

This concern was echoed by others who spoke at the meeting.

Jerry Malkuch, who called himself a railroad man, said he has been to many places around the world and every country has a rail transport system; everyone uses it and giving people the option to pay for tickets in cash or online provides more service for customers. Havre is a major stop; the train stops here to refuel and gives passengers time to stretch their legs, get a meal from local restaurants, or explore Havre, he said. Removing ticket agents will only hurt the riders and may even risk losing the Havre stop in the future, Malkuch added.

Havre businessman Brad Lotton, candidate for Senate District 14, said he is concerned for the children riding alone on the Amtrak train lines. Ticket agents in the past has assured security for young passengers and have gone to great measures to make sure that they reach their destination safely. Without ticket agents, there is possibly a greater risks for young children riding the trains alone, he said.

At the end of the discussion, the council voted to set the meeting Thursday to pass a resolution of support for keeping the station staffed.


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