Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Tim Leeds 

Amtrak ticket agent bill languishing in Congress


August 3, 2018

Representatives of Montana’s U.S. senators said they missed on an opportunity to require Amtrak to restore ticket agents to some stations where the National Passenger Rail Corp. had eliminated them, but they are working on another opportunity.

“I will keep doing everything I can to restore the Amtrak staffing cuts in Havre and Shelby,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told the Havre Daily Thursday. “Washington needs to stop undermining rural communities and start investing in our transportation infrastructure. A well-staffed Amtrak is good for Havre and good for businesses across the Hi-Line. I am working with Republicans and Democrats to defend Montana from harmful decisions that threaten our way of life.”

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who grilled an Amtrak official about the staffing cuts during a Senate hearing in May, also is committed to trying to restore service, a spokesperson said Thursday.

“Daines believes the services provided by Amtrak are critical to keeping rural communities in Montana connected and will continue fighting to ensure the transportation needs of all Montanans are met,” spokesperson Katie Schoettler said.

People who support the intent of the bill — which would directly impact staff cuts in seven states and could reduce future cuts — are urged by people pushing to restore the service to call or email their senators and representatives to show their support.

Amtrak cut the staffing in June for Havre and Shelby, part of cuts to ticket agent staffing around the country. The service said that due to the use of internet and automated telephone ticket purchasing, it was cutting staffing at stations that average fewer than 40 passengers a day in order to be “good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Others have said the cuts ignore other services ticket agents perform — a Havre ticket agent helped a passenger get life-saving medical care in April, then helped him get aboard the train and headed onward several days later — and ignores issues ranging from ticket agents telling passengers what is available in the community and collecting baggage to get it onto the baggage car. Other services include answering calls about the schedule and the fact that if no ticket agent is present, children cannot get on the train unless an adult guardian is traveling with them.

A Havre couple found that out the hard way in June when they tried to put their grandson on the train to ride home to Glasgow. They then stood in the rain on the station platform using their cellphones to buy tickets so they could take an unexpected trip with him so he could get home on the train.

Daines and Tester are among a bipartisan group of senators from seven states co-sponsoring a bill by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, that would require Amtrak to set the cutoff at 25 passengers a day rather than 40.

The bill would require no new funding, using the appropriation already allocated to Amtrak.

The group is trying to attach the bill to a transportation funding bill, and missed in an attempt earlier this week when Senate leadership did not schedule it for a vote.

A spokesman for Tester said the next step will be to try to attach the amendment during a conference committee that will work to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions of the funding bill.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, co-sponsored the bill on its introduction by Brown, and the senators who joined Tester and Daines in co-sponsoring it are Sens. Doug Jones, D-Alaska, Shelley Moore Capito, R-Wyo., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

The Marshall News Messenger of Marshall, Texas, reports the bill would restore staffing at 11 depots including Havre and Shelby as well as Marshall.

The other stations that would regain ticket agents are in Cincinnati, Ohio; Topeka, Kansas; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Meridian, Missississippi; Hammond, Louisiana; Lamy, New Mexico; Ottumwa, Iowa, and Charleston, West Virginia.


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