Agents back at Amtrak stations, Tuss to speak at hearing secured by Tester
Last updated 10/1/2020 at 2:23pm
Editor’s note: This version adds comments from Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari about how cash sales tickets will not be sold in the Havre and Shelby Amtrak stations.
A representative of Amtrak said agents will be coming back to the Havre Amtrak station today, while the head of Havre-based Bear Paw Development Corp. will be testifying this month in a Senate hearing about the rail passenger service as Amtrak cuts the Empire Builder to running three days a week.
Amtrak Spokesperson Marc Magliari said in an email Wednesday night that the Havre and Shelby stations will have customer service representatives by today and they plan to restore checked baggage service in both locations by the end of October.
“They will assist customers in their electronic purchase of tickets and manage the process of for the travel of unaccompanied minors,” Magliari said today.
“We are not accepting cash at this time and they will help those who wish to pay in cash by directing them on the purchase of reloadable debit cards — available at many stores — or if the purchase of Amtrak Gift Cards via PayPal.”
Amtrak has spent the past years eliminating ticket agents in stations that have average daily passengers below a certain level, and in 2018 eliminated agents in 16 stations across the country that averaged fewer than 40 passengers a day, including in Havre and Shelby.
Hi-Line residents and the Rail Passenger Association objected to the decision and the members of Montana's congressional delegation, Tester and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., all contacted the corporation requesting the ticket agents be put back, but Amtrak, at the time, refused to reinstate them.
This included when Congress ordered them to provide station agents where ticket agents had been cut in 2018.
Amtrak, at the time, said the language provided in Congress’s accompanying funding plan did not require ticket agents and station attendants with whom it had contracted could provide customer service.
In 2019, Amtrak was ordered by the Congress to restore ticket agents to stations that average more than 25 passengers a day including the station in Havre and Shelby.
Tester said Wednesday in press release that he secured an Oct. 7 oversight hearing with the Senate Commerce Committee on the future of Amtrak.
Bear Paw Development Corp. Executive Director Paul Tuss, also the executive director of Montana Economic Developers Association, will testify at the hearing.
This comes on the heels of Amtrak’s announcement in June that it will reduce service on its long-distance trains including The Empire Builder to reducing to three days a week starting today.
“I am very pleased to be able to represent Montana and rural America at this hearing, which is focused on the importance of passenger rail service to our nation,” Tuss said this morning.
He said the Empire Builder provides a critical transportation to the rest of the country, and the recently announced cuts to daily service will be detrimental to people in the Hi-Line and across the country.
“I am honored that Sen. Tester asked me to bring the perspective of rural Montana to this critical conversation at the national level,” Tuss said.
Tester said in his release that he thinks Amtrak is critical to Montana, even as the pandemic has hurt its ridership, and he thinks Tuss has a valuable perspective to provide congress.
“The truth of the matter is, Amtrak keeps Montana’s Hi-Line communities connected to the rest of the country while providing jobs and revenue to folks in places like Shelby, Havre and Glasgow,” said Tester. “The coronavirus pandemic has devastated Amtrak ridership, and looming cuts to long-distance lines like the Empire Builder are threatening the livelihood of thousands of Montanans. I’m proud to have secured this hearing so politicians in Washington can finally hear firsthand from folks like Paul Tuss just how critical Amtrak services are to rural America.”
The release said the hearing will discuss the oversight of funding allocated to Amtrak in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security — CARES— Act and the future of long-distance rail services across the country.