Winona May Create Station Volunteers Program

Residents of Winona, Minnesota, are considering launching a volunteers program to work at the city’s Amtrak station in the wake of the removal of the Amtrak ticket agent there late last year.

An Amtrak representative along with a member of a similar program in Kirkwood, Missouri, recently visited Winona to discuss how a volunteer program could be structured and operate.

Amtrak 4After removing its agent from Winona, Amtrak arranged for someone to open and close the station as well as do maintenance and cleaning.

Winona is a crew change point for the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Bill Burckhalter, the station manager for the Kirkwood Amtrak station said his community’s program started with volunteers serving in pairs and coming in an hour before train arrival times and staying for a half-hour after a train had departed.

The volunteers initially greeted passengers and saw them off, but the program has since evolved into providing information and receiving grants to operate, maintain and improve the station.

The City of Kirkwood later purchased the former Missouri Pacific station from Union Pacific.

Burckhalter said the volunteers are a mixture of of train enthusiasts and community members.

“I like the way the community has come together and surrounded the volunteer program,” Burckhalter said. “It’s grown so much.”

Charlie Monte Verde, an Amtrak government affairs representative, said the decision to remove the ticket agent from Winona was based on a shrinking need for staffed stations nationwide because many passengers purchase tickets and make reservations online.

“Nationally, and here in Winona, 85 percent of our customers were using e-ticketing,” Monte Verde said. “With that in mind we had come to the decision to reduce staffing here in Winona.”

Monte Verde said that Canadian Pacific still owns the Winona depot and uses part of it.

However, he said that developing a volunteer program in Winona could still work.  “I think it’s an environment where it can at least become a conversation,” Monte Verde said.

Winona Mayor Mark Peterson said there will be future meetings to discuss setting up a volunteer program.

In 2014, Winona had the second-highest passenger count among Amtrak stations in Minnesota, handling 20,318 passengers. St. Paul was the state’s busiest station with 94,077 passengers.

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