Posts Tagged ‘Havre Montana’

Senator Presses Amtrak to Restore Ticket Agents

January 3, 2020

Montana Senator Jon Tester has asked Amtrak to restore ticket agents to two stations in his state as soon as possible.

Tester made the request of Amtrak President Richard Anderson in the wake of congressional approval of a fiscal year 2020 appropriations bill that included a policy rider that Amtrak restore ticket agents to some stations where they have been removed in recent years.

In Montana that includes Wolf Point, Havre and Shelby, all of which are served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The policy rider directs Amtrak to restore agents to sell tickets and provide customer service to stations that lost agents in 2018 if those stations served an average of 25 or more passengers a day. That would include Havre and Shelby.

In his letter to Anderson, Tester emphasized the importance of ticket agents at rural stations, saying they do more than sell tickets. They also help passengers board, handle baggage and provide information about their communities.

Amtrak policy requires that unaccompanied minors can only board an Amtrak train at stations with a ticket agent.

Amtrak said it removed ticket agents at some stations as a way to cut costs and to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

The passenger carrier has said that most of its passengers purchase tickets online.

In place of ticket agents, Amtrak has contracted with people who act as station caretakers who open the waiting room in advance of train time and keep it clean.

Amtrak has been loath to replace caretakers with ticket agents even in the face of a congressional resolution approved earlier.

Instead, Amtrak has argued that caretakers meet the requirements of congressional intent of having someone at a station who provides customer support but not the sale of tickets or the handling of baggage.

In some communities, volunteers provide information to passengers although they are not authorized to sell tickets.

No One Home in Havre to Meet Builder

June 23, 2018

In announcing plans to eliminate 18 station agent positions, Amtrak said that all of the affected stations would have a caretaker who would open and close the waiting room at train time.

But the Empire Builder recently arrived in Havre, Montana, but the waiting room was closed and locked.

That prompted a protest from Havre Mayor Tim Solomon who said he has regularly received complaints from community members and travelers about the lack of a ticket office in the norther Montana city.

Solomon said he has not yet been able to talk with Amtrak but wants them to know the changes are not working.

Thus far Amtrak has held firm on closing all of the ticket offices that it said that it would.

Amtrak Says Montana Ticket Office Closings are Final

June 8, 2018

Amtrak has told a Montana senator that the closing of ticket offices in Havre and Shelby is final.

In a letter to Jon Tester, Amtrak Executive Vice President Stephen J. Gardner said the Havre ticket agents have lost their jobs.

Gardner said in the letter that most Amtrak passengers purchase tickets online and over the phone nationwide and that the passenger carrier is eliminating ticket agents at stations averaging fewer than 40 passengers a day.

Tester’s press secretary, Marnée Banks, said the senator is continuing to look at what can be done to save the ticket offices.

The letter from Gardner also reiterated a comment he made to a congressional committee that Amtrak at this time has no plans of reducing the frequency of operation of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder, which is Montana’s only Amtrak train.

“Amtrak must remain mindful of our congressional directive . . . to minimize government subsidies,” Gardner said. “We estimate that removing full-time agents from these two stations with fewer than 40 passengers will save approximately $200,000.”

Money saved from closing ticket offices will be redirected toward the national network capital investments and other improvements, Gardner said.

Gardner said 6 percent of ticket sales are made through traditional ticket agents at stations nationwide.

“Of nearly 10,000 customers boarding at (the Havre and Shelby) stations in Montana so far this fiscal year, we believe that only 30 percent and 17 percent, respectively, purchase tickets though the stations agents and of these approximately 2,300 passengers, only 14 percent and 16 percent, respectively, paid with cash,” Gardner said.

However, former Amtrak Havre ticket agent Leslie Shelton said during a meeting of the Havre City Council that she and a co-worker started in April tracking ticket sales in Havre and found that seven out of 10 passengers purchased their tickets from the ticket agents, with a large number of them being purchased with cash.

Both Havre and Shelby offered checked baggage service, which also ended with the closing of the ticket offices.

Gardner said in his letter that the onboard crew will offer any necessary baggage assistance for passengers whether they are boarding or disembarking from the train.

Amtrak has hired caretakers at both stations who will open and close the waiting room around train time and keep it clean.

Montana Lawmakers Want Ticket Offices Kept

June 2, 2018

Montana’s Congressional delegation is protesting the closing of Amtrak ticket offices in Havre and Shelby.

Both cities are served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder and are among 15 offices being closed during May and June.

Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines along with Rep. Greg Gianforte criticized the actions and called on Amtrak to reverse that decision.

In Shelby and Havre, Amtrak plans to hire caretakers to open and close the station waiting room at train time. The caretakers will also be responsible for keeping the waiting rooms clean.

The Havre office was to close on June 1 while the Shelby office is set to be shuttered on June 3.

Senators Plead to Keep Ticket Offices

May 22, 2018

Two U.S. senators are seeking to get Amtrak to delay plans to close ticket offices in their states.

Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) wrote to the passenger carrier to express “serious concerns” about the criteria Amtrak used to determine which ticket offices to close.

In a letter to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, Manchin said removing the ticket agent from Charleston on June 6 “will not only deprive the state of West Virginia of its last Amtrak ticket agent, but will also compromise safety and upkeep of the facility, and make access more difficult for potential customers.”

Manchin said that Charleston handled 9,749 passengers in federal fiscal year 2017, which works out to more than 62 passengers per day for each day that the tri-weekly Cardinal operates there.

He said Amtrak’s decision to calculate ridership on a weekly basis ignores the fact that the Cardinal does not operate daily. “The policy penalizes Charleston’s station for part-time service without allowing it to be a full-time station.”

Manchin also said 30 percent of West Virginia lacks Internet access and that mobile broadband access is limited in many parts of the state.

Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) sought to keep the ticket offices in Havre and Shelby open during a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

He also called on Amtrak to create a station stop in Culbertson.

“The Empire Builder is critically important to keeping our rural communities connected, transporting out-of-state visitors to some of Montana’s pristine landscapes and supporting local economies,” Daines said. “Amtrak must take action to ensure the needs of Montanans and rural travelers are met.”

Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer of Amtrak, said during the hearing the carrier is supportive of adding a stop at Culbertson once station infrastructure is in place.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder in Big Sky Country

October 20, 2016
Snow covered mountains loom behind Amtrak's eastbound Empire Builder as it heads for Chicago near Browning, Montana.

Snow covered mountains loom behind Amtrak’s eastbound Empire Builder as it heads for Chicago near Browning, Montana.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder passes through Montana during daylight hours in both directions, so Akron Railroad Club member Roger Durfee went chasing after the Builder during his trip to the Treasure State this past September.

He tracked down No. 8 in various locations including against a backdrop of mountains, open range and grain elevators, making images of the train near Browning, Cut Bank, Shelby, Malta and Havre.

This is the territory of the former Great Northern Railway, which was built by “empire builder” James Hill. For decades the Empire Builder was the premier passenger train on the GN and is now Amtrak’s only train linking Chicago and the Pacific Northwest.

Today these tracks are owned by BNSF and Amtrak’s Empire Builder is the only passenger train to use these rails.

Photographs by Roger Durfee

Two views of No. 8 near Browning Montana. Glacier National Park is beyond those mountains.

Two views of No. 8 near Browning Montana. Glacier National Park is beyond those mountains.

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Passing an empty crude oil train west of Malta.

Passing an empty crude oil train west of Malta.

Passing a waterway near Shelby.

Passing a waterway near Shelby.

Making a station stop in Malta.

Making a station stop in Malta.

In the barren countryside between Cut Bank and Shelby.

I like how I could do a broadside of the whole train out there.

Dropping down into the Valley of Cut Bank Creek.

Dropping down into the Valley of Cut Bank Creek.

Gliding over Cut Bank Creek on a high trestle.

Gliding over Cut Bank Creek on a high trestle.

Passing an old elevator at Ethridge.

Passing an old elevator at Ethridge.

Getting fuel in Havre.

Getting fuel in Havre.

The heritage of this line is Great Northern as someone wants you to know in Havre.

The heritage of this line is Great Northern as someone wants you to know in Havre. The stained glass shows “Rocky,” the GN mascot.

Posing with a relic of the Great Northern in Havre.

Posing with a relic of the Great Northern in Havre.

Stretching Their Legs in Havre

October 6, 2016

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Havre, Montana, is a service stop for Amtrak’s Empire Builder and that makes it a good place to get out and stretch your legs on the platform.

No. 7 is running about an hour behind schedule as it sits in the station in May 2014. A small child is running on the platform, much to amusement of the couple standing next to the station sign.

The dining car will receive water here and trash will be taken off and disposed of. Many of those in the sleepers will have dinner not long after their train departs.

Aside from people watching and taking in the crew at work servicing the train, there is also a Greater Northern steam locomotive on display to look at.

It won’t be the highlight of anyone’s trip, but stops such as this one at Havre add a little variety to a long train trip.