Montana congressional delegation blasts plan to remove Amtrak agents

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HAVRE, Mont. — Montana’s Congressional delegation is blasting a plan to remove Amtrak agents from two stations along the Empire Builder route.

This weekend, Havre and Shelby will lose their station agents. In April, Amtrak announced it was eliminating agents in 15 communities along seven long-distance routes. The stations will remain open so passengers have a place to wait for their trains, but they will no longer be able to buy tickets there, instead either having to purchase their tickets online or from the conductor. Part-time caretakers will be hired to keep the waiting areas clean.

Democrat Sen. Jon Tester, Republican Sen. Steve Daines, and Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte have all criticized the plan to eliminate the station agents and are still lobbying Amtrak officials to reverse their decision.

“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 in early May during a congressional hearing with Amtrak officials. “Amtrak must take action to ensure the needs of Montanans and rural travelers are met.”

Tester’s staff tells Trains News Wire that the senator has written two letters to Amtrak officials and spoke with CEO Richard Anderson in May to share his concerns about the cost-cutting measures. In a letter from Tester to Anderson, obtained by Trains News Wire, the Democrat outlined a number of issues facing Amtrak’s rural passengers.

“Does Amtrak understand the disproportionate burden that removing on-site staff imposes on passengers in these communities? Did Amtrak reach out to the communities to learn about the lack of access to reliable broadband and internet service? Does Amtrak appreciate the strong cash-based culture present in the local Native American communities that Amtrak serves?” Tester writes.

"I urge that Amtrak engage these communities as soon as possible. Until then, any decisions about staffing should be suspended,” Tester concludes in the May 24 letter.

The decision to remove station agents from Havre and Shelby leaves just two depots in Montana with full-time Amtrak employees: Whitefish and the seasonal stop at East Glacier Park.

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