East Lansing to join list of unstaffed Amtrak stations in Michigan

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LANSING, Mich. — East Lansing, Michigan’s fourth-busiest Amtrak station, will soon join the list of Amtrak ticket offices in the state to close.

The stations in Niles, Jackson and Flint, Mich., became unstaffed earlier this year by attrition (the lone ticket agent at each station retired and was not replaced). In all cases, the Michigan Department of Transportation, which pays for all three Amtrak routes operating in the state, has hired caretakers to open and close the recently de-staffed stations at train times.

“There are plans for full-time caretakers at East Lansing,” MDOT Communications Manager Michael Frezell tells Trains News Wire. “Currently, there is a caretaker only on Tuesday and Wednesday. We are working with the Capital Area Transportation Authority and Amtrak on this.”

Amtrak has eliminated agents at a number of locations nationwide this year, but decisions on staffing in Michigan are made jointly by Amtrak and MDOT. Amtrak justified other ticket office closures by claiming it is uneconomical to staff stations that see an average of fewer than 40 passenger boardings per day, particularly in light of a shift to online ticket purchases. An Amtrak source now reports that a minimum threshold of 40,000 boardings per fiscal year may be in use.

According to Amtrak’s figures, over 68,000 passengers boarded trains at East Lansing in fiscal 2017, almost 10,000 more than the number that boarded at Detroit, which is retaining its staffed ticket office (along with Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, which all saw higher patronage than East Lansing in 2017). The other Michigan stations that remain staffed are Battle Creek and Port Huron, which each handled fewer passengers in 2017 than East Lansing.

Employing caretakers “allows the stations to be open to the public when the trains arrive and depart, which is a benefit to the customers,” Frezell says. “With a vast majority of tickets being purchased online, having tickets purchased at the station has significantly reduced over the past year.”

“Amtrak customer experience and the financial performance of the network is always under review,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “If and when ticket windows are closed, ticketed customers are advised and notices are posted on Amtrak.com. There is no such notice posted for [East Lansing.]” Magliari would not comment on whether Amtrak uses a specific threshold of patronage when deciding whether to retain ticket agents at a given station.



NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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