Two years after the elimination of Marshall Amtrak’s customer service representative position, Marshall Depot board was thrilled to announce, on Wednesday, Amtrak’s decision to restore staffing.
“During the sadness and difficulty of the ongoing pandemic and with continued gratitude for the brave service of our frontline workers and all working together to battle the current health crisis, we’re very grateful and honored to be able to share some welcomed and happy news with our community and region,” stated Christina Anderson, member of the depot board.
As a member of the board and the I-20 Corridor Council, she along with her husband former Harrison County Judge and former State Senator Richard Anderson spearheaded a campaign, in 2018, to try to save the pertinent positions at not only the Marshall station, but other Amtrak facilities across the nation.
Amtrak had announced in the spring of 2018 the company’s plans to eliminate the customer service staffing at the local station by the end of June that year. At the time, Amtrak’s decision to eliminate the customer service representative at the stations was not only influenced by ridership percentages, but also the fact that more passengers were purchasing their tickets online.
At a press conference, during that time, Ms. Anderson expressed how the elimination greatly concerned the community because of the role the position played with regard to safety, security and the operation of the station. Her husband additionally noted that the role encompassed so much more than its commonly known service of being a ticketing agent.
Upon hearing the news of the proposed staffing elimination, fellow members of the Marshall Depot Board took action, rallying rail advocates to participate in a letter-writing and petition-signing campaign that was addressed to Amtrak officials and members of Congress. More than 750 signatures were received from petitions that were placed at local businesses.
“We worked not only throughout our community and region,” Richard Anderson shared, “but also with advocates in some of the other 14 affected cities. We also worked with national rail advocacy groups such as Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization (TEMPO) and Rail Passengers Association to raise awareness with members of Congress and Amtrak about the negative economic, tourism, and quality of life impact that the staffing elimination would have on Marshall, the other cities, and the National Network.”
Despite their efforts, at the time, Marshall’s ticket window formally shut down on June 29, 2018.
It was the day then-ticket agent/customer service representative George Cantley issued his last ticket at the Marshall station before being transferred to Longview.
Due to the board’s and rail advocates’ ongoing persistence, however, their voices were finally heard.
“The final petition from our region was presented via mail to the President of Amtrak, Chairman of the Board of Amtrak, as well as to various members of the Texas Congressional delegation,” Christina Anderson noted. “In the ensuing months, through a continued collaborative effort by rail advocates nationwide concerning the 15 affected cities and related routes, advocates were able to convince Congress to provide the directive to Amtrak to restore the CSR positions in all 15 cities, including Marshall.”
The Marshall Depot board was pleased to learn, on Monday, Amtrak’s plans to restore the service.
“On May 19, we received a phone call from Amtrak informing us that Amtrak plans to restore the paid Customer Service Representative staffing at our Marshall Depot station, as well as at the 14 other U.S. cities who had staffing eliminated in 2018,” Ms. Anderson announced Wednesday.
The 14 other cities are: Texarkana, Arkansas; Cincinnati, Ohio; Topeka, Kansas; Meridian, Mississippi; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Hammond, Louisiana; Charleston, West Virginia; Fort Madison, Iowa; Ottumwa, Iowa; Garden City, Kansas; Maricopa, Arizona; Lamy, New Mexico; Shelby, Montana; and Havre, Montana.
The restoration process is expected to take place in the next month to six weeks. The depot board said that’s great news for community members, officials, and passengers throughout the East Texas and Ark-La-Tex (Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas) region and those who travel Amtrak’s National Network.
“We’re so appreciative to all who worked so hard and effectively to bring about this successful outcome, not only in 2018 but over the past two years,” Cathy Wright, president of Marshall Depot Board, stated. “We’re thankful for the strong working relationship we have with Amtrak, now and in the past, and we look forward to the relationship continuing to strengthen in the many years to come.”
Also on behalf of the board, Ms. Anderson expressed her appreciation to all who played a role in advocating for the positions.
“Congratulations and much appreciation to all who worked with such dedication — locally, regionally, and nationally — on the grassroots effort to help Amtrak understand the critical role that staffing of our stations plays in our rural and urban communities, plus the critical role that Amtrak’s long-distance National Network plays in providing much-needed transportation options to citizens throughout America,” she said. “Our community greatly values and appreciates our strong, long-standing partnership with Amtrak, as Marshall is proudly one of the stops along the Texas Eagle route. And, with regard to this issue, we are grateful that our local and national unified voices were heard.”
Amtrak plans to internally post the listing of the restored CSR jobs in Marshall now through May 27. The jobs will then be posted externally.
According to information from Amtrak, one CSR agent would work Monday through Thursday, the other CSR agent would work Friday through Sunday, for a fully-staffed station in Marshall.
“The CSR agents will provide service at the Marshall Depot station in the three hours before, during, and after the arrival and departure of the northbound, as well as the southbound trains on the Texas Eagle route, which provides service between Chicago and San Antonio,” the Marshall Depot board announced. “The northbound train to Chicago departs each day at 7:31 p.m. and the southbound train to Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio departs at 7:50 a.m. Marshall is one of only about 525 cities nationwide that has an Amtrak stop.”
Dr. Bill Pollard, president of the Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization (TEMPO), shared how thrilled he was of the news. He stressed the importance of the CSR staffing, referring to them as the “face of Amtrak.”
“Due to their knowledge, experience, and recurrent training, the Customer Service Representatives provide services to ensure safe entraining and de-training of passengers, safety on the platform, assistance to persons with disabilities and/or special needs, assistance with luggage, and other important services,” Pollard stated in a news release, “They are often the ‘face of Amtrak’ and are the initial or primary contact for the traveling public to access Amtrak’s important transportation services.”
Ms. Anderson said the Depot board looks forward to sharing additional information as the restoration process progresses.
“We can’t underscore enough how fortunate we are to be an Amtrak-served community and the important economic, transportation, and quality of life benefits that Amtrak and the Marshall Depot provide our community and region,” she said. “We’re also thankful to be a part of such a strong local, regional, and national network of grassroots advocates in support of passenger rail. Plus, in this uncertain time of the pandemic, we’re fortunate that two jobs are being added to the Marshall economy.”