Staffed to Unstaffed Stations Master Thread

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Devil's Advocate

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I'd be fine with getting rid of the Quik-Trak machines...if they were replaced with a machine like this: These could also be a replacement for station staff on-site at smaller/less busy stations. If Amtrak could ever figure out trainside checked baggage systemwide (or at least where platform length allows) it would still allow most services to continue even without on-site staff. At stations without on-site staff currently, this could be a way to offer in-person assistance without needing someone on-site.
This video is a best case test spin, which is fine for understanding the basic concept, but I'd like to see this solution being used by an elderly tourist who doesn't know the system talking to foreign call center staff during a heavy traffic period.
 
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Seaboard92

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What I don’t get.

Amtrak on private cars “We are trying to eliminate any delays we can control” which is an actual quote from Stephen Robusto of Amtrak’s Commercial Development Group.

But when it’s destaffing their stations they don’t seam to care about cutting delays.

Self checking of bags is just going to add dwell time. If passengers have to lug stuff to the baggage car and then all the way back to their car.

Then what do you do with people with mobility issues who will now have to slowly make themselves to the train instead of a golf cart operated by station staff.

Seams to me Amtrak is hypocritical.
 

Thirdrail7

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What I don’t get.

Amtrak on private cars “We are trying to eliminate any delays we can control” which is an actual quote from Stephen Robusto of Amtrak’s Commercial Development Group.

But when it’s destaffing their stations they don’t seam to care about cutting delays.

Self checking of bags is just going to add dwell time. If passengers have to lug stuff to the baggage car and then all the way back to their car.

Then what do you do with people with mobility issues who will now have to slowly make themselves to the train instead of a golf cart operated by station staff.

Seams to me Amtrak is hypocritical.
There is a huge difference in adding equipment that needs a brake test and checking bags. Additionally, people on this board that mentioned self serve baggage, especially since a lot of the stations never had a staff to begin with.
 

jis

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Do Quick-Trak machines do baggage, too? Just wondering.
AFAIK they don't.

Where self checkin kiosks handle baggage - like across the entire UA system almost - the kiosk prints out the requisite baggage tags with instructions to affix them. And then most fortunately you just drop the bags at a Bag Drop close by and do not have to lug it to the plane.

At a remote Amtrak station I doubt there will be a kiosk. The tagging will have to be done trackside by the baggage car attendant - most likely the Conductor. Self checkin through a Device could take the information about the number of bags and record it with the PNR so that the Conductor could pull it up and print out a tag on a suitably equipped device in the baggage car if one wishes to automate it a bit further.
 
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lordsigma

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AFAIK they don't.

Where self checkin kiosks handle baggage - like across the entire UA system almost - the kiosk prints out the requisite baggage tags with instructions to affix them. And then most fortunately you just drop the bags at a Bag Drop close by and do not have to lug it to the plane.

At a remote Amtrak station I doubt there will be a kiosk. The tagging will have to be done trackside by the baggage car attendant - most likely the Conductor. Self checkin through a Device could take the information about the number of bags and record it with the PNR so that the Conductor could pull it up and print out a tag on a suitably equpped device in the baggage car if one wishes to automate it a bit further.
I think some things are best left not automated. We seem to be so determined as a society to automate ourselves as a species to irrelevancy. Not every station needs to be staffed but moderate/major ones should. We shall see what happens with reauthorization. Station staff are extremely unappreciated and in my opinion remain important, but my opinion I guess. And I am saying this as someone who works in the technology field. I have a mobility impaired family member who I have occasionally traveled with that has taken advantage of red cap and station agent assistance in a wheel chair in larger stations and with boarding so I recognize the value and you cannot automate these services.
 
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Palmetto

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Actually, I was being facetious. I was trying to point out, ineffectively, that you need a person to help passengers with baggage. Elimination of station agents across the country does not help the customer expeience.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Do Quick-Trak machines do baggage, too? Just wondering.
The only thing I ever saw them do is print "same as cash" paper tickets before you could print your own e-ticket. Today I can board Amtrak trains without any tickets at all so I'm not sure what purpose Quik-Trak machines still serve other than giving people without smartphones a paper copy in case there's a dispute.

Actually, I was being facetious. I was trying to point out, ineffectively, that you need a person to help passengers with baggage. Elimination of station agents across the country does not help the customer expeience.
If a machine spat out a self-sealing luggage tag which was then affixed by the customer and handed to the assistant conductor for storing in the baggage car it may not be ideal but perhaps acceptable for most unstaffed stations. I agree that having in-person staff can be a substantial benefit, but for small towns with limited passenger rail service it's probably not practical to fund more than a couple hours of on-site assistance per day. That being the case the ideal situation may be to combine bus, shuttle, rail, and cafe service into a single location with each company paying a portion of the staff cost.
 
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lordsigma

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The only thing I ever saw them do is print "same as cash" paper tickets before you could print your own e-ticket. Today I can board Amtrak trains without any tickets at all so I'm not sure what purpose Quik-Trak machines still serve other than giving people without smartphones a paper copy in case there's a dispute.


If a machine spat out a self-sealing luggage tag which was then affixed by the customer and handed to the assistant conductor for storing in the baggage car it may not be ideal but perhaps acceptable for most unstaffed stations. I agree that having in-person staff can be a substantial benefit, but for small towns with limited passenger rail service it's probably not practical to fund more than a couple hours of on-site assistance per day. That being the case the ideal situation may be to combine bus, shuttle, rail, and cafe service into a single location with each company paying a portion of the staff cost.
The ideal thing at smaller stations would probably be to make the caretaker into a part time full agent that can do everything normal station agents do but work part time when needed for the train. But that may not be allowed by the union contract I guess.
 

jis

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Actually, I was being facetious. I was trying to point out, ineffectively, that you need a person to help passengers with baggage. Elimination of station agents across the country does not help the customer expeience.
Actually, I was just following through on what would be possible using information collected at "baggage checkin" of some sort. This would potentially help even a station agent (and customers - see below), who could just pull up the information and print tags.

AFAIK currently Amtrak does not print baggage tags. They have a stash of tags with destination codes on them and the agent picks the right one, and if unavailable, hand writes one on a blank.

Pre-registration of checked bags help both a station agent and a trackside baggage agent equally with adequate support from the IT system. It also helps provide the foundation for baggage tracking service equivalent to what UPS, USPS or Fedex provides as is now available at Delta or United too. So at the end of the day such an improved use of IT system is a win win for all and in and of itself does not imply getting rid of station agents. It incidentally enables wider provision of checked baggage service where there has never been a station agent in the past too.
 

brianpmcdonnell17

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Actually, I was just following through on what would be possible using information collected at "baggage checkin" of some sort. This would potentially help even a station agent (and customers - see below), who could just pull up the information and print tags.

AFAIK currently Amtrak does not print baggage tags. They have a stash of tags with destination codes on them and the agent picks the right one, and if unavailable, hand writes one on a blank.

Pre-registration of checked bags help both a station agent and a trackside baggage agent equally with adequate support from the IT system. It also helps provide the foundation for baggage tracking service equivalent to what UPS, USPS or Fedex provides as is now available at Delta or United too. So at the end of the day such an improved use of IT system is a win win for all and in and of itself does not imply getting rid of station agents. It incidentally enables wider provision of checked baggage service where there has never been a station agent in the past too.
Amtrak tested printing baggage checks at Chicago and Washington (possibly intermediate CL stations as well, but I don't know for sure about that part). They were very similar in appearance to airline checks, but Amtrak apparently stopped issuing them and went back to the method you described. The last time I remember getting one of the printed checks was on a trip at the end of July 2018.
 

lordsigma

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It should be noted that for stations funded by state supported routes they’d probably have to bring these changes to the state partner. Any major changes to amenities or service are supposed to be negotiated with the state partner under most of the state contracts. There have been some occasions where states have rejected “destaffing” decisions. Most recent one I can think of is Altoona, PA. And ultimately the state is going to pay the subsidy to pay for it. So if something comes I’d expect them to start with long distance and NEC stations.
 

jis

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Amtrak has destaffed many NEC stations long back [emoji57] . There probably are just a couple more candidates.
 

TiBike

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There's no labor shortage at stations, staffed or otherwise, along long distance routes. Plenty of Amtrak employees arrive on every train. The problem is work rules. It makes no sense to assign baggage handling to a highly trained employee who has to juggle critical operating responsibilities at the same time, while several other employees stand on the platform doing nothing. Flexible work rules and effective supervision are the solution.
 

jis

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There is labor at unstaffed stations? [emoji51]
 

jis

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Not if there are unstaffed trains.
Cute! :p

It depends on how adequately the train is staffed to spare resources to cover unstaffed station's needs adequately.
 

dogbert617

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Sadly, it looks like Amtrak may be about to do another round of ticket agent cutbacks. :( This article confirms Kalamazoo will become unstaffed in early 2020, at an undetermined date. To me though, why Kalamazoo of all staffed Amtrak stations? KAL is one of the busiest Amtrak stations in that state, and to me seems just as extremely stupid to unstaff as Cincinnati was, considering how many riders use it. Granted I know Cincy's ridership unfortunately is a little less, but that isn't the fault of that station, and more the fact it only runs 3 days a week. Also the late night train times(after 1:30am going west, and about 3:30am going east), probably don't help with ridership in Cincy. Anyway: https://wwmt.com/news/local/kalamazoos-amtrak-ticket-window-to-close-in-2020
 

FrensicPic

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lordsigma

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Sadly, it looks like Amtrak may be about to do another round of ticket agent cutbacks. :( This article confirms Kalamazoo will become unstaffed in early 2020, at an undetermined date. To me though, why Kalamazoo of all staffed Amtrak stations? KAL is one of the busiest Amtrak stations in that state, and to me seems just as extremely stupid to unstaff as Cincinnati was, considering how many riders use it. Granted I know Cincy's ridership unfortunately is a little less, but that isn't the fault of that station, and more the fact it only runs 3 days a week. Also the late night train times(after 1:30am going west, and about 3:30am going east), probably don't help with ridership in Cincy. Anyway: https://wwmt.com/news/local/kalamazoos-amtrak-ticket-window-to-close-in-2020
Kalamazoo may be an agent retirement. The station has only a single agent and isn’t even open every day. Sundays and Monday’s it’s unstaffed. As this is a state supported station only it may not be related to closures for the long distance side. Michigan has had several others go the same way. The state may be looking to cut their subsidy costs for the wolverines and is letting them drop the agents.
 

dogbert617

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Kalamazoo may be an agent retirement. The station has only a single agent and isn’t even open every day. Sundays and Monday’s it’s unstaffed. As this is a state supported station only it may not be related to closures for the long distance side. Michigan has had several others go the same way. The state may be looking to cut their subsidy costs for the wolverines and is letting them drop the agents.
Ah, I see. I'm guessing at more and more stations in smaller cities and towns still with an agent or 2(like both you and SarahZ said in that other thread), that sadly I wouldn't be surprised if Amtrak and the state agencies that run state supported trains are just letting the remaining agents slowly work a few last years till they retire, and gradually wind down the operations of all remaining Amtrak ticket agents? Personally I like having the ticket agents myself, since they do MORE than just sell tickets. Sadly to say, I won't be surprised if say like in 5-10 years, as much as I GREATLY hate to say this fear out loud, that I worry that there may almost be no agents left?
 

tricia

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Ah, I see. I'm guessing at more and more stations in smaller cities and towns still with an agent or 2(like both you and SarahZ said in that other thread), that sadly I wouldn't be surprised if Amtrak and the state agencies that run state supported trains are just letting the remaining agents slowly work a few last years till they retire, and gradually wind down the operations of all remaining Amtrak ticket agents? Personally I like having the ticket agents myself, since they do MORE than just sell tickets. Sadly to say, I won't be surprised if say like in 5-10 years, as much as I GREATLY hate to say this fear out loud, that I worry that there may almost be no agents left?
And almost no checked baggage.
 

lordsigma

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Ah, I see. I'm guessing at more and more stations in smaller cities and towns still with an agent or 2(like both you and SarahZ said in that other thread), that sadly I wouldn't be surprised if Amtrak and the state agencies that run state supported trains are just letting the remaining agents slowly work a few last years till they retire, and gradually wind down the operations of all remaining Amtrak ticket agents? Personally I like having the ticket agents myself, since they do MORE than just sell tickets. Sadly to say, I won't be surprised if say like in 5-10 years, as much as I GREATLY hate to say this fear out loud, that I worry that there may almost be no agents left?
Mostly have seen this in Michigan lately - Michigan is an economically challenged state so I wouldn’t be surprised if state budgets are challenged. There have been different examples - for example Pennsylvania did not want Amtrak to destaff Altoona so they didn’t end up doing it and I know of stations on other routes where they still actively replace station agents and maintain full staffing - in fact my local station just ADDED two hours to the ticket office hours - so it probably really depends on the route/state.
 

dogbert617

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And almost no checked baggage.
I may've forgotten the now lack of checked baggage part when it came to recently unstaffed stations, but you know my point. That due to these unstaffing decisions, these end up greatly annoying customers due to the lack of customer service, and that makes it harder for new riders to want to consider riding Amtrak. And as a result, it affects the likelihood of new riders ever giving Amtrak making a chance, and making it less likely they'll ride the train. Ugh, it's too bad that I have a fear of how many stations are moving towards being unstaffed, that I worry one day way down the road, that no stations will still be staffed anymore? I hope I'm proven wrong on that fear, but sadly very long term it seems like Amtrak is moving towards that. :(
 

Michigan Mom

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Always disheartening when the solutions to lowering costs are getting rid of humans.
So many things could be done, workable ideas on this thread, but all require politicians who care about public transport systems isntead of giving the rich more tax cuts. I wish us all luck with that.
 
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