TOPEKA — Amtrak employee James Woods found out late last week that he will lose his job at the Topeka station after the company announced it will close two manned ticket windows in Kansas.
The Topeka and Garden City stations will stay open but will not have ticket agents onsite to sell tickets, said Amtrak regional spokesman Marc Magliari. The Topeka ticket window closes May 20, while the Garden City window will close May 15.
“Fewer than one in 10 Amtrak tickets nowadays is sold at a ticket counter,” he said, adding that Topeka has been one of 500 places nationwide where tickets could be purchased. But in terms of volume, it is not in the top half of stations for ridership.
“It’s not a reflection on the customer service rep there,” Magliari said. “It’s just the customers have voted with their pocketbooks on how they buy tickets. It certainly has trended not only are fewer than 1 in 10 tickets are sold at a ticket counter, I think more than three-quarters of them are sold with no human intervention at all.”
Staff will remain in the Newton and Kansas City Amtrak stations.
Nationally, Amtrak is laying off 22 people, Magliari said. The company has not determined yet if passengers will have the ability to check baggage in Topeka once an agent is no longer available onsite. At some stations, Amtrak allows train-side checked baggage, he said.
“We continue to assess where it makes sense to have customer service reps,” Magliari said.
Right now, the plan is to have a caretaker open and close the Topeka station at 500 S.E. Holliday Place daily, and make sure it is clean and presentable. An active volunteer group of Santa Fe Railroad retirees have been maintaining and improving the station, Magliari said. Other stations nationally sometimes have station hosts that are volunteers and Amtrak would be open to that idea if any Topeka group would like to take on that task.
Magliari said an unmanned station could cause the number of travelers through the Topeka station to decrease. In Wolf Point, Mon., the station was closed about a year ago and ridership was affected but on a minor scale of losing about two riders per day.
Woods is a member of the Transportation Communications Union. He has the option of taking another position with Amtrak by exercising his seniority rights, he said, but that will mean moving out of the area. He also said he is not able to make comments on the company’s decision to eliminate his position.