WASHINGTON —On November 7, 2013, Amtrak recognized a group of citizens from Hope, Ark. with its “Champion of the Rails” award. Given out annually as part of the President’s Service and Safety Awards, it honors non-Amtrak employees who have worked to promote and improve intercity passenger rail service throughout the nation.
The tourism possibilities created by Bill Clinton’s presidency—he was born in Hope—prompted civic leaders to approach Amtrak in 1993 about making the city a regularly scheduled stop for the Texas Eagle. Over the next two decades, the city prevailed through a variety of challenges ranging from negotiations with the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) to identifying financing for platform construction.
Constructed in 1912 by the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad, the one story depot remained in active passenger use until 1968, but subsequently fell into disrepair. To celebrate Clinton’s rise to the highest office in the nation, a group of citizens advocated for the conversion of the depot into a museum focused on his life. With the museum concept in place, the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company, by then part of UP, donated the depot to the city in 1994. Renovations were finished the next year, and the facility opened to the public. Today, the building also houses a visitor and information center with a conference room available for community meetings. The President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home, now a National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service, is also within walking distance.
With the depot restored and opened to the public, the town turned its attention to establishing regular rail service, which included building a platform. The Hope Platform Committee, under the leadership of Hope Parks and Tourism Director Paul Henley, met with local, state and federal leadership to describe its vision for the project and how it would benefit the city. The group also profited from the support of the successful Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization.
Over 20 years, the estimated cost of the accessible platform rose due to new Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and an innovative design that directs drainage away from the tracks. Ultimately, precast concrete sections were used in construction, and this system now serves as model for future platforms. Funding was met through a partnership between the city, Amtrak and state agencies; work was also closely coordinated with track owner UP. The platform is rather unique in that its concrete face is stamped with “Hope, a Slice of the Good Life”—the city’s catchphrase and a reference to its famous watermelons.
On Thursday, April 4, 2013, the Amtrak Texas Eagle began service at the historic downtown depot. To celebrate, dozens of residents boarded the train for Texarkana, and then returned on school buses to enjoy a community breakfast in Hope.
With the addition of Hope, the customer base for the Texas Eagle has grown and positively impacted route revenue while also expanding the Amtrak brand in Arkansas. Projected ridership at Hope includes first-time leisure rail travelers, college students and tourists. The station also draws new customers from nearby communities such as Prescott, Magnolia and Camden.