In Kirkwood, Mo., the historic depot is the heart of the bustling downtown, known for its shopping, dining and cultural attractions. A dedicated team of volunteer station hosts assists Amtrak passengers and visitors throughout the day.

Aerial photo of train at Kirkwood station.

Kirkwood is located west of St. Louis and is served by four trains a day that operate between St. Louis and Kansas City.

Instilling Community Pride

Amtrak and the state, which helps fund the four daily Missouri River Runner trains, decided to remove ticket agents from the Kirkwood station in 2003 as part of a broader cost-saving measure. Fearing that the prominent downtown building would be shuttered, city leaders purchased the depot from Union Pacific Railroad and considered ways to keep it open to the public. The city subsequently created a pioneer management program made up of local volunteers who would staff and manage the station. Following the city’s first call for volunteers, almost 200 people showed up to perform their civic duty, and many agreed to regularly participate in the program.

Growing the Program

Originally charged with greeting passengers and keeping the depot open for a few hours a day for train arrivals, the enthusiastic volunteers soon advocated for maintaining a presence at the facility all throughout the day. They also suggested ways to promote the depot as a community gathering place, such as decorating it according to the seasons and creating a lending library.

Today, more than 75 active volunteers staff the depot 365 days of the year and act as goodwill ambassadors for Amtrak and the city. They gladly tell visitors about restaurants, shops and local attractions such as the nearby Farmers Market. Volunteers do not sell Amtrak tickets or quote fares. More than one million passengers and visitors have stopped by the depot since May 2003.

“When a person is a rail fan, enjoys helping other people and feels an obligation to give back to the community, being a volunteer at Kirkwood Station is the place to be,” says volunteer Jim Wolf. “[It] has become a hub of many city activities, all of which make the ‘job’ even more fun and rewarding. We get a chance to help regular customers, meet new ones and see the smiles on the faces of the small children as they play in the station while waiting for the next train to pass.”

“Our volunteers take great pride in helping Amtrak passengers. They know how to keep passengers updated on train schedules and often suggest trips for families. They love to give passengers advice and directions to our local shops and restaurants.”

Bill BurckhalterKirkwood station manager

The city employs a station manager, Bill Burckhalter, who oversees the station volunteer and rental programs, reports building needs to the city’s maintenance supervisor and works with all municipal departments in maintaining the depot and grounds.

Hosts decorating station for holidays

Station hosts decorate the depot according to the season. Image courtesy of Bill Burckhalter.

Due to the professionalism of the volunteers, who fill all open shifts and make arrangements to cover for one another, Burckhalter no longer has to spend the majority of his time at the station directly overseeing them. Instead, he has been able to focus on pursuing grants for important station improvement work.

Burckhalter also represents Kirkwood at quarterly meetings of the state-sponsored Missouri Rail Passenger Advisory Committee, during which communities served by the Missouri River Runner discuss common issues such as promotion of train service and tourism.

A Community Gathering Place

Santa Claus visits Kirkwood station

The depot is used throughout the year for special events, such as this visit from Santa Claus. Image courtesy of Bill Burckhalter.

In large part due to the friendly volunteer presence, the depot has become a de facto town welcome center where people are encouraged to sit and take a rest while shopping, play a game of checkers or attend some of the more than 100 events scheduled each year – including art shows, poetry readings and book talks. The waiting room can also be rented for parties, meetings and other events.

Recognizing Success

Since 2004, station volunteers have donated nearly 83,000 hours to the city. The group has received numerous awards and special recognitions:

  • Amtrak 2004 “Champion of the Rails” award
  • Kirkwood-Des Peres Chamber of Commerce 2011
  • “Citizens of the Year” award
  • Union Pacific Railroad 2013 “Train Town USA” city

Volunteers also gather for an annual party held in their honor that recognizes the important role they play in promoting Kirkwood as a community in which to live, work and have fun.

Thanks to Kirkwood Station Manager Bill Burckhalter for his assistance with this profile.

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