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.
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.”