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Volunteers celebrate 10 years serving Amtrak passengers

Charlie McCoy waves to the assistant conductor to indicate everyone is on board and ready to go as the train prepares to pull out of the Jefferson City station Friday morning. On board the train is conductor Jason Tuck, who checks forward and backward to make sure the loading area is clear. McCoy is one of the members of the Capital City Amtrak Friends group who volunteers at the Amtrak station on a regular basis.

Charlie McCoy waves to the assistant conductor to indicate everyone is on board and ready to go as the train prepares to pull out of the Jefferson City station Friday morning. On board the train is conductor Jason Tuck, who checks forward and backward to make sure the loading area is clear. McCoy is one of the members of the Capital City Amtrak Friends group who volunteers at the Amtrak station on a regular basis. Photo by Julie Smith.

Ten years ago, the future of Amtrak service and the Jefferson City station looked bleak.

The ticket agents that had been housed there were removed because of reduced state funding, and the battle to keep the service going across Missouri had to withstand pressure from some members in the Legislature to pull the plug altogether.

Now, the passenger train service is in its seventh consecutive year of increased ridership and the volunteers who work at the Jefferson City station are seeing the fruits of their labor paying off.

Friday marked the 10th anniversary of the first day volunteers manned the station.

Judy Towson is president of the volunteer group, and she and her husband, Bill, have been working since the first day the volunteers came on the scene.

She said 25 volunteers currently help with passengers during the times when the four Amtrak trains come through.

“I do it because I worked for a railroad in Michigan for 12 and a half years,” Towson said. “We get a chance to meet passengers, talk to them, much more than what the ticket agents could do when they were here.”

Towson remembers when all the room they had for people to wait in was the current lobby, which only seats seven people.

When the Amtrak agents left, their area and additional room that had been used by the Department of Natural Resources was made available to be remodeled into a bigger waiting area, which is open for about two hours while each train is coming in and going out.

In addition to providing refreshments and a place to relax, the volunteers also keep the waiting passengers updated with the day’s anticipated arrival times.

“We started with 45 volunteers, but we lost many because at that time the trains could run several hours late, meaning you’d have to stay for quite some time before a train came in,” Towson said. “Now, it’s like night and day. We’ve got more room and thanks to track improvements our trains run on time most of the time.”

Figures put together by the volunteer group show they served more than 12,000 visitors in 2003.

That number jumped to more than 51,000 in 2012.

For their 10 years of service, the volunteers have served nearly 448,000 visitors.

“Passengers, especially elderly, don’t have to worry about being left alone while waiting for a train,” Towson said. “I don’t know what they’d do without us.”

Towson said they are always looking for volunteers, and if anyone is interested, they should call her at 634-4252.

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