‘Give Amtrak a Try’
Amtrak is dedicated to making the wonderment of riding an Amtrak train available to everyone. They have done so to the tune of around thirty million dollars in the local North Dakota area according to Amtrak official C.D. Monte Verde, Senior Specialist Government Affairs. Verde said, “We have been going across North Dakota and Minnesota talking about the accessibility to our station. It is important to us that anybody with a mobility impairment is able to enjoy riding our trains.” He continued, “Not only do we want them to have total accessibility from the parking lot, to the station, and to the train we want it to be in a more comfortable way.”
In Rugby that means more accessible drinking fountains, new bathrooms, an appropriate ticket counter, new ramps outside of the door to the platforms and a platform lift station for wheel chairs on to the train, all new additions to the Rugby Amtrak station.
“Over the past five years we have had a fifty percent increase in passengers with disabilities that are riding with us. In addition, we have tracked that about half of our passengers that do have disabilities ride a long distance. So it is something we see as an important part of our business model. Not just in North Dakota but for all along this entire route that goes from Chicago to Oregon. Making these improvements is central to the continuing growth of Amtrak in the market place”, said Verde.
Along with the investment Amtrak has made for better accessibility they are also dedicated to making Amtrak a more reliable comfortable mode of transportation for all their riders.
“A couple of things we rely on in the communities we serve is first and foremost is to give Amtrak a try”, said Jim Brzezinski, Director of Route Services for Amtrak. He further stated, “if you do it once you are not going back anywhere else, you are going to continue to ride with us.”
“We have regular riders that ride all the time. About one in four riders are first time riders. So once they experience the beauty of the train, they continue to use Amtrak as a their transportation of choice. Let me point out what I mean by ‘beauty of the train’, it is a very comfortable ride whether you are riding coach or traveling by a sleeping car it is a pleasurable experience” , said Brzezinski. He continued, ” The seats are very roomy, lots of leg room, and we have big windows to look out so you can enjoy the countryside as you ride.”
He went on, “Think of this, you are in your seat for awhile and then you decide to get up. You can get up and go to the lounge car and you can view the beautiful landscape of America. You can go to the dining cart and have a meal if you decide to do that. The difference between a train, a car, a bus or any other mode of transportation is the comfort of knowing you can get up and move around in a spacious area and know you are still in route to your destination. Sprinkle that with an accommodating, friendly, and helpful staff. You can’t beat taking Amtrak.”
We asked Mr. Brzezinski to address the perception that the train is always running late. “Amtrak is making a concerted effort to make sure the problems of the past, when people were saying ‘oh I don’t have time to ride the train because the train was late, or too many delays’ is just that, a problem in the past.”
“We were running 3 or 5, 7 or 8 hours late and our passengers were getting frustrated and as a result some of our passengers were going away. We knew we had issues and we had a plan but it did take time to implement. We had to install double tracking, signaling insulation and sighting along the route. That took some time and we asked our customers to have some patience. Unfortunately, we did lose a lot of riders, double digits. But we knew we had a good plan and once it got put together we were very hopeful with aggressive pricing, schedule changes, and marketing we would get our riders back”, said Brzezinski
He concluded, “Let me tell you where we are at today, just in five months we see a decrease in delays and an increase in ridership, we don’t have numbers for October yet but we see the trend continuing to increase meaning the ‘get well’ program is working. Our fiscal year starts in October and ends in September and we started our fiscal year in double digit losses in ridership and so to go from that to have increases in ridership for five straight months is very encouraging to us. It means our passengers are coming back and we are keeping them. We are committed to making the train experience as pleasurable as possible for all of our riders”
It is said that the joy of life, is not the destination, but the journey; with dedicated local employees like Duane Veach of Rugby and Amtrak’s dedication to continued excellence it certainly seems Amtrak does everything it can to make that axiom ring true.
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