Capito, Manchin work to restore funding for passenger depot

CHARLESTON — When members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives return from their late-summer break, they will be asked to consider a Senate appropriations bill passed early in August that contains $2.5 billion in funding for Amtrak that would restore a human ticket agent at Amtrak’s passenger station in Charleston and continue excursion service for the annual New River Train. 

The appropriations bill, passed by the Senate on Aug. 7 by a vote of 92-6, contained continuing funding for smaller passenger stations and excursion services that was the result of a fair amount of legwork and behind-the-scenes negotiations by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. 

“West Virginians rely on our roads, bridges, highways and railways to move across our state and fuel our economy,” Capito said Monday. “That’s why I have worked diligently to ensure we continue to have access to important services and resources.” 

Early in 2018, Amtrak announced it would be discontinuing rail excursions like the annual New River Train that runs between Huntington and Hinton. In May, Amtrak announced it would be pulling ticket agents out of smaller passenger stations in favor of online ticket sales. 

Those smaller Amtrak stations included Charleston. 

“Amtrak has told me that most of their sales are now online, but West Virginians buy far more tickets at the Charleston station than most places around the country,” Manchin said in June. “That’s not surprising, as nearly 30 percent of West Virginia is without internet access, and mobile broadband access is also difficult in my state’s rugged, mountainous terrain, making online ticket sales difficult. 

“Our population includes many working class families and elderly residents who are less likely to have a credit card or another means to purchase tickets remotely, but rely heavily on the train as an alternative to driving or flying,” Manchin said. 

Capito and Manchin went to work with fellow lawmakers, and eventually got Amtrak to agree to keep at least one human ticket agent in every state. 

The news came on the tail of extended negotiations by Manchin and Capito with federal transportation officials and Amtrak to allow rail excursions like the New River Train to continue. 

“By working with my staff, Amtrak, the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society, and the state, I was glad to play a role in helping find a solution to the Hinton Railroad Days — a longstanding tradition in our state and something West Virginians look forward to each year,” Capito said Monday. “I also made it a priority to secure report language in the (2019) government funding bill that would require Amtrak to employ at least one station agent in every state where the railroad service operates. 

“I am glad we were able to address both of these issues, which are important to our community and our economy, and I will continue doing what I can to support these essential services that so many West Virginians rely on,” she said. 

In June, Manchin offered an amendment to the appropriations bill to require a ticket agent in every state. “After weeks of speaking with Amtrak, I am glad to have secured language in this spending bill that will guarantee Amtrak employs at least one ticket agent in every state,” Manchin said at the time. “When Amtrak announced it was terminating the only ticket agent position in West Virginia, I have been fighting to keep it. I know how important having a ticket agent in West Virginia is and removing the agent at the Charleston station will make it harder for Amtrak to attract new customers and retain the ones they already have.” 

“After the unfortunate announcement that Amtrak was doing away with the ticketing agent at the Charleston train station, I fought to guarantee Amtrak employ at least one ticket agent in every state,” Manchin said Aug. 24. “It’s critically important to have a ticketing agent in West Virginia. 

“Keeping the ticket agent there is just common sense and I’m glad to have secured this for West Virginia,” he said. 

The appropriations bill is expected to go to a joint House of Representatives/Senate conference committee after the recess, then back to the respective houses for a vote before going to President Donald Trump.

By:  Rusty Marks
Source: The State Journal