COLUMBIA — Malcolm Epstein was a Boy Scout decades ago when he first rode a train, using it to get to the East Coast where he visited Washington, D.C., and other big cities. Ever since, Epstein has been fascinated with trains. It’s that interest that prompts him to spend his Saturday mornings volunteering at the Jefferson City Amtrak station.
Amtrak, which has long been starved for money, removed all its ticket agents from the Jefferson City depot about four years ago, leaving passengers with no place to wait for the trains and with no one to help them with boarding. That situation didn’t last long. After about six months, a group of volunteers organized to open the station again. Epstein was among the first to begin donating his time.
Jefferson City is the only Amtrak stop for miles around, serving most of mid-Missouri, including the Columbia area. Four passenger trains pass east and west through the depot each day on their way to and from St. Louis and Kansas City. There are two trains in the morning and two in the evening. The dozens of freight trains that use the same tracks can delay the passenger trains by more than an hour some days. One of the biggest jobs for Epstein and the other volunteers is communicating with the incoming trains by phone and telling the waiting passengers whether they’ll have to wait longer.
“I volunteered for two basic reasons,” Epstein said. “The first was there was a need, and the other reason was because of my love of railroading.”