For love of the trains

Tuesday, January 8, 2008 | 9:22 p.m. CST; updated 6:34 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Volunteer Malcolm Epstein assists a passenger off a train at the Jefferson City station.

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.”

Malcolm Epstein communicates with an incoming train by phone as fellow volunteer Grace Lansford looks on. Much of their work involves informing passengers of delays in travel.
Volunteers like Malcolm Epstein keep the trains moving at Jefferson City’s Amtrak station
A freight train passes by on the shared passenger/freight rail line between Kansas City and St. Louis.
Four years ago, Amtrak removed all ticket agents from the Jefferson City station, and that left passengers without a place to wait for trains and no one to help them on their way. A volunteer program was started to reopen the station and provide help for passengers. Volunteer Malcolm Epstein has been a dedicated volunteer since this program began.

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Nathan Wood January 9, 2008 | 8:56 a.m.

It's nice to see this kind of volunteer work in Jeff City. When it costs less than $12 to take the train to KC and less than $14 to STL from Jeff, this is a great travel deal.

It is sad that our country can't afford to staff a rail station in the capitol of Missouri that has 4 daily trains. Although when passenger rail service only receives 1/40 the funding of the highway system, what can you expect?

Want better train service? Check out

(Report Comment)
J Ro January 9, 2008 | 2:49 p.m.

Hey! I'M a train-loving hippie!

(Report Comment)
Forrest Scott Wood June 30, 2008 | 9:59 p.m.

Well, Nathan, should be no surprise since our esteemed United States Congress has bigger pork, uh, fish, to fry than maintaining railroad passenger transportation capability.
Hey, it's not like it will be needed because of gas prices or general energy supplies or the environment or anything.

Daaang, I'd hate to be the one paying for 3000+ gallons of diesel in every locomotive right now!

(Report Comment)

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