Archive for Monday, January 5, 2009

Depot getting back on track to handle more rail travelers

Nicholas Thorp, left, and Bill Steele, both of Lawrence, work on cleaning the lobby of the Amtrak station at Seventh and New Jersey streets on Sunday afternoon. Volunteers from Depot Redux gather on the first Sunday of each month to clean and refurbish the station.

Nicholas Thorp, left, and Bill Steele, both of Lawrence, work on cleaning the lobby of the Amtrak station at Seventh and New Jersey streets on Sunday afternoon. Volunteers from Depot Redux gather on the first Sunday of each month to clean and refurbish the station.

January 5, 2009


Lawrence train depot finds new life

Kirk Gullickson, one of two new caretakers at the Lawrence train depot, explains how people are responding to positive changes at the station. Enlarge video

Kirk Gullickson, a caretaker of the Lawrence train depot, watches the 12:32 a.m. Southwest Chief Amtrak train depart. Depot Redux, a local volunteer group working to refurbish the station, hired Gullickson and another caretaker to greet rail passengers.

Kirk Gullickson, a caretaker of the Lawrence train depot, watches the 12:32 a.m. Southwest Chief Amtrak train depart. Depot Redux, a local volunteer group working to refurbish the station, hired Gullickson and another caretaker to greet rail passengers.

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Frugal travel

Rail travel can be a cheaper alternative to flying. It costs $128 to travel from Lawrence to Denver by Amtrak train. An airplane flight from Kansas City to Denver costs $213.60

Before the days of jumbo jets and turnpikes there was rail travel, an American staple since the 1830s. Today, it’s almost a quaint reminder of a bygone era.

But the spiffed-up Burlington Northern Santa Fe depot in east Lawrence is reminding travelers that rail travel is still here, and it may be gaining, um, steam.

While waiting on a recent night for the 12:32 a.m. Southwest Chief, an Amtrak line that runs from Chicago to Los Angeles, a handful of passengers mingled in the waiting room of the Lawrence depot, adorned for the holidays with blinking strings of lights and a Christmas tree, and elevator jazz music playing in the background.

Corky King drove to Lawrence from Drexel, Mo., to take the Southwest Chief to La Junta, Colo., on a trip to visit her aunt and uncle.

The eight-hour train ride makes sense, she said.

“Normally, I drive wherever I go,” she said, but driving through Colorado in winter seemed dangerous. “It’s a lot easier than flying, and cheaper, too.”

It hasn’t always been this way. It wasn’t long ago that the depot was a beacon for homeless people seeking shelter. Now more people feel comfortable and safe as they wait for their train, said Carey Maynard-Moody, chairwoman of Depot Redux, a group of volunteers committed to rehabbing the depot’s physical space — and its reputation. On the first Sunday of every month, the group descends upon the depot to work on the building, platform and lobby.

Ridership numbers are positive, Maynard-Moody said. Though not enough riders exist to warrant a full-time station agent, the group added two paid caretakers in December. The caretakers greet and send off passengers of Lawrence’s twice-daily Southwest Chief trains, while keeping the station clean and helping passengers feel safe and welcome.

When Kirk Gullickson told his friends that he was the new caretaker of the station, 413 E. Seventh St., he said they didn’t even realize the city had a depot.

But he hopes a friendly face, a warm cup of tea and a clean space will encourage more people to use rail travel.

“It’s not impersonal, like a bus station, or like an airport, where there are lots of lines,” he said. “This is homey. You can come in, sit, walk around, see people’s homes outside. It’s kind of a nice feeling.”

He says his role harks back to a time when traveling was more intimate.

“Maybe for a different generation, they appreciate it more,” said Gullickson, 38. “They can remember a time when places like this were open everywhere.

“I love old-timey stuff like this. It’s really cool.”

It wasn’t long ago that the Lawrence depot’s roof leaked. The clock didn’t work, and passengers felt safer waiting on the platform than inside the depot.

Now a tea tray sits awaiting thirsty travelers, and a book sits on one of the depot’s aging leather ottomans. A sticky note covers the book’s title, but reminds people that rail travel may really be about linking people together.

“Help yourself,” it reads in loopy cursive. “This book is looking for a new home.”


Orwell 9 years, 4 months ago

Re: the "frugal" sidebar – don't forget the cost of getting to (and probably parking at) KCI, extra fees for (no kidding) landing at the airport, and then the cost of getting from DIA to actual Denver.And if you take the train you can keep your shoes on.

Flap Doodle 9 years, 4 months ago

Hope those shoes are comfortable. The current Lawrence to Denver run on Amtrak in about 15 1/2 hours.

Leslie Swearingen 9 years, 4 months ago

My grandmother, who raised me, and I rode the train everywhere when I was growing up. We even took the train to a larger town to get the groceries. We took it to the east coast, the west coast, stop off for a week at the Grand Canyon. Yes , we had to transfer to a bus to get to the Bright Angel Lodge. And, best of all, perhaps, was a trip across the Canadian Rockies.I loved eating on the train, and crossing between cars with that accordion like thing that goes back and forth. They had doors that could be opened at the top. I went to sleep hearing the click clack and the whistle as we went past crossings.

George_Braziller 9 years, 4 months ago

Four years ago I took the Southwest Chief to Chicago and then continued on to Toronto. While the Canadian trains ran much faster and smoother than Amtrak, the trip to Chicago was very enjoyable. The seats are large and comfortable and you have plenty of leg room and can easily recline and not have the back of your seat stuck in the teeth of the passenger behind you. You also have much more individual climate control than the tiny blast of air you get on a plane.It's also nice to be able to get off for a few minutes every couple of hours when there is a longer stop to pick up additional passengers.

Bobo Fleming 9 years, 4 months ago

Ride the Chief several times a year to Chicago. Better than driving. Hope the Lawrence station can improve because now we are leaving from KC. After looking at the Lawrence station I thought it was closed. It was in terrible shape.

olmsted78 9 years, 4 months ago

rode the Southwest Chief from Lawrence to Galesburg, IL on christmas eve morning. Besides the train being a bit late (around 1 hr.), it made a lot of sense riding there realizing all the advantages of rail travel while staring out my window at winter.Nice smooth, hands-free ride, comfortable seating, good scenery, lucked out with fresh blanket of snow along the whole route. Very cool way to go. I've ridden amtrak before, but its been a while and i've never used it as a last second solution in changing travel plans. I am curious though, about how amtrak trains perform with regards to delays related to weather, etc. My positive experience was not duplicated everywhere over the in Chicago, where i heard people were stuck on trains and in stations for up to 23 + hours in some cases. Seems the outdated rail system in this country is far from perfect, but it still remains intriguing as a re-developing form of mass transit here. Lawrence BNSF depot included. It was nice showing up at the train station at dawn on x-mas eve in the snow, only to find a kind woman shoveling the snow around the illuminated and warm building. Even a little tree and some lights. thanks.

Danimal 9 years, 4 months ago

As long as you don't have any solid appointments that you have to be at, AmTrak is a wonderful way to travel. However, you will probably be late wherever you're going.

Alia Ahmed 9 years, 4 months ago

I've also taken the train to Galesburg, IL, Chicago and New York City and had great experiences. My parents took the train to Galesburg frequently, occasionally it's a little late but you can actually check to see if they are running on time on-line and avoid a long wait in the depot when we are departing. My brother and family just had a horrible experience with air travel and missed a day of a cruise and had to fly into the next port to catch up. They had built in an extra day to travel upfront which is advisable but it took almost 48 hours to get another flight to their destination. It seems you can't often believe the airlines about why a flight is cancelled (they will say it is based on weather, when often that's not the case). I'm going to take the train whenever it is possible. The airline industry just gets less customer services oriented as time goes by.

Orwell 9 years, 4 months ago

Danimal – I've had the special treat of sitting on the tarmac, waiting for a gate to open up, while my schedule went to hell. We sat there wondering whether our on-time landing was a surprise to the airline.

BigPrune 9 years, 4 months ago

Did the City buy this place? Did the railroad ever make it ADA accessible if it wasn't sold to Lawrence?Why do I smell a "we need a hand out" coming up in the near future? Usually these articles are precursors to something to come. Especially with all the "wonderful" responses about riding the rail.Will the volunteers be making a case to the CIty Commission in the near future, thus this article, to make a money request more palatable? I've lived in this town far too long and have seen similar articles in the past about other "do gooder" things the City has ended up spending money on. What's the story behind the story?

phyllyphat 9 years, 4 months ago

"waiting 'round the train stationwaitin' for th' traint' take metake me awayfrom thislonesome place..."hen

zzgoeb 9 years, 4 months ago

It's a shame that it takes volunteers to do this work! It's time for the country to step up and make train travel more viable and reliable. I've ridden the Chief to Rayton NM and back, and really enjoyed it! Only two generations ago we traveled the country this way, and helped move our fighting boys during WWII. Write, email and call your congressman to fund real train access for us!

spankyandcranky 9 years, 4 months ago

Good to know. Trains and volunteers are great. I bet it takes the train less time to get to Denver from Lawrence than it does to drive to the airport, getting there early enough for check-in and security. Then fly to Denver and wait for your luggage ... especially if delays are involved. On the other hand, is there any security on the train?

beim 9 years, 4 months ago

Would have been great if the train travel was even stronger then it was back in the 1800s and earlier 20th century. Europe however never did and of course are way ahead of us in rail technology and they have a right to laugh because we used to export our train technology to them! Shows us the power of oil over our government and the opportunities we will continue to lose out on.

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