A number of factors may have contributed to an upturn in ridership through the Lawrence Amtrak station, but it seems likely that at least part of the credit belongs to Depot Redux, the grassroots group that has become the guardian angel of the Santa Fe Depot at Seventh and New Hampshire.
Recently released Amtrak ridership figures showed that ridership at the Lawrence depot increased by 26 percent during the fiscal year that ended in September. That compares with increases of 5.1 percent on the Amtrak system nationwide and 3.7 percent on the Southwest Chief, the only Amtrak line that passes through Lawrence. Increased Amtrak ridership may be a reflection of the struggling economy or other factors, but Depot Redux members like to think that the significantly higher ridership numbers in Lawrence have something to do with improved conditions in the building they have adopted.
The group has worked to improve the appearance of the building through landscaping and other efforts and helped convince Amtrak to hire caretakers to open and staff the building for 30 minutes before and after Amtrak’s two scheduled stops each day during the week. Depot Redux volunteers pick up opening and closing duties on the weekends. Before the depot was staffed, it was left unlocked for long periods each night, making it a magnet for homeless residents and vandals. It wasn’t a very safe or attractive place to be in the late-night or early-morning hours when trains arrived.
With regular staff on duty, said Carey Maynard-Moody, a leader of the Depot Redux group, the Lawrence depot is losing its reputation as the “Stephen King station” on the Southwest Chief route.
The ultimate goal of the depot group is for the city of Lawrence to take over the building and make sure it is preserved both for passengers and for its historic significance to the community. Various concerns have rightly prompted city officials to shy away from the financial commitment of taking ownership of the building so far, but talks with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Amtrak continue.
If a suitable agreement can be reached for the city to acquire the building, it will be largely due to the efforts of the dedicated volunteers who formed Depot Redux. In the meantime, the community owes the group its thanks for making this important transportation link a safer and more attractive access point for Lawrence.