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Champion of Lawrence’s Santa Fe train depot wins national award from Amtrak

There hasn’t been much news lately about whether the city has a new plan to buy the Santa Fe Depot in East Lawrence, but there is news about the Lawrence woman who has been leading that charge.

Carey Maynard-Moody recently received Amtrak’s Champion of the Rails Award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The Champion of the Rails Award is one of the top awards Amtrak gives to citizens who support the idea of rail travel.

Maynard-Moody won the award for her role in founding Depot Redux, a Lawrence citizens group that does everything from providing basic cleaning of the depot to lobbying for the 1950s-era building to be preserved and restored.

The depot certainly has gotten more attention from Amtrak since Maynard-Moody and her group has come on the scene. Recently, Amtrak spent $1.7 million to install a new ADA-compliant platform at the Lawrence station.

“Of my 40 stations, about 20 of them needed platforms,” said John Bueschel, Amtrak’s district manager of stations. “Lawrence would have never had this platform or the new lighting, if it were not for Carey putting the station on the map.”

Passenger numbers at the station have been growing as the station has gotten more attention. In 2007, 3,732 passengers got on or off the train in Lawrence, which stops twice daily at the station. At the end of 2011, the number had grown to 6,608.

City officials also have been taking more notice of the station. Several city commissioners have expressed support for renovating the station — if they can find a low-cost way to do so. Taking ownership of the station wouldn’t be difficult. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway owns the station, and has indicated a willingness to sell the building — but not the land it sits upon — for a nominal fee of a dollar or so.

But city officials have expressed concern that once it takes ownership of the building, there will be several repairs that the city won’t be able to avoid. In total, those repairs could run several hundred thousand dollars, and commissioners have been reluctant to own the building without knowing where that money would come from.

Earlier this year, officials with the city’s transit system said the station — which is at Seventh and New Jersey streets — might make a good central station for the city’s bus service. But in July, transit officials recommended against the idea because they said further study revealed the site wasn’t really large enough to accommodate the number of buses that would be the station. Several neighbors also had objected to the plan.

At that point, even some of the stronger supporters on the City Commission said they they’re not sure how the city can justify taking over the building, unless some sort of secondary use is found for it.

“Right now it is used only as a train depot a couple of times during the night,” City Commissioner Aron Cromwell said in July. “The rest of the time it is empty. That is not enough use for us to justify purchasing and maintaining the building.”

At that time, city commissioners basically were hoping somebody from the public would come up with another feasible use for the building, because they didn’t have any off the top of their heads.

That was in July, and waiting for another use to emerge still seems to be where the project is at.

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