The Jackson Amtrak station will get $1 million in renovations thanks to the American Relief and Recovery Act (the federal stimulus program), according to the Jackson Citizen Patriot. But Wendell Cox, a transit consultant in St. Louis, Mo., questions why an Amtrak station with 78 customers a day would warrant such an expense.
Cox pointed to the Chatsworth station located in southern California about 40 miles from the Los Angeles area as the type of facility Jackson requires. Chatsworth gets twice as many trains and about 20,000 more passengers per year than Jackson, but has just a platform with a shelter and a ticket vending machine. It is unmanned. There is a building that has a museum and is also shared by a bus company.
By contrast, the Jackson station is staffed by 1.5 full time positions, according to Amtrak. The average Amtrak employee living in Michigan is paid about $69,600 a year in salary.
How else might the federal government have spent the $1 million in station renovation costs to help 78 people move around the region each day?
According to listings on Cars.com, the federal government could have used the $1 million to purchase 78 Ford Focus automobiles with less than 50,000 miles on them, and paid $13,000 per car at most — often far less.
“Granted the Jackson station is an attractive historic building and there should be a market to privately redevelop it into something that can be used for a productive purpose,” Cox wrote in an email. “The one thing it is not needed for is trains. Ever wonder why we are on the road to Greece?”
Jackson gets 28,506 passengers per year and six trains a day, according to Amtrak. Chatsworth gets 49,178 passengers per year and 12 trains a day.
Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak, said more than 500 stations in the country are unmanned. That includes several in Michigan, he said. For example, Royal Oak has a platform and a shelter and is unmanned. Royal Oak services 34,306 passengers per year.
At unmanned kiosks, passengers buy their tickets online or from a vending machine or pay the conductors, Magliari said.
“We look at staffing issues all the time,” Magliari said. “Overwhelmingly, the number of places we ticket you are unstaffed.”
Magliari said Amtrak is testing markets for e-ticketing and for onboard scanning of tickets in efforts to reduce expenses.