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Amtrak’s Huntington, WV, Civic Conversation

From VARP’s On Track newsletter, summer 2011

Summarized from a report by J. Charles Riecks, Chair, Friends of the Cardinal

Officials from Amtrak; state and city officials from Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa, and Kansas; rail advocates; and representatives from the offices of certain members of Congress from West Virginia attended a meeting on May 3, 2011, at the Pullman Plaza Hotel in downtown Huntington to promote daily service of the Cardinal. The tone appeared to be upbeat: “This is something that any community can do,” not “There are so many barriers and roadblocks in the way you are foolish even to start.”

John Bender and Joseph Rago, both of Amtrak, gave a major presentation on Amtrak stations and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Rago discussed the difficulties of complying with the act’s platform requirements. “Uncertainty over the scope and timing of proposed platform requirements has caused uncertainty and delay for numerous station projects,” he said. The “best practices” portion of this presentation outlined the process that communities need to follow if they are interested in updating, remodeling, or perhaps even building a new structure to be used as an Amtrak stop.

Mike Angelo, Amtrak’s Senior Director of Real Estate Development, spoke about appropriate development in and around stations. His remarks were probably best summed up when he observed, “This is rail estate, not real estate.”

Matthew Kelly from Amtrak spoke about federal programs that communities can tap for funding to renovate train stations that are publicly owned. He noted that several tax credit programs are available for stations that are privately owned. He said that if a station is on a historic preservation list, a station project is eligible for special sources of funding.

The formal program concluded with three presentations: The Mayor of Osceola, IA, outlined his community’s station preservation efforts; a Civic Action Coordinator from Lawrence, KS, shared her community’s efforts; and, in summation, a brief video was shown about the 100th anniversary celebration of Union Station Washington, DC, presenting a brief overview of the station’s history, its importance to the community, and its importance to Amtrak.