This small, unstaffed station has been the starting point for almost all of my cross-country train trips, flights, and bus trips!
While this article will cover the basics for Amtrak, it can also apply to many commuter rails and Amatrak connecting services.
While it can be intimidating for your first trip, there is nothing to worry about, and your time at that station is a short part of your adventure.
What Are Unstaffed Amtrak Stations?
There are two types of unstaffed Amtrak Stations that you can encounter on your next journey. In either case, there is no Amtrak staff working at that station.
One kind is a train depot with an indoor waiting area. The amenities offered at these stations can vary from station to station. Some stations may have bathrooms or ticket machines, while others may have nearly anything; the next section discusses who determines all of this.
The other unstaffed station type is platform station; these are unstaffed stations without a building.
Either type can also be a flag-stop; these are unstaffed Amtrak stations where the train only stops if someone has reservations to board or get off the train.
How To Find Out If An Amtrak Station Is Staffed Or Unstaffed?
If you are traveling on an Amtrak long-distance train, the schedule pages I put together list all the stations with links to their accommodations.
To get the information from the Amtrak website, enter the station in question in the search in the upper-right corner, and “Julie” will help you.
With the Amtrak app, click the “more” button on the bottom right, then click on the Amtrak Infomation button, then slide right, and either scroll through for your station or enter it in the search bar.
If you find out your stop is a flag stop, check out this article to prepare yourself.
Who Owns & Operates Amtrak Unstaffed Stations?
Local municipalities often own, operate, and are responsible for maintaining unstaffed stations.
Some towns take pride in their stations, like Sturtevant, while others do not realize that the condition of their station is the welcome mat for some people entering their community.
The community where the station is located is responsible for cleaning, locking, unlocking doors, and maintaining the station, but these staff members do not help passengers.
Amtrak provides informational materials for these stations and sometimes ticket machines at busier stations, but Amtrak is not responsible for their condition or level of service.
What To Expect At Unstaffed Amtrak Stations
As Forrest Gump might say, unstaffed stations are like a box of chocolate; you never know what you’ll get.
As I mentioned, stations can range from a beautiful building, such as my “home station” of Sturtevant, WI, to a small room at one end of an old station that could use an update, such as in Kankakee, IL.
My rule of thumb is don’t expect every station to be a glorious station.
You will be surprised if you expect to see a sign and a platform and get a quaint station. But if you expect every station to be Grand Central Terminal, you will be disappointed when you see a sign and platform.
We all have different travel expectations, but realistic expectations will help you be happier.
Flag Stops & Platform Stations: The Other Unstaffed Amtrak Stations
Another unstaffed station is a platform station with no building but a sign or shelter to indicate where the train stops.
Many unstaffed stations are also flag stops, meaning the train stops if a ticketed passenger is waiting to get on or if someone is getting off the train.
To The Nervous Traveler
The biggest takeaway is no matter what kind of unstaffed station you use, the train will stop, you will get on, and the next step of your adventure begins.
It pays to check out Amtrak’s website or app to see the offered information on each station in the system. When you know what you will face, you can plan accordingly.
Services Offered At Unstaffed Amtrak Stations
To avoid a last-minute surprise, read up before your trip if you bring a bike, golf clubs, or a pet.
Unstaffed stations do not offer checked baggage service. According to Amtrak’s website, self-serve train side “checked baggage service” is available to and from the following stations only: Charleston, WV; Cincinnati, OH; Columbus, WI; Crawfordsville, IN; Dyer, IN; Hammond, LA; Lafayette, IN; Meridian, MS; Mount Pleasant, IA; Rensselaer, IN; Texarkana, AR; Tuscaloosa, AL; Winona, MN.
Pets, Bikes, And Gold Clubs
Carry-on or trackside bike service is available at many unstaffed stations. The booking process lets you see if this service is open for your trip.
Quik-Trak Machines are at busier, unstaffed stations.
- These machines allow you to conduct most transactions and print out tickets.
- The machines only accept cards.
- Please verify that the station has a machine to prevent frustration or a wasted trip if you want to use it.
- To book by phone, call 1-800-USA-RAIL, and an agent will walk you through the process.
Online Or App
- Or book Amtrak.com or the Amtrak app, which allows you to book anytime.
- Some travel agents may be able to help you.
After completing your reservation, Amtrak will email you your receipt and a PDF file, which is your ticket. Conductors can scan tickets from your electronic devices, or you can use paper tickets.
Buying Tickets Onboard The Train – Not recommended.
- This option is not available on all trains.
- Space could be limited, and you could get turned away due to a lack of space.
- Cash only, and there is an onboard fee.
If you have accessibility needs, it is best to call Amtrak; Amtrak can anticipate and help accommodate you.
Parking At Unstaffed Amtrak Stations
Parking can vary at each station, and long-term parking may not be available. Each community determines the parking rules and length of time for its station, so there is no blanket answer.
For example, my area has two unstaffed stations: Milwaukee Airport Station (MKA) and the Sturtevant Depot (SVT). MKA offers a daily parking rate, and thirteen miles down the tracks, SVT offers one price for up to 30 days of parking.
If you are unclear about the parking rules, contact the municipality or police department. Communities often post signs with a phone number; you may need to get that information on the community’s website.
A dry run to the station could help you familiarize yourself with the services and parking. You don’t want your trip to end with a parking ticket or a towed car.
Packing Suggestions For Unstaffed Amtrak Stations
Pack as light as possible since checked baggage service is unavailable at these stations.
You are responsible for carrying your luggage onto the train and putting it in the proper storage areas.
You may also need to navigate stairs with your things; conductors and onboard staff can help you. They may be unable to take your luggage to your seat, especially if several people are boarding.
Amtrak has a generous carry-on policy, and like other carriers, all bags must be under 50 pounds for the safety of the staff. If you exceed the 50-pound limit, you may have to pay a fee for overweight luggage.
Packing light offers flexibility and makes traveling more comfortable. Travel backpacks work great for train travel, such as Tortuga Backpacks.
From my experience, 25″ or smaller luggage is more manageable, while a carry-on size is better if you can.
How Early Should You Get To Unsatffed Amtrak Stations?
Unlike airports, you do not need to arrive two hours before, but you should get there early.
Amtrak suggests you give yourself a 30-minute buffer, and I agree.
This time cushion allows you to grab everything from the car, check that you turned your headlights off and the vehicle is secure, get to your spot, and take a deep breath before your adventure starts.
A few times, I became overconfident in my “time management skills,” I parked my car in time for a great view of the train rolling away without me. I needed to remember to leave time for unexpected traffic, detours, and paying for parking.
Preparing For Your Adventure
Check Amtrak’s page for service alerts and notices, for it shares information on service alerts: passenger and station advisories, and more.
Before you leave your house, verify the train is running on time. The Amtrak app or this website can help you check how things are going. Amtrak’s Alert Twitter account is another way to monitor notifications on your train.
If you did not sign up for the text or email alerts when you booked your tickets, you could sign up after the fact. These alerts send you updates on your train.
Boarding The Train At Unstaffed Amtrak Stations
As the train approaches, stand behind the yellow line or at least six feet from the tracks for your safety. Once the train stops, look for the open doors and conductors.
The conductors and attendants will come out to help you get to where you belong.
If you have a Business Class reservation, let the conductor know; they are looking for you so they can get you to the right car. It doesn’t hurt to watch for the business class car as the train approaches and heads toward the conductor nearest to that car.
If you have a boarding question, ask a conductor or other staff while on the platform. If you have non-boarding or more in-depth questions, wait until you are on board and ask once the train moves.
Trains can arrive early but will not leave before their scheduled time. The only exception is a flag stop.
Unstaffed Amtrak Stations Wrap-Up
- You cannot check bags at most stations (exceptions are in the baggage section).
- Pets, golf clubs, or bike services are available at selected unstaffed stations.
- The station may or may not have restrooms.
- Many have ticket machines, but not all.
- At some stations, conductors can make announcements from approaching trains.
- There is no staff to answer questions.
- The onboard staff will help you on and off the train.
- When booking
- Use a cell phone number and email address to which you will have access during your trip.
- If you have disabilities, make that indication when booking.
I hope this article helps you understand what you need to know and expect if your plans include unstaffed stations. The main issues I have experienced at these stations came from fellow passengers, who do not prepare themselves by reading Travels with Kev or listening to the announcements.