Unstaffed Amtrak Stations
Unstaffed Amtrak Stations

Unstaffed Amtrak Stations: What You Need To Know

Unstaffed Amtrak stations are as they sound: a train stop without an attendant on duty and may or may not have a building. The onboard staff can help you get on and off the train at these stops.

Amtrak Hiawatha in SVT

While this article covers the basics of Amtrak’s unstaffed station, it can also apply to many commuter rails and Amatrak connecting services.

I have a lot of experience with these stations!

My first Amtrak adventure started at the Sturtevant Depot, one of many unstaffed Amtrak stations, where I boarded Amtrak’s Hiawatha. These days, all my cross-country train trips begin at the unstaffed Sturtevant Depot, and I use the train to catch flights!

On their first trip, these stations can be intimidating for some, but there is nothing to worry about, and your time at that station is a short part of your adventure.

What are unstaffed Amtrak Stations?

Hiawatha at SVT
A birds-eye view of Amtrak’s Hiawatha at the Sturtevant Depot

There are two types of unstaffed Amtrak Stations that you can encounter on your next journey: ones with a building and platform stations.

Often, when we think of taking a train, it is not unreasonable for a new train traveler to expect a building, but that is not always the case. Some “stations” are platform stations, which are unstaffed stations without a building. Sometimes, they may have a shelter like a bus station, but not all do.

On the other hand, you could have a train depot with a building with an indoor waiting area with bathrooms or ticket machines, while others may have nearly anything; the next section discusses who determines all of this.

Either type can also be a flag stop, which means the train only stops if someone has reservations to board or get off.

How to discover if your Amtrak Station is 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.

Laurel Mississippi Amtrak Unstaffed Train Station
Unstaffed Amtrak Stations

You can also 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 your stop is a flag stop, the train only stops if someone has a ticket to board or depart.

Who owns & operates Amtrak’s unstaffed stations?

Local municipalities often own, operate, and are responsible for maintaining unstaffed stations.

Some towns, like Sturtevant, take pride in their stations, while others do not realize that the condition of their station is the welcome mat for some people entering their community. These communities are 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.

Sign at Laurel, MS Amtrak Station
Sign at Laurel, MS Amtrak Station

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.

If you set your expectations appropriately, you can be ready for anything.

Passengers who expect a sign and a platform and get a quaint station are happier than those who wish every station to be Grand Central Terminal. Do your research and check out the address on Google Street View to see what is around where you want to go.

An example of an unstaffed station

To the nervous traveler

The biggest takeaway is that no matter what kind of unstaffed station you use, the train will stop, you will get on, and the next step of your adventure will begin.

It pays to check out Amtrak’s website or app to see the information offered at each station. 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.

Baggage Service

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 Golf 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.

Golf Clubs and pet services may be available for a fee, and like with bikes, booking this service happens during booking.

If you have a service or comfort animal, check Amtrak’s service animal policy before booking to ensure your animal qualifies and learn how to book your trip correctly.

Buying tickets for Amtrak unstaffed stations

There are a few ways to buy tickets for your next Amtrak adventure, including at SOME unstaffed stations. Amtrak trains sell out so often that it is best to buy them early.

Quik-Trak Ticket Machines

Quik-Trak Ticket Machine
Amtrak’s New Quik-Trak Ticket Machine

Quik-Trak Machines are at busier, unstaffed stations, but not all.

Most transactions and ticket printing are available only by card. To avoid frustration, verify the availability of machines at the station.

  • 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.

By Phone

To book by phone, call 1-800-USA-RAIL, and an agent will guide you through the process.

Online and App

  • You can also 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 containing your ticket. Conductors can scan tickets from your electronic devices, or you can use paper tickets.

  • 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.

SVT Lobby
The lobby of the Sturtevant (SVT) Depot, an unstaffed station

Parking at unstaffed Amtrak stations

The parking machine at the Sturtevant Depot.
The parking machine at the Sturtevant Depot.

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, but 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

Superliner lower level storage shelves stuffed with baggage.
Superliner lower-level luggage storage

Pack as light as possible since checked baggage service is unavailable at most of these stations. You also often have to navigate stairs to board the train or get to the upper level; some stairways are tight.

Conductors and other staff can help you get your bags onto the train, but you may need to get them to your room or seat. There are places in the coach class to store your luggage. There is some storage for sleeping accommodations as well.

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.

From my experience, 25″ or smaller luggage is more manageable, and travel backpacks are great for train travel.

How early should you arrive at an unstaffed Amtrak Station?

Dad at SVT
My dad is ready to take his first 563 miles solo on Amtrak.

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.

I became overconfident in my “time management skills” a few times and 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

Hiawatha in SVT
Amtrak’s Hiawatha arriving at the Sturtevant Depot.

Check Amtrak’s page for service alerts and notices, for it shares information on service alerts: passenger and station advisories, and more.

You can track Amtrak trains in several ways, including Amtrak’s app and website, plus third-party sites.

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 trains 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.

Hiawatha at SVT
A southbound Hiawatha pulling into the SVT station

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.


Milwaukee Airport Station a busy unstaffed station.
Milwaukee Airport Amtrak Station, one of the busiest unstaffed stations in the Amtrak system

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 and trains.
  • 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, indicate that 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 did not prepare themselves by reading Travels with Kev or listening to the announcements.

Safe Travels!

Kev

05182021

Kevin Monteith

Kev Monteith has been traveling on Amtrak since 2012. With over a decade of experience, he has been on over 800 trains, covering over 200k miles of rail. Kev enjoys helping others achieve their travel dreams by providing support and information. Outside of travel, Kev enjoys making music as an organist and outings with family.

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