Amtrak Unstaffed Station
Amtrak Unstaffed Station

Unstaffed Amtrak Stations: What You Need To Know

My first Amtrak adventure started at the Sturtevant Depot, one of many unstaffed Amtrak stations, where I boarded Amtrak’s Hiawatha. In many small communities, unstaffed stations are standard and work well.

Amtrak Hiawatha in SVT
My first Hiawatha for 2021

Over many years of using unstaffed stations, I had one big issue, it moved.

I thought I knew where the station was and didn’t bother to check. I did know where it was, not where it is now.

So my first travel tip is to verify the station’s location before you need it, for I want your first experience to be better than mine.

This article will cover the basics for these stations, whether taking Amtrak, Metra, other regional trains, or curbside bus service.

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 Is An Unstaffed Amtrak Station?

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

An Unstaffed Amtrak station is a train stop with an indoor waiting area, and as the name implies, it does not have any Amtrak staff. 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. Also, check out the flag-stop article; these are unstaffed stations where the train only stops if someone has reservations to board or get off the train.

How Do You Know If A 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.

SVT Bridge
The Sturtevant (WI) Depot bridge allows passengers to go from one set of tracks to the other.

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 And 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 how the condition of their station can reflect on their community.

The community 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?

Hiawatha at SVT
A southbound Hiawatha pulling into the SVT Depot

As Forrest Gump might say, unstaffed stations are like a box of chocolate; you never know what you’ll get.

Stations can range from a beautiful building, such as my home station of Sturtevant, WI, or a small room at one end of an old station that could use an update, such as Kankakee, IL.

My rule of thumb is lower your expectations and hope for the best. We all have different expectations for travel. Having realistic expectations is critical.

Other Types Of Amtrak Unstaffed Stations & Flag Stops

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.

An example of an unstaffed station

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.

Amtrak’s website and app offer information on each station in the system, and it pays to research where you get on and off the train to plan accordingly.

Services You May Find 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.

21" Travelpro Bold

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 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.

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

Buying Tickets

Quik-Trak Ticket Machines

Quik-Trak Machines are at busier unstaffed stations.

Quik-Trak Ticket Machine
Amtrak’s new Quik-Trak Ticket Machine
  • 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.

Online Or Over The Phone

  • To book by phone, call 1-800-USA-RAIL, and an agent will walk you through the process.
  • Or book or the Amtrak app, which allows you to book anytime.

After completing your reservation, Amtrak will send you an email containing your receipt and a PDF file, which is 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 be 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 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.

For example, two unstaffed stations in my area are 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.

Talk to the municipality or police department if you have questions about parking. Communities often post signs with a phone number or have 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 for Unstaffed Amtrak Stations

Superliner lower-level luggage storage

Since checked baggage service is unavailable at these stations, pack as light as possible.

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 Amtrak Unstaffed Stations?

Unlike airports, you do not need to arrive two hours before, but you should get there early.

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

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 time to 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. Or a quick stop at Kwik Trip for a snack.

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.

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

When The Train Arrives 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.

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

Takeaways On Unstaffed Amtrak Stations

  • 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.

Safe Travels!


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Kev has been traveling with Amtrak since 2012, celebrating his tenth year this year. Over those years, he has been on over 700 trains covering over 200,000 miles of rail. Kev enjoys helping others achieve their travel dreams by assisting them with support and information. Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

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