Nearly 5,000 people board or disembark Amtrak trains in Walnut Ridge each year. Those were among the facts discussed when Amtrak representatives met with the Transportation Committee of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. Derrick James and Ray Lang of Amtrak talked with the committee about issues related to the passenger train service.
James noted that Walnut Ridge is the third most active stop for Amtrak in Arkansas, and he commended the community for making the Iron Mountain Depot such a comfortable station for Amtrak patrons. James also said that ridership has risen steadily over the past decade on Amtrak’s Texas Eagle line, which serves Walnut Ridge. He said the number of passengers means the Texas Eagle’s future is secure for the foreseeable future.
Lang discussed current issues affecting Amtrak, including timeliness. He said a surge in freight train traffic over the past year has led to crowded rails and delays for passenger trains, and he said Amtrak continues to work with the freight carriers to ease the problem of late arrivals.
The Amtrak officials also talked with the committee about ways to build upon the success of Amtrak in Walnut Ridge. Committee members noted that the early morning arrival times for Amtrak in the community make it harder to promote. Lang acknowledged that Amtrak’s stops in Walnut Ridge fall at a
difficult time of day, which he attributed to simple geography. The Texas Eagle runs daily from Chicago to San Antonio, and departure times in both of those cities mean the trains come through Walnut Ridge after midnight.
He said Amtrak has looked into possibly moving back the departure times several hours, which would result in trains reaching Walnut Ridge at a more convenient time. However, he said no decision has been made in that regard.
Both men encouraged the chamber and the rest of the community to let their elected officials know about the importance of Amtrak to Lawrence County, noting that phone calls, letters and email often make the difference in securing funds for the rail carrier. In particular, they said congressmen and senators need to hear from supporters of passenger rail service.
At the end of the meeting, the Amtrak representatives presented highway signs declaring Walnut Ridge “An Amtrak Served Community.” The Chamber hopes to have the signs installed in the near future.
The Chamber formed the Transportation Committee this year to deal with issues related to highways, railroads, aviation and other transportation matters.