Amtrak depot renovation complete here

Published 8:02 pm Friday, October 31, 2003

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Kathy Jones works in Cassopolis during the week but uses Amtrak when she goes home to her husband and family, who live in Chicago
For 13 years Jones said she has done the weekly commute from the Niles Rail Depot, the landmark sandstone building built in 1881.
Among the passengers boarding Amtrak's afternoon train in Niles on Thursday from Detroit to Chicago, Jones is glad to see the station and its surroundings are being taken well care of.
Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation recently completed an approximately $500,000, two-year renovation project at the Amtrak depot in Niles.
Marc Maglieri, an Amtrak spokesperson, said the renovation project, which was funded by MDOT, Amtrak and funding from a State of Michigan transportation enhancement program, resulted in several improvements.
Improvements include an improved train platform that has made trains more handicap accessible; the parking lot surface and drainage has been improved, and the walkways to and from the station have also received a face lift, he said.
And, new electronic displays showing train schedules will be put up at the station soon, he said.
Maglieri thinks a well-maintained rail depot is a benefit not only to travellers, but also to the community.
Maglieri, however, said an important part of the renovation project was also to show people who live in Niles that Amtrak wants to be a "good corporate citizen."
Tim Hoeffner, a MDOT spokesperson, said the renovation project was completed about a month ago.
He thinks it's important to preserve stations like the Niles Rail Depot because buildings today are "not built with the same craftsmanship." "You've seen the station, it's such a beautiful place," he said.
But Jones wasn't the only person travelling on Amtrak from Niles on Thursday.
Lee and Jean Funk, a retired Niles couple, also boarded the afternoon ride to visit their daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren in Chicago.
They use Amtrak because they don't like driving to Chicago.
Both think the improvements that have been made at the rail depot are "wonderful."
But they wish the station would stay open longer than it does.
Jones, before boarding the train, said many people she meets on the train admire the Niles Rail Depot.
She hopes recent Amtrak staff reductions won't mean the depot in Niles will at some time down the road become inaccessible for train travellers.
According to the city's web site, the Niles Rail Depot has appeared in movies such as the "The Continental Divide" with John Belushi, "Midnight Run" with Robert DeNiro and "Only the Lonely" with Maureen O'Hara and John Candy.