Niles Amtrak launches station host program

NILES — Early this year, Amtrak officials announced that they would be closing the ticket window at the historic Niles station. Since then, there has been no friendly face to greet travelers or answer any questions they might have. A new program is seeking to change that. 

Through the Niles Station Host initiative, volunteers will be stationed at the Niles Amtrak Depot to help customers. The program is a collaboration between the Niles Main Street program and Amtrak. An informational open house will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, at the Amtrak Station in Niles, 598 Dey St.

During the open house, prospective volunteers will hear more about the program. An Amtrak representative will attend to discuss the future of passenger rails in the U.S. Those interested in applying to be a volunteer are asked to bring an ID card and be prepared for an onsite interview. Those selected will receive training from the Amtrak Police Department at a different date.

Peter Womer, the lead volunteer host for the Niles station, said it is an ideal opportunity for those who are passionate about helping others and sharing the story of the historic building. He said anyone who is at least 18 years of age is encouraged to apply.

“We are here for the customers to make them feel comfortable, answer any questions they have, keep them updated on the status of the trains they are catching,” Womer said.

Womer said volunteers can choose to dedicate time that is convenient for them. He said they are welcome to volunteer for a few hours a week or even a few hours a month.

The effort of the program is to provide a point of contact for customers that visit the station, which saw nearly 18,000 people last year. 

“Instead of being an unstaffed, unmanned building that you could go into and sit and wait for your train, you have got somebody that knows a little bit about the building and the trains,” Womer said. “Just like airlines, people have lots questions and that’s what we are here to answer.”

As an Amtrak customer for many years, Womer said he was interested in getting involved when he heard the station was no longer staffing an agent at the location. He decided he wanted to help out through the program.

“It’s just one of those things that I thoroughly enjoy doing,” Womer said.

The Niles Amtrak station is an example of Richardson Romanesque architecture. It was constructed on 1892 and has since served as more than a train station to the community of Niles. With help from the Four Flags Area Garden Club, who maintain the station’s grounds, the station also serves as the site of an annual Christmas celebration and has been used as a backdrop in the 1991 movie “Only the Lonely.”

Those who want to participate but cannot make the open house are encouraged to drop by the Niles Amtrak station to pick up an application and drop them off at City Hall. Niles Amtrak is open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

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