When a passenger train arrives in Dodge City, an intrepid band of volunteers is on hand to open the waiting room, dispense information and serve as the passengers' first contact in town.

    Anyone who traveled by rail to or from Dodge in the 1980s and '90s will remember the Sparrows, a couple who was contracted by the railroad to open and maintain the waiting room before each train's arrival — a service they continued to provide until the station was closed for renovations in 2000. Those same travelers will probably also recall the decaying state of the waiting room and the two ugliest restrooms in town.


When a passenger train arrives in Dodge City, an intrepid band of volunteers is on hand to open the waiting room, dispense information and serve as the passengers' first contact in town.
    Anyone who traveled by rail to or from Dodge in the 1980s and '90s will remember the Sparrows, a couple who was contracted by the railroad to open and maintain the waiting room before each train's arrival — a service they continued to provide until the station was closed for renovations in 2000. Those same travelers will probably also recall the decaying state of the waiting room and the two ugliest restrooms in town.
    The original plan for the renovation called for a waiting area to be maintained through the process of construction, but gas and electric service, as well as water, required that the entire facility be closed.
    The completed waiting room was reopened in 2004, by which time Amtrak was unable to provide funding for staff, due to budget constraints.
    Local officials visited other rail stations across the Midwest looking for solutions, and a new group of volunteers, called The Railers, was born.

Meeting the train
    Today, eight to 10 volunteers form the nucleus of The Railers. They open the waiting room about an hour before the train's scheduled arrival to give those friends and family who are waiting to pick up passengers a place to wait.
    They provide coffee and other beverages, reading material, and clean restrooms.
    In 2008, 4,612 passengers are listed as either "Boarding" or "Alighting" on the Amtrak Fact Sheet — that's more ridership than Hutchinson or Lawrence. Kansas as a whole posted ridership of 41,866 in 2008.

The human spectrum
    Railers meet people from all over the world.
    "Everyone comments on our beautiful historic station," said Railer Ethel Peterson. "They realize they're in an original structure that was significant in the town's development, and one that was protected by the world's most famous lawmen."
    Another Railer, Dennis Doris, said, "We're actually seeing an increase in traffic through the station with the recession."
    Occasionally, the Railers help make arrangements for homeless travelers or call the taxi service.
    "We had a woman and her children kicked off the train by the crew because her children were misbehaving — we had to scramble to find her a place to stay," Doris said.
    Peterson added: "We've had people return home from a long trip only to find their car has a dead battery, so we can handle that too."
    The Railers report that the train is on time about 95 percent of the time and if it's late, it's usually due to floods or high winds somewhere down the track.
    The train crew changes in Dodge City, so the crew that brought the train from either Los Angeles or Chicago gets off and a new crew that has spent the night at the Dodge House takes over.

Staffing the station
    City Commissioner Jim Sherer, who has long been concerned that the station is not open for every train, expressed his determination to find a way in the city budget to staff the station.
    "I'm not going to stop bringing this up — the train station should be as important and as available to people as the airport, and our ridership numbers support that. With the casino coming, rail service will be even more important," Sherer said.
    Carol McQuiggin, of the Dodge City Convention and Visitors Bureau, is in charge of the Railers.
    "We desperately need more people!" McQuiggin said in a recent interview. "Right now the station is only staffed in the mornings, two nights if we're lucky, and not at all on the weekends. That's a big problem, especially in the winter, when people arrive in Dodge and just get dumped off the train with nowhere to go and no information. Our great volunteers need more help."
    Part of the problem is Amtrak's schedule in Dodge City. The station opens at 5:30 a.m. to meet the 6:05 train and at 11:30 p.m. to meet the 12:20 a.m. train.
    "The hours are a little extreme, but if someone's interested in trains and likes to meet and help people, this is a great way to help," said Ron Albrecht, who's been a Railer since the program started in 2004.
    Plans are in place for additional signs and making the station more accessible for handicapped passengers on the platform.
    "We just need to get enough volunteers on the list so the beautiful station can be open for every train," McQuiggin said.
    To add your name to the Railers list, call McQuiggin at (620) 225-8146.