Train Station In Claremont Due for Update

Thursday, July 31, 2014
Claremont — Train travelers planning a stop in Claremont won’t find much to do there if they rely on Amtrak’s website.

The site provides a few options for lodging and several restaurants but just two places to “see”: Maple Lanes Bowling and the Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church. Moreover, the website notes that the station has no enclosed waiting area, no restrooms, ticket office, lounge or ATM.

Though the Vermonter makes only two stops in Claremont every day, high speed rail service is scheduled to begin serving the line in about a year. With the possibility of more people arriving by train, a committee of three city councilors, appointed earlier this month, is developing a list of recommended improvements at the station that will not only better serve travelers but also promote the region better.

“My goal is to make the Amtrak stop as welcoming as possible with as many services and amenities we can provide so it becomes a destination point,” committee member Charlene Lovett said at the committee’s first meeting Wednesday.

Lovett’s proposed mission statement, which the other two members, Carolyn Towle and James Reed, supported, recommends improvements to the physical location and website as a way to increase ridership and spur economic development and tourism in the region.

“This (Amtrak) is a national website, and there needs to be a process in place that ensures that the information pertaining to Claremont and the surrounding areas is up-to-date and comprehensive,” Lovett wrote in a report to the committee.

The report describes the current look of the station and its shortcomings.

When people arrive during the day, (at 11:40) they often go into the bike shop asking for information, tickets, bathrooms, coffee and snacks, Lovett said in the report. Employees have done everything from providing rides to town, allowing passengers to use the bathrooms, selling snacks and drinks and providing information.

But Lovett said the bike shop, which is open only one night when the 5 p.m. train arrives, has to focus on its business and should not be expected to provide services for passengers.

“There is nothing that makes that platform aesthetically pleasing,” Lovett told the committee, adding that any landscaping is done by employees of Claremont Cycle Depot, which is located right next to the tracks where people board and get off. “It is cold and dark. There are lights but there is nobody out there.”

Claremont is the only New Hampshire stop on the Vermonter (but not the only Amtrak stop in the state; the Downeaster stops in Dover, Durham and Exeter). Annual ridership has steadily increased from about 1,400 in 2006 to more than 2,100 in 2013 for the period of Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. From 2012 to 2013, the increase of 180 represented a 9 percent jump. More people have gotten off the train than on, and the difference has been as many as 119 in 2010 to as few as 8 in 2012.

“This is an opportunity to create an environment that makes Claremont an attractive destination point for business and tourism in both the community and surrounding area,” Lovett said in her report.

Among the ideas she presented were shuttle service, a protected waiting area, signage, landscaping, better seating and tourism information on the website. The committee wants to get updated and expanded information on things to do in the area and a more complete list of hotels and restaurants on the website as soon as possible.

The committee will meet weekly at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays in August in city hall then make a presentation to the city council on Aug. 27 with information on the current situation, priorities and recommended options.

Lovett said she would like to see something done before winter and anticipates no cost to the taxpayers.

“This is an asset and we have to be good stewards because it does so much for the community,” Lovett said.

The committee was hastily appointed after Ray Gagnon, a Democratic state representative who represents the New Hampshire Passenger Rail Authority, told the City Council on July 9 that Amtrak has been discussing the high speed rail service between Montreal and Boston with Vermont and Massachusetts representatives but had not included New Hampshire, which provides no state funding for the Amtrak service.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.