JEFFERSON CITY — Riders hitting the rails in Missouri’s capital city might find the new waiting area at the Jefferson City Amtrak station a bit rustic.
Rather than the regular waiting area inside a historic building near Missouri’s Capitol, passengers are being directed to wait under two open-air canopies, where a handful of lawn chairs, office chairs and a bench provide space for a few people to rest.
As for bathrooms, two portable toilets are situated nearby.
While the set-up may not be troublesome on a crisp autumn day, it remains unclear what might happen when the weather turns nasty and a train is running late.
“I can’t speculate about that,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “Our hope is the situation is temporary.”
The closure of the waiting room came late last week after state and city officials shuttered the building for fear it posed a safety hazard.
At issue is the brickwork of the old Union Hotel building, which was built in 1855 and sits astride of the Union Pacific railroad tracks that link St. Louis with Kansas City.
The hotel, which is no longer in operation, is part of the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site. In addition to the waiting room, the building houses a state-run art gallery.
In a statement, officials said the exterior masonry is in need of evaluation by a structural engineer to confirm whether the building can continue to be used.
“The decision to close the building was a precautionary measure to assure the safety of volunteers and visitors until the assessment can be conducted,” the Missouri Department of Natural Resources said. “The results will determine when the Amtrak station waiting room and the gallery can resume normal operations.”
Until then, passengers must head to the tents or walk across the street to another historic structure, where they can wait inside during its regular operating hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Amtrak runs two trains a day between Jefferson City and St. Louis. The morning train departs the capital city at 11:18 a.m. and arrives in St. Louis at 1:55 p.m. The evening training leaves Jefferson City at 7:03 p.m. and arrives in St. Louis at 9:40 p.m.
Tiffany Patterson, director of the Missouri State Museum, which oversees the building, said she hopes a resolution will come before winter arrives.
“It’s not going to be months and months of people standing on the sidewalk outside of the hotel,” Patterson said. “But, we’re kind of in a holding pattern until the engineer tells us what needs to be done. So far, we have not gotten word.”
The uncertainty comes as ridership has decreased on the line in recent years.
In 2018, more than 38,700 people made the 125-mile journey, making Jefferson City the fourth-busiest stop in Missouri after St. Louis, Kansas City and Kirkwood.
The number of riders was down from more than 39,400 in 2017 and more than 40,000 in 2016.