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Author Topic: Stuck in Chicago
Stephen W
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http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2008/12/amtrak-passengers-stranded-at-union-station.html

Not much of a Merry Christmas for some! I hope there will be respite soon for these unlucky people.

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PullmanCo
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Another wonderful example of customer service.

I have a Union Pacific dining car cookbook. There were explicit rules on where trains were to get to and tie up when a storm was going to be so bad it shut down the Road. There were explicit procedures on what would be offered from the dining car, on the Company, as a consequence of the delay.

Amtrak could learn a lesson or two from history.

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Henry Kisor
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It is difficult to believe Amtrak has no contingency plans in place for these situations. Perhaps that is a result of the institutional underfunding it has suffered over the decades.

Just checked: 7/22 departed a few minutes ago at 1:22 p.m., 23 hours and 7 minutes late.

In looking at reports of long airport delays owing to weather, I surmise that the airports (owned by the municipalities) provide cots, but the Red Cross provides blankets and diapers and depends on the food concessionaires to stay open for the duration. The air carriers don't seem to be involved in passenger comfort during such delays.

So perhaps what happened to the EB passengers last night is not wholly Amtrak's fault, but it does own Union Station and perhaps ought to have had cots available for this kind of situation.

(Later. I don't recall such weather problems affecting Amtrak so adversely in the past. Maybe this is a once-in-a-blue-moon event. GBN, our resident historian, probably can recall others.)

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train lady
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Last year there was a storm that closed several airports,can't remember which, but all the pictures showed people lying on the floor, draped over chairs and not once did I see cots. I don't think the airlines provide anything nor does the Red Cross unless asked.
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wayne72145
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Exactly what does happen to a passenger that has booked a sleeper to Portland and Amtrak says you must get off in Minn/St Paul ?
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RR4me
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The flippant answer regarding a lesson to be learned would have put me over the edge. At best, the lesson I'm sure many took away was, "never, ever ride Amtrak again!" Hell of a job.
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Gilbert B Norman
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These "service disruptions" were the lead story on NBC Local 6PM News. Amtrak's Chicago Spin Doc Mark Maglieri was trying to put the best "face' on it all, but talking about "positioning of equipment' means little or nothing to John Q.

Here's some video:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/#28371372

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CG96
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quote:
Originally posted by RR4me:
The flippant answer regarding a lesson to be learned would have put me over the edge. At best, the lesson I'm sure many took away was, "never, ever ride Amtrak again!" Hell of a job.

I second this remark. That was one flippant answer that the Employee should not have voiced at all. "Lessons ?" That employee, or the supervisor, would be the one in need of a "lesson." The paying customer does not want to be lectured about "learning" any "lessons" - they want to see solutions, and they want to see action.

--------------------
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the Earth all one's life."

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wayne72145
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After reading the small print it appears Amtrak can do anything they want whenever they want. That includes terminating any train anywhere.
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Henry Kisor
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I guess it's my old profession, but something seems not quite right to me in that passenger's comment about the customer service agent telling her she needs a life lesson. It feels as if it were taken out of context. I don't think we know the whole story about that.
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RRRICH
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If someone has to lay on the floor of an airport for 3 days, no problem -- "s**t happens," but if they are delayed for a day or two at a train station, then it's "I'm NEVER going to ride AMTRAK again!!!"
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Henry Kisor
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Looks like 7 (22) has gone on beyond Minneapolis, despite early reports that it would terminate there. Reports are that it left Minot ND at 9:08, 24 hours and 2 minutes late. Also it appears that 7 (23) was canceled; it doesn't show up online. Wonder if 7 (24) will make it out today.

Train Lady, the Chicago news media are reporting that more than 500 stranded travelers slept on cots at O'Hare last night. I believe O'Hare has provided cots for many years. Don't know about other airports, though.

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train lady
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Henry, the last time a huge number of passengers were stranded at National (in DC) they were sleeping all over the place for 3 days. Nothing was provided by the airlines or airport. Maybe each one is different.
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reich
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7 (23) was cancelled, but went as far as Minneapolis as #807 and arrived there about 5:30 this morning. I wonder if the crew-caller wished he or she chose another position.
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Gilbert B Norman
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Mr. Reich, although my last railroad paycheck was now twenty seven years ago, I think the Crew Caller on any Class I is now a computer aided by a "Julie'. Possibly it has even come to the point that T&E crews are required to have a cell phone that supports text messages.

But the days of a continuous (railroadese for 24/7) position titled Crew Caller are gone.

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birdchops
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good lord what a nightmare...i work for an airline and let me tell you..i've been dumped onto the street during storms myself...and told to "wait until you go illegal then call us..." ..ya right. more like "bye bye, im going home"
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Henry Kisor
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This mess ain't over yet. Today's incoming No. 8 (22) departed Grand Forks ND at 10:44 a.m., 9 hours and 45 minutes late.
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CG96
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I enjoy trains and train travel, but episodes like this seem to take place each and every single winter. What is wrong with Amtrak that the organization seems to get caught flat footed by winter weather each and every single year ? Why don't they ever learn ?

While no person has control over the weather, this could be turned into an opportunity to "shine despite the adversity." One poster on anther board made a suggestion:

quote:
The problem is, that $30 ticket has turned into a $30 complaint. And if 10 people are scared off from taking that train, that $30 ticket has become as $300 liability to Amtrak. For $300, the conductor could have called the local Pizza Hut and ordered 20 Panormous pizzas and had them delivered with money for a tip.

Now imagine that same travelers reaction, "Yeah, we were stuck in Chicago Union Station, but man, did Amtrak take care of us. Every 30 minutes or so they'd make sure we knew what was going on and around dinner time if we showed them our tickets, we got a some pizza and a soda. Way better than any airline! If I'm going to get stuck in Chicago, I'll take Amtrak over NWA any time."

No one cares about "positioning equipment." They care about knowing what's going on, when they're going to get out of there and their next hot meal.

Overcoming some adversity, and improvising a solution when things do not go according to plan, is part and parcel of almost any managers' job description, no matter if it appears in their contract or not.

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"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the Earth all one's life."

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Henry Kisor
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Well, all transportation systems regularly get caught flatfooted by winter weather. One just cannot beat Mother Nature.

This isn't to say that transportation systems shouldn't have contingency plans for passenger comfort and safety when the weather gets really hairy. Cots and blankets at Chicago Union Station would have helped.

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George Harris
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This sort of stuff always has happened. As to the relative frequency, I could not say, but I have had a few pre-Amtrak experiences that would be somewhat similar.

On one occasion, there was a derailment of some sort at the Tennessee River bridge at Decatur, Alabama. I was on the westbound Southern Tennessean, due in Memphis at 8:00 am. Instead, we arrived in Birmingham at 7:30 am. Then, to keep it on home company rails, we took Southern's very crooked Northern Alabama line to Sheffield AL. Got to Sheffield at about 1:00 pm. I bailed at Corinth MS at about 2:15 to catch a bus to Jackson TN. Based on the normal, that would have put the train into Memphis at about 4:30pm, 8 hours 30 minutes late. This was in good weather. Somewhere between Chattanooga and Birmingham we met the norhtbound L&N Humming Bird. Given that it had to be going to Chattanooga, and would probably be getting there about 2:00 am and then back to L&N rails to reach Nashville, that would put it getting into Nashville somewhere like 6:00 am, which would be 7 hours late.

One other occasion I was sitting in Knoxville waiting for the westbound Tennessean, and kept watching the anticipated arrival being moved up to be consistently about two hours later that whatever time it was. Train finally showed up at 3:00 am instead of its normal about 9:30 pm. Was stuck behind a broke in two freight about 60 miles east of Knoxville the entire time. Got to Memphis at 2:30 pm. Again, no weather issue.

On one other occasion, I caught the Nashville Memphis overnight train - in probably its last year of operation - during serious bad weather. Through trains were running hours late. Due to weather, all trains were limited to 50 mph or less. Surprisingly enough we got to Memphis only about 15 minutes late. Nothing else was moving.

Anything can happen.

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Henry Kisor
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Yes, anything can happen, and usually does!

If anyone is interested, 7 (22) arrived at Seattle yesterday, Christmas Eve, 24 hours and 7 minutes late.

Is this a record?

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smitty195
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If you go to the original article (the link is in the first post of this thread), you can read the "Comments" section. I find them VERY interesting!

It amazes me that after 37 years in the railroad business, Amtrak still doesn't know how to run a railroad. But I guess I really shouldn't be too surprised......just think of Amtrak as government healthcare that is proposed. Are you ready for this? Have all the hope for change that you want, but THIS is the reality.

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Ocala Mike
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More reality, smitty195. It's not only Amtrak, you know.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28367657/

--------------------
Ocala Mike

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smitty195
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My point wasn't the weather....it was the Amtrak employees. I flew on Sunday and I flew yesterday (in and out of major airports). Sure, there were delays.....but there were TV monitors that indicated the status of every single flight, I could find an airline employee very quickly if I needed to, I could locate a white courtesy phone, I could find a restroom every few gates, I could go get coffee, pizza, steak, hamburgers, spaghetti, Indian food, McDonald's, etc.....The airlines (and airports) are used to weather troubles (and so are their employees).

As a highly experienced Amtrak passenger using the system since 1980, I can assure you that Amtrak has a lot to learn. Some employees are excellent, some employees are good, but most of them are plain crap. Welcome to a government run operation. DMV, anyone???

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Henry Kisor
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After reading the comments to the news story in the original post, I strongly suspect that the customer service person who made that remark about lessons to learn may actually have been showing great forbearance after ninety-eleven hours of being screamed at and being called a stupid, ignorant bitch (perhaps with racial references) despite having no answers because nobody down the line had any information to pass on to her. They did not know when they were finally going to be able to conquer the weather and get their trains moving.

I saw something very similar fifteen years ago when the eastbound California Zephyr limped into Denver at 2 a.m. thanks to a freight derailment in the Colorado Rockies. Many passengers did not care about the reason for their delay, just that they had been delayed and it was all Amtrak's fault. Twice I saw the tough female station chief run weeping from the room where rowdy, demanding, screaming first class passengers were being given air tickets to fly on to their destinations, only to collect her wits, take a deep breath and return to the fray. I was amazed that she did not punch out a particularly nasty fellow for his highly personal insults but handled him with great courtesy.

Sure, Amtrak could have handled this week's situation better, had its budget allowed for such things as cots and blankets and intensive crisis training for station personnel. But the American people elected the politicians who all but strangled the railroad in the name of free-market profit-making while heavily subsidizing airport comforts.

The ultimate blame lies with us.

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notelvis
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quote:
Originally posted by Henry Kisor:
Yes, anything can happen, and usually does!

If anyone is interested, 7 (22) arrived at Seattle yesterday, Christmas Eve, 24 hours and 7 minutes late.

Is this a record?

I think that the Sunset Limited once arrived in LAX 43 hours late.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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Henry Kisor
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FORTY-THREE hours late? Why didn't they just take it out and shoot it, and bustitute everybody to LAX?
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PullmanCo
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quote:
Originally posted by Henry Kisor:
Sure, Amtrak could have handled this week's situation better, had its budget allowed for such things as cots and blankets and intensive crisis training for station personnel. But the American people elected the politicians who all but strangled the railroad in the name of free-market profit-making while heavily subsidizing airport comforts.

From the Union Pacific Railroad Dining Car and Hotel Department Dining Car Cookbook and Service Instructions (I estimate my copy to be in the 1960s):

quote:
When traffic interruptions occur to passenger trains, including all Streamliner trains, resulting from extraordinary delays such as those caused by accidents, washouts, snow blockades or other similar emergencies, stewards are authorized to furnish free meals to revenue passengers, train and Pullman crews employed thereon, after one meal period has elapsed and until tain service has been restored.
This was written in an era where UP was streaming red ink from the Passenger Traffic and DC&H Departments, yet they understood the welfare of their paying customers was pretty darn important. Further, information flowed only by telephone or teletypewriter at this time.

I guess the Amtrak Operations Center cannot get word down to its terminal managers anymore, given the internet, cell phones, blackberries, webcam deskside VTC, ad infinitum.

--------------------
The City of Saint Louis (UP, 1967) is still my standard for passenger operations

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Henry Kisor
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Free meals aboard a delayed train out in the boonies? That's great for the passengers aboard, and indeed Amtrak does this quite often during long delays.

But what good would that have done people in a terminal waiting room whose tickets had not yet been lifted? This policy was good of the UP, but I will bet that was in force long before the 1960s. And wasn't all that red ink the reason why the railroads dumped their passenger operations onto the government?

If Amtrak Operations did not know when the freight lines would be able to get the trains moving again in a storm like the one we had last week -- and it is doubtful that the freight lines themselves knew -- where is the word to get down to the terminal managers and thence to the customer reps?

Amtrak needs to improve in such situations, and we can hope it will now that it is getting some money. But it just cannot prevent weather delays.

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PullmanCo
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I agree weather delays cannot be prevented. The issue is, how do you deal with your paying customers at the front gate?

You take care of them. Get them information, get them onto trains, and get them on alternate routes if needed.

Of course, that's one of the problems. In the day, the railroads had reciprocal force majeure support clauses. While the Santa Fe would be quite happy if the Union Pacific was down, there was a quid pro quo system in place. The railroads agreed mutual support was a win-win at the end of the day.

Amtrak seems to have lost the ability to establish and implement those agreements.

--------------------
The City of Saint Louis (UP, 1967) is still my standard for passenger operations

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ellenorigby
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How many of you have actually worked with the public in any way shape or form. You need to work with the public to see how terrible people really are.........I guess you should blame god for the weather and leave it at that.
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smitty195
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I worked with the public very intently. I've got a good grip on how people can be under the most stressful times of their lives. I also have a good grip on Amtrak employees, and how rotten many of them are. I don't want to sound 100% negative towards them, but Amtrak ain't exactly the cream of the crop of the service and/or transportation industry.
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Ira Slotkin
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I am troubled by comments/labels of Amtrak employees I read here, like "crap" and "not the cream of the crop." and "I have a good grip on Amtrak employees and how rotten many of them are..."

What I do hear in these comments is a good grip on labels and name calling, and personal judgements. As nasty and inappropriate as comments like "Hussein" to disparage - albeit subtlely - Barrack Obama.

Easy for people hereon to say what should be done. Easy to label employees (or anyone) as ______. Harder to say what you would like to see done, and then seriously explore the viability of your suggestions. "Get them on trains" - to where? Put them up in hotels - when all are full? Schedule and move trains when the freights traffic is not predictable ot controllable? Put them on planes - when 500 flights are already canceled and the airlines reporting flights are full? Take care of them - exactly how? get them more information? On what equipment? And what about when the information is information that no one likes giving or receiving, e.g.: no trains getting through and no trains leaving until we are sure they can get through.

Put people on cots that are not available? Buy cots and keep them available for such events? How many? Where stored? Maintained by whom? Set up by whom?

I think we can criticize behavior without attacking and labeling individuals or groups, be they Amtrak employees or bagpipe players. I would like us to do that here. I think our energy then goes taking responsibility and to creative solutions, rather than on blame.

Ira

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amtraxmaniac
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Ellen, I agree. The public can be quite nasty. I've been in social work for 9 years now and have seen how nasty people can get. I think agents need to learn not to reflect the frustrations of the customer though too. The employees should take responsibility for their own reactions. It all trickles down though to the way Amtrak is managed. When there is a lack of planning for these situation, the powers that be hang Amtrak employees out to dry. You can't control the attitudes of your customers, no matter how abusive and impatient they want to be. What you can do as a company though is make your employees responsible for THEIR attitudes. Its a two way swinging door though. If management expects the most out of its employees, they better arm them with every tool necessary to satisfy the customers. I can say this much, I've encountered more scowls from station agents than smiles and it makes me think 'are these bad employees or just employees treated badly by a company that simply doesn't know how the TREAT PEOPLE PERIOD?'.
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smitty195
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quote:
Originally posted by Ira Slotkin:
I am troubled by comments/labels of Amtrak employees I read here, like "crap" and "not the cream of the crop." and "I have a good grip on Amtrak employees and how rotten many of them are..."

What I do hear in these comments is a good grip on labels and name calling, and personal judgements. As nasty and inappropriate as comments like "Hussein" to disparage - albeit subtlely - Barrack Obama.

Easy for people hereon to say what should be done. Easy to label employees (or anyone) as ______. Harder to say what you would like to see done, and then seriously explore the viability of your suggestions. "Get them on trains" - to where? Put them up in hotels - when all are full? Schedule and move trains when the freights traffic is not predictable ot controllable? Put them on planes - when 500 flights are already canceled and the airlines reporting flights are full? Take care of them - exactly how? get them more information? On what equipment? And what about when the information is information that no one likes giving or receiving, e.g.: no trains getting through and no trains leaving until we are sure they can get through.

Put people on cots that are not available? Buy cots and keep them available for such events? How many? Where stored? Maintained by whom? Set up by whom?

I think we can criticize behavior without attacking and labeling individuals or groups, be they Amtrak employees or bagpipe players. I would like us to do that here. I think our energy then goes taking responsibility and to creative solutions, rather than on blame.

Ira

Your points are well-taken. However, I have to assume that you have a very limited experience with Amtrak travel. An occasional vacation once a year on Amtrak? A fun train trip to a national park every now and then perhaps? If you have taken trips and have had pleasant experiences, then that is great! I have also taken Amtrak trips that have been great. I have been on Amtrak trips with excellent employees.

But come on, let's get to the bottom line here.......Train fans and Amtrak fans are willing to overlook many things that the normal traveling public does not look over. Have you noticed that Amtrak has been a regular, long-running punch line on the late night talk shows for years and years? There is a reason for this.

Amtrak employees, for the most part, are consistent at being non-consistent. I wouldn't even know where to begin in giving specifics as I'm growing tired of explaining the same things year after year after year. I also have the benefit of having knowledge of how things work inside Amtrak management. I'll just say that it is appalling at how that operation is run, so it's no wonder that the line-level employees are so crappy.

And since you brought up Hussein, what's wrong with that? It's his middle name, and he will be sworn in as President using his middle name (appropriately). Lighten up.

Posts: 2355 | From: Pleasanton, CA | Registered: Apr 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Ira Slotkin
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"Hussein" was an inappropriate comment when it was a subtle pejorative, used hereon sarcastically. It was, someone objected, and the post was deleted. Perhaps you saw it.

You do not HAVE to assume anything about my experience on Amtrak. You choose to. Having lots of good or bad experiences does not give anyone the right to label and name call, e.g. "crappy.

You say you won't know where to begin making suggestions, however you are willing to continue including comments like "the line-level employees are so crappy." That's light?

And since you "have grown tired of explaining the same thing year after year..." I suggest you try a different way of explaining, i.e. - w/o the labels and directives, and self serving comments like "Come on" as though you have some special knowledge of the truth. That because _________ are made fun of on the tonight show that that is appropriate or accurate.

I agree with the idea presented above by several folks - with more money for equipment and training service by people and equipment can improve. I would like to see that happen.

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train lady
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Can't resist adding my $.2. Amen Ira!!!I have done a lot of train trvel over the years and have run into a few employees that were pretty poor. Most were good. Does anyone know of any industry that doesn't have a few bad apples? One or two bad experiences is not the basis for dissing a whole industry
Posts: 1577 | From: virginia | Registered: Jun 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
DeeCT
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Like train lady, I have run into Amtrak employees that run the gamut from poor to excellent. I find that overall the good ones outweigh the bad and those rare gems that rate as excellent have made some incredible travel memories.
Is there room for improvement? Surely - on both Amtrak and the traveling public's part. (I find that it usually takes both to make a travel experience either good or bad.)
As to weather related travel problems - let's place at least some of the blame on Mother Nature. (She is not employed by Amtrak.)

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smitty195
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<<<You do not HAVE to assume anything about my experience on Amtrak. You choose to. Having lots of good or bad experiences does not give anyone the right to label and name call, e.g. "crappy.>>>

Huh??? Having lots of bad experiences does not give anyone the right to label??? So let's say, for example, that a certain hotel chain has a consistent record of providing poor service, dirty rooms, broken air conditioners, cockroaches, and employees that don't care....then in your way of thinking, it is NOT okay to say that they are a crappy hotel chain?? Well, if that's what floats your boat, more power to you. But I prefer to be honest about my experiences.

<<<I agree with the idea presented above by several folks - with more money for equipment>>>

Ahh, the perfect solution to every problem----let's throw money at it! Sure, that will work. Just look at history for the proof.

<<<and training service by people and equipment can improve. I would like to see that happen.>>>

Training to improve service? But why? If they're so great to begin with, then their training and service program must be doing exceedingly well.

Maybe if you go back and read the comments from the original news article from people who were actually there and what their experiences were, you will see what I am talking about. The comments that I am reading at the end of that article match exactly what my experiences have been for 28 years in Amtrak travel whenever something slightly different happens. Amtrak gets all flustered, their in-house communications break down severely, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, and it is just basic chaos.

Do you recall the incident back east a year or two ago where the train did not move in freezing weather for HOURS while people were freezing, starving, and having serious medical issues? And the local county (I forget where it was) brought in their disaster response team and even the local residents opened up their homes to passengers so that they could warm up and get some food? It was national headline news. And what was Amtrak's response for THAT incident??? It was identical to THIS incident! Some stupid statement about "We will learn from this incident and we welcome any input and blah blah blah".

These types of things happen with Amtrak year after year after year. We know the weather will get cold, and we know the weather will get hot. We know there will be floods. We know there will be earthquakes. We know there will be hurricanes and tornadoes. But every time something happens, Amtrak drops the ball and they act as if this is the first time anything like this has ever happened on a railroad. I strongly stick to my original comments about the crappy employees and management at Amtrak (Note: I did say that Amtrak has some excellent employees as well as some good employees).

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train lady
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Smitty, I am curious.. do you feel this way about the airlines too or is this a one way vendetta? We have had excellent care from Amtrak in really bad situatuons. So maybe I am biased in the other direction.
Posts: 1577 | From: virginia | Registered: Jun 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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