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» RAILforum » Passenger Trains » Amtrak » Stuck in Chicago (Page 2)

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Author Topic: Stuck in Chicago
smitty195
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Train Lady---I think the airlines have their troubles and problems, but overall, their gate and on-board personnel have much more experience, training, and accountability for their actions. The one exception is the new airline, "Virgin America". They get an A+ from me (and from Conde Nast as well, for being the best airline). If you ever get a chance to fly them, give it a shot....it's not like ANY of the other domestic carriers out there. Prior to VA, I flew exclusively United and I watched them go downhill over the years.

And just to clarify, I do not have a vendetta against Amtrak. I have talked about some great Amtrak trips that I have taken over the years (not so much on this board, but over on Trainorders), as well as talked about some outstanding employees. One of the main issues with line-level Amtrak employees (the on-board personnel) is that they have almost no accountability---zip! A Conductor is technically their "boss", but on a long-distance train, good luck in finding a Conductor who is willing to actually handle a situation appropriately (document, counsel the employee, and forward it to the office for follow-up action and place the documentation in the employee's personnel file). You will not find this happening at Amtrak. Most Conductors have the attitude of, "Well, in 3 more hours he/she ain't my problem any more!". I know several Amtrak conductors, and yes, this is how they view these things. Why rock the boat when you don't have to?

I could specify so many more things about Amtrak that are inherently wrong, but talking to Amtrak fans is probably the wrong crowd to talk to. It would be like me talking poorly about the San Francisco Giants while attending a game at PacBell Park! No matter what facts I give, it really won't matter because fans are fans.

But Amtrak management is VERY wishy-washy from the get-go (with a few exceptions, such as Richard Phelps, VP at Amtrak). They do not hold others accountable, they RARELY know what other managers are doing, they rarely know the current goals of the company......it's just so flawed and so terrible that the whole thing really needs to be shaken up from the top-down. The unions are also a big part of the problem. It's almost impossible to fire a habitually poor performing employee.

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Henry Kisor
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"I could specify so many more things about Amtrak that are inherently wrong, but talking to Amtrak fans is probably the wrong crowd to talk to."

Then why bother?

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notelvis
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Maybe Smitty's point is that we Amtrak fans are not in the position to do anything about it and that Amtrak management ought to be but generally does nothing.

That's my read on it.

--------------------
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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Notelvis: "No matter what facts I give, it really won't matter because fans are fans."
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sojourner
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I am a very experienced Amtrak traveler, and while I find the majority of Amtrak employees fine, and some quite a bit more than fine, I don't dispute that Amtrak has more than its fair share of overly rude, officious, and lazy employees too. Whether these are more than the airlines, I don't know, not having flown in a very long time. But I must say when I did fly, I had some airline personnel I found bad too.

Now, the one time I took a cruise, the employees were really bend-over-backwards excellent.

But I must say, the very worst group of employees I've encountered have been at Greyhound.

And in my whole life, I can recall encountering only one National Park Service employee who falls into the rude, obnoxious, or lazy category (he was obnoxious). But other than him, they have always been very good workers, in my experience. And National Park Service employees are government workers too.

So what I do dispute that the problems with some Amtrak personnel have something to do with government funding vs nongovernment funding. Greyhound is not government funded.

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smitty195
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quote:
Originally posted by Henry Kisor:

Then why bother?

Nice try, Henry. [Smile]
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Henry Kisor
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Reading you, Smitty, is like trying to parse Rush Limbaugh, trying to detect reason among the invective.

And there's an end on't, as Dr. Johnson said.

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notelvis
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Ah......Sojourner, Greyhound has their own issues and they, as a corporate entity, have done a very poor job keeping the intercity bus industry viable.

One of the various email groups I subscribe to is populated by former Trailways Drivers.....some of whom are very plugged in to what Greyhound has done and continues to do to an industry they care deeply about.

Personally, as a teenager, I regularly used Trailways buses to reach Amtrak stations and I miss having Trailways as an option for depositing me trackside in Charlotte, Greensboro, Spartanburg, Columbia, or Atlanta. I found these Trailways operations more pleasant experiences than any I have since encountered with Greyhound......who is no longer an option as Greyhound fails to go where I need to when I need to....

But that's another story.

--------------------
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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I can't say I've ever ridden the Big Dog, but my experiences on Trailways buses (often on Amtrak runs) have not been bad at all. I won't say good -- buses, even luxury coaches, just aren't my cup of tea -- but Trailways has never given me anything to complain about.

Wonder what Jim Lehrer of PBS news fame would have to say on this issue. He was an intercity bus agent in his youth, and indeed he owns an old bus from the 1940s or thereabouts. Drives it around his property a lot. And people think we railfans are eccentric?

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palmland
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Notelvis- Trailways did seem to have their act together more than Greyhound - although apparently not from a financial standpoint. The bus was used frequently in my college days to bring dates for party weekends to Richmond from places like Roanoke, Staunton, and Lynchburg (there was a time when not every college student had a car).

But the best use was to make connections in Charottesville or Lynchburg with Southern RR trains to Tennessee. At that time both bus and railroad employees were uniformly efficient and courteous. With a society that is generally less civil, I think it is harder today for any service oriented business to get consistently good employees.

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smitty195
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<<<Reading you, Smitty, is like trying to parse Rush Limbaugh, trying to detect reason among the invective.>>>

I didn't know you were a fan of El Rushbo! I'm honored to be compared to the most popular (and wealthy) talk show host/entertainer in the country for 20 years running.

<<<And there's an end on't, as Dr. Johnson said.>>>

I have no idea what that means.

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City of Miami
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For my part, I get tired of reading your invective, smitty195. It's so repetitive. There is nothing I can do for you.

If I were moderator,......

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smitty195
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Invective? What invective? I used the word "crappy" in this one thread. You may not like some of my opinions, but perhaps I don't care for some of yours. But that's what these boards are all about....sharing ideas and comments back and forth. I'm sorry you have such a low tolerance for views that differ from yours.

And do you not think your comments are a little on the invective side towards me? Hmmmmm?

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train lady
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Certanly, Smitty you have every right to express your opinions even if they differ from some of others. I think some of us are confused by your seemingly always down on Amtrak.Obvously you must have had experiences very different from most of us or maybe we just put up with more.
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smitty195
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Thank you, train lady, for having a mature and thoughtful conversation.

Yes, I tend to be somewhat down on Amtrak in the last year or so. I thought Kummant would be a shining star at Amtrak, as I rode with him from Los Angeles to Seattle on his first long-distance train trip. Seemed like a reasonable guy, level-headed, and came from a railroad (UP). At public presentations, his words made sense and things looked pretty good. I stayed in contact with him, and he was always very cordial and answered my questions. But probably, oh, about a year or so ago, I saw Amtrak doing some of the dumbest things I've ever seen them do. (Note to City of Miami: If the word "dumb" offends you, I apologize. You might want to stop reading now).

When I started to notice lots of things changing that most passengers would not notice (but observant and frequent passengers would notice), I started to get the feeling that something was going on internally at Amtrak. About 6 months ago, I said that I think Kummant will be gone in very short order---because nothing was making sense. Some conversations I had with mid-level managers in DC about things also did not make sense, and I received some of the screwiest answers you could possibly imagine. With the internal strife I was picking up on, combined with what I was witnessing on the line-level of things (riding trains), that confirmed for me that something was absolutely, positively going on within Amtrak that wasn't good. They waste an INCREDIBLE amount of money, and there is almost zero accountability for it. And the thing that really blew it over the top for me was what I like to call "the re-launch that wasn't a re-launch" of the Coast Starlight back in June. Amtrak's flaws, mis-management, and shining examples of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing were on blatant display on that trip. I had contact with a manager in DC, and his response back to me was laughable---absolutely laughable. It showed that he was not connected with ANYTHING going on within his company in any way. It was amazing. To add insult to this, the on-board manager (who, by all appearances, is a nice man) didn't seem to think that the re-launch was all that bad. Pages and pages of flaws pointed out to Amtrak, and they thought it wasn't bad?

If Amtrak were a fully private company without government aid, they would have folded long ago as people just won't put up with this type of stuff for very long (look at the airlines and long-distance bus companies). I believe that Amtrak has a lot of potential, and the immediate fix is NOT to throw a bunch of money at them. I've seen how Amtrak wastes money----they would mismanage it so badly---of that I am convinced. What Amtrak needs to do first and foremost is begin holding their employees accountable. They need to ask them to do a little bit of work, and make them stick to it. No more disappearing attendants (translation: hanging out in the crew car drinking coffee, watching their DVD player, or chatting on the cell phone for hours). No more filthy, disgusting restrooms. No more excuses in the dining car of, "We ran out of (fill in the blank)". By the way, there is a secret to that "we ran out" scam. Truth be told, half the time they didn't really run out of whatever it is that they claim to have run out of. What actually happens is that the Chef does not want to open an entire carton of that particular entree when only one or two people will order it. He would rather just serve what's already out and heated up. Yes, this is true...not made up.

Once Amtrak has their managers and their line-level employees under control, then let's talk about seeing if Amtrak can be responsible with a windfall of government handouts to improve the system.

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DeeCT
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Smitty,

One thing I have often wondered is how much actual job training an Amtrak employee receives. I had one trip on the SWC with a very new Train Attendant - and he seemed clueless. However no one seemed to be training him or overlooking his job performance. (Perhaps he was simply a case of "not the sharpest knife in the drawer" - but I wondered about it at the time.

I am a pretty low maintenence passenger -

Bed up and down, 20 minute warning before arriving at my destination and the smell of coffee brewing when I wake is all I ask of the room attendant. (If I can only have one - make it the coffee urn hot and full).

Dining staff - hot food hot and cold food cold, served in a timely manner realy all I ask.(A smile served with it does go a long way).

Given that my requirements are not excessive,I would guess I am probably less likely than most to find fault with on board services.

My one problem and biggest complaint is with Passenger Services (Particularly in Chicago).It runs the gamut from so so - to unbelievably horrible. It is the one area I have to think a huge upgrade in Customer Care is both possible and would also reap huge rewards in improving Amtrak's public perception.

I have taken the time after one particularly bad experience to call the 1-800 number and given an acount if what happened and what I felt should have been done to handle the problem better. I wonder how many others take the time to do that instead of just grumbling and swearing to "Never ride Amtrak again".

Here once again I have to wonder how much and what quality of Employee Training takes place.

Dee

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smitty195
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That's a good question, Dee. I don't have solid answers, but I do have a few educated guesses.

The on-board attendants go through a very basic course on Amtrak policies/procedures (how to fill out your time card, where to report for work, how to dress, how to handle your job duties in the company manual, etc). However, I believe most of the training is "OJT" (On the Job Training). I've seen sleeper attendants teaching new-hires how to make a bed, how to make coffee, etc...When I've talked to them over the years, they usually say that this is their first train trip and it is their first time inside a sleeping car. So the training really isn't too much. Two summers ago, I watched a regular sleeper attendant "training" a new-hire on the Coast Starlight in a sleeper how to make up the beds in the morning. The trainer was in her room watching TV and drinking soda, while the trainee was floundering and couldn't figure out what to do. I asked her if she needed help, and she said, "Oh boy, do I!". I asked her where her trainer was, and she said, "Watching TV again". So I showed her how to do the beds and she was appreciative.

For the dining car chefs, I don't know what their training is today, but as recently as 3 years ago, all of Amtrak's chefs were sent to CIA (Culinary Institute of America) to become certified chefs. And of course, once they completed all of that expensive and lengthy training, they came out with the government mandated Simplified Dining Service which not only laid off many dining car employees, but also voided everything they had learned in chef's school! (since everything was pre-cooked, for the most part).

The one area at Amtrak that receives a great deal of training are the Conductors and Engineers. Now as far as I know, neither of them receive any type of "charm school" in how to deal with passengers. Their training consists of going back east to Wilmington, Delaware to "Choo Choo U". I understand that this is a very tough school, and there are lots and lots of rules to learn (which is a good thing, since they have our precious lives in their hands).

Regarding Chicago Amtrak employees....I will just be blunt. It is well-known within Amtrak (and with regular Amtrak passengers) that Chicago has some of the most rude and lazy employees in the entire system. It's very noticeable if you are transferring from a Los Angeles based train (such as the Southwest Chief) to a Chicago based train (such as the California Zephyr). Amtrak, in my opinion, definitely has a problem there. Personally, I think it's too big for them to handle internally. I don't know what the solution to that weird system is. I once asked a red cap which side of Union Station (in Chicago) I should use to find taxi cabs. His response: "That ain't in my job description bro!". Yeah, thanks a lot for the help dude.

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ellenorigby
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At least if you get stuck on a train you can move about in your frustration, and on a plane you can only squirm in your seat like a worm about to be stuck on a hook......
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amtraxmaniac
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I have to throw my 2 cents in on Greyhound.Their motto has to 'Get Your @$$ on the Bus'. I have never encountered ruder employees. You can smile and crack a joke on a slow day and not even get a 'Can I help you'. Is there a similarity with Amtrak employees? Neither seem to exactly have an enthusiasm for the industry. There is no pride of ownership, if that makes sense. Is it not clear to us which employees like their careers, which ones like their jobs, which ones just like the fact that they HAVE a job, or don't care period? Amtrak is operated from the top down by people who don't care much about the industry. Its just business and your just a number. Its just a job to them. Would it be crazy to suggest that the best potential employees might be RAILFANS? I can sense eyes rolling.
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George Harris
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Have to agree with notelvis and others concerning Trailways vs Greyhound. One thing to remember, routes were franchises and Greyhound was usually the one that got there first, so many times they had the route with the most population and therefore the greater passenger loads. There were exceptions, and apparently the Interstates were not franchised so either company could run on them between places where no stops were required.
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