Service of Loosey-Goosey with the Time: Tut-Tut Amtrak!

August 5th, 2019

Categories: Rail Travel, Transportation, Travel

Photo: blog.amtrak.com

I am spoiled by Grand Central Terminal and passionately dislike the way Penn Station in NYC operates because it treats its passengers like cattle. You can’t stroll to your seat at leisure as early as 15 to 20 minutes ahead of departure as at GCT. Instead you’re lined up like convicts and treated little better than cattle. More about my recent on-boarding experience below.

Because I’d not been to Penn Station in a dog’s age, I visited to buy my ticket the Monday before a Thursday trip upstate. I had no idea what the lines were like on a weekday in summer and with an 8:15 a.m. departure, didn’t want to get there early yet still miss my train.

I asked for a one-way trip to Whitehall, NY. My hostess told me the time and I’d confirmed it online.

“That train leaves at 7:15,” said the ticket clerk. In fact, it did. [My hostess was surprised because she’d called Amtrak the day of my arrival and the voice message matched the online information, confirming an 8:15 a.m. departure.] I wonder how many people missed the train that travels only once a day.

For no reason I could fathom we subsequently had a 45 minute layover in Albany.

I asked for a schedule—to learn the destination station and also the stop just before mine. “There are none,” said the clerk.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

On my second arrival at Penn Station at 6:45 a.m. on Thursday I found two lines of passengers and asked the person ahead of me, “Does this train go to Canada?” Answer: “Yes.”

Turns out there were two trains going to Canada: one to Montreal and the other, Toronto. I had no idea where my train was headed—remember: there were no schedules to reference and my ticket [photo above right] identified only my destination.

Meanwhile an Amtrak employee was shrieking at the passengers, treating us as though we were imbeciles if we were in the wrong line. The secret was in the number that was printed on the ticket. There it was on mine, along with many other lines of numbers, without any ID as to what that number referred to.

Photo: nyclens.com

At Grand Central there are stairs to negotiate to reach a few tracks otherwise there are mostly ramps and an optional elevator or escalator broken up so each ride is short. For Amtrak, to reach the platforms, there are steep, narrow escalators that aren’t convenient if you’re juggling a suitcase, handbag, tote with reading material and cup of coffee. [I won’t buy a cup of coffee before boarding again if my hands are full!]

Fortunately I thought to pull out my ticket to show the angry, screaming Amtrak employee before I reached the front of the line that headed for the escalator, where she stood. With all her caterwauling, never once did she ask the passengers to have their tickets in hand. She was a terrible representative for any business.

This intro to the trip was a shame as the train itself was comfortable, clean and accommodating. Unlike Metro North’s commuter trains out of Grand Central, this one had upholstered seats, tray tables, a waste container, several WCs and water as well as a snack car.

Have you been surprised–good or bad–by a travel experience lately? When confronted by a grouch who screams at you and the other passengers, do you respond in kind?

Photo: frugalfrolicker.com

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11 Responses to “Service of Loosey-Goosey with the Time: Tut-Tut Amtrak!”

  1. Helen Rabinovitz Said:

    In defense of Amtrak….I have a daughter who uses a power wheelchair and has a service dog. Any traveling we’ve done has always been on the train. Everyone treated Lisa and her dog like celebrities. Helped us with our bags, asked her if there was anything she needs. Plenty of room for Lisa, mom and dog. They were just as nice in New York. Walked us to the elevator, helped with the bags. I encourage anyone with a wheelchair to ride the rail because we’ve always had a good experience.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Helen,

    I am so glad to hear this.

    There was such a disconnect between the beautiful train itself and the pleasant conductors and the company’s treatment in NYC of standard passengers, as well as its faulty dissemination of scheduling information, that I felt compelled to share.

  3. Hank Goldman Said:

    Wow. I had not heard of this incident. Must have been an awful lot of irate people! Great topic.

  4. Deborah E Brown Said:

    Somethings never change. I traveled from NY’s Penn Station to 30th St. Philadelphia for over 50 years where my parents lived in the area suburbs. Even before the Pennsylvania Railroad became AmTrak, it was a disaster with unannounced, unscheduled changes, chaos in NY’s Penn Station; few Red Caps, no AmTrak personnel visible to help people navigate the changing track locations. Forget holidays when seats were over sold, escalators dangerously over-crowded with no oversight; apathetic AmTrak personnel if you could even find one.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Debby,

    WOW. I can see why there are no schedules–they’d be out of use before the ink dried!

    Who knew that I was posting old news! I LOVE Philadelphia and used to visit a friend there. I took NJ Transit to Trenton and changed to SEPTA that left me off at a stop nearer her home than 30Th Street. Now New Jersey Transit has one leg in a sling. A friend was using it to commute from NJ to a job in NYC and daily so many trains were cancelled at the last minute leaving commuters in the lurch that for her it was a heart-stopping adventure to be on time.

    A crucial aspect of cleaning the air is to transfer the public away from its cars to favor public transit. Instead of mucking up our streets with bicycle lanes [a friend was hit the other day and ended up at the doctor] the brains in the NY Metro area should first shake all of our trains back into good shape.

  6. Martha Takayama Said:

    My only pleasant Amtrak memories are too old to have significance for this post. They go back to porters, dining cars and pleasant timely interstate travel. (Boston -NY) My husband is from Tokyo, but also lived in Manhattan for years. When I used to go back and forth frequently the trains where invariably late, stalled, stuck for unannounced amounts of time with barely stocked dreary refreshments and a few shabby tables. Facilities (bathrooms) were never really clean from Boston to New York and disgracefully dirty from NY to Boston. There has always been the primitive need to shift EVERYTHING at New Haven with the added charm of the need to protect oneself and one’s belongings from theft. As a native Bostonian I am conditioned to think of public travel as a constant adventure or challenge. Schedules, heat, air conditioning, track location and anything else that might make for comfort are non-existent or work against logic. Services for handicapped or even those with babies are in the Jurassic age. The only positives are a kind or merciful conductor or driver on the Green line!

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    Sad that a few relatively small, inexpensive changes could have made my trip a 100 percent pleasant experience as I love train rides.

    If people feared losing their jobs they might approach them with brains in place and a pleasant attitude. When the time change happened the person who approved or initiated it should have notified the staff responsible for website and voicemail. Time? How long does it take to forward an email and write: “Please adjust website and voicemail for the 8:15 a.m. Adirondack train to Montreal.” Cost: de minimis.

    If employees, such as the shrieking woman herding passengers, think so poorly of their customers that they cheerfully treat them like dirt they should work at a place where they respect them OR be moved to a back office job. The current situation is no fun for anyone.

  8. Lucrezia Said:

    Lucrezia wrote on Facebook: It’s time the public starts screaming back, and boycotting, if possible. Amtrak and other powerful entities have gotten away w/murder because of all too docile customers. There’s only one way to make them feel the pain: lack of revenue.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I know you wrote IF POSSIBLE. Boycotting works if you have the choice to use another mode of transport. I could have taken a 2 hour Metro-North train ride to where my car lives currently and drive another four hours and I’d get lost and not enjoy the ride, much that I like driving, because my navigation skills are terrible.

    I could also have refused the invitation and missed a glorious time with friends on Lake George.

    This situation is not new according to Debbie Brown’s comment above. I don’t know what I’d do if I traveled on Amtrak frequently. People are so busy and alternate appropriate options so few…it’s a mess.

  10. Josh Cintron Said:

    Josh wrote on Facebook: Firstly, kudos on finding a picture of the old Solari departure boards for your main picture. I remember watching the displays flip as trains came and went.

    That said, I’ve had my fair share of problems with Amtrak, but nothing as severe as having the wrong departure time on a train. I’ve traveled on the 125 and 194, to and from Newport News. I’ve almost missed a train in Fredericksburg from not hearing a track change announcement. My only saving grace was a very alert passenger.

    As for a lack of revenue, Amtrak is already feeling that pinch. Infrastructure-wise, their network only serves the major cities. Their service to rural areas has been severely cut back. Considering that Amtrak is federally funded, we know where to look toward.

    Another thing to consider would be that the majority of the track that Amtrak trains travel on are not necessarily owned by them, ergo other services like CSX, Metro North, VRE, BNSF, Metro Link, Metra, and, Coaster ultimately are given higher priority. Of course, its no justification for their poor customer service. It is however, a closer look at the precarious position that Amtrak is in.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Josh,

    I remember the click click click of the old boards! I credited the Amtrak blog for the image on my blog. http://www.blog.amtrak.com

    The time error was particularly bad because there is only one train a day that goes where I and other passengers were headed. Had the train left an hour LATER it would have been irritating but no harm done [unless someone missed a connection].

    I understand the financial crunch Amtrak and many other businesses are in. Walk around NYC and see the empty storefronts. Barney’s is in bankruptcy. Banks are firing thousands. All the more reason to be unctuously polite to customers.

    The USPS never thought it would have competition. Enter FedEx and UPS picked up its game. Visit the US Post Office at Grand Central and all the clerk stations are decorated for the season! Goodness knows what might replace Amtrak but you never know! My nephew speaks of being treated terribly by the staff at a NY State Motor Vehicles satellite office he had to visit often for his business. One day the staff was falling all over itself being polite to him. Why? There was talk that the satellite would close.

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