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Old Apr 27, 11, 10:10 pm   #31
 
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Originally Posted by PHLviaUS View Post
I think that corporate culture is the issue at Amtrak, and it has been an unsolvable problem for 40 years.

Amtrak was formed from the passenger rail operations of the freight railroads and, in particular, the Penn Central. In the later days of railroad passenger operations, customer service was horrible at the PC. It is my theory that Amtrak's culture was from day one was the culture of the Penn Central since so much of the early Amtrak operation was run by the PC. It's been handed down from generation to generation over the years and is engrained in Amtrak from top to bottom. Sadly, I don't see it changing anytime soon.
And, to add to this, a bit of perspective: When Amtrak was formed (originally called "RailPax", in 1969), the railroads were actively lobbying Congress to let them drop all passenger service, as they were bleeding losses, ever since the USPS dropped the mail contracts in 1967, in favor of trucks and civil aviation, which was being promoted at the time. Dropping the postal contracts was the death knell for the US passenger train, as it was the only financial thread keeping the trains operating. Passenger counts were dropping for many reasons, in large part, due to the ongoing development of the interstate highway system, but also because air travel was becoming less expensive and many schedule frequencies, making it more available to the general public.

The railroads had their own tricks to add to the pile, by actively discouraging passenger patronage, so they could make cases in front of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) that no one was using the service and it was unfair to force them to lose money. The railroads would have gruff conductors mistreat passengers, terminate dining and sleeping car services on long distance trains, establish extremely inconvenient schedules and deliberately schedule trains going to onward destinations to leave shortly before the arrival of the trains feeding them the passengers.

So, the railroads, correctly observing that, in general, government made this mess, through the tar pit called the ICC and shifting postal traffic to trucks and airplanes, said: "Ok, you made this mess, now you fix it". That fix, in 1969, promulgated by the Nixon administration, was called RailPax.

The deal the government made to the railroads to get out of having to operate passenger trains was to capitalize the new RailPax corporation, later renamed National Railroad Passenger Corporation, (operating under the trade name "Amtrak"), by doing the following:

1) Contribute all of their cars, locomotives, maintenance facilities - any capital plant dedicated to passenger service

2) Contribute the equivalent of the last two years of financial losses into the corporation

3) Shift all of the employees they had, who were dedicated to passenger service

Almost all of the railroads went along with this, except the Southern Railroad which operated the "Southern Crescent" from DC to New Orleans, The Rock Island, which didn't have a enough money to make the contribution, so continued to operate their limited service and the Denver, Rio Grande & Western RR, which continued to operate their segment of the famous "California Zephyr" from Denver to Salt Lake City.

As a side note, the Santa Fe almost didn't go along with this, but ultimately did. With Amtrak, went the famous "Super Chief". But, the Santa Fe, observing how pitifully Amtrak operated their famous namesake train, would not let Amtrak use the name "Super Chief" and forced them to change it to the "Southwest Chief" or the "Southwest Limited", I forget which.

Anyway, to arc back to the point, railroads saw this as a great opportunity to get rid of their "dead wood" and a lot of these people went to Amtrak.

That's part of the genesis of the problem, is that this culture has persisted through Amtrak's troubled and sorry history. Until the corporate culture is changed, from within or without, they will always be a marginal transportation choice and never grow to what they could be, if they were operated privately.

Today, it's a cross between a social engineering project and a government agency. The result is a transportation product that's irrelevant to today's market.
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Old Apr 27, 11, 10:17 pm   #32
 
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Originally Posted by gatelouse View Post
Let me try to steer this discussion back onto the main track before it gets diverted to OMNI. Focus on culture. People can come from any number of cultures that cut across demographic boundaries. Some cultures are service-oriented, some crave power, some feel self-entitled, some are unusually ambitious. There's also an internal culture within an organization; this forms as a result of morale, relations between labor and management, dominant cultures and personality types in the workplace, and so on.

I'm willing to bet that Amtrak's internal culture isn't the most supportive of newer, enthusiastic employees and is driven by those with lots of seniority. The culture that forms within Amtrak is one of, "Our job is hard enough and is getting harder with all these budget and staffing cuts, so we save ourselves first." Not a customer-friendly attitude by any means. The good employees resist this, but I do see this attitude more often than I should on the non-corridor trains.
I would be willing to make that bet with you. I think you're right on target with that. But, there have also been many organizations that operate under the similar, disadvantageous and adverse conditions, whose employees have formed a sort of "esprit de corps" attitude/culture and soldier on, more often to success.

That's not present at Amtrak.
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Old Apr 27, 11, 11:02 pm   #33
 
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Originally Posted by BobKinkaid View Post
It's time for Amtrak itself to catch up and use the many tools available to any member of the general public today. There is simply no excuse to run out of food and do it consistently.
Without any current specifics, it sounds to me like your complaints regarding running out of food and surly crews are accurate...for about the 1993-1998 period. I'll echo AlanB and suggest you take a trip or two on Amtrak instead of rehashing old complaints. You might be surprised at what you find. Daze
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Old Apr 27, 11, 11:22 pm   #34
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Originally Posted by BobKinkaid View Post
The issue discussed is service, or lack thereof. Rude, condescending, thoughtless employees, who have no business working on the front lines is the core issue.

Through my observations, not only on long distance trains, but on short-to-medium distance routes, without dining cars, along with numerous reports from others, it's easy to see that the situation hasn't changed.
No sir, and again with respect, the issue in my post was that anyone who thinks that dining car employees throw stubby pencils at their charges needs to update their experiences before making the type of statements that you've made. Your experiences are years out of date.

Now I'm not suggesting that Amtrak is perfect. It isn't. Far from it in fact. But it is also not as bad as you're making it out to be and again, IMHO that comes back to your dated experiences on the trains.

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Originally Posted by BobKinkaid View Post
Yes, but airlines order their food long before 30 minutes before departure. The airlines have a private caterer (Example: SkyChef), deliver the food to the plane and get their data from the airlines, as to the quantities required. They have no trouble getting it right.
Amtrak orders its food from an airline caterer, Aramark. And again, as I noted, the airlines have it much easier. They don't have to guess how many passengers might eat the meal; it's a pretty safe bet that most will. And the airlines know how many they'll have on the flight generally in time to order enough food with a few extra's thrown in for last minute bookings and to provide for too many people choosing one type of meal over the other, assuming that they are even offering a choice.

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Originally Posted by BobKinkaid View Post
As regards the train being en-route two days, today there are all sorts of ways to get the message(s) communicated ahead (radio, mobile phones, internal channels - United and American have their own company channel), to have food ready, if demand is up and inventory is down. Low on steaks, with two more seatings ahead? Set up vendor relationships with a Costco, Sam's Club, Safeway, whatever, along with a local taxi company and have 'em meet the train. Next station, load up on inventory and people get fed. What's the big problem?

Any seasoned and reasonably intelligent on-board service employee should be able to figure this one out.
Don't think that I've ever seen and airplane land just to put on extra meals.

As for Amtrak, it costs money to have Aramark setup service points along a train's run. Aramark isn't going to do that for free. And there is also the issue of spoilage. A meal not eaten on a flight is only hours old and can often be put on another flight. A meal loaded in Chicago and not eaten is now 2 days old, and nearly 3, when it gets to LA. And it will be 3 days old before it can get on another train out of LA.

I won't even get into the issues with inventory control that also make things vastly different for an airline from Amtrak.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BobKinkaid View Post
It's time for Amtrak itself to catch up and use the many tools available to any member of the general public today. There is simply no excuse to run out of food and do it consistently.
Again, a dated observation. They don't consistently run out of food and I know that from first hand experience as I covered more than 12,000 miles on Amtrak last year, including trips to the west coast from NYC and to St. Louis.

And they do use today's technology on NEC trains for example, where cafe attendants on all trains will phone in for supplies on trains running through NY or DC. Acela First Class attendants do the same for trains that run through NY.

But when you're under a Congressional mandate to cut your food service losses, you don't start opening commissaries or even having Aramark deliver things directly to a train in Denver or Albuquerque or Savannah.
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Old Apr 29, 11, 12:42 pm   #35
 
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So just like any other day I wait for the Regional on the NEC and here comes the Acela scheduled few minutes before it. As usual there are several Amtrak employees waiting to travel. After customers with Acela tickets get in, a few Regional customers try to get into the Acela assuming that any ticket works. The conductor yells at them and gives them a piece of mind about the train being reserved and valid ticket is required to board it. All well and good but just before he closes the Cafe car door he lets in about 5-6 Amtrak employees on the Acela. From what I have heard Amtrak employees are prohibited from traveling on the Acela using their badges except for certain situations. But of course there folks happily get on the Acela without any tickets. They sure do have a sense of entitlement!

Last edited by MrChu; Apr 29, 11 at 1:14 pm.
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Old Apr 29, 11, 4:06 pm   #36
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Originally Posted by AlanB View Post
No sir, and again with respect, the issue in my post was that anyone who thinks that dining car employees throw stubby pencils at their charges needs to update their experiences before making the type of statements that you've made. Your experiences are years out of date.
I was wondering about that, since I accidentally made the error of filling out what I wanted on the menu, in addition to signing my name (bedroom car), and the waitress politely corrected me.

In fact, over the last three or four years, it seems there's been an improvement in both on-time service and politeness of employees. I can only speak about long-distance trains in the midwest and south, but I've noticed a difference that started with the bedroom attendants and, to my surprise, since I hadn't taken coach for a while, spread to the coach employees on the last trip a couple weeks ago. Curious if anyone else has noticed a difference between, say, 3-4 years ago and the last year, or maybe my luck has just improved.
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Old Apr 29, 11, 5:29 pm   #37
 
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Originally Posted by MrChu View Post
From what I have heard Amtrak employees are prohibited from traveling on the Acela using their badges except for certain situations.
Employee flash pass travel on Acela is allowed, though it may be a bit more restrictive than usual. Acela F is space-available to employees for a surcharge.
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Old Apr 30, 11, 8:51 am   #38
 
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Originally Posted by GoAmtrak View Post
Employee flash pass travel on Acela is allowed, though it may be a bit more restrictive than usual. Acela F is space-available to employees for a surcharge.
Thanks for the information. They were probably legit but because I have usually seen these folks on my Regional and the fact that they waited and boarded right before door closing made it look a little dodgy!
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Old May 2, 11, 1:56 pm   #39
 
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Originally Posted by Pup View Post
I was wondering about that, since I accidentally made the error of filling out what I wanted on the menu, in addition to signing my name (bedroom car), and the waitress politely corrected me.
On the Coast Starlight on Thursday, I stopped one of my table companions from filling out the check herself -- she said it was her first time on a long-distance train, so I assume she wasn't remembering the procedure from years back.
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