More Amtrak Notes: Second person who was "outstanding" in customer relations was our sleeper attendant on #92, car 9210. (There were very few that really stood out, so I wish to mention them as they occured. You have rosters and dates to identify them if you wish - earlier was the chief on #2).
Second major issue - I tried for several weeks, checking again and again with my local station (SLO) for a Northeast timetable so I could see corridor options. They were always "on order". I tried also at LAX - no soap. I was SURE they would be in JAX since all the "silver" trains run the corridor - the response was "A WHAT?". First time I was ever able to find one was in the Metro Lounge in NYC - pretty sad!
Anyway-on to Canada, a great VIA "Ocean" trip to Montreal (on time) and back to Amtrak on the "Adirondack". It ran on time until Whitehall NY, where we were held for 45 min waiting for a "sick" #294 from Rutland to go ahead of us (crew was really ticked off having to wait). Thus, late (again) into Alabany. Then NYC section of #49 arrived on time, but earlier scheduled #449 had engine problems in Boston, was very late, and we left for CHI over 1-1/2 hrs late (what else is new?). This also caused dinner to not even start service until 9:30pm, and crew had (apparently) been keeping stuff "warm" as this was by far the lousiest meal we encountered on the whole trip (actually the only bad one - most were very very good).
Next day, the Eagle, out of CHI on time at 5:55pm - we got 10 minutes out and stopped for "Folks, just a little delay for a freight crossing ahead of us, then we'll be on the way". One hour later, we moved, made a few miles, and "Folks, a northbound train is in Joliet, and as soon as he clears we'll be in there". 30 minutes later we arrive in Joliet, first stop, and we are 1-1/2 hours late (again). Another personnel note - only negative one worth mentioning - sleeper attendant on car #2130 was virtually USELESS. Attitude was "I hate my job and all passengers", EVERYTHING anybody wanted was an impostion, and no one in the car wanted anything to do with him (a handicapped passenger asked for the Chief to complain, but I think this was another "invisible" chief and don't know the results. This was the "Calif Eagle" trainset, not the "Texas" set, and I was surprised to see only one sleeper and 2 coaches in the consist, but since it's for express business, maybe that's all that's needed (sleeper was sold-out). However, there was only one express box to Dallas. Anyhow, in addition to a miserable attendant, the TOILETS quit working in the sleeper, and we were instructed to either go to the coach or use the rooms in the trans-dorm crew car. They were back running several hours later.
We picked up 10 more express boxes in Dallas, but dropped 9 in Ft Worth, so only 2 Boxes were on the train when I last saw it in San Antonio. Anyhow, we made up some time, but were still late in Dallas (4pm), so any poor souls going to Oklahoma were pulled off and bussed. We then went straight to Ft Worth in 1 hour, so Oklahoma train was still in station. Crew explained that there could have been delays getting to Ft Worth, so they had to bus passengers to be safe, which makes sense. What DOESN'T make sense is a daily 5:55 pm Eagle departure being held up at a crossover 10 minutes south of Union Station in CHI for an hour for freight traffic! Is anybody in charge of this circus???
Onward - my tickets change to coach at Ft. Worth to San Antonio. Both reservations have notes saying "traveling with passengers in res #" tying us together. Original tickets were fine. I am now using re-issued tickets. As conductor pulls them, he finds one is dated "today" and one is dated "tomorrow". He want's to know why and I tell him he doesn't WANT to know. He takes tickets and moves on, saving me another dissertation about this mess.
Arrival time due San Antonio is 11:59pm. We are still late, but arrive at switch south of station to back in about 12:45am and stop. And sit. And sit. And sit. A UP manifest finally drags by after over an hour, we take about 10 minutes switching and backing in, (we could have been in the station and long asleep before that drag ever got there - anybody listening?) and go to claim luggage. One missing bag - staff says that's all there is - another woman missing 2 bags - another person one. Crew "will go back and check" - return in a few with about 15 more pieces of luggage and boxes! Get a cab, go to Hotel (it is now 3:00AM - so much for "11:59" arrival). Hotel (Holiday Inn Express Suites) was guaranteed with credit card due to estimated checkin about 1:00am. They inform me that despite "guarantee" over a month ago, they are sold out and there are no rooms available. (My wife just about want's to burn down the hotel with the staff inside, but decides she'd rather get all the Amtrak and Travel agency personnel inside first). Anyhow, they pick up the cab fare and put us in the Holiday Inn Riverwalk, so it all works out.
Several days later - North(east) bound on #22 - leaves at 7:45am, is sitting there day before, and #2 arrives around 3:00am with connection, so BOUND to be on time, so we head for station. Stupid mistake - #2 has engine problems, is being dragged by a freight motor, and is over 4 hours late. My wife (not for the first time) again want's to "chuck this mess" and fly home, but I convince her we only have a few days left and to bear with it.
To make a long story short, we depart (again, over 1-1/2 hrs late) and move on. Again, a personnel note - sleeper attendant in 2230 car is SUPERB in attitude and customer relations and service. He has a happy car despite angry passengers due to late arrival AND the fact that diner crew on #2 the night before ignored the 2230 sleeper on the rear of #2 and never took dinner reservation when they took the sleeper reservations from #2 sleepers on the front of the train, thus none of his passengers even could start dinner until after 9:30pm. We chunk along, with 2 engines, and one craps out. Crew manages to get HEP from it and uses 2nd unit for power, but we gradually lose more time into St. Louis the next day.
There I change to #303 for KC that afternoon, and tell my tale of late trains to the conductors, who tell me it's because of the "southern" trains, and that "this" train runs on time and I'll be VERY pleased with the "Chief" out of KC. We stop for the meet with the KC-STL train, and guess what? It's LATE. Crew swaps at the meet, so we proceed after the meet (only a half hour down). Finally, at KC we check on the "Chief" and guess what again? Reported "45 min late" and will not arrive until after midnight. Again, wife REALLY wants to abort this mess and fly home, but calms down since it's almost the last leg (and I am really sorry I didn't go along with her due to what comes next).
We finally board, get to rooms, and find it very warm (this whole trip is in a heat-wave). Attendant explains they are having problems with the air and also the toilets have quit working but a mechanic is working on it, so we go to our rooms. Train leaves, and it turns out mechanic was unable to fix problems (they also have another mechanic try in Albuquerque with no results). We now experience the WORST leg of this whole cursed trip. A. (not amtrak's fault)-this is either the worst track we have encountered on the whole trip or the crew is trying to make up time but we are bounced all over in the cars and bedrooms - B. The bathrooms never work again - we are to use them in the sleeper behind us or go to the crew dorm. Another example of lousy communication - conductors keep changing - I go into dorm for about the 5th time and a new conductor tells me I must leave - there are no locks on crew rooms and no one should have told me I could use the dorm - I tell him there are no locks on the passenger rooms either and if he makes me leave, there will be complaints he never DREAMED of or wanted to hear about and he relents. C. The air conditioning is not "totally" out, just keeps shutting down after running about a half hour and needs to have "override" pressed to start it back up again (I'm standing around and observe the procedure). It gets very uncomfortable the first night, and I realize that the crew must also sleep so I ask the attendant why the conductor/assistant can't restart the air during the night and he says "they wouldn't touch it". He keeps the car reasonable during the day, but 2nd night is also miserable and humid. Since I "observed" the procedure and saw how the door was opened, I awake at 2:00am and again about 4:30am and "reset" the air myself since no one else will bother (yeah, I'm sure I violated every Amtrak regulation there is - so sue me - at least it made myself and other passengers a little more comfortable. By the way, the crew said this was not the first (or second) time this car has had both the air and toilet problems).
Speaking of toilets, one of the primary reasons we tried to get deluxe bedrooms was for private bathrooms. Not only are they all out, as well as the public rooms in the car, but some people just don't "get the message" and we have an "odor" to go along with the humidity and lack of air. (yes, we can(and do) use coach/lounge space to avoid it, but it's not what we paid for).
Anyhow, to finish this out, #3 is late to LA, so passengers north of Santa Barbara for #14 are pulled at Fullerton to be bussed. I do not want a bus ride, so stay on, even though I am destined for SLO (will take #14 if we make it into LA in time). Sure enough, #14 pulls out of LAX as we pull in, so we have a short wait for a San Diegan. As we leave LA my wife says "this is a short trip - they don't get late like the long trips do they?". I tell her not usually, but based on THIS trip.... We leave Camarillo, pick up speed, then start coasting - announcer: "We have engine problems - are coasting to Oxnard - will stop short of station - please remain in your seats". They get it started, leave Oxnard, and run into red blocks on next 6 signals (apparently a defective switch at Montalvo is sending "occupancy" signals, so we stop-proceed). One more time north of Ventura the engine craps out again, again is restarted, and we arrive Santa Barbara only 30 min late. We consider waiting for SLO San Diegan in about 4 hours, but based on the trip, it may NEVER arrive, so hop the bus to SLO, praying it doesn't have a headon with something (it doesn't, and we arrive home, (what else) 40 min late).
END OF STORY? Sorry - No Way!! On top of the trip problems, I called Amtrak from New Orleans, Jacksonville, Boston, Albany, Chicago, San Antonio, St Louis, and Kansas City trying to find out what the hell happened with my reservations. I (at first) got "the travel agent forgot to set the protect code", but later got many "we don't exactly know"'s. I talked to customer service, customer refunds, credit card refunds, credit sales, etc. Up thru the whole trip and until today, everyone at Amtrak has emphatically denied that Amtrak was ever paid for the orginal tickets back on 6/14.
I thought so too until I was in Canada, when my credit card was rejected checking out of a hotel. A call to the credit card company confirmed that I had an $8,500 limit, and that I was over $10,000 in charges, and that Amtrak had billed me $5,000 on 6/14 and another $5,000 on 6/29 (at LAX). Also, since I was so far over the limit, they would NOT extend my credit line, and that I would have to get a credit from Amtrak or I could no longer use the card. Since this was the only card I was carrying, I had to use my wife's mother's card for the rest of the trip, since Amtrak denied payment and obviously couldn't credit what they hadn't received. The credit card company said the only other thing I could do was dispute the double charge WHICH MUST BE IN WRITING (talk about a useless option in the middle of a trip). Call to the travel agent resulted in about the same - they didn't know what was wrong, but I would have to return the original tickets to start any refund process - again, a useless option. Anyhow, a very frustrating situation to be caught in.
PARTICULARLY now that today, Amtrak's Linda Grey of Credit Sales has finally said "OOPS! - We just found the record (set with an error code) and Guess what, we DID charge you twice". She is going to look into it further and get back to me monday, but asked me to write this out (I wrote far more than was required for a refund of the double charges, but felt if I was going to bother I might as well spell out all the problems I observed. A number of employees said they would LOVE to have this story for some of their "customer relations" classes, so maybe you'll choose to pass it on....
One final note: on arrival back at LAX I went to ticket window and explained some of this. They checked it out and refunded the $401 overcharge on #429612 and the incorrect $281 charge at El paso on #490913, so the only overcharge now is the double charges of $3217.00 and $1671.50. Despite all this, I am an avid Amtrak supporter and will continue to make rail trips (hopefully not "alone" - my wife will probably cool down).
This was sent as directed/requested to: Amtrak Customer Satisfaction Center - Philadelphia, Credit Sales, Revenue Accounting East, GM-Midwest, Customer Service St Louis, Amtrak West Cust Svcs, Customer Relations, Wash DC. Anybody reading this want to take bets on how much good it will do? Direct e-mail is welcome, but the list ought to get some good chatter out of this one.....