Comparison of Amtrak "Never Again" with "Never Again" on other transportation

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Qapla

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It's interesting that someone can have a delay of a few hours (even 12 hours) and declare "never again!" and complain profusely about how late the train was - yet, when the airport has to cancel all flights until the next day, some of those same people just take it in stride and continue to fly.

In this case, it seems he was a "big man" who rode in coach. Granted, the A/C might not have been to his liking and there may have been some unruly passengers ... what would he have said if he had been on a plane stuffed into a much narrower center seat with his knees up to his ears and a baby crying across the aisle - especially if the plane was delayed on the tarmac before takeoff?

I'm sure the coach seat on Amtrak was much more comfortable than any coach seat in an airplane - not to mention he could get up and walk around on the train ... try that in an airplane.

Some people just like to complain.
 

jruff001

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I love traveling on Amtrak and often try to encourage people to try it, but sadly ALWAYS with the caveats that they should plan on being many hours late (so plan on arriving a day before anything they can't miss like a cruise ship departure, wedding, etc.) and expect rude crew and crazy co-passengers, and don't expect it to be like an airline or European railroad experience. If I think they aren't adventurous enough to handle it, I'll reluctantly tell them not to chance it.

Unfortunately, a long-distance Amtrak trip is often not for the faint-hearted. You never know what you are gonna get.
 

jpakala

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We flew to LA with a stop in Phoenix, but owing to not enough passengers continuing to LA or boarding to go there, the airline (Southwest, which I always fly owing to less money-grabbing fees) simply canceled the flight. We had to get off and wait. That meant we were later arriving than expected, got our rental car later and rushed to drive in time to reach the location of the wedding. The airline had no weather, employee or mechanical issues, but simply couldn't make the money they wanted. Decades earlier (on TWA) I was on a full flight from Chicago to Pittsburgh with a stop in Columbus. The full plane emptied and I got off just to stretch my legs, but when I returned nobody else seemed to be boarding. The flight attendant said I was the only passenger and moved me to first-class. Of course in that case the crew was headed to staying over in Pittsburgh (perhaps even as home base for them).
 

jruff001

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It's interesting that someone can have a delay of a few hours (even 12 hours) and declare "never again!" and complain profusely about how late the train was - yet, when the airport has to cancel all flights until the next day, some of those same people just take it in stride and continue to fly.

In this case, it seems he was a "big man" who rode in coach. Granted, the A/C might not have been to his liking and there may have been some unruly passengers ... what would he have said if he had been on a plane stuffed into a much narrower center seat with his knees up to his ears and a baby crying across the aisle - especially if the plane was delayed on the tarmac before takeoff?

I'm sure the coach seat on Amtrak was much more comfortable than any coach seat in an airplane - not to mention he could get up and walk around on the train ... try that in an airplane.
This is ridiculous. The trip was from Texas to Louisiana, not from Texas to South Africa or Australia or China.

On a comparable airline itinerary, there would most likely have been a one-hour(ish) segment from San Antonio to either Dallas or Houston (or maybe two-ish hours to Atlanta), and then another one-hour(ish) segment from there to New Orleans. Yes there could be delays, but no way would someone be trapped in the same economy class seat for 18 hours like you are trying to imply.

I can see an experience like this scaring me away from Amtrak in the future if I weren't already a fan.
 

toddinde

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Rarely do I see air passengers swearing off flying forever when they encounter terrible weather or mechanical issues that force postponements of a day, or diversions that require several hour delays. Stuff happens, for goodness sake.
I agree. I’ve had many miserable air trips, including sleeping on airport floors. Yet the train is held to an extremely high standard.
 

zephyr17

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The only thing that seems semi unique to Amtrak here is the delay.

Moving seat checks and having to get the conductor involved? There seem to be a lot of problems with airline passengers these days having issues with FAs and fellow passengers. Amtrak can't be responsible for other passengers actions and can't continuously monitor them, and some people are a holes. And my Facebook feed is filled with clickbait stories of people wanting to change seats. If anything, kudos to the conductor for stepping in a getting it straightened out.

HVAC? Well, the Superliners are aging and I have been in cars with weak AC. Also sometimes the crews respond to people complaining of being too cold by turning it down. However, I also recall being stuck on the tarmac in Houston in August and the AC was barely running, blowing a thin stream of hot air through the vents, probably since the engines hadn't been started and we were probably on the APU. Being baked in an aluminum tube was no fun either.

As to delay, as others have pointed out, airlines get delayed, too, and this weekend cancelled flights have abounded. You can get stuck for days. I remember a trip to Florida and being delayed 3 days after my initial flight was cancelled. I recall telling an airline agent I'd be able to get there faster on Amtrak.

With that said, if there were alternatives in rail travel, I'd abandon Amtrak in a second. Well, come to think of it I sorta already have. When heading to the East Coast these days I pop up to Canada and take VIA, which is a viable option for me, albeit requiring additional time and expense.
 
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The trip described justified a never again response. In other countries trains run on time. Even in Russia and Australia.
Amtrak is a standing puzzle to me. Overall it seems so thin and uninspiring, completely off-scale for a huge and great country like the USA. Where does one start the diagnosis? -- Second-class management? Monopolistic complacency? Sabotaged by lack of consistent national (political) support? Dysfunctional relationships with vendors, passengers, track owners? Lack of consequences for poor performance? Low morale among employees? Ignorance of best practices in countries where rail is routinely excellent? Actually, this whole site is full of thoughtful diagnoses.

HOWEVER, despite all that, most of my actual long distance trips in recent years (mostly Boston MA - Portland OR via Chicago) have been a pleasure. Most arrivals have been on-time or near on-time. I've been only in coach, and even so, arrived relaxed and happy. One awful trip stands out (flooding in MN, bus substitution at last minute, overflowing toilet on bus, got off in Chicago, was sick as a dog, and ultimately abandoned Amtrak and flew to Boston!) -- but even that trip was partly redeemed by the fact that Amtrak took our six pieces of checked luggage all the way to Boston. (I know, that can't happen anymore.) I love trains, so I'll still ride Amtrak as often as possible, while insisting that we as a country ought to be able to do better.
 

Trogdor

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We flew to LA with a stop in Phoenix, but owing to not enough passengers continuing to LA or boarding to go there, the airline (Southwest, which I always fly owing to less money-grabbing fees) simply canceled the flight.

I would question that. Unless we’re talking a schedule change done weeks in advance, major airlines don’t “simply” cancel a flight because there weren’t enough people on it on the day of departure. The logistics of getting equipment and crews in place (especially for a carrier like Southwest, which doesn’t operate simple out-and-back flights from a hub) mean they are going to spend a lot of time and money getting people and planes back into place.

The exception to this is if there are other issues going on in the network, then they will cancel flights that have the least overall impact, considering the number of passengers needing rebooking, downline impacts on equipment and crews, etc. (you claim “no weather, employee, or mechanical issues” but how would you know?) Even if Phoenix looks fine, even if your plane looks fine, if a Kansas City-Phoenix flight was cancelled and that plane was, hypothetically, going to continue to Las Vegas and Seattle with a full load, it might be easier to cancel a relatively empty flight to LA rather than strand 143 people going to Vegas and another 143 people in Vegas going to Seattle. But the claim that an airline will cancel a flight “simply” because there aren’t enough passengers to make a profit on that segment with no other underlying reason is a myth.
 
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Amtrak is a standing puzzle to me. Overall it seems so thin and uninspiring, completely off-scale for a huge and great country like the USA. Where does one start the diagnosis? -- Second-class management? Monopolistic complacency? Sabotaged by lack of consistent national (political) support? Dysfunctional relationships with vendors, passengers, track owners? Lack of consequences for poor performance? Low morale among employees? Ignorance of best practices in countries where rail is routinely excellent? Actually, this whole site is full of thoughtful diagnoses.

HOWEVER, despite all that, most of my actual long distance trips in recent years (mostly Boston MA - Portland OR via Chicago) have been a pleasure. Most arrivals have been on-time or near on-time. I've been only in coach, and even so, arrived relaxed and happy. One awful trip stands out (flooding in MN, bus substitution at last minute, overflowing toilet on bus, got off in Chicago, was sick as a dog, and ultimately abandoned Amtrak and flew to Boston!) -- but even that trip was partly redeemed by the fact that Amtrak took our six pieces of checked luggage all the way to Boston. (I know, that can't happen anymore.) I love trains, so I'll still ride Amtrak as often as possible, while insisting that we as a country ought to be able to do better.
It is a complicated issue. Amtrak is a symptom of the ills of this country. COVID incompetence, poor management decisions, and cut costs mentalities. I have had many enjoyable trips on Amtrak. If I had experienced what that Pastor experienced, I would write it off as a bad trip. But as a first impression, I could see a non-railfan saying never again.

My GF is a perfect example. Despite being with me for 25 years, she is not a railfan. She is still a keeper because we have a very good relationship.

When we do travel by train her comments indicate how a non-rail fan interprets train travel. A cold-drafty toilet on an Amfleet car is not a symptom of Amtrak's failure to get new equipment, it is an annoyance that makes train travel unpleasant. An Amfleet BC car that is drafty and cold in January is another annoyance. She does not care about the issues in the yard in Chicago. Delays are an annoyance too. When she travels from STL to Chicago on her own, booking her own travel, she is careful to avoid the Texas Eagle. As a non-railfan, she does not understand nor cares about train numbers. But after two or three 6-hour delays on 22 when she traveled with me because I wanted to book a sleeper and eat in the diner, she carefully avoids clicking on 22 and takes the 6:45 a.m.train when she books her own travel. And if 22 is late the day she travels, she always tells me how happy she is she avoided the Texas Eagle. In her mind, that name is synonymous with 6-hour delays.

She enjoyed her ride on an Acela. It was on time and the bathrooms were clean and not drafty. She would not have known we were traveling at 135 plus mph unless I told her. She did not care. She did like the comfortable seats.
 

cirdan

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If the best argument one can muster boils down to "planes suck sometimes too" (while using anecdotes of dubious accuracy), then we're having the wrong conversation.
This.

I've never experienced when being stuck in line on the tarmac that the cabin crew said, you may undo your seatbelts and walk around for a while until we're ready to take off. And they don't serve beverages in that situation either. They probably won't even let you use the bathroom (unless you're stuck on the ground really long term).

When your train goes into a siding and sits there for an hour, you can wander off to the cafeteria car or to the sightseeing lounge to grab a drink or some snacks, or just stretch your legs by marching up and down the aisle without risking the ire of the cabin crew. When you're stuck in a station because there is a delayed freight train blocking the line you can even go train-side and get some fresh air, or take in some of the local atmosphere.

We need to talk about what's good about trains, and continues to be good even when things go wrong.
 
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jis

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This.

I've never experienced being stuck in line on the tarmac that the cabin crew said, you may undo your seatbelts and walk around for a while until we're ready to take off. And they don't serve beverages in that situation either. They probably won't even let you use the bathroom.
Unless you are sent to a ball park to wait it out. In that case I have been in situations where they shut down the engines and let people walk around and serve beverages. Indeed one time at JFK on a 777 we were even invited to visit the cockpit while sitting in a ball park waiting for the earliest wheels up time for making it to a timed gateway into Russian airspace over Barents Sea. It happens sometimes. And of course, I took that opportunity to visit the cockpit.
 
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While I stand by my assertion that train travel isn't for everyone and I think most of us living in the first world are spoiled consumers to a certain extent and often times "never again" is a reactionary thing to feeling a bit entitled to always having a perfect experience that all of us who live in this kind of society do every once and a while - at the same time I think it's natural that Amtrak (at least in areas like long distance where it takes much much longer) is going to be held to a higher standard than airlines and thus should strive for a higher level of on board service. Airlines are going to be viewed by many as a necessary thing to put up with in order to get where you want to go so many people are going to have a higher tolerance to lousy service on an airline. Many non railfans are going to view the trip on the Zephyr for instance as a novelty trip - so the threshold for "never again" is going to be much lower for many than an airline trip - for me who is a railfan that detests flying you're not likely to ever get a never again from me on trains - but there's other industries where I'm going to have a lower tolerance for a negative experience - like restaurants and hotels.
 
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jis

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I must admit I have done a limited "Never again". After being commanded to change seats twice in single journey in LD Coach I said enough is enough and have never touched Coach for overnight travel again. If there is no affordable Sleeper, I fly. Of course this may be easier for me than for some others since I actually happen to like to fly too, but given the time I like to travel by train a bit more.

The nice thing about assigned seats/accommodation is that it is very very unusual to be asked to move mid stream. Except when a train became totally disabled, and leading to a bus bridge, or one time the roomette door fell off its rail :) , I have never been asked to move out of an accommodation mid stream.
 
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This.

I've never experienced when being stuck in line on the tarmac that the cabin crew said, you may undo your seatbelts and walk around for a while until we're ready to take off. And they don't serve beverages in that situation either. They probably won't even let you use the bathroom (unless you're stuck on the ground really long term).

When your train goes into a siding and sits there for an hour, you can wander off to the cafeteria car or to the sightseeing lounge to grab a drink or some snacks, or just stretch your legs by marching up and down the aisle without risking the ire of the cabin crew. When you're stuck in a station because there is a delayed freight train blocking the line you can even go train-side and get some fresh air, or take in some of the local atmosphere.

We need to talk about what's good about trains, and continues to be good even when things go wrong.
In our case in 2014, the dining car served its Am Stew over rice and ran out of food. If I recall correctly the cafe car distributed its supply of snacks and ran out of food. At that point many passengers, including us, were in a rather tense mood as we were concerned about missing connections and were receiving little or no information from the on board crew. As we got closer to Chicago, the engine crew became outlawed at Princeton, Ill. and the replacement crew took a few hours to arrive. It was not a great scene.

And of course on some trains today, such as the Texas Eagle, there is no lounge car to go to.
 

rs9

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My LD trips have been, to this point, exclusively on the Lake Shore Limited in coach and business. At least from this forum vs. my experiences, the LSL seems to fare better than most of the other LD routes in terms of timekeeping, crew friendliness and cleanliness (outside of dirty windows). That said, there seems like a few quick fixes that Amtrak could take:

- On the LSL, bathrooms do become inoperable - not really dirty per se, but the toilets seem to no longer flush and start filling up. This isn't pleasant, but one can generally find a cleaner, fully operating bathroom. What I find a bit confusing is that the conductors basically don't address the situation. I don't need them to clean or fix a malfunctioning toilet, but a simple announcement that the bathrooms are working in cars x, y and z would suffice. On my last trip in business a couple weeks ago, the sole bathroom in the business car was out of service, leading me to wander further and further to find an unused, clean, operable bathroom.

- I've experienced the HVAC issues in summer on the Hiawatha. It slowly became hotter and hotter and hotter, until I abandoned the car and moved elsewhere. What was weird to me was that there was ample seating throughout the train in cars with functioning AC, yet the crew never said a word.

- On the Eagle and west coast routes were long delays are unfortunately common, it seems like there could be some middle ground to find. Are the delays Amtrak's fault? Often the answer is no. It would be nice to see Amtrak prepared for such an eventuality though. We're going to be stuck for six hours? Everyone come get a free beverage. Non-perishable food packs? Do something, do anything.

Ultimately, I find Amtrak's long distance service (again, LSL only) as functional for a single person traveling alone with pretty ideal arrival times at both ends that allow for an hour or two of delays. Though the removal of business class is a big negative.
 
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I must admit I have done a limited "Never again". After being commanded to change seats twice in single journey in LD Coach I said enough is enough and have never touched Coach for overnight travel again. If there is no affordable Sleeper, I fly. Of course this may be easier for me than for some others since I actually happen to like to fly too, but given the time I like to travel by train a bit more.

The nice thing about assigned seats/accommodation is that it is very very unusual to be asked to move mid stream. Except when a train became totally disabled, and leading to a bus bridge, or one time the roomette door fell off its rail :) , I have never been asked to move out of an accommodation mid stream.
Concur here you're not going to get me on overnight coach and I haven't even tried it. If I can't afford the sleeper I will drive, not take the trip, or consider a different date.
 

joelkfla

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My LD trips have been, to this point, exclusively on the Lake Shore Limited in coach and business. At least from this forum vs. my experiences, the LSL seems to fare better than most of the other LD routes in terms of timekeeping, crew friendliness and cleanliness (outside of dirty windows). That said, there seems like a few quick fixes that Amtrak could take:

- On the LSL, bathrooms do become inoperable - not really dirty per se, but the toilets seem to no longer flush and start filling up. This isn't pleasant, but one can generally find a cleaner, fully operating bathroom. What I find a bit confusing is that the conductors basically don't address the situation. I don't need them to clean or fix a malfunctioning toilet, but a simple announcement that the bathrooms are working in cars x, y and z would suffice. On my last trip in business a couple weeks ago, the sole bathroom in the business car was out of service, leading me to wander further and further to find an unused, clean, operable bathroom.

- I've experienced the HVAC issues in summer on the Hiawatha. It slowly became hotter and hotter and hotter, until I abandoned the car and moved elsewhere. What was weird to me was that there was ample seating throughout the train in cars with functioning AC, yet the crew never said a word.

- On the Eagle and west coast routes were long delays are unfortunately common, it seems like there could be some middle ground to find. Are the delays Amtrak's fault? Often the answer is no. It would be nice to see Amtrak prepared for such an eventuality though. We're going to be stuck for six hours? Everyone come get a free beverage. Non-perishable food packs? Do something, do anything.

Ultimately, I find Amtrak's long distance service (again, LSL only) as functional for a single person traveling alone with pretty ideal arrival times at both ends that allow for an hour or two of delays. Though the removal of business class is a big negative.
Yeah, do something about a problem, don't just ignore it. If you can't fix it, at least mitigate it.
 

Willbridge

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Reviewing this thread brings to mind a Colorado Public Radio interview with the author of a book on 1-star reviews found on-line for the national parks. (Grand Canyon - "a big hole".}

While working at the Gray Line of Portland we turned a NJ lady down on her demand to have part of her Columbia Gorge boat tour refunded because "all we saw for the first hour [as the M.V. Columbia Sightseer fought its way upstream] were cows and trees." She didn't mention that the downstream trip was much faster.

Visiting from Manchester, England, the future mother-in-law of an Alberta colleague was taken on a quick trip into the Canadian Rockies. Her comment afterward was that they looked like "giant slag heaps."

Complaints that are specific need to be addressed, but that may just be to help the next customer.
 
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Several posters here have mentioned that the Amtrak crew didn’t tell passengers what was going on or give them any information about delays, disruptions, malfunctioning amenities, etc.

In my opinion, one of the easiest but most important things all Amtrak crews could do is to let passengers know what is going on. First-time riders, especially, will be nervous at a long stop with no explanation or if the air conditioning breaks in a hot part of the country and they don’t know when it will return.

From personal experience, I have two positive examples of how this works:

On one of the Silvers years ago, we were delayed for a long time (I can’t remember why now), and we—even seasoned Amtrak travelers—were all concerned until our SCA (young and just starting his career) came through our sleeper, room by room, and told each one us in person what had happened, calmed the first-time riders, and helped people with connections figure out their next step.

The second example was on, of all places, SEPTA Regional Rail from Trenton to Philadelphia. We were caught in a sudden wind/rain squall—couldn’t see anything out the window. The conductor (a middle-aged gentleman) kept us up to date on our speed, the weather forecast, including that we were in the worst of it and it should clear soon, and reassured us that their trains had been through worse. All the time while helping people off at each stop and getting soaking wet himself.

Both the SCA and the SEPTA conductor got huge ovations from the passengers when it was over.

And oh yes, the reason I mentioned their ages is because I think there are professionals in every generation—professionalism comes from within a person, not from their age. I got a glimpse of the SEPTA engineer as he left his shift when we came into Suburban Station in Philly. He was an older gentleman—looked like he might be close to retirement age. He had just brought us safely through a dreadful storm, but he calmly picked up his gear and walked off the train like he had just finished the calmest ride on a clear and sunny day. He didn’t even wait for an ovation!😊
 

Ziv

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...

Visiting from Manchester, England, the future mother-in-law of an Alberta colleague was taken on a quick trip into the Canadian Rockies. Her comment afterward was that they looked like "giant slag heaps."
...

Well... Manchester.

LOL!
To be fair, I am in no position to throw stones. I live in a small burg in rural Maryland.
But to fail to be moved by the Canadian Rockies? Wow.
 
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If the best argument one can muster boils down to "planes suck sometimes too" (while using anecdotes of dubious accuracy), then we're having the wrong conversation.

I think what Ryan is saying here is that the needed conversation is how to make Amtrak better, rather than weakly defending it by saying it sucks only marginally worse than flying. (envision the new slogan: "Amtrak - it's only slightly worse than flying!")

And if that's not what he meant, then I'll suggest that the needed conversation is how to make Amtrak better, rather than defending it by saying it sucks only marginally worse than flying! 🙂
 
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