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Inconsistent Service: A bigger problem than the food?

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Barb Stout

OBS Chief
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Mar 13, 2019
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Um, this is your 6th post to this forum. It might ought to occur to you that when you make suggestions, other folks here might have already been there, done that, found it unworkable--and perhaps already discussed it.
This brings up a question that I have had for a little while. CommanchePilot's posts are less than 10, but s/he has been a member since 2012. I have seen a few other people with that odd combination also. Do they just "lurk" for a couple of years before posting or can people change handles that don't show the previous posts under the former handle, but the year of entry remain the same? Regardless of CommanchePilot's situation, welcome! I will be interested to hear about your ordering meals along the California Zephyr line. That will be a good test case for my concern about lack of adequate cell phone coverage as that route goes through a lot of canyons and mountains, but I don't know where the stops are around mealtime as I haven't taken that line yet and haven't looked at the timetable.
 

Dakota 400

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Do they just "lurk" for a couple of years before posting or can people change handles that don't show the previous posts under the former handle, but the year of entry remain the same
I have wondered the same thing. I see this on Cruise Critic as well.
 

jebr

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It would be very difficult to verify that a widespread network of independent restaurants and delivery services would be in compliance with both the local regulations they are usually doing business under, and the more rigid FDA standards that Amtrak must comply with. It might be better from a passenger standpoint, but it would be a nightmare for risk management and compliance staff.
Yeah, if Amtrak were to do something like this, it'd be far better to partner with one of the major delivery apps that already exist, letting them deal with most of the logistical and legal issues. If Amtrak has some sort of API for real-time train status (which I'd imagine they do, even if it's not publicly available,) Amtrak could designate specific "outside meal access" stops, advise customers that they need to submit their order at least one station stop in advance (or two, if stations are close enough together that more lead time is necessary,) and then release the orders to the restaurants at some designated point to try and have them delivered just before the train arrives at the station. That would alleviate signal and timing issues for the most part (almost all station stops have cell signal, and tying the timing into Amtrak's real-time system would be far more reliable than having customers manually guess when the best time would be.) I would imagine some sort of pickup area on the platform would need to be created, even if it's just shelving and two temperature-controlled containers (one to keep things warm, and one to keep things cool.)
 

railiner

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This brings up a question that I have had for a little while. CommanchePilot's posts are less than 10, but s/he has been a member since 2012. I have seen a few other people with that odd combination also. Do they just "lurk" for a couple of years before posting
I have wondered the same thing. I see this on Cruise Critic as well.
I think that is common on all of these interline forums. People sometimes simply tire of going online, or find different interests to actively participate in, and then later on sometimes return and post prolifically...
People that retire are often in that category....
 

Nick Farr

Lead Service Attendant
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Dec 25, 2019
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Michigan
If people want it to - it will. It's that simple.
I'm not going to tell you it's impossible because its not. Here are the biggest obstacles to overcome:

* When a driver comes to your house or office, they know where you are and wrap up the delivery in no more than three minutes. Sometimes the train takes three minutes just to park. Sometimes it takes three minutes to walk to the sleepers from the parking lot--if there's parking.

* When you order delivery, you're at the place you'll be at until it arrives. With the train you have a 5-15 minute window to hit on top of the added time to find you.

What could make this work is if you had a designated recipient who could accept the food from the delivery driver and then get in contact with you when you arrive.

On Facebook you can probably find rail fans willing to do this for you.

What could also make this work is passengers working with a designated vendor and spreading the word. If the restaurant knew they could rely on a bunch of orders and have sufficient access to the platforms, figure out where the sleepers were, throw up a flag, etc...they'd build the model you're seeking.
 
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crescent-zephyr

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This is a typical internet forum - find fault with any comment and render it impossible. And then nit pick through the entire comment to prevent useful discourse.
Welcome to the forum! :)

We're gonna be on the CZ late in October. I'm gonna try it at the bigger stations and see what happens.
Denver, Salt Lake City, and Grand Junction would all be good options. I wouldn't try Reno, the station set up there is odd and I don't think it would be easy to get and accept the delivery there.
 

Bob Dylan

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May 31, 2009
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Austin Texas
Sadly, Dave' s Depot in Grand Junction,CO will be closing Sept.30 due to the CZ ( and all other LD Trains except the AutoTrain) going to 3 Days a week Schedules. RIP 😟

I used to love going in there and buying some Ice Cream ( in the Summer and Diet Cokes since I'm not a fan of Pepsi) during the Station stop.
 
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me_little_me

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This brings up a question that I have had for a little while. CommanchePilot's posts are less than 10, but s/he has been a member since 2012. I have seen a few other people with that odd combination also. Do they just "lurk" for a couple of years before posting or can people change handles that don't show the previous posts under the former handle, but the year of entry remain the same? Regardless of CommanchePilot's situation, welcome! I will be interested to hear about your ordering meals along the California Zephyr line. That will be a good test case for my concern about lack of adequate cell phone coverage as that route goes through a lot of canyons and mountains, but I don't know where the stops are around mealtime as I haven't taken that line yet and haven't looked at the timetable.
Some people are really only interested when actually soon-to-be traveling on the train. I am that way with Cruise Critic as there is no reason to post there for me as I am only interested in info on the specific stops we are going to make or in meeting and discussing with those on my ship. At other times, I don't post, don't read and block the emails from the site.
 

railiner

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Some people are really only interested when actually soon-to-be traveling on the train. I am that way with Cruise Critic as there is no reason to post there for me as I am only interested in info on the specific stops we are going to make or in meeting and discussing with those on my ship. At other times, I don't post, don't read and block the emails from the site.
I used to be very active on Cruise Critic's, but until cruising resumes, there is little to talk about there, except "when will it?"....
I am on a roll call for my next scheduled cruise, end of July, 2021, so I check that occasionally, but its very quiet there...
 

Michigan Mom

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 28, 2012
Messages
671
Location
MI
If there are timing issues, and people don't get fed, your novel idea isn't going to work, Pilot, which creates a situation for Amtrak. That's not to say passengers can't try novel things on their own. Every train trip is an adventure which is part of the reason I miss it so!
As far as your employment solutions, unions can be a pain but ultimately they do a lot of good for the big picture. Beating people until they develop sunny attitudes doesn't work. Hiring for "service" and penalizing employees for real or imagined customer service violations generally results in high turnover which is not an ideal situation for Amtrak either.
 

Qapla

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Gator Country Florida
You don't usually fix morale problems from the bottom up - you usually start from the top down. Ownership and management need to have pride in their product before they can expect the rank & file to have that pride.

This seems to be missing from Amtrak. Ownership is the US Gov't who treats Amtrak like an unwanted stepchild and management takes their orders and ques from them - is it any wonder that many of the rank & file have lost pride in Amtrak and it shows in the service some provide.
 

MARC Rider

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You don't usually fix morale problems from the bottom up - you usually start from the top down. Ownership and management need to have pride in their product before they can expect the rank & file to have that pride.

This seems to be missing from Amtrak. Ownership is the US Gov't who treats Amtrak like an unwanted stepchild and management takes their orders and ques from them - is it any wonder that many of the rank & file have lost pride in Amtrak and it shows in the service some provide.
I don't think the issue is the U.S. government, as Amtrak seems to have at least some bipartisan support in Congress, though I guess the Administration is less supportive. I think the issue at the top is the management. I sometimes wonder why, if they don't seem to like running a passenger railroad, did they take their management jobs in the first place.

I should point out that past management, despite the indifferent attitude of the government ownership, has been more enthusiastic about the mission of the organization.

Clearly some changes are needed at the top.
 

Everydaymatters

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I think that is common on all of these interline forums. People sometimes simply tire of going online, or find different interests to actively participate in, and then later on sometimes return and post prolifically...
People that retire are often in that category....
I'm in the retired category. Physical limitations make travel very difficult. My mind is willing, but my body isn't. My advice is to travel as much as you can while you can. I did, and I'm happy to have those memories.
 

jimdex

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Feb 19, 2020
Messages
17
"I should point out that past management, despite the indifferent attitude of the government ownership, has been more enthusiastic about the mission of the organization.

Clearly some changes are needed at the top."

I've been around look enough to hear railfans accuse virtually every one of Amtrak's presidents, with the possible exception of Graham Claytor and maybe Paul Reistrup, of not being enthusiastic enough about Amtrak's mission. Virtually every Amtrak management has been accused of "cooking the books" to make long-distance trains look bad, diverting long-distance system "profits" to the Northeast Corridor, and not being enthusiastic enough about passenger rail in general. On one forum I used to visit, it was practically a ritual of faith to blame all of Amtrak's problems on then-President George Warrington, and to suggest that once he was gone, the problems would go away. Then after Warrington was replaced by David Gunn, they blamed Gunn for the same problems. The truth is, Amtrak's problems go deeper than whoever is running it at any given time, and management changes have never led to the changes fans would like to see.
 

Dakota 400

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I'm in the retired category. Physical limitations make travel very difficult. My mind is willing, but my body isn't. My advice is to travel as much as you can while you can. I did, and I'm happy to have those memories.
Excellent advice! Even if the Amtrak experience of 2020 is not as pleasant as it once was, the time will come for most of us that we may not be able to have any Amtrak or other travel experience.
 

me_little_me

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"I should point out that past management, despite the indifferent attitude of the government ownership, has been more enthusiastic about the mission of the organization.

Clearly some changes are needed at the top."

I've been around look enough to hear railfans accuse virtually every one of Amtrak's presidents, with the possible exception of Graham Claytor and maybe Paul Reistrup, of not being enthusiastic enough about Amtrak's mission. Virtually every Amtrak management has been accused of "cooking the books" to make long-distance trains look bad, diverting long-distance system "profits" to the Northeast Corridor, and not being enthusiastic enough about passenger rail in general. On one forum I used to visit, it was practically a ritual of faith to blame all of Amtrak's problems on then-President George Warrington, and to suggest that once he was gone, the problems would go away. Then after Warrington was replaced by David Gunn, they blamed Gunn for the same problems. The truth is, Amtrak's problems go deeper than whoever is running it at any given time, and management changes have never led to the changes fans would like to see.
Does that mean it is NOT Amtrak's top manager that is a major part of the problem?

Does that mean the Amtrak board or the collective executives are NOT a major part of the problem?

Does that mean that riders expecting better onboard and ontime LD service and more LD trains should only blame congress?

Are you saying that it is only "railfans" that are unhappy with Amtrak LD and that others who try it once or twice then stop taking it because of poor service are just undercover "railfans"?

Does anyone know how many executive members and board members of Amtrak have actually taken LD services more than once or even once to actually experience them as they are?
 

jruff001

Service Attendant
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Jan 23, 2020
Messages
108
Does that mean it is NOT Amtrak's top manager that is a major part of the problem?

Does that mean the Amtrak board or the collective executives are NOT a major part of the problem?
I am not jimdex so don't mean to put words in his mouth, but here is how I would answer:

The main problem is that Congress has not funded Amtrak adequately to provide what people here would consider a decent nationwide LD service. That, along with the other political / legislative, labor and host RR constraints and realities, means that even if Amtrak were run by the Amtrak Unlimited Dream Team, it would look largely like it does today.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
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Messages
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Or, put another way ...

If congress funded the Intestate Highway system the same way they do Amtrak - all the Interstates would all be two-lane roads with pot-holes.
And many airports would be unstaffed with no services and no parking. and who knows what the cruise terminals would look like!
 

MARC Rider

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Or, put another way ...

If congress funded the Intestate Highway system the same way they do Amtrak - all the Interstates would all be two-lane roads with pot-holes.
Instead of being 4-lane roads with potholes, like many of them are today. :)
(I'm talking to you, I-77, between the Ohio Turnpike and Akron! :) )
 

MARC Rider

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From the point of view of rational transportation policy, passenger rail is really only the preferred mode for trips of 200 miles or less (maybe up to 500 miles, as different journey segments can be combined into one line, and if high speed rail is built.

However, the nature of our political system (where a bunch of lightly populated rural states have a disproportionate amount of power in our Federal system) requires that any support of passenger rail by the national government has to include support for service in those lightly populated rural states. This is the only reason why we still have any long-distance passenger rail. In other words, if you want the NEC, the Acela, the other corridor service that has the potential to take significant market share from automobiles and short-distance air shuttles, you need to fund the Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, etc., so that the Senators and Representatives from those states support funding for the corridors.

I sometimes wonder if the people in charge of Amtrak understand this basic political fact of life, which is kind of ridiculous, given that if you're going to be in charge of Amtrak you have to be, to some extent, a political creature. This political fact of life is that you're stuck with running long distance trains, so you might as well do what it takes to make them successful. Instead, you get the idea that they see this as a nuisance that's keeping them from operating all those cool corridor services that they really want.

Somebody needs to shake them upside the head and get them to be more enthusiastic about the entire mission of Amtrak and start thinking of ways to upgrade the long distance service. I'd bet that in doing so, their financial performance would improve, too.

The steps that need be betaken have been described here:

1) Accurate honest accounting to determine how much these services really cost.
2) Co-locating corridor services with some of the long distance routes. It';s been pointed out that this could be easily done with the Lake Shore Limited, as it's already co-located with the Empire Corridor, and corridor service could be established on that route connected Chicago and various cities in Ohio. There must be other places where this can be done, as well. This would allow costs to be shared, thus making better accounting of the long-distance trains.
3. Come down hard on host railroads who are causing unjustified delays.
4. Stop understaffing on-board service and in-station service. I suspect that if the trains were staffed properly, nearly all the complaints about unpleasant ind inconsistent service would stop.

Providing premium service is really an essential part of improving the financial performance of all of the trains. The RPA ridership and revenue statistics show this clearly. Perhaps we're never going back to the days of obsequious Pullman porters, starched white tablecloths, silver, and fine china with gourmet food cooked on board, but they should be able to provide a premium level service that makes it a good value proposition to pay extra to sit in a train for 48 hours when you could fly the distance in 4 hours.

The public service that justified the taxpayer support is the ability to serve relatively remote towns poorly served by anything else, as well as the slice of the population that can't fly or drive for medical reasons. The premium level service is necessary to boost the revenue to minimize the amount of taxpayer support. The political need to serve these remote towns is to get the votes from rural legislators for support for more necessary corridor service. Why the leadership at Amtrak can't see this and view it as a fun challenge instead of a nuisance is beyond me.
 

anumberone

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I don't think the Comanche Pilot was too far off with food delivery. Even thought train schedules are not consistent, train tracking is. Except for extreme situations it's easy to see when a train is going to arrive at a particular destination. It seems like Amtrack could set up a receiving location where food could be delivered and dispersed by a attendant while in route if time was an issue. With all food deliveries, sometimes one may have to eat Shish kebab after ordering Frog legs.
 
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