Rude Amtrak employees

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I rode a number of trains prior to Amtrak (and prior to VIA) including Penn Central, New Haven, Milwaukee Road, Burlington Northern, CP, CN, GTW and received nothing but very good service. I was never been bossed around, lectured, or spoken to in a condescending manner as if I was a five year old. (as I have been at times on Amtrak). I had a problem with Penn Central reservations once but that had nothing to do with on board service.

Even today I receive very good service at many retail stores, so I don't believe it is a sign of the times, just a sign of poor corporate culture or perhaps no culture.

I have encountered some excellent Amtrak and VIA employees but I feel that the idea that Amtrak and VIA are God's gift to passenger rail
is a bit exaggerated.
 
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Joined
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San Francisco
When boarding #1 in New Iberia a couple of weeks ago, and being the only passenger to do so, I had positioned myself and bags way too far forward on the platform. I guess I wanted to make sure the engineer saw me. Anyway, the conductor signaled the stop so that I had to hoof it back with my bags about 30-40 yards on uneven and cracked concrete. But my SCA ran up the platform towards me, yelling, “Take it easy, we won’t leave without you.” He grabbed my two bags and carried them back to my car and helped me on board with a cheery welcome and directions on how to get to my correct bedroom, which he already knew I would be occupying.

The conductor also smiled but didn’t say anything about stopping so far back.

Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I don’t recall ever being treated rudely or badly since I started riding Amtrak LD trains in 2006. Sometimes an OBS has displayed a little indifference, but nothing disrespectful or rude.

But then, this is only my experience. However, in all service industry positions, I expect that the happier the camper, the better service she/he will provide. So maybe Amtrak needs to start treating its employees better.

(By the way, I realized for the first time that standing maybe only six feet away from the tracks and looking up at this huge tall mass of steel and chugging noise bearing down on you can be a little intimidating! 😊)
 

Amtrak709

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I have always tried to preference my remarks with "in my opinion" and that is just what this is. Although I have about 300,00 miles on the passenger trains, my significant travels did not start until my college days in Virginia in 1965--just a few years before Amtrak. For the last 51 years I have heard the remarks that Amtrak is not like railroads "used to be". Agreed: but if you love the passenger trains, Amtrak is all we've got. I will say this (even considering my relatively short time travelling rails before Amtrak in 1971): Every railroad employee in my early history of riding--from the T&E crew to dining car stewards to dining car wait staff to coach attendants to sleeping car attendants to etc.--always seemed (and may have stated) they were PROUD to be railroad employees. That attitude of being "God's gift to passenger rail" did not seem to exist. I think that attitude of pride was evident and what, in my opinion, has somewhat drifted away in the last 50+ years.
 

cirdan

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I have always tried to preference my remarks with "in my opinion" and that is just what this is. Although I have about 300,00 miles on the passenger trains, my significant travels did not start until my college days in Virginia in 1965--just a few years before Amtrak. For the last 51 years I have heard the remarks that Amtrak is not like railroads "used to be". Agreed: but if you love the passenger trains, Amtrak is all we've got. I will say this (even considering my relatively short time travelling rails before Amtrak in 1971): Every railroad employee in my early history of riding--from the T&E crew to dining car stewards to dining car wait staff to coach attendants to sleeping car attendants to etc.--always seemed (and may have stated) they were PROUD to be railroad employees. That attitude of being "God's gift to passenger rail" did not seem to exist. I think that attitude of pride was evident and what, in my opinion, has somewhat drifted away in the last 50+ years.

I understand and agree with what you are saying.

But I think it is maybe unfair to single out Amtrak. Many areas and especially the hospitality industry have seen a gradual shift from employing people for life and making them part of the family, which meant that in return these people were sometimes willing to lay down their lives for the company, to employing schoolkids and whoever they could get for the minimal wage. Amtrak has weathered this erosion surprisingly well, but many other areas are far worse, ranging from hotels to restaurants to shop attendants, where you often wonder why the owners and managers don't care or make more effort to get more motivated employees. Many services that are these days being praised as hallmarks of high end luxury hotels would 40 years ago have been standard to any mom and pop hotel.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Why does Amtrak seem to have a larger portion of rude employees than (in my experience) American Airlines and (definitely) Brightline?
I've flown many AA flights and most of my good experiences involved regional carriers with green staff pretending to be AA. I've found AA staff are often indifferent to my needs and can be easily offended or obnoxiously bossy. Sometimes they charge me for drinks that should be free and other times they threaten me with arrest for taking a photo of the moving map display. In a similar vein many of my best experiences on Amtrak involved newly hired staff that may have made a few mistakes but at least wanted to provide good service. Something seems to happen on the way to seniority that changes people. On most trips I barely interact with mainline AA staff but if you put them in charge of a long train trip then the experience would likely be similar or maybe even worse than Amtrak.

It must be a management issue: if senior management wanted Amtrak employees to be as cheerful and helpful as [...] Brightline, surely that could be done.
I have wondered about this for a long time and although I may not agree with everything stated in the following video it did give me some answers to consider.

 
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Tom Booth

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Jersey City
Hello all

I just completed my first trip on am Amtrak train yesterday. I traveled aboard the Crescent train from Atlanta, GA to Wilmington, DE. While overall it was a very good experience, I did encounter some rude Amtrak employees. Is this common occurrence on Amtrak? While boarding the train, one employee asked where I'd be heading and I got directed to a specific car, where I sat near the front of the car, which was fine.

During other stops, the conductor (or other Amtrak employee), would announce the stop so everyone could clearly hear on the train, even near the front of the car where I was sitting, because it was hard to hear the usual arrival announcements. When we arrived in Wilmington, I couldn't make out the usual announcement over the PA and the conductor did not repeat that we had arrived in Wilmington. I almost missed my stop and I guess the conductor was not pleased that he had to direct me all the way to the back of the train so I that could step off the train. I was not rude, I simply told him that you can not hear the announcement clearly from where I was sitting and that they should somehow fix the problem, so more people don't miss their stops, but it seemed like he didn't care...

Has anyone else had this kind of problem before? Just curious. I'm very unsure if I will be taking Amtrak again in the future. As stated before this was my first Amtrak trip and am not sure if my situation is experienced by more passengers.
How was the conductor rude? The two examples you cite don't seem to warrant a complaint by you of the employees but maybe I'm missing something. The PA system is often inaudible.
 

Manny T

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Chicago IL
Hello all...I did encounter some rude Amtrak employees. Is this common occurrence on Amtrak?...

Has anyone else had this kind of problem before? Just curious.

So to answer the OP's question, yes, I have encountered some rude employees on Amtrak, along with many many fine, outstanding, warm and personable employees. The rude employees definitely diminish my enjoyment of the trip, and I try to work around them, keeping my distance to the extent possible and handling things myself. On your first Amtrak trip, this might be more difficult; for a more seasoned traveler, it would be easier.

Some have said you should travel with "increased awareness of surroundings." Great idea. But the fact is, a public carrier is tasked with providing service to the general public, and this includes all manner of people with various degrees of ability. Nothing is more basic than providing a clear on-board announcement of the next stop -- which it appears was not given in your case. Some people follow each mile of their journey and know exactly where they are at all times; others are completely oblivious and either day-dreaming, listening to music or otherwise in la-la land the whole time. Who's to say what is the right way to travel? We each select our own path in life.

To return to your question, while rude employees are encountered on Amtrak, they are not the norm. I would regard your encounter with one as an annoyance and I would not base a decision to ditch future Amtrak travel on this one instance.
 
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I once had a conductor who kicked me off a Northeast Regional because I had an unreserved ticket and it was during the period when they were switching over from unreserved to all-reserved. I thought he was pretty nasty in the way he did it, plus it was sort of ridiculous, because the unreserved ticket was the same price as the reserved ticket (so it wasn't like I was cheating Amtrak out of any money), and it was only to Baltimore (from Washington), so there were definitely empty seats, and it wasn't like I was depriving a ticket passenger of a seat. He should have just politely told me that the trains were going to be all reserved moving forward, and then let me continue my journey.

There was another conductor on the Silver Star who was a bit of a bossy drill sergeant type. He got into some kind of argument with a coach passenger who was disappointed that he couldn't get a dinner reservation, and before we knew it the train came to a screeching halt in Southside Virginia, somewhere between Petersburg and Rocky Mount, and this guy and his family were shuffled off the train into a waiting police car.

That was about it for me for rude Amtrak employees. There have been a few dining car waiters that seemed to forget I existed when I wanted to settle my check (I had purchased some wine with dinner) and leave, but that happens everywhere, it even happened to me just a couple of days ago at a restaurant near me.
 

Amtrak709

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Do you remember the short-lived days of the Chief of Onboard Services?--at least they were on the Silver Service trains when I lived in Florida in the 1980's and 1990's. Do you think this concept is appropriate for onboard supervision and management of staff? There is certainly a cost associated with this concept which is probably the driving force preventing such.
 

Amtrak709

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Do you remember the short-lived days of the Chief of Onboard Services?--at least they were on the Silver Service trains when I lived in Florida in the 1980's and 1990's. Do you think this concept is appropriate for onboard supervision and management of staff? There is certainly a cost associated with this concept which is probably the driving force preventing such.
I think I just remembered the answer to my own inquiry about the Chief of Onboard Services from the 1980-90's. They were sort stuck in between the T&E crew and the OBS crew; had little or no authority; and were universally disliked by all crew.
 
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The good Ole EssPee was Infamous for their rude OBS, especially on the Sunset Route, as they downgraded the Crack Sunset Ltd. to Greyhound Status before the Feds forced them to return Diners and Sleepers to the Sunsets Consist.

You had to remind me of a Phoenix to Los Angeles run on that train. First and last time I saw Automat food dispensers on a train. It was obvious they were desperate to get out of the business. My father switched to PSA, where the service was a bit different.

psa.png
 

Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
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You had to remind me of a Phoenix to Los Angeles run on that train. First and last time I saw Automat food dispensers on a train. It was obvious they were desperate to get out of the business. My father switched to PSA, where the service was a bit different.

View attachment 28423
Remember when "Flying Colors"was all the rage? Braniff especially was noted for their Wild Colors( including the Planes) and once Amtrak came along in 1971 the Uniforms and the Rainbow Consists continued this theme😱
 
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Years ago my son and I had an unfortunate experience on a much-delayed Califronia Zephyr that put us 12 hours behind. Our sleeping car attendant was simply outstanding in every respect. He was personable, engaging, helpful, sincerely emphathetic about the situation and all this while himself being highly stressed. When I told him I was going to write Amtrak to provide kudos for his service, he expressed gratitude but said pointedly it wouldn't likely do any good and he wouldn't hear about it. He then described Amtrak as a "toxic work environment" and couldn't wait to retire. So if this is an accurate description from someone I viewed as highly motivated, imagine how it affects those with worse attitudes out of the gate.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Years ago my son and I had an unfortunate experience on a much-delayed Califronia Zephyr that put us 12 hours behind. Our sleeping car attendant was simply outstanding in every respect. He was personable, engaging, helpful, sincerely emphathetic about the situation and all this while himself being highly stressed. When I told him I was going to write Amtrak to provide kudos for his service, he expressed gratitude but said pointedly it wouldn't likely do any good and he wouldn't hear about it. He then described Amtrak as a "toxic work environment" and couldn't wait to retire. So if this is an accurate description from someone I viewed as highly motivated, imagine how it affects those with worse attitudes out of the gate.
What a disaster! Hopefully it’s not quite as bad as this sounds but it does indicate that at a minimum the staff do not see much in the way of recognition for going above and beyond mediocre service. Rewarding employees for great service should not only be possible but highly encouraged. What a sad state of affairs.
 
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williamn

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I used to take the Maple Leaf a few times a year when I lived in Toronto. The difference between Amtrak and VIA crews on the same train was always like night and day. Amtrak crews seemed to regard passengers as an annoyance, and spent most of the journey taking up the majority of the cafe car. VIA crews on the other hand were a delight and were far more customer orientated.
 

Charles785

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I've wondered the same thing that The Crescent (above) was wondering. In my experiences the rude Amtrak employees I'm remembering were in the dining cars. And I don't travel that often - maybe 15 trips in the last 20 years. Maybe on a third of those trips I've encountered a waiter who, at best, seemed disinterested, or, at worst, abrupt and a bit on the rude side.

In any event, it was obvious those folks didn't belong in the customer service business. (And I wondered why they were in it in the first place)

Now, compared to the number of those Amtrak trips, I will probably eat in a restaurant at least once a week - and have for the last 20 years - from sit-down casual, to fast-food restaurants, to fine dining. And I'm having trouble remembering unpleasant restaurant employees.

So, what's the difference? My guess is that since restaurant wait staff employees are not unionized they have more of an incentive to be on their best behavior at all times because they know there's no third party who's going to defend them even if they're grumpy and giving lousy service.

Amtrak waiters are unionized - and I have a suspicion their labor union couldn't care less if their waiter- members have an aptitude for pleasant customer service or not. And it's probably much more difficult to fire a unionized malcontent anyway.

There could be other reasons too, but when I think of any differences between the restaurant industry and Amtrak, unionized labor comes to my mind.
 

zephyr17

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VIA OBS crews are unionized and service on VIA is much more consistent and much better than Amtrak. VIA's unionized OBS crews are very customer service oriented.

If Amtrak management actually prioritized customer service excellence and instituted metrics to measure it (post ride surveys, etc) and made improving those metrics part of mangers' performance reviews at all levels, we might get somewhere.

Disciplinary procedures are more exacting with an organized labor force, but are still there. Disciplinary procedures can be negotiated with unions, if a customer focused management team finds issues with the current ones. Give a little, get a little.

Given VIA's counter example, I think just calling a unionized workforce out as the problem really does not address anything or provide a route to improvement. At the end of the day, it is a management responsibility and a management problem. If executive management actually made a focused and consistent effort to measure and improve customer service, we might get somewhere.
 
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zephyr17

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My understanding is that VIA has customer service managers on its long distance trains who are in charge of on board services. Conductors were eliminated from VIA trains some years ago so the only operating personnel are the locomotive crews.
That is true. Actual managers being onboard is probably one of the factors in VIA's better and more consistent customer service.

Every train has an SM, not just the long distance ones, btw.
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
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When RRs were attempting their Train offs back in the 60s, the good Ole EssPee was Infamous for their rude OBS, especially on the Sunset Route, as they downgraded the Crack Sunset Ltd. to Greyhound Status before the Feds forced them to return Diners and Sleepers to the Sunsets Consist.

I also ran into lots of rude and uncaring Employees on the PRR when I moved to Washington DC and started riding on the NEC regularly between WAS and NYP.

The Best IMO were The Southern and The Santa Fe, which continued to run their LD Trains with Pride till they joined Amtrak.
I second the motion on the "Friendly SP" and on Penn Central. Employees should not have taken their feelings out on the customers. And, I'm sure that it was not every worker being counter-productive. I remember several courtesies by PC employees, all on the NEC.

The lowest point was a three-way overbooked coach seat on the Cascade which resulted in OBS and trainmen screaming at each other and the confused customers.

In the Northwest we were fortunate to have the Hill lines. From about 1966 the UP was so-so.
 

billosborn

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I've been lucky over the years. Red Caps have been, for the most part, "above and beyond". Room attendants good, with 3 outstanding. Dining car OK. This was 7 overnight trips in roomettes. Silver, Crescent, and Sunset Limited. I give generous tips.
I have a nice Red Cap story - I arrived at LAX Union station on a Surfliner from San Diego. I was going to take the Southwest Chief from there. I was going to be traveling in coach on the SWC, but I had bought a business class seat on the Surfliner just so I could use the Metropolitan Lounge in Los Angeles during my layover. The Lounge is upstairs at Union Station and Red Cap carts come transport passengers down to the train. Even though I wasn't headed for one of the sleepers, I hopped on with the other folks and off we went. When we arrived at the platform, they hadn't yet backed the train in. He asked me what car I was in, and I told him "Car 11'. He said "follow me", and then stopped at a certain spot on the platform. He told me "Stand here". A minute later they backed the train in, and when Car 11 stopped, I was standing directly in front of the door! I tipped him right on the spot.. :)
 
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What a disaster! Hopefully it’s not quite as bad as this sounds but it does indicate that at a minimum the staff do not see much in the way of recognition for going above and beyond mediocre service. Rewarding employees for great service should not only be possible but highly encouraged. What a sad state of affairs.

It would be interesting to know from the few Amtrak employees who post here if this rings true. Of course it's always possible that this is just a viewpoint of an outlier of one disgruntled Amtrak employee, despite his public face with passengers. Though, frankly, I doubt it.
 
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