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Worst Passenger Rail Experience Ever?

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Devil's Advocate

Sarcastic Misanthrope
Joined
May 24, 2010
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Texas
I used to believe that some of my personal Amtrak experiences were pretty bad. Rude staff, late arrivals, bad food, and obnoxious passengers have peppered many of my travels. However, over the course of reading trip reports and talking with other riders it's clear I've had relatively minor problems compared to everything else that can possibly go wrong. I often wonder who has the worst story of them all and what happened.

So let's hear it, what was your worst ever passenger rail experience and what happened?
 

none

Conductor
Joined
Sep 4, 2008
Messages
1,047
I'd rather look at the brighter side myself - nothing I have ever experienced on an Amtrak train has been bad enough to be characterized as horrible - inconvenient, yes, annoying, yes - but I will reserve my "worst" categories for - umm, years in the military, current tv shows, media in general, and what passes for music these days - oh, and the state of politics in the USA... Amtrak, I find to be a pleasant break from all that crap... sorry.

I'll follow this thread though, to see what others chose to whine about...
 
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G

guest

Guest
This happened in 1999 but still rankles...

We dropped our daughter off at LA Union Station to catch the (then) San Diegan (now Pacific Surfliner) back to San Diego and college after Xmas vacation.

About an hour later, she called us to say:

The train left without almost any of the passengers waiting in the LAUS lobby for the announcement. Because Amtrak NEVER MADE an announcement.

The train arrived from Santa Barbara and the passengers savvy enough to be waiting on the platform (rather than lining up like sheep in the tunnel door gate area) got on. The conductor(s)assumed everyone had boarded when time came to depart, and so the train departed.

There were so many angry people in the waiting room by the time we got back down to the station that there were police officers standing by.

Lucky for Amtrak that it wasn't the last train of the night or one or more idiotic Amtrak employees would have received "Old West justice."

Whenever I read on this forum about screw-ups in the diner or whatever, I think back to the failure to even announce the train departure!!!
 

Henry Kisor

Service Attendant
Joined
Sep 14, 2007
Messages
170
Second remark perhaps lacks empathy.

Mine was a conductor on the Lake Shore Limited in the early 1980s who insisted on putting a large sign "DEAF" above my seat in coach. He would not accept my arguments that such a sign was not only condescending but also might invite rough trade during the night, and also threatened to put me off the train if I took the sign down. Fortunately at the next crew change the new conductor agreed with me and tore up the sign. (The coach attendant apologized for the first conductor's behavior.)
 
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Exiled in Express

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Apr 9, 2010
Messages
326
Location
Saint Paul, Minn
The full house on the 807 car and the seat mate that loudly chewed the same piece of gum from boarding to Columbus was bad. Not being able to buy an upgrade away from it due to a lazy conductor topped the cake. Peanuts compared to some of the stories I am expecting to see involving Dinty Moore and CBP.
 

none

Conductor
Joined
Sep 4, 2008
Messages
1,047
Previous remark perhaps lacks empathy.

Mine was a conductor on the Lake Shore Limited in the early 1980s who insisted on putting a large sign "DEAF" above my seat in coach. He would not accept my arguments that such a sign was not only condescending but also might invite rough trade during the night, and also threatened to put me off the train if I took the sign down. Fortunately at the next crew change the new conductor agreed with me and tore up the sign. (The coach attendant apologized for the first conductor's behavior.)
Yes I do lack empathy with the culture of complaint, which, sadly, is who we are today.

"Oh God, loud chewing gum! What could be worse!?!?!"
 
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Montanan

OBS Chief
Joined
Jun 12, 2007
Messages
544
Location
Bozeman, Montana
I've ridden roughly three-fourths of Amtrak's long-distance routes so far, and honestly ... despite a few late trains and some occasionally mediocre food, none of the experiences were even close to what I'd consider awful. But maybe I just don't enjoy complaining as much as some people do.

By the usual standards, the worst train I've probably ridden was the Bucharest-Istanbul Express, in the early spring of 1988. We were stuck at the Turkish frontier for hours in the middle of the night in a blizzard, and there was no heat in the rear half of the train. And the toilet on a Bulgarian railway car is unquestionably the most terrifying thing in the world.

But would I do the trip again? In a second, as with all of my other train trips.
 

jb64

OBS Chief
Joined
Dec 30, 2010
Messages
748
Location
STA
I'd rather look at the brighter side myself - nothing I have ever experienced on an Amtrak train has been bad enough to be characterized as horrible - inconvenient, yes, annoying, yes - but I will reserve my "worst" categories for - umm, years in the military, current tv shows, media in general, and what passes for music these days - oh, and the state of politics in the USA... Amtrak, I find to be a pleasant break from all that crap... sorry.

I'll follow this thread though, to see what others chose to whine about...
Me too, except the years in military (I never did but thank you for your service). One of the things I like about Amtrak is that you get away from all that stuff!
 

Michael061282

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 19, 2010
Messages
278
Location
Richmond, VA
Hmm Worst experience... I've been riding Amtrak all over the place since 1987ish, over 75,000 miles, so I've seen almost everything. 18 hours late trains, missed connections, passenger death in the middle of nowhere (east of Fort Morgan), rude staff, power trippers, passengers on a different kind of trip then a train ride. Two stand out but even those aren't all that bad when you look at the big picture. The last time I was on the eastbound Empire Builder, 3 years ago, we had probably the worst sleeping car attendant on Amtrak. He was lazy, unhelpful, had so many "rules" that you couldn't enjoy your trip at all. It was a last minute trip, so my son and I got a roomette in the Trans Dorm. I wasn't overly thrilled, but it's better then being downstairs. (I really dislike downstairs rooms, I know some people love them, and they're welcome to them.) The trans dorm was definitely better then being downstairs. It was right about Midnight when the train (running almost 3 hours late) left Minot, he had a bunch of rooms open up in his sleeper so he INSISTED we get out of our room in the dorm and move to a downstairs room his sleeper. My son was who was almost 8 at the time had gotten the flu, I wasn't feeling all the hot, the last thing I wanted to do was drag the luggage and my whiny nearly inanimate second grader through 2 cars and down a flight of stairs. The SCA threatened to "put us off at the next town" if I didn't move. I invited him to call the conductor and discuss the problem. That was literally the last time I saw him. He didn't come by to make up our beds the next day, didn't come help us with the luggage, or asked if we needed a red cap in Chicago(I did). Nothing. Needless to say I saved the $20 I was going to tip him and sent Amtrak a letter. I got a voucher for the high bucket cost of the roomette.

The other thing happened in 2001 and was pure Amtrak at its George Warrington worst. We were on the Three Rivers into Chicago. The train was dead on time the entire way, actually we sort of arrived 50 minutes early. However instead of taking us into Union Station, we sat in the Yard while they switched out the 4 or 5 Express cars. We ended up over 90 minutes late. And yes I know that wasn't all THAT bad.. just very very frustrating to sit there dead on the tracks with Union Station in sight for almost 2 hours. #treatedlikecattle in todays Twitterverse.
 

Devil's Advocate

Sarcastic Misanthrope
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
11,976
Location
Texas
Yes I do lack empathy with the culture of complaint, which, sadly, is who we are today. "Oh God, loud chewing gum! What could be worse!?!?!"
Main Rider, I understand your position and I love the social commentary, but please keep in mind that I am specifically welcoming folks to express their dissatisfaction here in this thread. I don't think anyone is really trying to say this or that trip is the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone in their whole lives. Just sayin' is all. :cool:
 

Bob Dylan

Conductor
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
21,335
Location
Austin Texas
As a person of a certain age (60 is the new 40!!! :lol: )I have travelled many moons over many routes since Amtrak came into being 40 years ago!! Ive experienced almost everything one can experience while riding the Rails, both Wonderful and even what some call "the Trip from Hell!"

In all honesty, none of these experiences compare in the Least to the really Crazy,Crappy,and Insane things that Ive experienced while riding Busses, Planes and Driving! :excl: :excl: :excl: Amtrak has lots of room for improvement, we all agree on this, but as for me, in every case I can, I choose to take a Train!!! :wub:
 
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Michael061282

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 19, 2010
Messages
278
Location
Richmond, VA
As a person of a certain age (60 is the new 40!!! :lol: )I have travelled many moons over many routes since Amtrak came into being 40 years ago!! Ive experienced almost everything one can experience while riding the Rails, both Wonderful and even what some call "the Trip from Hell!"

In all honesty, none of these experiences compare in the Least to the really Crazy,Crappy,and Insane things that Ive experienced while riding Busses, Planes and Driving! :excl: :excl: :excl: Amtrak has lots of room for improvement, we all agree on this, but as for me, in every case I can, I choose to take a Train!!! :wub:
Ditto. I'll fly if I HAVE to. If I'm not rushed, I take a train.
 
G

Guest

Guest
My worst experiance is boarding the Carolinian at WAS. I had a BC ticket so I was supposed to be able to board in the first group. Of course when they called out for families with young childern, elderly, and BC suddenly everyone over 50 was elderly and anyone with a dependent had a young child. It was just a mess and I was getting pushed around by the crowd; not really what one expects when paying for a premium ticket. They didn't do anything to settle the crowd or get rid of the people who were abusing the vauge categories.
 

pennyk

Conductor
Staff member
Administator
Moderator
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Joined
Jul 5, 2009
Messages
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Orlando, FL
As a person of a certain age (60 is the new 40!!! :lol: )I have travelled many moons over many routes since Amtrak came into being 40 years ago!! Ive experienced almost everything one can experience while riding the Rails, both Wonderful and even what some call "the Trip from Hell!"

In all honesty, none of these experiences compare in the Least to the really Crazy,Crappy,and Insane things that Ive experienced while riding Busses, Planes and Driving! :excl: :excl: :excl: Amtrak has lots of room for improvement, we all agree on this, but as for me, in every case I can, I choose to take a Train!!! :wub:
Although i am not quite as old as Jim, I pretty much ditto everything he has said, except I have never had a trip from hell.
 

Ryan

Conductor
Joined
Apr 14, 2008
Messages
17,033
Location
OTN
The end of every trip?

Seriously, I wouldn't have any experiences that would make such a list - I guess that I've been lucky in my ~20,000 miles.
 

NAVYBLUE

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 22, 2011
Messages
328
Location
North Las Vegas, NV
As wife and I are close to completing our first round trip LD (in Gallup, NM 1 1/2 hrs late) LAX-CHI-BAL-CHI-LAX on the SWC/CARD/CL and SWC, my worst LD trip will be when I am physically unable to ride anymore. Things could be worse, I could be DEAD. My glass is ALWAYS half full. I met a 103 year old LD rider yesterday full of **** and vinegar.

I want that to be ME !!!!

NAVYBLUE
 
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Phil S

OBS Chief
Joined
Aug 20, 2011
Messages
707
I have no idea if the following is my best train experience or worst. But it's certainly my most memorable.

In 1976, after overland travel by train and boat from Sweden down through the eastern European countries all the way to Istanbul, then west to Tunis, I decided to try to get back to Europe overland by train through Algeria. Tunis to Constantine was a beautiful trip but in Constantine I discovered the reality that westerners are not welcome in any except the tourist hotels, which were exceedingly expensive and, to my taste, quite unpleasant. I spent the first night on a bench in the police station, then gave up and spent a night in an expensive hotel. Next day I went on to Algiers -- again a beautiful trip. In Algiers the hotel story repeated so after one night in a large hotel I got the bright idea to book myself a first-class sleeper overnight Algiers-Oran - way cheaper than a fancy hotel room! Went down to the train station, paid my money, got my ticket. Scheduled departure 9 PM. So after dinner I trekked on down to the station only to find everything boarded up with several hundred people massed at the station doors. Asked around, never really figured out what the problem was, but people assured me that I could forget about a sleeper car but if I hung around long enough I could probably get on a train along with everyone else. A lot of the folks were army, everone seemed to be having a good time, so I decided to stick around, see what happened. Some of the army guys found some wood and stated a fire. I pulled up a storm grate to use as a grill and we even cooked some food!

On toward midnight word came that there'd be a train leaving in a few hours. About 4 AM, still dark out, the station doors still shut, some folks got restless and pried open the door. In we all went, through the station, and out onto the tracks. Amidst madly scurring throngs of people I finally got two opinions that coincided as to which train was going to Oran, found an open door, and sat myself down by the window in one of the 6-person compartments. We gradually filled up with army folks, who started smoking, so I opened the window. Bad idea as immediately people started to try to climb in through the open window. Two of the army guys managed to close it again. Soon after, police showed up and pushed the crowds away with billy cubs raised (though not swinging).

The rest was uneventful. About 6 AM the train got moving and we could open the window. The trip was beautiful with what I assume were the Atlas mountains off to the east. I talked with the guys as best I could with our very limited French and English. Got to Oran, which is more Spanish than French, found a lovely hotel. Dinner was fun too -- tried speaking Spanish with the waiter but he would only speak French at me. Finally someone came over (I assume the owner) and said to the waiter in perefct Spanish "For god's sake, just speak Spanish with him!". The dinner was delicious.

As I said, it was memorable - but bad or good?
 

sechs

Conductor
Joined
Aug 18, 2005
Messages
2,146
Location
ATL
Train was many hours late into Chicago due to some mechanical issue. My connecting train wasn't held, even though many others were for hours. Missed it by five seconds.

Long story short: Ended up arriving at destination after the train.

Moral of the story: Don't fly Southwest.
 

saxman

Conductor
Gathering Team Member
Joined
May 17, 2004
Messages
2,459
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DFW
I've missed several connections, but back in 2002, I was coming back from Grand Forks to Fort Worth from college. I overnighted in Chicago with a friend because the lack of same day connection. The second day I went down to the station only to find that the Texas Eagle had been cancelled past St. Louis due to flooding in Arkansas. I had a sleeper booked and really wanted to take my sleeper. So they offered to either let me stay until the next day or fly home. I also really wanted to get home as I hadn't been home in month. But I had all summer to stay home, so I decided to stay another night in Chicago. They put me in a hotel and then I caught the next days Eagle in my sleeper. Life was good.

Well I awoke in Arkansas about 40 miles outside Little Rock and we were stopped. Due to all the flooding, freight trains were backed up everywhere. Crews for those trains had timed out and many could not move. We sat for hours. Finally we arrived into Little Rock at about 4 PM, twelve hours late. By this time I was so ready to get home, so I decided to buy a ticket on Southwest and just fly to Dallas. It was about $99. My dad was glad I took the flight to get me home at a decent hour. When I checked the arrival time into FTW the next day, it didn't lose any time after leaving LRK. It arrived FTW still 12 hours late at about 2 AM.

I'm pretty laid back, and really don't care how attendants treat me, as long as they're not mean. I usually have just made my own bed if they don't offer.

But there was one coach car attendant I had back in October that irked me. Actually I laugh about now, and wish I had pushed his buttons more. :) It was on the way to Seattle on the Empire Builder for the AU gathering. About 30 to 40 minutes prior to arrival, the coach attendant made the usual announcement to make sure we have everything and start cleaning up. Like a good passenger, I'm always willing to throw away my trash, and leave everything neat with my seat back and tray table up. He asked everyone to bring their seats up and stow the tray tables. Again no big deal to me still. I still am doing a few things on the table, and have a timetable or two out on it. Since we're still 30 mins out, I figure there is no point in sitting straight up. Well a few mins later, he comes by and tells me I need to put my stuff away. I say sure, I will. But then about 5 mins later, I still haven't done any of that, he comes and physically moves my papers off the table and folds it up for me, and also helps me move up my seat. Well just as he walks off, I move my seat back again, and then he get really agitated. In order not to create anymore conflict, I just sit up. I don't know why. I should have done it anyway just to see what he would do, and now wish I had! He was really being a &$%. What was going to do. Kick me off at the next stop?! :D Tell the conductor on me?
 

Donctor

Conductor
Joined
Jul 11, 2009
Messages
1,120
Location
CHI
Riding in a Talgo sleeper was pretty uncomfortable, but I'd take it any day over flying. :D

My actual worst train experience:

On a train from Warsaw to Lublin, I got up to use the bathroom and forgot that my earphones—the ones I had saved for two months to afford—were in the pocket of my oversized shorts. After figuring out how to open the restroom door (it was remarkably difficult on this Soviet-era carriage), I entered and the train went into emergency stop (or something similar). I immediately grabbed the only handle I saw: that of the door. I couldn't get the door open again, but that wasn't my primary concern; I really needed to use the facility. As the train started to move again, I loosened my shorts and felt something run down my leg. I looked down in time to see my earphones and all my European currency fall out through my shorts and drop through the hole in the floor that I hadn't previously noticed. Not pleasing.

When I tried to flush the toilet, part of the rusted handle broke off. The sink water was very cold and very brown. It took eight kicks to get the door open, and I'm pretty sure I broke it, as it wouldn't shut again. Not pleasing.

I was looking forward to seeing Lublin, which was supposed to be an interesting and historic city. I figured I wouldn't let my experience on the train sour my day.

Got to Lublin, got in a cab, my uncle said something to the driver in broken Polish, and we were driven through a decent-looking neighborhood to a large park. The cab stopped, the driver said something to my uncle, and we got out. The park seemed to be a large, empty field with a monument and a few buildings at one end. Intrigued, I walked closer to the buildings, and upon inspection determined that they were barracks of some sort, and that one building seemed to have a small chimney. From history classes and a horrible conversation during a seder, I knew my rail trip to this place had been significantly more comfortable (and survivable) than many others', but a concentration camp is still no way to impress tourists.

After walking around other parts of Lublin, we headed toward the train station because we figured there'd be food nearby. Went into a restaurant, my uncle said something to the waitperson, received bowls of what looked (and, I believe, tasted like) blood. I ate/drank mine, assuming it was simply salty beet soup. Then we got pierogies. Took a bite of one, and whatever mammal was inside was not fully cooked.

The train on the way back was a little bit better, and it had a diner. Figuring the food couldn't be worse than a bloody dumpling, I ordered what I thought was fried chicken. I was brought a large piece of fried processed cheese with a side of mayonnaise. Amtrak food really is quite good.

Lesson: Don't use the bathroom on a s***** local train in Eastern Europe. Better yet, don't visit Eastern Europe.
 

haolerider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 21, 2004
Messages
1,437
I used to believe that some of my personal Amtrak experiences were pretty bad. Rude staff, late arrivals, bad food, and obnoxious passengers have peppered many of my travels. However, over the course of reading trip reports and talking with other riders it's clear I've had relatively minor problems compared to everything else that can possibly go wrong. I often wonder who has the worst story of them all and what happened.

So let's hear it, what was your worst ever passenger rail experience and what happened?
I boarded in Vienna, heading for Germany & was traveling third class. Immediately after boarding I went to the dining car and had a great meal and several beers. Returning to my car, I was shocked to walk through the next coach and see the end of the train........and not my coach. I had been skiing and had left skis, sweaters, coat, gloves & gear in my coach. I had not noticed that the coach I had boarded was destined for a stop well before my destination in Germany and was left with nothing, but the light sweater I was wearing. I spoke pretty good German, but my gear was long gone with no easy solution. Fortunately, one of the guys in my group figured out what had happened & got off when the coach was disconnected - with all his equipment and mine and took the next train to Germany. I arrived in bitterly cold weather, made a few phone calls (this was years before cell phones) and found a place to have a few more beers & tried to figure out what to do. I was surprised and thrilled to see my buddy, loaded with all our gear appear in the bar a few hours later. It certainly taught me the lesson of clearly identifying the destination of coaches, especially in Europe and the middle east, where this is common practice.
 

VentureForth

Conductor
Joined
Jan 23, 2007
Messages
5,867
Location
West Melbourne, FL
My worst and most enjoyable dining companion last June on the Capitol Limited:

Dinner comedy is on this train, too.

Lady across from me is having a heck of a time. From the South side of Chicago, she comes to the diner lamenting the loss of $200 in the vestibule.

She peers through the menu asking what the cheapest meal is. I pointed out the cafe car was one car behind. After asking about EVERY SINGLE ITEM on the menu, she selects the flat iron steak. And a root beer. And an ice cream. Total bill was $29ish. After freaking out about buying the must expensive menu item, she then asks if the SCA takes debit cards. And if he needs to see ID. She hands him a card with the activate this card sticker still intact then asks if she needs to sign the ticket. I don't think she tipped, but the rest of us more than covered. Other than that, she was pretty quiet the rest of the meal. Through all of this the SCA was extremely pleasant and patient.
 
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fillyjonk

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 10, 2011
Messages
476
Two "worst" experiences, though I guess neither was truly the fault of the onboard staff but rather the weather.

Christmas 2000: ice storm slows the Texas Eagle greatly, I can't remember how many hours late I was getting on. At one point we had to stop outside of (I think it was) Walnut Ridge and wait for many hours on a new crew being shipped in as the old crew (engineers) "timed out." I was in coach for that trip and it was before the alcohol restrictions. The two guys in the seat behind me disposed of an entire large bottle of Southern Comfort in a few hours between them. (I wound up sitting in the lounge car b/c I got tired of them trying to chat me up). We were 12 hours late reaching my destination.

January 2010: Apparently hit an icy patch on the rails in STL, the engine and first sleeper (which I was in) derailed. Sleeper pax moved to the diner, sat there for a while while the conductor tried to figure out what to do. First he tried for spaces in the transdorm but there weren't any. Then conductor thought he got permission to leave an empty coach car on the rear and he moved us back there, with the explanation that "While it's not a sleeper, at least you'll have more space and privacy." About an hour or two later (we still had not left STL), someone else came back and told us we had to leave, Amtrak was insisting that coach came off. The "worst" part was, for the first sleeper-to-coach move, there was someone to help us carry our hand luggage and stuff (I get off at an unmanned station so I have to carry everything in two carry ons). For this second move, they just handed us seat checks and said, "Go into coach and try to find a seat." Yeah, at 2 am, when people would have to be awakened. If a young mother hadn't seen me trucking down the car and moved her kids (which she had put in the seat ahead of her), I would not have found a seat. We were 9 hours late reaching our destination.. And trying to deal with getting a refund for the sleeper turned out to be a giant hassle. My biggest complaint about that trip was that when they moved us out of the empty coach, there was no assistance, we were told to "go-go-go" (like, if we weren't out in five minutes there'd be big problems) and there was no help getting a place in the coach cars. It went really fast from "We're so sorry this happened to you" to "you're not our problem any more."
 

AlanB

Conductor
Honored Member
Joined
Aug 22, 2002
Messages
28,406
Location
Queens, New York
But there was one coach car attendant I had back in October that irked me. Actually I laugh about now, and wish I had pushed his buttons more. :) It was on the way to Seattle on the Empire Builder for the AU gathering. About 30 to 40 minutes prior to arrival, the coach attendant made the usual announcement to make sure we have everything and start cleaning up. Like a good passenger, I'm always willing to throw away my trash, and leave everything neat with my seat back and tray table up. He asked everyone to bring their seats up and stow the tray tables. Again no big deal to me still. I still am doing a few things on the table, and have a timetable or two out on it. Since we're still 30 mins out, I figure there is no point in sitting straight up. Well a few mins later, he comes by and tells me I need to put my stuff away. I say sure, I will. But then about 5 mins later, I still haven't done any of that, he comes and physically moves my papers off the table and folds it up for me, and also helps me move up my seat. Well just as he walks off, I move my seat back again, and then he get really agitated. In order not to create anymore conflict, I just sit up. I don't know why. I should have done it anyway just to see what he would do, and now wish I had! He was really being a &$%. What was going to do. Kick me off at the next stop?! :D Tell the conductor on me?
Did he think that the train was coming in for a landing? :unsure:

Maybe you should have pulled out your wings and in your best pilot's voice made the announcement for him. :lol:

I know why he did it, but he was wrong! Trying to get the beds all made up and temporarily asking someone to move to an empty room while the beds are done is one thing. There is a lot work involved there. Making everyone put their seats upright 30 minutes out, just so that he doesn't have to do it and can off the train 5 minutes earlier, is nonsense.
 
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