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Worst Passenger Rail Experience Ever?

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Joined
Jan 9, 2021
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12
Location
Boston
This isn't an Amtrak experience (I've been lucky I guess), but I took the SBB HSR from Zurich to Milan for a gig once.
I had a first class ticket, but due to who knows why (age, racism, dislike of foreigners), the passengers around me tried to convince me that I had bought a second class ticket instead of a first class ticket.
I had to go to the clerk and she confirmed my class. They claimed I could not read german, and used that as an excuse to get me to leave the car.
 

Steve4031

Conductor
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Aug 27, 2002
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5,906
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Chicago
This isn't an Amtrak experience (I've been lucky I guess), but I took the SBB HSR from Zurich to Milan for a gig once.
I had a first class ticket, but due to who knows why (age, racism, dislike of foreigners), the passengers around me tried to convince me that I had bought a second class ticket instead of a first class ticket.
I had to go to the clerk and she confirmed my class. They claimed I could not read german, and used that as an excuse to get me to leave the car.
What a bunch of idiots. Your ticket would have clearly stated seat and car number. End of story. I have had two similar experiences in Germany and eastern Europe. The first was on a train from Prague to Vienna. Dad and I had gone to the diner for lunch, and when we returned some eastern European males had occupied our seats which were clearly marked as reserved. Additionally, our luggage was above the seats. I told them to move now, or I would get the guard. They moved. One said I was "gross". I told the idiot that he was ignorant and gross because he could not read and knowingly sat in seats that were occupied. When the conductor passed through, I had a word with him, and he had a word with them. They were not smirking after that.

On another trip I had paid for a seat reservation on an intercity train from Karlesruhe to Cologne. When I boarded there was german person sitting in my reserved seat. Once again the seat was clearly marked as reserved. I told him to move. He asked what the big deal was. I told him the big deal was that I had paid for the reservation for THAT SEAT and that he needed to move his ass immediately before I got the conductor. He moved. I sat down and put my headphones on and played rap music. I stared at him until he got up and moved to another compartment.

On a humorous note, I was once accused of being in the wrong seat on a train in Sweden while traveling from Malmo to Stockholm. The train arrived at an intermediate stop. I was sitting there and this guy walked up to me and told me I was in his seat. He was not happy. I pulled out my reservation slip to double check because I thought that I had made a mistake. Then the conductor announced over the PA that this train was headed to Stockholm. The guy had an "oh ****" look on his face and he dashed off the train. I looked out the window as he dashed towards the train on the other side of the platform. Unfortunately for him, the doors had closed and as he approached it started to move. He had a nice hour wait for the next train.
 

jiml

Conductor
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Feb 27, 2019
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Somewhere in Southern Ontario
"Self-upgraders" are a problem on DB ICE trains, since tickets (in FC at least) are seldom checked and when they are it is by the car attendant/waiter. I always have mine ready to show, but usually get waved off, followed by "What would you like to drink?" I usually go for the large Bitburger draft and my wife likes the Riesling served on-board. ;)
 

Trollopian

Service Attendant
Joined
Sep 19, 2014
Messages
113
Location
Washington, DC and Pittsburgh, PA
The worst trip is the one that I did not get to go on.
Like Steve, my worst trip was the one not taken. My very dear cat Sidney died last February. So in 2020 I was going to make my dream loop around the U.S. by train: Capitol Limited to Chicago, then California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Capitol Limited. Or maybe take the coast train south to Los Angeles, then Southwest Chief, and Capitol Limited. Then, wham.

At least I was with Sid at the end. Even a month later, vets were banning (and still ban) owners from entering clinics, instead asking that pets be handed off outside the entrance with "consultation" by phone.

Still a dream loop.

 
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Shortline

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I guess if I'm honest, I haven't had too many TERRIBLE trips. I have had a dozen or so where we stopped and got bustituted. As I really dislike the bus, especially when you have to wait for them to show up hours later, then travel on one overnight. So, I have always just left the train, took a taxi or Uber to the airport, and flown to wherever I needed to be. Expensive, and inconvenient, but usually it means getting home (or where I'm going) a day or two early. And, not going into the whole 3 day a week stuff or the dining, or lounge use thing, which is unfortunate, but hopefully temporary. If nothing else, the cars will be open again for use. I miss being able to use the cafe tables. But I digress.....

My biggest issue, is the complete and utter lack of consistency. Amtrak is all over the board. And while it may not make something unbearable, it does contribute to my overall disappointment in their service. When I get on a flight, I know how it's going to go. Service is almost unfailingly great, attentive, and pleasant. On the train, it can go either way. Some on board service people are great, some are terrible, with the vast majority being somewhere in between in what can best be described as apathetic, or mediocre. I don't even mind the price, for sleeper service. I do expect a higher level of experience from them, for the high price they expect of me.

It's frustrating to have such wide disparity. Frankly, one thing I expected when Boardman came on, is an increase in the level of service and attentiveness from the onboard service folks. Flight attendants and other front line service folks at airlines tend to be positive, upbeat, helpful, unobtrusive, and attentive. And maybe it's improved a bit, at least. Maybe it's due to the personnel cutbacks, leaving the high seniority folks on, while cutting the less experienced, newer folks off, or maybe it really is an effort by Amtrak to improve their frontline image, I don't know.

On a train, most of the time, all you get is a basic absolute minimum level of service, with the bare minimum of decency. And while it's probably petty, it drives me crazy seeing 2-3 tables in a cafe car on a regional train taken up by crew, who spend most of their time complaining to each other about the railroad, or spread out over half the dining car on a long distance train kicked back playing with their phones. I just find it unprofessional, and tacky. Do they need breaks? Sure. That's what the transition car, or crew car is for, in my opinion.

Delays happen. Cancellations happen. but for goodness sakes, when they DO manage to run a train, do it with a customer first, service mindset. That shouldn't be too much to ask for.
 

Devil's Advocate

Sarcastic Misanthrope
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Flight attendants and other front line service folks at airlines tend to be positive, upbeat, helpful, unobtrusive, and attentive. On a train, most of the time, all you get is a basic absolute minimum level of service, with the bare minimum of decency.
In another thread you said you mainly fly Southwest, which is a good airline, but with decades of WN flights under my belt I can't remember a single trip when service involved more than a drink or two and some peanuts. In my view most of what makes WN so good revolves around maintenance and operations while the bubbly onboard personalities can overdo it sometimes. When they try to get the passengers to sing and play games I generally want off. Cost and duration wise Amtrak sleeper service is closer to flying TATL/TPAC on American/United, and feels the same to me.
 

Shortline

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I hear you on that. Southwest seems to have cut a lot of that out, been a while since I've seen a sing along kind of attendant. They do still have a lot who think they need to be comedians, during the safety briefing, and arrival brief which is a bit annoying. But I agree, that was pretty absurd.

And while the service is just a drink (or 6) at least they're smiling, gracious, and willing. Seems they've gotten a lot more business travel oriented in the past few years, where as before, I think they were more leisure oriented, where that kind of thing keeps the Ma and Pa Kettle's on vacation entertained. And I totally agree, the biggest draw for me, is the operations, and flexibility. I love the ability to change, or cancel at the last minute, without a penalty. That, and the Companion Pass was the primary reason for switching. True, it's not AA first class, which is admittedly better, but I love the flexibility it gives me, and I much prefer the smaller airports they tend to fly from. Dallas Love VS DFW, Houston Hobby VS Bush Intl, Midway VS O'Hare, etc. The pleasant attendants are just icing on the cake. Can't recall the last surly, disinterested or obnoxious attendant on WN.

And maybe it's just that I just fly so much, that many of the flight attendants remember me, and tend to pay a little extra attention to those on Business Select fares, and who have status. The fact that Southwest sends their top tier fliers those employee recognition coupons we can give them to turn in, for exceptional service. I'm sure that doesn't hurt. I assume they turn them in for some kind of reward or something. They really seem to dig it when we give them one. Come to think of it, that would be a good program for Amtrak to consider, just a handful of little coupons to give to those crews who do great, to reward positive experience.

I tend to see many of them repeatedly, sometimes more than once per week. That's changed a little, also lately, I think they've changed their crew scheduling or something, used to be I could almost guess who would be on the Birmingham-Dallas flight on a Wed AM. Not so much anymore, maybe it's just because they got bigger, there is a lot more staff now than when I originally switched to them, I don't know. But I still see several familiar faces, and more than a few know what my beverage of choice is, in the AM, and in the afternoons.

They've also tightened up a bit on the drinks, I almost always fly Business Select fares, which comes with that one drink coupon. Used to be they rarely even took it, and rarely charged for the others. Past year or so, they're more likely to want the coupon, and actually charge for the drinks after that. Which is fine, as long as they keep coming.

On the train, seems like the cafe attendant is glued to a table, and only begrudgingly gets up to take your order. Almost like it's an inconvenience. Sure, there are exceptions, I've also had very nice on board attendants, in the sleeper and cafe. My impression however, is that those are the exception, and most seem to display the attitude that their job would be great, if it wasn't for all the passengers. That said, there is no way I could be happy and positive for 2-3 days straight either, on 6 hours of sleep or less, so I guess there is that. Basically, just saying it would be nice to have some consistency in how things work, and what level of service we'll be getting on a train. Some do great, some seem to make things up as they go, doing whatever makes their life easier. Just my observation.
 

flitcraft

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 10, 2018
Messages
690
I think my worst passenger train experiences were in China in the mid 1980's. One in particular, where the toilets weren't working--and they were the squatties anyway, which on a swaying train tend to get disgusting fast. Nor was there any air conditioning, and it was mid summer. But you couldn't put the windows down because male passengers were peeing out the window...Good times!

I've been pretty lucky on Amtrak--though bustitution at the end of a long trip is never much fun. We got bustituted from Portland to Seattle on the CS on what turned out to be what would have been our last ever dinner in the Pacific Parlour Car--I was really looking forward to the lamb shanks. Instead, no dinner, a long wait in Portland, then arriving late to King Street Station. Yeah, first world problems...Like I said, I've been pretty lucky with Amtrak.
 

20th Century Rider

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Ranking up there with some really bad rail experiences... the CS pulls up in EUG at 6pm. I get on all ready to order the famous steak and fish cake meal with baked potato, sour cream, --- you know... the works.

So the attendant knocks on the door and asks me if I have any questions. I show him my ticket... then ask if now is a good time to order dinner. He tells me he's busy and doesn't bring meals to rooms... tells me to get it myself. So I go to the diner and noticed most roomettes were empty... no luggage, no nothing, doors open, lights on. Upon returning to go downstairs to my compartment, there he is in room 1 playing card games on his computer! 🥶 🤮 :eek:
 

20th Century Rider

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Oregon Coast
Ranking up there with some really bad rail experiences... the CS pulls up in EUG at 6pm. I get on all ready to order the famous steak and fish cake meal with baked potato, sour cream, --- you know... the works.

So the attendant knocks on the door and asks me if I have any questions. I show him my ticket... then ask if now is a good time to order dinner. He tells me he's busy and doesn't bring meals to rooms... tells me to get it myself. So I go to the diner and noticed most roomettes were empty... no luggage, no nothing, doors open, lights on. Upon returning to go downstairs to my compartment, there he is in room 1 playing card games on his computer! 🥶 🤮 :eek:
No... I didn't tip him.
 

AFS1970

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 3, 2016
Messages
67
Hearing of bustitutions, makes me think of a bad bus trip I had because a friend convinced me not to take the train. I used to visit a friend who lives in South NJ, and regularly too Amtrak from home in CT to Philly. He convinced me to take Greyhound because he didn;t want to come into the city and there was a bus station near him in Mt. Laurel, NJ.
Due to being so close to NYC (a bus hub) taking the bus from CT to Philly involves a long layover, so I opted to take MNRR into the city and cross over to Port Authority. I get there, follow the signs to Greyhound and then stop seeing signs. go back find signs again, and still manage to get lost. A custodian saw me looking for signs, asked where I was headed then brought me to a lower level in a freight elevator and pointed me to the right area. Where I found two lines marked for Mt. Laurel, busses leaving from adjoining gates. Except one was for Mt. Laurel NJ and the other for Mt. Laurel MD. I wonder how many people get on the wrong bus?
So the trip down there was uneventful, but then came the trip back. My friends car broke down, so he was going to borrow his mother's car to get me to the bus station but she had to go to work so she offered to drive me, but had to go early. So I get to the bus station a little over an hour early for the bus. Tiny crappy place, with broken vending machines. I sit in the plastic chair and wait.
About half an hour later I see people lining up for the bus, which isn't here yet. I get on line and find out that there are people on line from two busses ago and from the previous bus. Apparently Greyhound lets you take any bus to your destination regardless of your ticked time. So early arrivals have bumped ticketed passengers because they got on line first. The bus gets there, the ticket clerk comes out to board people and does the same thing. The driver is counting heads and realizes he is almost full and there are probably about 30 of us still on line. he fills up and says he has to leave.
Myrna, the ticket clerk, yells at everyone that they should have stood on line earlier. The guy behind me has now had this happen 3 times. She then tells us that due to the overcrowding, they are sending another bus out of Philly and it should be here in 20 minutes. Every few minutes someone gets up to ask the ETA on this phantom bus, she keeps saying it will be there in a few minutes. Over an hour later and it has not arrived, probably because it didn't exist. An hour and a half after my bus left, the next scheduled bus arrives and most of us made sure we were on line, we all got seats and that bus was only about 3/4 full. The driver told us they don't send extra busses line that.
I got back, e-Mailed Greyhound and got an apology and a full refund for my return trip.
As an aside, all the time we were waiting for the bus Myrna was lying about. The other ticket clerk was dealing with a bus due into Mt. Laurel that the driver got lost. However she was fielding phone calls from passengers who somehow got calls directly there. They were trying to give the driver directions or get the clerk to do so, but the driver had stopped talking to them and was behind a plexiglass barrier. I feel bad for them, but at least we had some entertainment.
 

flitcraft

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 10, 2018
Messages
690
Once upon a time--back around 1980--if a bus filled up, they immediately put another bus on the route and as soon as the remaining passengers got on, off it went! When I took a mammoth 6000 miles Greyhound bus tour on the Ameripass back then, I quickly learned that the smart thing to do when it looked like there were more passengers than seats was actually head for the back of the line, to get aboard the back-up bus. There'd be plenty of empty seats, and it was routine to get two seats to oneself--a boon on an overnighter. (Though that was how I lost my luggage in Houston, halfway through the trip--they loaded it by mistake onto Bus 1 and I got onto Bus 2! I did get it back eventually, but not till my final destination in Seattle.)
 

Seaboard92

Conductor
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Dec 31, 2014
Messages
3,879
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South Carolina
This isn't an Amtrak experience (I've been lucky I guess), but I took the SBB HSR from Zurich to Milan for a gig once.
I had a first class ticket, but due to who knows why (age, racism, dislike of foreigners), the passengers around me tried to convince me that I had bought a second class ticket instead of a first class ticket.
I had to go to the clerk and she confirmed my class. They claimed I could not read german, and used that as an excuse to get me to leave the car.
Someone tried that with my family in Germany once. Saying we didn't understand German. Then I talked to him in fluent Berlin accented German. He shut up after that. I thought it was really funny. For the record everyone in my family speaks fluent German except my dad. And I speak most of the Slavic language family as well with an emphasis on Russian.
 
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