CHICAGO, CALIFORNIA -- I take the California Zephyr two to three times a year from Sacramento, CA to Elko, NV to visit family. I've been doing this for the past ten years. On my most recent trip, leaving Sacramento on 1/19/2016, I found the service beyond friendly, to my surprise. From the car attendant to the dining car personnel.
When we arrived at my destination, Elko, NV, in which we were twenty minutes early the conductor called me a cab because he had the number on speed dial. He also gave directions to the station over the phone to a parent of young teenager that was waiting for her ride. On my return trip 1/25/2016 to Sacramento the personnel were just as congenial. I know that AMTRAK gets its share of complaints but here is something positive from a regular rider that has seen a change in attitude.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS -- Last summer my wife and I rode the Amtrak "California Zephyr" from Chicago to Glenwood Springs, CO. We purchased round trip tickets for a Sleeping Car Bedroom at 1-800-USA-RAIL using a credit card. We had no problems buying the space and our boarding passes were waiting for us at Chicago Union Station. We asked for a room on the 2nd floor in one of 3 Sleeping Cars on the CZ, and that's exactly what we got. Meals in the formal Dining Car were included and the food was great.
We arrived at Glenwood Springs a bit late, we had already ordered lunch. We were shocked when, after we got off the train, our waitress ran out of the Dining Car with our hot lunches and cold drinks, forks, knives, etc., etc. We ate at a picnic table under a big tree at the beautifully restored depot. Our rental car arrived at the Depot and we had a great 4 days in the beautiful town, nestled in the mountains by a creek dotted with rafts and canoes.
Our return trip came all too soon, but the ride back was great, not a hassle, but a fun part of our vacation. The crew in our Sleeping Car and Dining Car were all friendly and helpful! We arrived back in Chicago "on time" (well 8 or 10 minutes early to be exact). We're planning a trip to L.A. this winter, on the Southwest Chief, in another sleeper. Hopefully we'll see some snow...even if it delays us a bit.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS -- Just a friendly reminder that no one should ever use Amtrak again. Their website will purchase authorize a ton of money out of your account, leaving you with holds on funds over $1000 for a $269.50 ticket since they attempt a purchase authorization each time you hit submit, and if your bank approves it, that does not mean Amtrak will approve it because if your billing info isn't the first set of billing info your bank returns (many accounts have primary, secondary and tertiary billing info, payment processors are expected to check all returned XML data, which Amtrak does not.)
Then they will refuse to help you in any way for hours on the phone, and claim that contacting your bank to help resolve the issue is "illegal" and attempt to blame the issue on you. As a web developer who interacts with payment gateways and payment processors and ACH processors, I know exactly what their website did, why it is wrong, and why it is their fault. The corporate bureaucracy involved with getting on the phone with a person that can help you is as follows:
Call. Press 0. Press 0. Ask to speak with a manager. Denied. Ask to speak with a customer rep, transfer + hold for 45 minutes, 4 hours on the phone explaining the situation (Monday), told it will be resolved by Friday, given exact instructions (step by step) for what to do when you call on Friday. Call Friday and follow steps and be told that everything you were told Monday you were not told.
Once again told it is illegal for a merchant to contact a bank to tell the bank that the transaction will not be processed (yeah, totally illegal guys, no merchant has ever contact a bank, ever, because of how illegal that is, right? Wrong, but hey, uninformed people probably buy that line all the time).
Finally have the person admit they were wrong and that it is just an internal policy, have them tell you they can offer you a travel voucher for your outgoing trip, but only after your bank denies the transaction one last time, bank denies the transaction and they say "it's your zip code, you aren't giving me the zip code correctly" and of course, I am SITTING AT THE BANK WITH THE BANK MANAGER WHO IS SAYING THAT IT IS THE ZIP CODE ON MY ACCOUNT.
Offer to put the bank manager on the phone, representative declines and once again says that the issue is with me, that no way could it be an issue with their system. Once again, while I am sitting at my bank, verifying the information as I speak it. Tell them once again you are not looking for anything FREE you are just not able to make the purchase, because they have already purchase authorized so much money out of your account.
Told once again it will be 3-5 business days and the transaction will fall off (it should have fallen off right away when they pinged the payment Gateway saying they were not going to pursue the transaction that was pre-authorized with the purchase authorization, but that is something the Amtrak programmer omitted). Explain to them that a mom and pop hair salon in rural Vermont has a better system that was designed for less than the purchase authorization holds and once again mention I do this for a living so STOP LYING TO ME PLEASE.
Told that a travel voucher for your outgoing trip will be made and that you can just hope and pray that the money is back in your account by Monday, because you are expected to show up at the train station with cash to pay for your ticket. Accept this, but tell them you want proof in an e-mail that this is indeed the case, that you have been ** around all week and do not trust that it is "in the system." They tell you they will send an email right away. Boom. E-mail sent. Call ended. Check e-mail, nothing about a voucher, just a bill.
Call back, ask the woman on the phone to confirm that it is paid. Woman says "it's in the system," ask for an e-mail with proof because you were told "it's in the system" on Monday, but when you called back Friday it was not. Mention that no less than 5 minutes ago, you were told by the customer relations person that they would send an email which would mention the "travel voucher."
Start to get attitude from the woman, ask her employee id number, refused. Ask her name, mumbled, ask her to repeat it and spell it, mumbled and subject change to transferring to customer relations. Ask to somehow not have to sit on another 45 min hold, or if there is ANY way to get some written proof that what is "in the system" is going to still be "in the system" the next day. Refused. Hung up on.
NYC, NEW YORK -- Amtrak used to be a great option for getting round trip from upstate to NYC. It is now easier to drive car and park at any of the Metro parking lots that have express into city. Way cheaper option if you consider new pricing schemes for new reservation policies and constant increases in fares. With their new reserved seats policy the ability to have meetings run late or planes not leave on time meant one could just jump on next train to get back. It is cheaper and more convenient to drive to LIRR station or into to NYC now and have to deal with old, rattling, dirty, coaches with the most unhappy reps ever.
They now think themselves airlines which includes bad customer service, pretend penalty fees, and constant policy reminders. Trains are meant to be flexible, as they are in every other country I have traveled, which allows you to overlook the problems. Amtrak we have options, $160+ flexible round trip tickets to Albany! Today my international flight was delayed and Amtrak charged $82 to book the next half empty train going north. Why would anyone prepay for train ticket? Just buy lowest fare before you leave.
PENN NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK -- They continue to change contract (verbal and written) and policies after already holding my funds. When they initially obtained my funds, the policy as I'd known it until that point was: If I didn't travel I was not charged or was automatically issued a refund. Then when new policies were written no staff was sure when they went into effect, if they were in effect or if there was a grace period (I asked during travel when I overheard them talking about policy change on the train).
Furthermore the Refund and Research department takes 15 min to an hour to get through to in order to be issued a credit voucher and they are very rude (I was hung up on for asking if she had located any of the reservations and criticized for being what she called and assumed was 'white' even though I was rightfully owed a refund and I had been extremely patient with them. This woman said her name was ** and after attempting to call back multiple times I kept reaching her and eventually needed to get help through customer relations because she would either hang up or not answer).
Nobody should have to go through this to get credit or a refund for a service they did not receive. I'm a single parent and full time student with my own business, I can't put time aside to deal with these shenanigans especially when the hoops keep changing direction. They also admit to the misinformation due to constant changes in policy. I was issued a voucher not the refund I was told I would receive for only some of my funds, itinerary ** and **, at the time I was issued these vouchers (** and **).
I was not told that I had to use them w/in a year and also only within the last two months did it come into effect that I had to apply at least a portion of them to travel booked w/in a year to extend the credit for another year. The other reservations could not be found apparently (** for $36) They make it very difficult to seek retribution to say the least. Not to mention that I missed one of the trains because a concierge at the State Fair told me my train was delayed because there was a fire on the track but he assumed I was on a different train even though I never asked for his help and told him I was on a NYC bound train after he asked multiple times.
Either way, I went to use the bathroom since there was apparently a 1hr delay and walk my dad and son to his car only to find out, when I returned, that my train was not delayed, I had been misinformed and now had to figure out how to get to Greyhound because there were no more trains out that day. That Amtrak employee ended up taking me to Greyhound after the train he thought I was on (heading upstate) had departed. I paid for my bus ticket out of pocket.
That reservation (**) was "hotlisted" and another very rude employee with R and R said she did not even know why or what that meant but that that was why who ever I spoke to that did issue me the refunds last year in customer relations (she was very nice) because R and R would not help, could not find the reservation. She did not know why I was never given credit for ** but said that there was no one else that could help me, that she was at the highest level there. Both of them are the only people I can reach when I do get through to R and R. I am only owed a total of $131 but I would also like my Greyhound ticket refunded which was $96.
A long planned trip to Disney World with the grandkids was scheduled for the week following Thanksgiving. When I was making the travel arrangements, I was dreading the airport hassles, with visions of my 5 year old grandson being strip searched. (I think we all saw that video). Then I remembered the Auto Train. We did this trip a few times when our own kids were small, and liked it then. It's even better now. The train departs from Lorton VA, so we drove down from Boston the day before, and spent the time on a quick DC tour. You board the train at 3 pm, and at the same time your car is loaded onto a car carrier.
The train pulls out at 4, and at 5 they have the first seating for dinner in the dining car. On the outbound trip I had chicken marsala, wine and cheesecake. Returning it was braised beef, more wine and a decadent brownie a la mode. In general, the conductor and support staff are very cordial and friendly, and took time out to socialize with the kids. In the evening they run a movie in the lounge car, and put out cookies and snacks. After that, I was ready to recline my seat and close the shades. There are sleeper cars available, but I find the regular seats just fine. I didn't even need the bar car ahead of time to ensure a good sleep.
In the morning there is a Continental breakfast in the dining car. At 9 am the train rolls into Sanford FL, where they unload your car and you have a quick hop to WDW. Perhaps the best thing is because you have your own car, you can pack whatever you want. No luggage to haul around, you just take what you need onto the train with you. (i.e. Your toothbrush) Since you never know what to expect at this time of year, we packed both summer and cool weather clothing. The kids got a huge kick out of riding and sleeping on a train, and the cost (for 5 of us) was slightly less that airfare would have been. It was a win-win. I think I am going to consider taking a train next time I vacation, it was a very pleasant alternative. I'd love to see them give the airlines a run for their money.
I paid for a trip for my parents to come visit me in California. Although, the actual trip was good, it was not the trip that they had problems with. When I went to the LA Station to see them off, I immediately went to the Concierge to find out about getting my parents wheel chairs and they said they did not have any but for them to sit in the assisted waiting area. We were the first ones there, we sat down and waited. As we waited I had spoken to several Red Caps trying to find out when their train was going to be there considering it was so loud we could barely hear the announcer.
Everyone that I spoke to said not to worry we will come get your parents when it is time for them to board. Every time I saw them come over on the Tram I stopped them and asked them if it were time for them to board. Every time I asked they replied not yet but we will come and get them when it was time. When the time finally came no one came to get them I just kept asking until the redcap told me it was their train. Everyone started loading on the trams people that were not ever in assisted waiting were loading on. These trams were for people whom could not walk all the way down on their own.
I watched many people get on that were not even waiting they just walked up and got on. When I finally started walking up to the tram to help my parents get on they shooed us back in a line. At that point I was really upset. My parents' carry-on luggage was in the line where they were standing my mom stepped back away from her briefcase and one of the assisted helpers bent over picked up the bag and tossed it approx 5 ft to the tram. It had a (brand new laptop in it that I gave them for Christmas in it) I placed a claim against the gentleman that threw it on the tram and that was 01/04/09 it is now 06/26/09 and I am still battling with the Customer Relations.
(**) she has been adamant about me sending my original claim and repair estimate to her. The original was sent to the LA Station as I was instructed. I keep telling her I do not have the original. Then they told they needed me to have the laptop repaired and send them the receipt.
Once again I did this and yet they are still telling the documents are not sufficient for the claim. I can't believe that I am having so much trouble over $350.00 dollars. That was the total amount to have the laptop repaired. Not only that they are trying to tell me that it was our fault because this should have not been carry on. I'm curious why they advertise they have internet connection if you can't bring your laptop on the train. Please give me any suggestions of whom I can contact at Amtrak. **.
19 June 2007. I am currently a graduate student at U.C. Berkeley and regularly use your Capitol Corridor service from Davis to Richmond. I generally depart on the 6:35 a.m. Train and return on the 5:57 p.m. Or 7:17 p.m. Trains. The trains have always been clean and comfortable.
While I am aware that my commuting circumstances are extreme in terms of time and distance, I am appalled by the lack of punctuality of your train service. After 12 months of monthly $282.00 passes, I have found it a very rare circumstance for trains to arrive or depart at their scheduled times, especially in the evening. And, even after the train is en route, substantial delays are likely. In my opinion, this is dishonest business practice and an important safety issue.
I understand that the track is shared and hence prone to some delay but little attempt is made to keep trains on schedule. In fact, the only thing that is timely on the Capitol Corridor is the collection of tickets and the obnoxious advertisements from the car. No earnest attempt is made to compensate customers for the significant delays (my combined delay today was 1:45 minutes, and no, vouchers for the car won't do) nor are there any announced plans to improve the service.
Among the goals of Amtrak should be to make public transportation a viable option for commuters in an effort to reduce the environmental and social impacts of daily driving yet, how can one choose a service that has such a poor reputation for reliability? Even with my very flexible work schedule, the Capitol Corridor has become an untenable option. It is easy to criticize without making suggestions, so here are three that I was able to think of during my wait on the 6:35 train this morning (1:15 delay) and at Richmond Station this evening (:30 delay).
1) Airlines make publicly available their on-time statistics. You should make these available monthly and annually to riders so they can make an informed purchase. I seriously doubt this will improve your ridership, but it will at least be honest.
2) Safety should be a primary goal, and in urban areas with high crime rates (Richmond, for example) punctuality is a safety issue and not a courtesy. If the train is going to be significantly delayed, security should be provided. During one of my more memorable delays, several passengers were left in Richmond at night for more than 2 hours while we were harassed by beggars and potential criminals. One individual told me to "be cool and not get shot."
3) Compensate passengers for their time. This could work on a sliding scale where refunds are provided depending on the duration of the delay, and after a specified amount of time the ride should be free. For monthly passes, a reduction in the following month's fare should be provided.
My most memorable delay occurred a few years ago when after a 5 hour delay well past midnight, the train blew through Davis station without stopping. When I finally reached the conductor, he was busy tucking his shirt in as if waking from a nap. Customers then had to wait more than 30 minutes for cab rides back to Davis. When I complained about the service at Davis station, I was offered a $5 voucher for the car, as if a cold soda and a bag of chips would make everything better.
I presume that this is not the first letter to cross your desk regarding the tardiness issue, and it certainly will not be the last. I feel it is my duty, however, to try to make suggestions and raise awareness to ease the life of several of my fellow commuters whom I see stressed by this issue daily. You should consider that every minute of delay caused by the poor train service is time that these individuals could be spending at home with their families. You should, at the very least, make a concerted effort to help them get home safely and on time.
14 November 2007. I have attached a copy of my previous letter for your review as I have not yet received a response. After 5 months of commuting via alternative methods, today I decided to give your train service another try in the hopes that it had improved. The morning commute (6:35a) went well, and your train was only a few minutes late. The evening train (5:57) surprised me as it left perfectly on time! In fact, I was a few minutes late and had to watch the train roll off back towards Davis and wait until 7:17.
In my previous letter, I mentioned that I felt that Richmond station was unsafe, and I have to report that it has not improved. Some improvements to the BART area have been made, however, and I hope to see this trend continue. As I was awaiting the 7:17 pm train, a Bakersfield bound train made a brief stop.
In the past, I have used this train in order to get to Martinez station as a waypoint in order to use its indoor space to get ahead on work. This has never been a problem with your staff in the past, and indeed when I asked if I could use the train to get to Martinez on my route home, the ticket checker gave me his approval. However, he then punched my 10-ride ticket and informed me that another punch would be deducted once en route to Davis. When I responded in disbelief, the checker told me that I was wrong and this is the normal procedure. He then told me that other trains had been giving me "free rides" and that I was a non-paying rider.
To be clear, I have always paid for your services, usually with a monthly ride pass or a 10-ride ticket. He then demanded an alternative form of payment for the ride to Martinez. When I responded "no," the disagreement escalated to an argument and I then asked to see the boss or conductor. I must honestly confess that I was frustrated and angry at this point and was not as cordial as I should have been. The ticket checker then told me that I would not see the boss, and I would just have to accept the situation. At this point I decided to let the argument go, and, if necessary, contact customer service.
But... The ticket checker soon returned and proceeded to tell me that he had talked to his conductor and the situation was decided; I was clearly wrong, and never had a chance to win the argument anyway. Essentially, he wanted to let me know that I had lost, and he had won. I told him fine, and that I would handle the problem through normal service channels. I thought that the situation was surely resolved.
But… Instead of letting it go, he continued to argue telling me repeatedly that I was "in the wrong, didn't understand," and he needed to point that out for me. He continued to make snide remarks, spelling out his name for my "little letter" (I was working on my laptop at the time, but not on this letter) and made several disrespectful smirks until finally walking away. His parting comment was "it's tough to get a little dose of reality, isn't it?"
Even if the standard practice is to punch the fare card twice in these situations, I hope that you will agree that I should have never been treated so disrespectfully. I was accused of being a freeloader and then harassed by a person who just needed to feel good about winning a petty argument with a paying customer. He intentionally sought to escalate the argument to achieve some sense of personal satisfaction. I am amazed by this person's attitude towards me, and shocked by his confrontational demeanor.
I wonder if he feels that the argument was worth $10.80? He says that "it's tough to get a little dose of reality," well, how about never getting the business of an honest, reliable customer again? And, as you can probably tell from my letter, I will not remain quiet about my experiences on Amtrak. Most importantly, I am disappointed that Amtrak still cannot fulfill my needs as a Bay Area commuter. I will be returning my 10- ride pass for a refund this evening.