Amtrak Needs to Fine-Tune Its Messages.
I’m going to the annual Fall meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers in Indianapolis next month. To get there, I’m flying from here to the Bay Area and taking Amtrak’s Coast Starlight to Seattle where I’ll connect with the Empire Builder to Chicago. I’ll overnight there, then take the Cardinal the next day to Indianapolis.
As you can see, I’m playing it safe by spending the night in Oakland, Seattle and Chicago and my hotel reservations have all been made and are in hand.
Then, two days ago, I received a phone call from Amtrak. The recorded message said they had important information for me about Train 14 (that’s the northbound Coast Starlight). The automated voice—it wasn’t Julie, by the way—gave me a phone number for someone who would help me with “alternate transportation”.
What?? My blood ran cold. If there is a more dreaded phrase in Amtrak’s lexicon, I can’t imagine what it would be, because “alternate transportation” is Am-speak for “a bus”. Of course I immediately had visions of another mud slide somewhere in the Cascade Range necessitating a very long bus ride.
More than a bit anxious, I called the number and spoke to an Amtrak rep who gave me the “important information”, to wit: Train Number 14 would be arriving in Seattle’s King Street Station on October 10 at 8:12 p.m. instead of 8:37.
That’s it? You mean Amtrak caused a spike in my blood pressure just to tell me I would be arriving in Seattle 25 minutes early? What happened to the “alternate transportation”?
Of course I want to know well ahead of time if there’s a real problem of some kind, but if it’s only a minor schedule change, just give me a phone number to call and don’t scare the hell out of me. When I hear “alternate transportation”, I’m thinking long bus ride … no Coast Starlight … no Pacific Parlour Car … and no Bloody Mary served up somewhere around the time we get to Klamath Falls. That’s too awful to contemplate without a Bloody Mary!