Amtrak Onboard Service: Good, But Needs Consistency.

I’m back on the West Coast after traveling to and from my old prep school reunion in Connecticut on four Amtrak trains: the California Zephyr from Sacramento to Chicago and the Lake Shore Limited from Chicago to Springfield, Massachusetts; and again on the Lake Shore back to Chicago, connecting with the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles.

I’ve already written about the invisible car attendant on the Zephyr and the inappropriate short cuts taken by that dining car crew. The next segment was the eastbound Lakeshore Limited and my car attendant was a pleasant and helpful young man named Kevin who is just a few months into his job. The dining car crew was OK, but nothing special.

Track work is going on between Albany and Boston, so between Albany and Springfield on this trip I was put aboard Amtrak buses. OK … understood … stuff happens. But in a bus for two-and-a-half hours with a case of bottled water and some packaged snacks in a cardboard box stuck on a seat behind the driver is a poor substitute for the comfort and privacy of a roomette and access to a cafe car.

When I boarded the Lake Shore in Albany for the trip back to Chicago, I was greeted by 6-foot-6-inch Reggie, a car attendant who is friendly-but-professional, brisk in going about his business, and — trust me! — totally in charge of that sleeper. What a contrast to the invisible Ron a week earlier on the eastbound Zephyr.

Two minor issues: First, coming and going, I was in the Boston sleeper, which is separated from the dining car by two coaches, the cafe car, and six more coaches. That is a helluva long walk, especially when the Lake Shore is passing over a stretch of rough track! Second, the A/C was not working in the  sleeper and it was uncomfortably warm. I slept in my gym shorts on top of the covers.

The Chicago-L.A. segment on board the Chief was fine. My car attendant, Simon, has been with Amtrak for 26 years and does a great job … quietly and without fanfare. For instance, when I left for breakfast in the morning, I closed the door of my roomette, but left the curtain open. When I came back, the bed had been put up and the room restored to its daytime configuration. On one of my trips to the lavatory, I noticed there were no paper cups in the dispenser. An hour later, it had been refilled. Upon returning to my roomette from lunch, I found that an empty bottle of water had been replaced with a new, full one. And, of course, Simon passed my personal acid test: 15 minutes before we arrived in Los Angeles, he stopped by my roomette and asked if I would like help taking my luggage down to the lower level.

So … some inconsistency and a couple of obvious slackers who need to be jacked up, but mostly good. Quite good.