Amtrak Crews—When They’re Good, They’re Very, Very Good!
I’ve written more than a few times about my admiration for the really good crews working Amtrak’s long-distance trains … the ones when one car attendant will stay awake into the wee hours to board a couple of passengers in one of the other sleepers so his colleague can get a little extra sleep. Or the lounge car attendant who interrupts her dinner and pitches in and clears some tables in the dining car during a particularly busy time. The good crews develop an I-got-your-back commraderie that shows itself in efficient, thorough, and genuinely friendly service.
But make no mistake: whether car attendant or server or chef, it’s a tough job. For example, an L.A. based crew working the Southwest Chief leaves Los Angeles at 6:10 in the evening and by the time the train reaches Fullerton a half hour later, the dining car has filled up and people are having dinner. Meantime, car attendants are fixing up berths or tidying up the lavatories or fetching meals from the dining car for people who choose to have dinner in their accommodations.
It doesn’t really stop during the night—passengers board along the way and a number of people always leave the train at Williams Junction, Arizona—that’s the stop for the Grand Canyon and it comes at 4:00 in the morning. Car attendants help departing passengers with their bags and in another hour the dining car crew will be up and getting organized for the breakfast meal.
There’s still another full day and another night to go and, if the Chief is on time—it often isn’t, of course—it pulls into Chicago’s Union Station at 3:15 in the afternoon. The crew heads for a hotel, hopeful of getting a good night’s sleep, and the next morning they’re back at the station getting things ready for another two-night trip back to Los Angeles.
Here’s a little insider’s glimpse into the life of an Amtrak crew member. This is a Facebook post that popped up on New Years Eve:
Just finished dinner!!! Busiest trip I’ve worked in years.. I’m too old for this .., I like my slow , mellow trips! Day 5.. Almost over.. Great crew and passengers made it a little easier!!! Everyone headed to Rose Bowl.. Lots of Iowa peps! Gonna finish paperwork and hopefully get 2 or 3 hours sleep! Night all.
I have never had the pleasure of meeting this lady, but I happen to know that she heads a dining car crew and most of the time works the Southwest Chief. She’s obviously very good at what she does, enjoys her work, and helps to make your long-distance train ride a memorable experience. Whatever Amtrak is paying her, it ain’t enough!
This issue really supports prior positions of how VIA Rail Canada On-Board services performs so consistently well, as “The Canadian” has both a Service Director for the train and a Service Manager for diner/lounge facilities (F&B Services). Consequently, on all my trips, I have never encountered a rude, slovenly, uncaring employee aboard.
The only consistency about Amtrak On-Board services are the inconsistencies from train to train, even on the same route. To address this, the new CEO will need to re-invigorate these employees and re-establish their esteem and morale.