Chicago to Washington on Train 30
Chicago was cold again Friday morning: 39 degrees made worse by a gusty wind swooshing in between the buildings and cutting right through my feeble attempt to dress for the cold.
The second leg of my rail journey began when I checked in at the Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago’s Union Station. The Capitol Limited departs at 6:40 p.m.–right at dinnertime–which is why the lady behind the counter asked what my preferred time for dinner would be. It may not always be perfect, but Amtrak undeniably has a system.
The problem–if it really is a problem–is inconsistency. I’m sure Amtrak has a prescribed way to do things, but after the car attendants and dining car staffs have been at it for a while, I’m also sure they tend to find different if not better ways to do their jobs.
For example, the car attendant on the Capitol Limited today was very good–friendly, attentive, helpful. But when we were about an hour out of Washington, over the car’s PA system he asked that we all remove our pillows from the pillow cases so he could collect them. I don’t know for sure, but I’ll bet a cold beer that Amtrak’s official manual says linens should be collected after the train has arrived and passengers have left for their homes or hotels.
Another of the inconsistencies is whether or not the car attendant helps getting your luggage down the stairs of the bi-level Superliner sleeping car when you get to your destination. I’d guess that less than half of them do and, here again, I’ll bet “the book” says they should at least make the offer. Our attendant today did so.
Theoretically, conductors are responsible for everything that takes place on the train. But it’s simply not realistic to expect a conductor to do anything about a car attendant or a server in the inning car who is cutting corners and giving poor service. Once upon a time, that function was per formed by a chief of on-board services, but those days are long gone,.
The reality is that Amtrak’s on board personnel are essentially unsupervised and, frankly, it’s a testimony to them and their dedication that they perform so well under what can often be difficult circumstances.
I was an LSA based out of NY for over 30 yrs. I worked mostly NEC & short distance trains, some overnight. The OBS chief program was hot & heavy in the 80’s to early 90’s, we had travelling, pop on & off chiefs on the corridor & assigned chiefs to the long hauls. When that ended, I think consistency disappeared as everyone had a better idea of how to get the job done, myself included. If you followed Amtraks hundreds of pages service rule books, nothing would get done in a timely manner. Most of us knew we had a job to do, at the same time giving passengers their deserved service & respect, while trying to make, an often very tough job a little easier on us.