“They Think We’re Stupid.”

NOTE: In addition to my indispensable notebooks, for many years I also took a scanner on my rail ventures. The scanner searches for and finds the radio frequencies used by the operating crews (conductors and engineers) when they talk back-and-forth to themselves and to the host railroad dispatchers.

The following notes were taken several years ago as Amtrak’s Train #1, the Sunset Limited, departed New Orleans on its 2000-mile journey to Los Angeles.

Train #1 departs New Orleans on time at 9:00 a.m. Less than two minutes later, someone in the dining car calls the conductor:  “They forgot to water the diner!” 

(Without water, pots, pans, silverware cannot be washed; therefore the diner cannot serve meals.)

Conductor calls engineer. Train stops. Conductor steps off train and checks dining car … reports water tank valves show “empty”. Conductor radios supervisor back at New Orleans. Requests permission to back into station (about 1.5 miles) so dining car tanks can be filled.

Permission denied. 

Conductor: “They said to proceed  . . . they said the valves will open automatically when brakes are applied.” 

Engineer: (incredulous) “What??”

Conductor: “I hate it when they think we’re stupid.”

Train begins moving forward. Crosses Mississippi River on 280-foot high Huey Long Bridge and heads west.

P.A. announcement from the dining car: “Due to technical difficulties, lunch today for sleeping car passengers will be catered to your sleeping car accommodations.”  Several on board crew members expressing mock surprise that dining car valves failed to open automatically.

1:10 p.m. Car attendant brings me a bottle of Pepsi.

1:20 p.m. Car attendant announces arrival of lunch. Choice of turkey, ham or tuna sandwiches. I chose turkey. Printed on lid of cardboard box containing each sandwich: “PLEASE EAT RESPONSIBLY.”

(Conversation among several sleeping car passengers follows for the next few minutes and includes speculation as to who might have originated the “responsible eating” message and what possible objective was being hoped for.)

Mid-afternoon P. A. announcement: The dinner meal will be put aboard the train in Houston. 

Late departure from Houston: caterer was not here on time. (Car attendant: “I guess nine hours wasn’t enough advance notice.”) Still unable to water dining car here because “no hoses on platform” in Houston.

Morning: Breakfast as usual. Dining car was watered somewhere during the night.

Remainder of trip uneventful.


  1. I was on the Sunset to NOLA when the AC in the diner went out. Very soon the kitchen could not be used. A supervisor was on board. He was able to radio ahead to Houston and they were able to [arrange for] catered meals, but they were not much. It was nice to see someone with authority able to take some action. I have never had luck with the Sunset—usually very late and seems to break down.

    1. Stuff happens with the long-distance trains and Amtrak crews always seem to make the best of the situation. It was distressing to see that the conductor evidently believed that the management team thought the on-board crew members were stupid. In my experience, the opposite is true.

  2. Incredible story! I guess it’s a minor miracle the Amtrak meal service works as well as it does.

    1. Agree . . . I found the conductor’s statement (that the management people think the onboard people are stupid) very discouraging.

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