Tough times for the front line

Posted by Justin Franz
on Friday, February 09, 2018

Amtrak conductor on the Empire Builder. Photo by Justin Franz.
The last few weeks have been hard for the nation’s passenger railroad. Since mid-December, Amtrak has made headlines for all the wrong reasons, most notably for two fatal derailments that have put its safety record in question. Some have gone as far as calling it a “crisis.” I don’t know if I’d go that far; one only has to look back to the mid-1990s for another rash of fatal incidents, including the September 1993 crash of the Sunset Limited that killed 47 people, the deadliest in the railroad’s history.

What has happened in recent weeks certainly raises concerns and Amtrak executives should be open about what they will do to ensure every train arrives at its destination safely. One group that is undoubtedly doing its best to ensure the safe arrival of every train is the legion of thousands of Amtrak front-line employees scattered across the country. Day in and day out, against many odds, these dedicated railroaders tirelessly work to safely move thousands of passengers. A year ago, I had to opportunity to witness this first hand. I had a ticket aboard an hours-late Empire Builder that was delayed due to factors beyond Amtrak’s control. Through it all, every employee I interacted with was professional, courteous and kind, even in the face of frustrated passengers.

The delays that plague some Amtrak trains are rarely the fault of the on-board employees, but they try their best to make sure every passenger enjoys their ride, however late it is. The employees I’ve talked to — both as a passenger and as a journalist — are proud of the company they work for and the service they provide. For that, they deserve some thanks during these tough times. It’s not their fault there has been delays in the installation of positive train control. It’s not their fault that old equipment is starting to show its age.

Next time you see an Amtrak employee, thank them.

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