Trip Report: The Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle

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Trip Report: The Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle
Posted by Memma on Friday, July 24, 2020 6:51 PM

Hi All

I know we're all missing train travel at the moment so I thought I'd share a trip report on the Coast Starlight I wrote for TrainReview. 

I'm still not sure if my favourite train in the US is the Starlight or the Zephyr - it's a hard choice!

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Posted by daveklepper on Thursday, July 30, 2020 9:00 AM

Thanks!

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Posted by JPS1 on Thursday, July 30, 2020 8:12 PM

Here are some of the realities of Amtrak's long-distance trains:

“Use of the lounge car became difficult early in the journey as the onboard staff struggled keep up with passengers literally camping in it to avoid their seats
 
As it turns out most of the lounge car squatters would remain overnight and for the entire journey – a bugbear of many sleeping car passengers, some of whom paid almost $1000 to experience the train.
 
My salad was barely passable and clearly one bagged a long time ago. Desert, a “low calorie pudding option” better resembled the silicon I’d use to caulk a bathroom than food.
 
With the Bay Area behind us and a few glimpses of what I think is the Golden Gate Bridge out the window, it’s time for our lounge car drink date. Unfortunately the lounge is still full, now of people sleeping with blankets on the bench seating and in the reclining chairs.” 

I have ridden the Starlight between LAX and SFO twice. It is a good ride, but some of the passengers as per above make Greyhound's passengers look upper class.  Raised the issue with the conductors?  They just shrugged!  

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, July 31, 2020 8:40 PM

JPS1
Here are some of the realities of Amtrak's long-distance trains:
“Use of the lounge car became difficult early in the journey as the onboard staff struggled keep up with passengers literally camping in it to avoid their seats
 
As it turns out most of the lounge car squatters would remain overnight and for the entire journey – a bugbear of many sleeping car passengers, some of whom paid almost $1000 to experience the train.
 
My salad was barely passable and clearly one bagged a long time ago. Desert, a “low calorie pudding option” better resembled the silicon I’d use to caulk a bathroom than food.
 
With the Bay Area behind us and a few glimpses of what I think is the Golden Gate Bridge out the window, it’s time for our lounge car drink date. Unfortunately the lounge is still full, now of people sleeping with blankets on the bench seating and in the reclining chairs.” 

I have ridden the Starlight between LAX and SFO twice. It is a good ride, but some of the passengers as per above make Greyhound's passengers look upper class.  Raised the issue with the conductors?  They just shrugged!  

Seems that from your description - Amtrak no longer understands what the word SERVICE means and their employees have not been vetted, trained or supervised in what it take to provide a acceptable level of service to the customers.

Amtrak is not alone in this failing - it afflicts nearly all undertakings in today's 'Self Service' world.

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Posted by JPS1 on Friday, July 31, 2020 8:51 PM

BaltACD
 PS1 Here are some of the realities of Amtrak's long-distance trains: 

“Use of the lounge car became difficult early in the journey as the onboard staff struggled keep up with passengers literally camping in it to avoid their seats

As it turns out most of the lounge car squatters would remain overnight and for the entire journey – a bugbear of many sleeping car passengers, some of whom paid almost $1000 to experience the train.

My salad was barely passable and clearly one bagged a long time ago. Desert, a “low calorie pudding option” better resembled the silicon I’d use to caulk a bathroom than food. 

With the Bay Area behind us and a few glimpses of what I think is the Golden Gate Bridge out the window, it’s time for our lounge car drink date. Unfortunately the lounge is still full, now of people sleeping with blankets on the bench seating and in the reclining chairs.”  

I have ridden the Starlight between LAX and SFO twice. It is a good ride, but some of the passengers as per above make Greyhound's passengers look upper class.  Raised the issue with the conductors?  They just shrugged!  

Seems that from your description - Amtrak no longer understands what the word SERVICE means and their employees have not been vetted, trained or supervised in what it take to provide a acceptable level of service to the customers.

Amtrak is not alone in this failing - it afflicts nearly all undertakings in today's 'Self Service' world. 

Most of the observations were taken from the author's article.  I have had similar experiences.  The observation that the Amtrak crews were unwilling or unable to deal with the situation is mine.  

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Posted by daveklepper on Saturday, August 1, 2020 4:55 PM

but you excerpted only the negative comments, which by count were a minority.

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Posted by JPS1 on Sunday, August 2, 2020 8:29 AM

daveklepper
 but you excerpted only the negative comments, which by count were a minority. 

True!  But it is these negatives that turn away many would be Amtrak riders.  But it is not just Amtrak.  Inconsiderate behavior turns away many would be transit riders and not a small number of potential airline passengers. 

Many of the positive comments seem to related to what one sees from the train or LAX Union Station or the onboard accommodations, i.e. recently refurbished roomette, comfortable coach seats, etc.  How the author determined the coach seats are comfortable is a mystery since he was in an economy room.
 
The trains departed on time.  I suppose this could be counted as a positive comment, although on-time departure as a positive should be a given.  
 
And it is nice that “Joe” could be a stand-up comic, but that is hardly a substitute for mediocre meals.  Well, the pancakes were the best food on the trip.  Pancakes!
 
Sometimes you can meet some nice people across the table in the dining car.  And sometimes you can meet some of the stupidest people imaginable.  I have had both experiences.   
 
I agree.  One can see some great scenery through a train window, although whether it needs to be a long-distance train is problematic.  I have also ridden on trains that pass through some of the country’s worst slums.  Moreover, at night, it is nearly impossible to see anything.  
 

The best way to see the country’s scenic highlights is by car.  You can stop for as long as you like, soak up the scenery, and then move on. 

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Posted by zugmann on Sunday, August 2, 2020 8:41 AM

JPS1
Most of the observations were taken from the author's article.  I have had similar experiences.  The observation that the Amtrak crews were unwilling or unable to deal with the situation is mine.  

Can a conductor force someone out of a lounge car?  Is there a policy?  In this day and age, I woudln't fault the conductor for shrugging if there wasn't a clear and written policy to cite. 

 The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Sunday, August 2, 2020 8:43 AM

Very true!  If negative remarks are even more than a small number,  it is indicative of a problem.  Due to the principle concerning  cognitive dissonance, most people are reluctant to alter a positive attitude,  even after an opposing,  negative encounter.

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Posted by JPS1 on Sunday, August 2, 2020 9:15 AM

zugmann
 JPS1 Most of the observations were taken from the author's article.  I have had similar experiences.  The observation that the Amtrak crews were unwilling or unable to deal with the situation is mine.   

Can a conductor force someone out of a lounge car?  Is there a policy?  In this day and age, I woudln't fault the conductor for shrugging if there wasn't a clear and written policy to cite. 

I recall reading somewhere that passengers should not occupy more than one seat.  
 
My experience with long-distance trains for the last ten years has been the Texas Eagle in Texas.  When the train is full, which happens occasionally during the summer months and over the holidays, the conductors will remind people not to sprawl over more than one seat and not to place a bag on the seat next to them, which many people do to seemingly dissuade other passengers from sitting next to them.   
 
Over the past ten years I have ridden the Eagle from San Antonio or Austin to Dallas and back an average of six to eight times a year.  I have gotten to know two of the San Antonio based conductors reasonably well.  This is what they have hinted at to me.
 
They are reluctant to tell people to sit up because of potential confrontation fallout, i.e. bias charges, violence, etc.  Moreover, as one of the conductors told me, everyone seems to have a smart phone with a camera, and no matter how well I might handle the situation, it can go viral and be misinterpreted. 
 
Most of the people that I have met on Amtrak are pretty nice, although I mostly book an economy room, which attracts a higher grade of passenger.  But there are some ignorant people on Amtrak’s long-distance trains, and I believe many of the conductors are afraid of them. 
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Posted by zugmann on Sunday, August 2, 2020 9:47 AM

In this day and age - I'm surprised the conductors aren't equipped with body cams. 

Ok, so a passenger isn't supposed to take more than one seat - but nothing is stopping a passenger from taking one seat the entire trip?

 The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, August 2, 2020 3:14 PM

zugmann
OK, so a passenger isn't supposed to take more than one seat - but nothing is stopping a passenger from taking one seat the entire trip?

I'm a little uncomfortably familiar with the temptation here.  On the excursions run when George Pins had PRR car 120, the 'rule' for the observation platform was, on the honor system, to stay out a few minutes and then 'let someone else get a turn'.  Problem was that any time I got out there I stayed for the duration.   Admittedly no one ever nudged me to comply... but the self-discipline was not quite there (compared with the view at 80mph with Raymond Loewy next to you)...

What's happening here  is that 'entitled' people occupy the lounge as if by right, and depend on staff wimpiness to stay... with the most insistent or bullying being the ones that keep the grease.  One suspects there are fair ways to allocate time -- one obvious one being to revive something like a colored seat-check system doing the same thing that periodic tire scrawling on cars at parking meters does.  Take a ticket to be in the lounge car.  Show that ticket to staff when requested, like on light rail.  Photos as with bank transactions catch 'double-dippers' ... use any methods in use for the 'crime' of meter-feeding, supposedly enforced for the same reason of 'give others a chance'  Certainly Amtrak has no apparent lack of crew willing to shove any halfway-reluctant miscreant off a given train without warning for trumped-up reasons: well, here's an objectively provable one.  (The excuse that 'somebody stole my check' won't wash: leave and come back later is always an option if they have a nominal seat reserved for their 'transportation')

Of course a problem is the apparently-chronic assumption of lounge space by the crew -- which in my opinion shouldn't be tolerated at any time.  Wasn't that a rationale for the moron order of all those bag-dorms?  Not easy to run the entitled out when they say they paid for what crew squat in for free...

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Posted by zugmann on Sunday, August 2, 2020 7:00 PM

So short, on-topic, answer - there is no policy. 

 The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by SD70Dude on Sunday, August 2, 2020 7:16 PM

Dare I say the onboard crews could use some better training, vetting and supervision...?

Greetings from Alberta

-an Articulate Malcontent

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, August 3, 2020 8:27 AM

The best way to see scenery is by car?

Not if you are the driver and don't have completely infinite time to stop and stoke up the scenery without doing your transportation job as driver concerned first with safety.

Brealfast while looking at the Hudson returning to New York.  Part of the night in a vistadome or even a forward-placed sightseeer lounge watching the green-to-red dance, ah but Rocky Mountain Trout almost anywhere between Denver and Salt Lale City?

Drive a car?  Foo. 

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, August 3, 2020 8:39 AM

zugmann
So short, on-topic, answer - there is no policy. 

I suspect the slightly longer on-topic answer is 'it depends on the spine or nastiness of the individual crew, backed up only so far as they discipline the relatively 'unprivileged' in ways that keep them out of higher-up second-guessing and throwing under the bus for convenience.  Official training of course being 'never put yourself in any dangerous situation for which we might ultimately have to pay liability'.

In other words, probably the exact situation you as a railroader would be in if required to roust a trespasser camped out in a crew office or accommodation... sucks, doesn't it?

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Posted by zugmann on Monday, August 3, 2020 8:49 AM

Overmod
In other words, probably the exact situation you as a railroader would be in if required to roust a trespasser camped out in a crew office or accommodation... sucks, doesn't it?

Passengers aren't trespassers.  I fail to see how the two are in any shape similar? 

A trespasser is violating the law.  He can be sent on his way, or written up, or whatever.  But a paying passenger sitting in a lounge car is not violating anything, as far as I can tell.  Doesn't seem to be any policy forbidding them from "camping out".  

 The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Monday, August 3, 2020 10:01 AM

"Camping out" (hogging seats) in the lounge car is discourteous to the other passengers.  I 've heard announcements on the "Empire Builder" in the Marias Pass area requesting that passengers in the Sightseer Lounge allow other passengers to take a turn to enjoy the scenery.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by Overmod on Monday, August 3, 2020 12:34 PM

zugmann
But a paying passenger sitting in a lounge car is not violating anything, as far as I can tell.  Doesn't seem to be any policy forbidding them from "camping out".

I see your point.  Merely saying the lounge is to be only temporarily occupied does not provide the crew with cause to remove someone who decides temporary means camped out.

I do think there must be a fair way to solve this so that at least the worst if the conscious squatters could be moved out.  I confess I'm glad I don't have to be the one to make that policy, let alone left to try to enforce it.

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Posted by runnerdude48 on Wednesday, August 12, 2020 7:05 PM

I have found the best way to avoid all of this is to avoid Amtrak altogether and if I want to see the scenery I take a cruise train like Rocky Mountaineer or I drive. I agree with jps1. Driving's the best way.  You can stop where you want and avoid all the jerks and idiots that inhabit Amtrak.

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Thursday, August 13, 2020 10:04 AM

runnerdude48

I have found the best way to avoid all of this is to avoid Amtrak altogether and if I want to see the scenery I take a cruise train like Rocky Mountaineer or I drive. I agree with jps1. Driving's the best way.  You can stop where you want and avoid all the jerks and idiots that inhabit Amtrak.

 
And just how do you deal with all of the jerks and idiots with whom you share the road?  Road rage can be fatal.
The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, August 13, 2020 11:38 AM

There is surely no shortage of terrible drivers out there. However,  I only encountered on example of a guy with road rage once,  so the details still stick even many years later.  I was driving home from Oak Brook in rush hour traffic on 56, stuck at a light.  It turned,  cars moved but the car in front of me sat there.  NBD. But a delivery truck several vehicles behind was in a hurry so tooted his horn.  That driver in front of me, looking like a Meatloaf impersonator jumps out,  foaming and screaming,  jumping up and down and finally falls over, fortunately near the shoulder and behind his own car.  Everyone went on around. Amusing,  but rare and not dangerous.

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