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AMTRAK-missing the small needed items

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AMTRAK-missing the small needed items
Posted by blue streak 1 on Sunday, October 4, 2009 6:34 PM

Wife's mother got sick so had to put her on Saturday night Cresent out of Atlanta so wouldn't have to drive her all night. There were a lot of small items noticed that irritated several passengers.

1. Got a good fare on AMTRAK website however as usual no sleeper space available. She checked after Gainesville but there were not any no-shows.

2. Arrived at station 1 Hr before scheduled departure after 45 min traffic delay.

3. Only one agent working with 5 pass in line ahead of us doing tickets and bag checking. 2 Baggage handlers were not checking bags.

4. Decided to use Quik-Trak to print out tickets but unit would not read bar code on the confirmation slip I printed out at home. Had to dig out her credit card to initiate Quik-Trak. Got tickets and told people behind us (alot arriving then due to traffic delay) be prepared to do same (turned out unit would not read any of preprinted confirmations).

5. Got in agent line no additional pass in line as bag handlers they said couldn't check bags and they then disappeared

6. Agent informs us too late to check bags (45 min before departure) that bags would have to go on Sunday's train (unacceptable due to train change).

7. Several people behind us same thing even though they complained about traffic problem. (we didn't).

8. Train arrived 2 minutes early although site later posted it 4 minutes early.

9. Now it gets very interesting. ATL's platform is about 1200 ft long with the 200 ft NE section under the station lobby but not very well lighted.

10. Train front stops about 200 ft SW of stairwell (another 100 ft SW)(300 NE ft not used)

11. About 25 people start detraining.

12. 2 full baggage carts (ancient steel tires high platform type) go toward baggage car blocking one side of platform to passengers.

13.  At 15 min before departure boarding announcement, started down stairs (equivalent to 3 flights) with wife's bags and several people followed me. Over 60+ passengers boarding.

14. Went around bag carts and got to assigned car.

15. Heard attendant tell crew member water hose too short (hoses located on far SE side of train).

16. Attendant (very good according to wife) assigned seat, I took bags up in car, securred same, and returned to lobby again avoiding bag carts. Carts returned with arriving baggage.

17. 5 minutes before departure time gate closed.

18. Final passengers got on board 2 minutes before departure time.

19. At dep time train pulls up about 200 ft, water added to car(s), then train leaves 5-6 minutes late.

 This dizzy dance brings up several questions.

21. When will there be more sleepers?

22. Why only one agent for 60+ passengers?

23. Referencing one agent why are bag handlers not able to check bags?

24. Why are confirmation bar codes so jammed together that some Quik-Trak units cannot read codes?

25. Possible reason of stop so far SW.

a. Locomotives need fuel -- NO-- None added front #98 - 1710 Gallons FOB, second #? 1400 gal (HEP unit)

b. The water units are all located starting about 600 ft SW. If loco ever needs water then train would stop even farther SW.

26. Why are water hoses too short?

27. WHY are water units (1ft x 1ft x 2 ft tall) not located farther NE? This is a NS double track under the lobby with the platform splitting the tracks. A no customer third pocket track also goes under the lobby SE of the main tracks for another 2000ft + NE and 2000ft+ SW. Certainly there could be installation of additional water service units?

28. If the additional water units were installed couldn't additional lighting be installed NE of the stairway for at least the baggage car to be out of the way and passenger not having to walk around them? There are the problems associated with southbound trains having to take the carts all the way to the SW end but stopping the southbound train farther NE would mitigate the problem somewhat.

29. Wouldn't sleeper passengers like not hikiing 1000+ ft to their car?

30. Why was departure time shown on time even though all servicing and final departure 5 - 6 minutes late? Note: next 2 stations showed late arrivals and departures maybe because time could not be recovered.

31. Why is it that the bag check time is posted as 30 minutes in the timetable but ATL has one small sign stating it is 1 hr for ATL? Why couldn't the ticket confirmation also state the 1 Hr for this and other station where it is necessary?

32. Why not eventually install a larger - faster passenger/bag elevator to speed those passengers and bags?

If this a measure of performance around the AMTRAK system and it probably is then Mr. Boardman needs to get observers to document these minor items. Then he can initiate corrections. This would better on time performance for example if all these items were corrected in ATL a 15min turn appears possible. This also may improve passenger satisfaction which is congressionally mandated.

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Posted by TomDiehl on Sunday, October 4, 2009 6:48 PM

For the size city, Amtrak's station in Atlanta is smaller than the station in most small towns. Unfortunately, the staffing seems to fit the building size, not the crowd size. One thing to consider, the only Amtrak train through that station is ther Crescent, one North and one South each day, so there's very little incentive to upgrade facilities with such a small usage. All the improvements you suggest would be a collusal waste of money for such a small passenger loading.

PS: Sleepers on ANY train are booked far in advance. If you tried to get her a sleeper even a month before the trip, it would be a true stroke of luck to find one.

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Posted by oltmannd on Sunday, October 4, 2009 7:44 PM
I've put people on and gotten them off at Atlanta several times. They've been doing things the way they've been doing them for so long it doesn't even occur to anyone to try to do it any different. The long walk to/from the sleepers NB is offset by a short walk for the SB. The baggage handling is, indeed, bad. They'd do better just letting folks get their bags right off the car on the platform and then take it up with them in the passenger elevator (which is right next to the freight elevator) Their should never be any ticket machine problems. They are doing nothing different that airline check in kiosks. No excuses! Either Amtrak has a lousy vendor or they are doing a job in-house that they'd be better off farming out. They also could take a lot of pressure of the Atlanta station if they'd put in a suburban stop in Austell on the west side and Duluth/Buford to the north. It is almost criminal that the train has no suburban stops. 40 years ago, when ATL had 1M people - most close to downtown, that made sense, but now with 4.5M - many on the north side, it makes no sense at all.

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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Sunday, October 4, 2009 8:29 PM

I ride the Crescent out of Charlotte and have never had a bad experience.

I have never tried to scan the printout, I always just stick the credit card in the machine and push a couple of buttons on the screen and out come the tickets.  To me that is easier than messing around with the printouts.  The friendly staff make a last call announcement for baggage check which seems to be about 10 minutes before the train pulls in.  There is a separate baggage check window if you don't need the ticket agent.

Parking is free.  The facility is early 50s bus station in appearance, but Charlotte is in the process of building a new Gateway multi-modal facility in city center.

Dave

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Sunday, October 4, 2009 9:04 PM

Phoebe Vet
I ride the Crescent out of Charlotte and have never had a bad experience

Phoebe: I agree. Its not a bad experience but could be better with some effort. Was no last call for baggage SAT night! I wonder if maybe it was a substitute agent? The equipment problems should be addressed not only in ATL but anywhere the equipment is substandard or missing. Especially the water units. Lets see some back of envelope calculations. 29 minutes scheduled, Sat almost 40 min, vs 15 if everything allows a 15 minute turn when train late .. A round 1/4 hr saved for 10 crew  2-1/2 work hours saved  minimum $20/Hr = $50. 15 crew? = $75 saved. Not much but taking all routes could add up. With nationwide lates about 20% (july 2009 30 minutes late is ot) 500 trains equals 100 late x 365  x $75 = 2.8 million saved on extra crew time not counting possible non call out of relief crews.i

To the other poster there are actually 2 agent positions which makes me wonder if ATL normally has 2 agents on duty?  Oltmann can you expand on that?  

 

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Posted by WhiteLeather on Monday, October 5, 2009 7:14 PM

I lived in Atlanta for 9 yrs and rode the Crescent north 1-2 times a year.  Over those 9 yrs, the price of the sleeper tripled, nearly quadrupled.  Early in my time there (early 2000s), a coach car was added to the NB Crescent, taken off the SB, so a long stop was necessary.  That stopped around 03 - 04, I seem to recall.  Not sure why - there was always a lot of people getting on NB.

 The real shame is that a city the size of Atlanta has only 1 train in each direction daily.  If one wants to go to Florida from ATL, one has to go to Washington DC first:  a 14 hr train trip in the wrong direction.

 Also, I've seen 3-4 agents on duty when I travelled from Atlanta.

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Posted by oltmannd on Monday, October 5, 2009 7:35 PM
blue streak 1
To the other poster there are actually 2 agent positions which makes me wonder if ATL normally has 2 agents on duty?  Oltmann can you expand on that?  
I always seen 2 on duty. Except at lunch time, when they both take lunch at the same time.

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Monday, October 5, 2009 11:22 PM

oltmannd
blue streak 1
To the other poster there are actually 2 agent positions which makes me wonder if ATL normally has 2 agents on duty?  Oltmann can you expand on that?  
I always seen 2 on duty. Except at lunch time, when they both take lunch at the same time.

Oltmannd thanks I'll look if wife returns. One or more agents must have been out  with H1N1 or something else. May have been why bag handlers could not check bags (temps?)? 

 

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Posted by BNSFwatcher on Tuesday, October 6, 2009 6:20 AM

Actually, the "baggage handlers" are undercover Atlanta firemen.  They are always on the lookout for the return of GEN Sherman, to make sure he doesn't burn the facility down.  Some things never change, especially when politicians are in charge.  Where is David Gunn, when we need him?

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Posted by BigBugRR on Tuesday, October 6, 2009 6:13 PM

The quick (and unfortunate) answer is that this is now a government run institution (think post office or DMV) and they simply don't understand the term "customer service."  

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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Tuesday, October 6, 2009 6:33 PM

BigBugRR

The quick (and unfortunate) answer is that this is now a government run institution (think post office or DMV) and they simply don't understand the term "customer service."  

Why do right leaning people always derogate the Post Office?  Find me anyone in the for profit world that you believe to be the epitome of customer service who will deliver your birthday card to Aunt Betty in Wallah Wallah, Washington for 44 cents.  And they will pick it up at your house for no additional charge.  If you think for profit means customer friendly then you have never tried to call your bank, or your insurance company.

Dave

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Posted by HarveyK400 on Tuesday, October 6, 2009 7:12 PM

Would you really prefer the slings and arrows of private institutions like insurance companies, banks, and airlines systematically fleecing you; or put up with the occasional aggravations and incompetence of government agencies like Amtrak, the Post Office, and the armed forces?  Neither are desirable; and both need improvement.

I agree that the problems experienced in Atlanta are largely inexcusable and correctable without a lot of money.  In summary, it seems service supervisors are not supervising.  The cost of time as pointed out should be an incentive to Amtrak management.

I have to wonder why the train is reversed, considering the orientation of station facilities. 

Even as a non-smoker and having ridden the Builder and Southwest, I sympathize with the need for a smoking break and protocols to facilitate this without the train spending too much time in the station.  I'd gladly trade a few more minutes if it meant passengers would not sneak a smoke on the train. 

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Posted by schlimm on Tuesday, October 6, 2009 7:54 PM

BigBugRR
government run institution (think post office or DMV)

 

And I suppose you'd prefer to have paprivatized fire and police departments, a private enterprise military?  If their customers are anything like Big bug or BNSF watcher, no wonder they need to step out for a smoke!

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Posted by Deggesty on Tuesday, October 6, 2009 10:20 PM

TomDiehl
For the size city, Amtrak's station in Atlanta is smaller than the station in most small towns.

Remember that this station was built, between 1917 and 1920, as a suburban station, known both as Brookwood and Peachtree, and most of the passengers for Atlanta used the Terminal Station. When, in 1970, Southern stopped using the Terminal Station, it would have been extremely difficult to expand the Peachtree Station, even though it was known that all of the traffic that was using the Terminal Station would have to begin using this station.

The first train that ran through Atlanta from Washington to Birmingham was the Birmingham Special (I know, in later years it was routed through Roanoke and Bristol), and it did not go in to the Terminal Station. The next train that was operated through was the Southerner, and it headed in to the Terminal Station going south, backed out to the junction with the main, and then headed on to Birmingham. Going north, it backed in and then headed out. In 1968, the operation was changed to heading in to the Terminal Station, both north and south bound, turning the coach seats and running the engine around to the other end. Some time between the spring and fall of 1970, the Nancy Hanks II became the only Southern System train to use a downtown station--and it used a small building south of where the Terminal Station was.

Johnny

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Posted by WhiteLeather on Tuesday, October 6, 2009 11:33 PM

 Well, certainly thanks for the history, Johnny.  I knew that it wasn't the original main station, but not much else.

I was taught long ago not to complain without having a possible solution, so let's move on to this:  those who know the station and it's physical limitations, how would you modify the station?  It seems to me that there is little to no room, but I'd like to suggest that perhaps where the stairs are, expand the station over them to make a bigger waiting room, and expand and increase the lighting on the platform.  Possibly spread the two tracks apart for a bigger platform?

Anybody else?

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Posted by oltmannd on Wednesday, October 7, 2009 7:01 AM
A couple of thoughts. You can't expand the platform width-wise because much of it is on a bridge over I-75. Part of the solution would be to open a path directly to the side street at the south end of the platform and not make all the passengers do the steps or elevator to the station. The station is plenty large enough for the once-a-day Crescent. The only incentive Amtrak employees or supervision have in making any process improvement is self-satisfaction which has to be balanced against the risk of rocking the boat and the risk of failure, both of which will cause pain to rain down on their heads. So, why try?

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Posted by Deggesty on Wednesday, October 7, 2009 11:33 AM

A tid-bit about the station, which was published in the Atlanta Constitution about fifty years ago. Whereas the Southern called it "Peachtree," the Atlantans knew it as "Brookwood." In the days when the Birmingham Special came through, someone was coming south on that train to visit friends (or relatives) in Atlanta, and was told to be sure to get off at Brookwood. He heard "Peachtree Station" announced, but did not know that it was his station--and stayed on board until the train stopped at Austell, forty-five minutes later. I do not remember if the people meeting him drove out to Austell, or if he waited two hours for the eastbound Birmingham Special.

Also, in the first years of the operation of the Southerner, it did not stop at the Peachtree station. The May 17, 1953, timetable is the first one I have which shows this train stopping there.

Johnny

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Posted by schlimm on Wednesday, October 7, 2009 5:34 PM

Deggesty
the Southern called it "Peachtree," the Atlantans knew it as "Brookwood."

 

Interesting.  When I lived in Atlanta in the 80's, everyone still called it "Brookwood."

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Wednesday, October 7, 2009 10:14 PM

Correct about not being able to widen platform. 

The point of this thread is that there are probably problems at other stations that mirror the ones mentioned for ATL. my questions remain.

1. Are there stations with heavy passenger boardings that are short agents like ATL was this night?

2. What is AMTRAK doing to get the Quik-Traks to work better? Partial answer the 2010 budget proposal has funds to upgrade the system and the total number available system wide is not enough to place even one at every AMTRAK station at this time.

3. Why haven't more water service locations been placed to the NE? These additional water hydrants could be located SE of the pocket track. (Its only use is to rarely park AMTRAK equipment not blocking those possible locations).

4. Is ATL an example of other stations that move the train like ATL di to show an on time departure then proceed to do additional servicing (water, bags, Pass)?

As a note:: these are the only things that really need doing in ATL that would speed up turns now when a train is late. If an Atlanta stop of a CHI - Florida was scheduled to connect with the Cresent then that train would have to use to other track on the single platform and I can imagine the mess becoming 4 times worse. But CHI - Florida? long time in fuure except City of New Orleans possibility but that will not stop in ATL

If additional trains use Brookwood (its still used today) the suggestion of expanding SW over the tracks appears very do able.

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Posted by passengerfan on Thursday, October 8, 2009 10:19 AM

What Amtrak really needs is a more intensive training program for employees whether on board or at stations.. Every new employee should be on probation for the first two years of  employment. Amtrak needs to learn the meaning of customer service first and foremost. With the number of Americans out of work at the present time I see no reason that Amtrak could not add temps at train times at busy stations. Use some of the stimulus moneu the government keeps raving about. I not saying bring back the says when ullman operated the sleeping and parlor cars but lets bring back some decent service. In all my traels on Amtrak I don not know how many times I have heard passengers say this will be there first andlast time on Amtrak due to Amtrak employees with a bad attitude. They forget that the passengers that ride those trains and the American taxpayer are paying there wages. If they don't like the job than they should quit. All Amtrak onboard crews need to take lessons from Via Rails onboard Canadian crews. And the sme goes for Amtrak station personel they should learn from Via Rail station personel.

Al - in - Stockton.

PS Maybe it is already to late for Amtrak crews and personel we should fire the entire lot and hire some of the eager unemployed Americans and start over again.

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Posted by HarveyK400 on Thursday, October 8, 2009 6:12 PM
I wouldn't say Amtrak needs more training for crews without better information.  Bad service and attitude may may stem from inadequate supervision and motivation.  Sometimes the problems come from decisions made higher up for which staff, crew, and suprvisors have little control.  Once a person learns the job, its easy to find ways to slack off or dodge the Catch-22's.  Better management and supervision depends on dialogue with crews and staff - too often decisions are autocratic.  Going around firing people doesn't help by needing to train replacements and managing by fear.
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Posted by BNSFwatcher on Thursday, October 8, 2009 7:38 PM

My little city of Shelby, MT is #2 in passengers in the state.  We have three, or four, Agents, with, usually two on duty at train time.  Dunno what the loading is, compared to Atlanta.  Our Agents handle the checked baggage, (snow) plow the platform, clean the restrooms, etc..  Would they strike, in Atlanta? 

I have a friend who quit his job with BNSF's MOW department and went with Amtrak.  They sent him to Delaware for three month's Conductor training.  He has been home a couple of months and is still on OJT!  Saw him walk thru the dining car on the "Empire Builder" a while back.  He, and his mentor, both took off their caps when they passed thru!  A bit of class, methinks.

One of our Agents is going to California for "annual training" next month.  Lot of money spent in training, but you have to start with "Quality" people.

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Posted by BNSFwatcher on Thursday, October 8, 2009 7:44 PM

I am an inveterate David Gunn "fan".  Has Boardman ever been on a train?  His predecessor never came thru here, whatever his name was.  Just another politician...

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Posted by schlimm on Thursday, October 8, 2009 9:08 PM

HarveyK400
I wouldn't say Amtrak needs more training for crews without better information.  Bad service and attitude may may stem from inadequate supervision and motivation. 

 

I agree.  Bad service usually starts at the top.  Poor training and supervision, a lack of value and reward for doing a good job, and misplaced priorities usually lead to a poor product whether rail, air, restaurants or other retail establishments.

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Thursday, October 8, 2009 9:16 PM

BNSFwatcher
My little city of Shelby, MT is #2 in passengers in the state.  We have three, or four, Agents, with, usually two on duty at train time.  Dunno what the loading is, compared to Atlanta.  Our Agents handle the checked baggage, (snow) plow the platform, clean the restrooms, etc.. 

Interesting!  For 2007 Shelby had 16463 O & Ds    -- 45/day

                            2008                      18881              --    51+/day

                      For 2008 add in the closest no agent stations 18,061/4 ==4515+18881 equivalent 23,396 or 64+ per day. assuming that 25% of non agent passengers would need agent help at Shelby.

                      For ATL     2007       97594               ---    267+/day

                               ATL   2008      101084           ---      276+/day

Seems like ATL should have more ticket agents        

Note did not include Gainesville or Toccoa with no agent which might increase ATL figures higher.

 

 

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Posted by Anonymous on Friday, October 9, 2009 1:46 PM

BNSFwatcher

Actually, the "baggage handlers" are undercover Atlanta firemen.  They are always on the lookout for the return of GEN Sherman, to make sure he doesn't burn the facility down.  Some things never change, especially when politicians are in charge.  Where is David Gunn, when we need him?

The politicians have been in charge of Amtrak since the get go.  That's the problem!  With 536 overseers (U.S. Congress and White House), meddling has reach a new high or low, depending on one's point of view.  And because there are no competitive pressures to do things better, faster, cheaper, Amtrak will continue to be an also ran operation.

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Posted by Anonymous on Friday, October 9, 2009 2:03 PM

HarveyK400

Would you really prefer the slings and arrows of private institutions like insurance companies, banks, and airlines systematically fleecing you; or put up with the occasional aggravations and incompetence of government agencies like Amtrak, the Post Office, and the armed forces?  Neither are desirable; and both need improvement.

I agree that the problems experienced in Atlanta are largely inexcusable and correctable without a lot of money.  In summary, it seems service supervisors are not supervising.  The cost of time as pointed out should be an incentive to Amtrak management.

I have to wonder why the train is reversed, considering the orientation of station facilities. 

Even as a non-smoker and having ridden the Builder and Southwest, I sympathize with the need for a smoking break and protocols to facilitate this without the train spending too much time in the station.  I'd gladly trade a few more minutes if it meant passengers would not sneak a smoke on the train. 

If a bank, insurance company or airline, to cite your examples, fails to respond to its customer's legitimate needs, over a long period of time; it is likely to be history because its aggrieved customers will turn to competitive alternatives.  Just take a look at the airline graveyard for numerous examples of what happens to airlines that cannot compete.  Or ask the former executives of Lehman Brothers or Wachovia what happens when competitive institutions fail to respond to market forces or are mismanaged.

Amtrak has no competition in the intercity passenger railroad business.  If they mess it up, they don't have to worry about losing their customers to another rail operator.  And if they consistently fail to cover their costs, as they have since the day of their birthing, they can simply turn to the tax payers to bail them out.

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Posted by WhiteLeather on Friday, October 9, 2009 3:04 PM

Let's not forget that Congress bought into a sham, somehow convinced that Amtrak would make money.  Still, after years of under-survival funding, Amtrak soldiers on.  If the meddlers in DC would only take the time to study passenger and freight rail in other countries, they'd understand.

 My best analogy for Amtrak's funding is try to imagine that you're given $12,000 to run your office this year.  In April, they take away $1000 but you're still expected to keep working and have the same output.  In September, they take away more, and you're still to produce the same.  As has been said, WTF?

Any well-designed transportation system will include all facets - rail, air, road, water - with each segment taking their strengths and letting the others take theirs.  Once that's accomplished, it would be nice to have more than one train a day on the routes.

Time would be better spent looking forward rather than rehashing past mistakes, but be sure not to repeat past mistakes either.  Getting rid of the 500+ managers would be a great beginning.

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Posted by schlimm on Friday, October 9, 2009 3:08 PM

Sam1
If a bank, insurance company or airline, to cite your examples, fails to respond to its customer's legitimate needs, over a long period of time; it is likely to be history because its aggrieved customers will turn to competitive alternatives. 

 

 

Really?  How about Citi Group, AIG, and GM and United in the past.  Just turn to the taxpayer for a bailout.  Has Amtrak been any different, just cheaper?

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Posted by Anonymous on Friday, October 9, 2009 8:24 PM

schlimm

Sam1
If a bank, insurance company or airline, to cite your examples, fails to respond to its customer's legitimate needs, over a long period of time; it is likely to be history because its aggrieved customers will turn to competitive alternatives. 

 

Really?  How about Citi Group, AIG, and GM and United in the past.  Just turn to the taxpayer for a bailout.  Has Amtrak been any different, just cheaper?

The firms that you cite failed.  With the exception of Citi Group, they should have been allowed to die.  Banks are the linchpin for our economy; they must survive in one form or the other. 

Unfortunately, as was the case with the formation of Amtrak, the government stepped in and bailed out the cited failed enterprises, thereby laying off on the backs of the taxpayer's decades of a burden that probably will never be repaid.  Clearly, in the case of Amtrak, it will never be repaid.  The burden will simply grow and grow. 

United Airlines, by the way, filed for bankruptcy, which is a legitimate re-organization process, and came out of it without any significant government help, as did Delta, U.S. Airways, etc.

Amtrak has been propped up by the federal government for more than 38 years.  I cannot think of any other commercial enterprise that has received a bailout that has run this long or one that has required as high a per customer (passenger) subsidy as Amtrak.  

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