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Compensation for Service Disruption Possibility?


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#1 AferVentus

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 12:03 AM

Hi all,
We were scheduled to leave WFH on train 8 out of WFH Jan 1. When the train got in, Amtrak said that the train wasn't running and BNSF shut down the tracks - they would attempt to find some alternative transportation by 11 am. We had to get back for school and work and that sort of thing, and leaving on Monday (according to the next available train from the agent I spoke to) was not an option for us. They said no alternative transportation was available and that we were welcome to camp out in the depot until the next train would leave.
We found out a 2:15 flight was leaving Missoula, so we took Jim's taxi all the way there and had just barely enough time to get on the flight and were out approx $2200. The station attendant said we could leave our bags and they would go on the next available train. Well, we should (hopefully) get our bags tomorrow in MSP. Our travel agent said to send in our tickets to her and we would get them refunded. As for compensation for what happened, the travel agent said to contact Amtrak. We talked to them today, and they were very pleasant, but said that she could not give a voucher since we did not take the train. Is this true? They said in order to be considered for compensation for the taxi or flight, we would need to write to Amtrak. Has anyone had luck with this? We are supposed to include copies of our receipts for the Taxi and airfare in the letter, in addition to our case number. What have others gotten from Amtrak in a situation like this? Can we even even expect anything other than a ticket refund?
Needless to say, a couple family members have nearly sworn off Amtrak for good. I can't see them taking Amtrak again if they don't do something about this. (However, I know I will be back - this was out of their control, but Amtrak did nothing for us other than "allowing" us to stay at the depot until the next available train would depart...)

Thanks in advance for your comments!

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 07:08 AM

... BNSF shut down the tracks

... We found out a 2:15 flight was leaving Missoula, so we took Jim's taxi all the way there and had just barely enough time to get on the flight and were out approx $2200.

... We talked to them today, and they were very pleasant, but said that she could not give a voucher since we did not take the train. Is this true?

... Needless to say, a couple family members have nearly sworn off Amtrak for good. I can't see them taking Amtrak again if they don't do something about this. (However, I know I will be back - this was out of their control, but Amtrak did nothing for us other than "allowing" us to stay at the depot until the next available train would depart...)


I would say "no way". :rolleyes:

As you say, it was out of Amtrak's control. It was BNSF, not Amtrak, who shut down the tracks.

It was you who found your own alternative transportation, not Amtrak. You can't decide on spending $2,200 without Amtrak's involvement, and then later expect Amtrak to pay any amount. IMHO, that is pretty unreasonable.

It is always a very bad negotiation technique to do the "I hold my breath until I turn blue, and boy will you be sorry" routine. Plus, you seem to be forgetting that cancellations and delays are true for all forms of transportation and might need to remind, strongly, your family members of that fact. Just look at all the people stranded in airports when weather causes airports to shut down, and yes, they all have to stay/sleep in the airport until the next available plane would depart. Plus, just look at the snow storm in the NE last week, where people had to wait days in the airport for the next, open, flight.

IMHO, you need to take a deep breath, and realize that this is simply life.

#3 daveyb99

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 08:18 AM

I agree: No Way.

Really, you expect AMTRAK to foot the bill for something that was completely out of their control? I would settle with a refund of your AMTRAK tickets and expect nothing further.

Sorry.

#4 The Davy Crockett

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 08:29 AM

I too would not expect Amtrak to compensate. In a similar situation the airlines would not compensate. Still, since they said you should send them a letter and copies of your receipts in order for them to consider it, I would. It does not hurt to try. That said, definately do not expect full compensation, as the choices you made that resulted in spending thousands of dollars where yours. And don't be surprised if you get nada.
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#5 AferVentus

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 08:40 AM

I do agree with the fact that we should not get anything for the flight, but what about the taxi? The driver said hold our receipt and we should get back at least the money for that. I'm just disappointed that amtrak did nothing for those other passengers other than "allowing" them to stay in the station - same goes for airline passengers stranded in airports. I just wish amtrak would handle service disruptions a bit better - airlines have put us on competing airlines or even greyhound before (and that's a lot considering weather delays.)

I learned something here - taking a ld train trip in winter is very, very risky, and we could be stuck for days. Best bet? Come back home much earlier...

I do appreciate the insights, though! They are fair and thoughtful.

#6 AferVentus

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 08:44 AM

One other thing - the amtrak worker there was recommending that we try to fly out at our own expense - so that's the advise we took.

#7 Guest_Guest_*

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 08:58 AM

One other thing - the amtrak worker there was recommending that we try to fly out at our own expense - so that's the advise we took.


So, you are selectively ignoring the "at your own expense" part?

Regardless, Amtrak did not make the airline reservation for you and therefore was not actively a part of that costly choice.

#8 AferVentus

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 09:07 AM


One other thing - the amtrak worker there was recommending that we try to fly out at our own expense - so that's the advise we took.


So, you are selectively ignoring the "at your own expense" part?

Regardless, Amtrak did not make the airline reservation for you and therefore was not actively a part of that costly choice.


No, I'm not selectively ignoring that, and I don't see a need for a mild attack. However, what were we to do to get back? Sit there for who knows how long when all airports were still running?

I'm not angry at how amtrak handled the situation - I was just asking other peoples' opinions. Thank you to those that answered.

#9 PRR 60

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 09:45 AM

Like all transportation providers, Amtrak's legal responsibility for the failure to provide travel is to refund the fare paid. They will do that (or have already done it), so legally Amtrak has fulfilled the terms and conditions of your travel arrangements. I also think that Amtrak probably did the best they could do for you and other passengers stuck along that line given the situation. Sadly, that meant the Amtrak could not do too much. However, given your circumstances, it is possible that Amtrak might provide a goodwill gesture in the form of a voucher for future travel to help compensate you for your expense and inconvenience.

I would first contact Amtrak by phone at the regular number (1-800-USA-RAIL), override "Julie" by saying "Agent," and ask for a customer service rep. Explain your specifics, and particularly the requirements for you to be home by a specific date, and how Amtrak's service disruption necessitated your costly assumption of alternate travel costs. Tell them that you would like cash reimbursement of your expenses, but you understand that Amtrak likely cannot do that, but you would appreciate any assistance Amtrak could provide to assist you in perhaps trying Amtrak again. The reps have some leeway in handling issues like this and they might do something for you.

If that fails, then drop back to Plan B and send a letter to Amtrak detailing everything with copies of receipts for everything and see what happens. I think the experience is that the phone reps tend to be more liberal in providing assistance than responses to written requests.

#10 AferVentus

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 10:05 AM

Like all transportation providers, Amtrak's legal responsibility for the failure to provide travel is to refund the fare paid. They will do that (or have already done it), so legally Amtrak has fulfilled the terms and conditions of your travel arrangements. I also think that Amtrak probably did the best they could do for you and other passengers stuck along that line given the situation. Sadly, that meant the Amtrak could not do too much. However, given your circumstances, it is possible that Amtrak might provide a goodwill gesture in the form of a voucher for future travel to help compensate you for your expense and inconvenience.

I would first contact Amtrak by phone at the regular number (1-800-USA-RAIL), override "Julie" by saying "Agent," and ask for a customer service rep. Explain your specifics, and particularly the requirements for you to be home by a specific date, and how Amtrak's service disruption necessitated your costly assumption of alternate travel costs. Tell them that you would like cash reimbursement of your expenses, but you understand that Amtrak likely cannot do that, but you would appreciate any assistance Amtrak could provide to assist you in perhaps trying Amtrak again. The reps have some leeway in handling issues like this and they might do something for you.

If that fails, then drop back to Plan B and send a letter to Amtrak detailing everything with copies of receipts for everything and see what happens. I think the experience is that the phone reps tend to be more liberal in providing assistance than responses to written requests.


Thank you for your response! Apparently, our travel agent already opened a "case." We called Amtrak yesterday and did exactly your first suggestion. The customer relations agent said that since we did not take the train, she could not do anything to help us in terms of a voucher. She knew that (according to our case #) the travel agent called twice. She then suggested your second suggestion in writing a letter.

Do you think it would be worthwhile to call back and talk to someone else in customer relations? Should we mention our case number again I assume? I know in another thread people suggested calling until something could be done.

#11 amamba

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 06:40 PM

I am really not sure what sort of compensation you are expecting. I agree that it is frustrating when you need to be somewhere and you are delayed by travel issues beyond your control, but amtrak is not at fault here. Let's take a look at the airlines: I live in New England and we were slammed by a huge blizzard the day after Christmas. My sister's flight back to Seattle was cancelled on Monday. The airline promised to get her out on the next available flight - which was on January 2. I am not kidding. Airlines are running at capacity and thus they don't have open seats for all of the folks that got bumped when their flights got cancelled. The only compensation that the airlines offered was a ticket refund (if they so chose, then the passenger is responsible for finding their own way home at their own expense). No hotels, nothing. Apparently lots of people were camped out at JFK/Newark etc on cots in the airport for days.

Sadly, ANY sort of long distance travel in the winter has associated risks. I am sorry that you got caught up in the delays, but the only thing I would expect is a refund of your original fare paid (which it sounds like you are receiving). If you do wish to ask for more, then I would definitely write a letter to Amtrak in Washington, DC, including copies of your receipts, and ask for something very specific. You may get a voucher for future use but I would not expect any cash compensation.

#12 PennCentralFan

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 07:18 PM

If you truly like amtrak you shouldn't ask amtrak for money. They need all they can get.

#13 AferVentus

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 07:25 PM

If you truly like amtrak you shouldn't ask amtrak for money. They need all they can get.


Good point - perhaps a voucher would be better.

#14 Tracktwentynine

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 07:51 PM

I can't opine on the refund situation since, luckily, it has not happened to me. But I'd like to make one point about Amtrak's helplessness in these situations.

I recently took the Empire Builder from Portland to Chicago (actually the train ended at LaCrosse, Wisconsin and we were bussed to Chicago). I had lunch in the diner with someone returning from a conference (the same one I'd been at, coincidentally). He had taken the Builder from Columbus, Wisconsin to Portland a week earlier, and they had been stuck at Minot, North Dakota for hours and hours, due to a BNSF derailment. (Luckily, Amtrak accommodated passengers by allowing them to order pizza from local places.

Initially, they were told that they'd be bussed around the derailment, but that didn't pan out. Why? Because the nearest place Amtrak could get enough motor coaches on short notice was Minneapolis. And by the time the buses drove several hours from Minneapolis to Minot, the derailment would have been cleared up. So, like in all modes, Amtrak is often unable to do anything for passengers.

I hope your next trip will be more successful! Good luck seeking remuneration.

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#15 Anderson

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Posted 05 January 2011 - 09:29 PM

I think it's fair to ask for a voucher of some kind for this, given how catastrophic this sort of a delay can be ($2200, if I read the number right, is a lot of money for most folks, and ). I don't think it's unreasonable for Amtrak not to cover the full amount of the difference, but given their inability to offer a timely substitute of any kind, it's not an unreasonable request for at least something to help make up the difference.

With that said, I'd also take this with a grain of "what would I have gotten from an airline in a similar case"? From what I understand, you would've gotten a refund or a replacement ticket...and on occasion, perhaps an additional travel voucher if the delay was nasty enough and you complained loudly enough and/or were a frequent enough traveler. That does happen on occasion, but I gather that it's not standard.
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#16 Ispolkom

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 07:38 AM

I think it's fair to ask for a voucher of some kind for this, given how catastrophic this sort of a delay can be ($2200, if I read the number right, is a lot of money for most folks, and ). I don't think it's unreasonable for Amtrak not to cover the full amount of the difference, but given their inability to offer a timely substitute of any kind, it's not an unreasonable request for at least something to help make up the difference.

With that said, I'd also take this with a grain of "what would I have gotten from an airline in a similar case"? From what I understand, you would've gotten a refund or a replacement ticket...and on occasion, perhaps an additional travel voucher if the delay was nasty enough and you complained loudly enough and/or were a frequent enough traveler. That does happen on occasion, but I gather that it's not standard.


I would be amazed if any airline gave any additional compensation past a ticket refund for a weather delay. That being said, I whined about a broken toilet on the California Zephyr and got a voucher out of it, so why not try?

#17 daveyb99

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 08:20 AM

I think it's fair to ask for a voucher of some kind for this, given how catastrophic this sort of a delay can be ($2200, if I read the number right, is a lot of money for most folks, and ). I don't think it's unreasonable for Amtrak not to cover the full amount of the difference, but given their inability to offer a timely substitute of any kind, it's not an unreasonable request for at least something to help make up the difference.


"I have to get back to work" or "I have to get back to school" is not catastrophic, and a 24-hour delay was reasonable given the geographic location of the disruption (Whitefish, MT).

Why would you believe AMTRAK has *any* financial liability here. AMTRAK did not make it snow. AMTRAK did not close the line. AMTRAK was ready to go.

Save your $0.44 for a future trip.

#18 AferVentus

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 10:53 AM

"I have to get back to work" or "I have to get back to school" is not catastrophic, and a 24-hour delay was reasonable given the geographic location of the disruption (Whitefish, MT).

Why would you believe AMTRAK has *any* financial liability here. AMTRAK did not make it snow. AMTRAK did not close the line. AMTRAK was ready to go.

Save your $0.44 for a future trip.


We would have been there from Saturday until (if space allowed) Tuesday - a 72 hour delay. Perhaps what you're suggesting is that amtrak shouldn't run on the high line in winter. (I see no reason why they shouldn't and I see safety should always come first. So I don'tdisagree with the line being shut down - I disagree with their handling of service disruptions.)

#19 amamba

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 01:20 PM


"I have to get back to work" or "I have to get back to school" is not catastrophic, and a 24-hour delay was reasonable given the geographic location of the disruption (Whitefish, MT).

Why would you believe AMTRAK has *any* financial liability here. AMTRAK did not make it snow. AMTRAK did not close the line. AMTRAK was ready to go.

Save your $0.44 for a future trip.


We would have been there from Saturday until (if space allowed) Tuesday - a 72 hour delay. Perhaps what you're suggesting is that amtrak shouldn't run on the high line in winter. (I see no reason why they shouldn't and I see safety should always come first. So I don'tdisagree with the line being shut down - I disagree with their handling of service disruptions.)

Again, airline passengers were stranded on the East coast after Christmas for 5-7 days. I don't think 72 hours is terrible given the comparison - the airlines.

#20 daveyb99

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 05:59 PM

... So I don' tdisagree with the line being shut down - I disagree with their handling of service disruptions.)


OK, lets hypothesize:

AMTRAK finds out BNSF has closed the track east of Whitefish.
AMTRAK is stopped in Whitefish, and notifies passengers of such BNSF action.
AMTRAK says "we have only a few options, here 'tis - one is get moving NOW !!!"
BNSF keep the tracks closed.
AMTRAK stay parked.
Other options are BUS or WAIT

Exactly what would you want AMTRAK do further?

I will be blunt:
AMTRAK does not owe you $2200 dollars because you opted to buy a plane ticket. Sorry.

Edited by daveyb99, 06 January 2011 - 06:00 PM.




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