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Everything posted by 1702

  1. 1702


    There are indeed three separate unions that represent Amtrak's On-Board Services employees, depending on work location. They are the Transportation-Communications Union (now part of the International Association of Machinists), the Transport Workers' Union of America, and UNITE-HERE (formerly the Hotel & Restaurant Employees' Union). However, in contract negotiations these three unions bargain together under an umbrella organization, the Amtrak Service Workers' Council. Amtrak's labor contract is with the ASWC, with the heads of the three unions signatory to the Agreement. Perhaps the LSA you spoke with was a new hire who really didn't know how the process works. Or perhaps he conveniently left out the simple fact that it's not a nightmare at all.
  2. 1702

    How can personnel problems be resolved?

    For those interested in reading more about the crew fatigue issue, check out the NTSB chairman's opening remarks at a congressional hearing in February- http://www.ntsb.gov/speeches/rosenker/mvr070213.htm Note that railroads are the only form of transportation wherein the operating employees' hours of service are set by act of Congress. It appears from the statement that 1991 was the last serious attempt to get Congress to abolish the Hours of Service Act and let the Federal Railroad Administration regulate working hours and rest. The legislation supported by the FRA was opposed by both rail management and labor and probably never made it out of committee.
  3. 1702

    How can personnel problems be resolved?

    There is no federal regulation to prevent an engineer or conductor (or other railroad employee covered by the Hours of Service Act) from working the kind of extreme hours Had8ley talked about. The only restrictions are (1) a maximum of 12 hours on duty at one time, (2) 8 hours rest required after less than 12 hours on duty, and (3) 10 hours rest required after 12 hours on duty. An employee can also work "short-rested", for instance working 5 hours, then getting 4 hours rest, then eligible to work the balance of the 12 hours. It's not uncommon for crews to tie up one minute short of the 12 hours, showing 11'59" on duty, so that they won't be "penalized" the extra 2 hours rest. Excepting vacation periods, an employee could literally work 7 days a week year-round so long as the proper 8- or 10-hour rest periods are taken. As the Railroad Retirement Board bases one's retirement pay on, IIRC, the highest 3 years' earnings of the last 5 years of service, it's not unusual for one to work much harder than normal in order to boost the monthly pension amount. That sounds very much like what Had8ley was doing.....he'll correct my assumption if it's incorrect, of course. Generally speaking, anyone with his seniority in the same craft, with the same railroad, could pretty much "coast" into retirement if they chose to. As far as Amtrak's engineers and conductors, if they are working a regular job with assigned rest days, they don't get anywhere close to the extreme scenario. Life is more hectic for those on the extra board but, IIRC, even they have at least one assigned rest day per week. For more on the Hours of Service (Title 49, Part 228, The Code of Federal Regulations), go to http://www.utu.org/depts/RESEARCH/HOURSOF.HTM
  4. While it's certainly possible that Amtrak started the "Guest" bit internally in 1999, it really became mainstream during 2000, which was when Amtrak instituted that guaranteed compensation for a bad trip or a late trip, and of course the program that still bears that "Guest" stigma, Amtrak "Guest" Rewards. That program started in November of 2000. Thanks for the memory jog, AlanB, it was probably in 2000 that we did the "Guest Services/Service Recovery" training. The "we'll guarantee you have a good trip, or" thing started first only on the Coast Starlight, then after a time went systemwide. And I now recall why the San Antonio-based manager I talked about was so upset when I comp'ed 20 people a breakfast or lunch in the dining car...... As you know, it was standard practice for years that when a train was more than four hours late and going into an unscheduled meal period, a complimentary meal would be served to all passengers. As the new guarantee program went along, more and more passengers were calling or writing about late trains and receiving travel vouchers as compensation for same. When the compensation figures grew and grew for late trains on the Sunset Limited, Joy Smith, the "Grand Poobah" of that train (apologies to Joy, I can't remember what her title was at the time) decreed that no more complimentary meals would be served on her late trains except to sleeper passengers - if unscheduled meals were served, passengers in coach would have to purchase theirs. Her reasoning being that coach passengers getting free meals AND travel vouchers were "double-dipping" and creating havoc with her budget. So when I did the comp thing for 20 people under the service recovery aspect of "Guest Services", the manager riding with us assumed Ms. Smith would go ballistic when she found out. Every trip an adventure!
  5. The following is adapted from a post I did last year on trainorders.com- Having retired from Amtrak after 19 years as a frontline employee, I think that the most basic problem in all areas is the total lack of a consistent management message/philosophy since the Graham Claytor era. Things have been pretty much revolving-door since Mr. Claytor, and various customer-focus programs have popped up then disappeared without a trace. Amtrak has spent millions over the years on a variety of nationwide customer service training classes wherein the frontline troops were promised all sorts of improvements and top-level support in delivery of service. Sad to say, it pretty much all came to nothing. The worst of these "promises not kept" I experienced was during George Warrington's tenure, when "passengers" became "guests" and OBS employees systemwide attended "Guest Services" training classes. Fellow OBS employees (including me) were recruited to be the instructors and told by management to pass on the assurance of all manner of good things to come. A key tool in coping with unhappy passengers (oops, I mean "guests") aboard the trains was the empowerment of every employee to take prompt action to turn the situation around. This included the ability to comp food/beverage items from the lounge car or meals in the dining car. A "Guest Services Handbook", published at no small expense, had page after page of all the service enhancements that would "soon" be rolling out. This program started falling apart even as it was being taught, as it had been rolled out from Corporate without consultation with local managers. At my crew base, it was a bone of contention with the local Human Resources staff who normally handled employee training and resented being bypassed. The program did work in some aspects for awhile but was never fully implemented. I was able to use the problem-resolution setup on a number of occasions and it was a great tool. My most satisfying moment was being able to comp breakfast or lunch in the dining car on the westbound Sunset Limited for about 20 coach passengers who had been shabbily treated in San Antonio. After receiving many words of appreciation from those folks, a few hours later I was being reprimanded by a San Antonio-based manager who had never heard of the program and couldn't believe his bosses would approve. The "Guest Services" program faded from sight after a relatively short time, those at Corporate who had set it up went on to other things, and those of us who had agreed to be instructors were left looking (and feeling) like the jerks we were. Employee morale was very low during the Downs and Warrington administrations, only to take a sharp spike upward when David Gunn came in. We thought that at last there was someone running the company who might actually care about his trains and his employees. "Proud to be Under the Gunn" T-shirts appeared, and there were management shakeups that amounted to more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Mr. Gunn wasn't perfect, of course, and had his fair share of detractors. But things did seem to be looking up and employees finally had reason to be somewhat optimistic. "Guests" became "passengers" once again. Strategic Business Units that wasted money and management titles, not to mention creating three separate and unequal Amtraks, disappeared. So did "Product Lines" and calling Road Foremen of Engines and Trainmasters, "Service Managers". It began to look like it might be a real railroad again. We started to think that perhaps a lot of mid- and lower-level managers, who were more interested in maintaining the status quo and covering their backsides, might actually have to MANAGE and, heaven forbid, problem-solve. There were, of course, many good Amtrak management people. But for too many of them, the operative phrase was "Do the best you can", which basically meant just get thru your trip this time the best you can and don't expect things to be any different next time. I had retired before David Gunn's firing but am sure that most employees were very disappointed with his departure. I recall Art McMahon (Downs' VP-Pax Services, then CEO Intercity SBU) saying that it takes five years at minimum to change the corporate culture at a company as large as Amtrak. If there's no consistency, the culture will never change. And the door keeps revolving........
  6. Relying on wikipedia for the dates, here's a list of Amtrak's presidents/CEO's starting with Mr. Claytor and their circumstances of departure- 1982-1993 W. Graham Claytor, Jr. (Retired) 1993-1998 Thomas Downs (Fired) 1998-2002 George Warrington (Resigned) 2002-11/2005 David Gunn (Fired) 11/2005-9/2006 David Laney (Acting, until a new CEO was hired) 9/2006 Alexander Kummant hired. Of these individuals, Mr. Claytor brought the most mainline railroading experience (and illustrious background) to Amtrak. He had been president of the Southern Railway from 1967-77, Secretary of the Navy from 77-79, and Deputy Secretary of Defense and then Acting Secretary of Transportation in 1979. He came out of retirement to head up Amtrak and left it on a pretty sound footing when he retired again. Second to Mr. Claytor in terms of experience was Mr. Gunn. Alexander Kummant did have a brief period in management with Union Pacific, but most of his experience is in manufacturing management. IMO, Mr. Downs' and Mr. Warrington's tenures were disastrous for Amtrak. They were responsible for the "self-sufficiency" fiction which Amtrak is still trying to recover from. Tho I met Mr. Downs and found him to be accessible and very likable personally, his reliance on outside consulting firms and the poor performance of some of his executives put Amtrak and our passengers thru some trying times. Any training materials I didn't put in the round file when I retired are packed away somewhere, so unfortunately I can't give you any dates/names of the various customer-service programs. The "Guest Services" training that I went into in some detail was during Warrington's tenure, I'd guess around 1999 or 2000.
  7. 1702

    How can personnel problems be resolved?

    Assuming you're referencing my comments, how did you reach that conclusion? From the time disciplinary charges are initiated until a formal investigation takes place are usually a matter of a few weeks, during which time the charged employee is generally held out of service without pay. The appeals process is the lengthy one, and as I pointed out, the appeals do not stay the discipline. In other words, if the employee is going to be dismissed, that is decided either at the end of the hearing or shortly thereafter and the employee is fired. What does turn out to be costly for Amtrak is their long record of ineptitude in properly preparing a case against an employee they want to fire, abetted by the way their hearing officers conduct formal investigation hearings. The end result in some cases is that the Public Law Board reinstates the fired employee with full back pay.
  8. 1702

    How can personnel problems be resolved?

    The job title was Chief, On-Board Services and was indeed a unionized position. They were represented by the American Railway & Airline Supervisors Association, part of the Transportation-Communications Union. I'd equate them somewhat to a foreman in a factory, in that they were supposed to keep the troops on their toes but were not actually management employees. They were also supposed to function as passenger service reps, by assisting whenever possible with the problems of passengers enroute. As in every walk of life, there were really good ones and really bad ones. They were either pro-active, reactive, or non-active, the latter basically staying in their rooms thruout the trip except at mealtime. When I hired out with Amtrak in 1986, the Chiefs program had been in place for some time. It was discontinued around 2001, with many of the senior employees given a new title of Product Line Supervisor The others went back to whatever Amtrak seniority-based positions they had previously held or left the company entirely. Many of the PLS positions were "Ramp Supervisors", overseeing the arrivals and departures of trains at their crew bases. Others still worked on the road but hardly ever the entire length of the trip as the Chiefs had done. I've been retired from Amtrak since 2005 so do not know the current status of the PLS positions, tho IIRC David Gunn eliminated the term "Product Line" from Amtrak's vocabulary. From what I can find out, the current starting pay for Service Attendants (waiters) and Train Attendants (coach/sleeper) is $12 an hour, with step increases to top pay over either 5 or 8 years. Lead Service Attendants start at $14 and change an hour. Chefs (the highest-paid of the OBS crew) start around $16. I'm not sure what constitutes "unbelievable benefits".....I guess that's in the eye of the beholder. Well, here we go again.....it's the union's fault that Amtrak can't effectively manage its employees. Folks, if Amtrak wants to fire any unionized employee, there is absolutely nothing the union can do to stop it. Yes, there are safeguards in place that ensure that Amtrak follows proper procedure leading up to whatever discipline (including dismissal) that it wishes to impose on an employee. If an employee is to be brought up on charges, then a notice of formal investigation is sent out, allowing the employee to arrange union representation at his hearing. Just as the company has witnesses on its behalf at the hearing, so is the employee allowed to bring witnesses on his behalf. After the hearing is completed, the hearing officer decides what discipline will be imposed, ranging from a suspension ("time on the ground") to permanent dismissal. Whatever the discipline imposed, the employee (thru his union) has the right of appeal, altho appeal does not stay the discipline. IIRC, the appeals process starts with the local Amtrak Labor Relations officer, then to Corporate Labor Relations, and finally to a Public Law Board. If an appeal goes to a PLB, it can take a year or more to resolve. PLB's consist of three members- one management, one union, one neutral - and they decide if the punishment "fits the crime" or if the employee was unjustlly disciplined. The PLB can order Amtrak to reinstate the employee if they find that Amtrak has been unjust in the firing or if Amtrak didn't "dot the i's and cross the t's" in the formal investigation process. Very often employees are reinstated as a result of Amtrak's gross incompetence in the hearing process. As far as Amtrak's management "getting rid of the bad apples", this is a case of "Physician, heal thyself". If Amtrak historically had top-notch mid- and lower-level managers, I've no doubt we wouldn't be having these discussions. No matter what initiatives Corporate rolls out, they're totally dependent on the lower-echelon managers to implement them with enthusiasm and energy. I'll have more on that in another post.......thanks for listening to this one.
  9. 1702

    Amtrak treatment

    The Federal Railroad Administration does not regulate Amtrak's food preparation/service, sanitation, or related matters. That is the purview of the U. S. Food & Drug Administration, the FDA.
  10. 1702

    Amtrak Employment

    Limiting my response to the situation at Amtrak, when employees are furloughed they receive no compensation from Amtrak during the furlough period. Unemployment benefits are paid to the furloughed employee by the U. S. Railroad Retirement Board providing the employee has qualified for said benefits.
  11. 1702

    Amtrak Employment

    The OBS employees who have 5-6 (or more) days off between trips are those who hold regular assignments on long-distance trains. New hires go to the extra board for several years until they accumulate enough seniority to hold a regular job. As I explained above, the maximum guaranteed time off between runs for an extra board person is 48 hours. Basically, the time off is equivalent to the paid hours of the trip they come in from, to a maximum of 48 hours. They may actually get more time off if the board is turning slowly, but it can't be counted on. The guest poster mentioned a factor I neglected - the possibility of being furloughed during the off-season. If a crew base has a surplus of OBS employees for the projected needs, then they will furlough the most junior employees and recall them when business picks up. The pattern used to be: furloughed after Labor Day, recalled just before Thanksgiving, furloughed again after Christmas, and recalled in April or May. The only good thing about this is that the employee's seniority continues to grow, furloughed or not. Unemployment benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board are payable only after the employee has accumulated enough credited service to be eligible. I've worked with people who hired out when they were in their late 50's-early 60's, so you are absolutely correct; age is not an issue.
  12. 1702

    Amtrak Employment

    Unless your friend is willing to move to the Chicago area where he could get to work in about two hours or less, I doubt very much that Amtrak would consider hiring him for a Chicago-based On-Board Services position. Depending on the attrition by retirement, he'd likely spend at least a couple of years on the extra board until he could hold a regular assignment. OBS employees generally have a "report time" (on duty time) that is 2-3 hours or more prior to the scheduled departure of the train. As far as commuting on the Empire Builder, its scheduled arrival time in Chicago is 355PM. I don't recall any OBS jobs that would have report times later than that, unless Chicago still has some jobs on the Lake Shore Limited. The extra board protects vacancies due to the regularly-assigned employee being on vacation or laying off as well as extra cars added to a consist. It used to be the practice to call them the evening before for a morning report time and in the morning for an afternoon report time, and that is probably still the case. They also have to be able to get to work in a timely fashion in case of a last-minute vacancy. The maximum time off they are guaranteed between runs is 48 hours. All-in-all, not conducive to living very far from the crew base. I didn't notice any Chicago OBS jobs posted on the website. Past practice was to hire in the late Spring, so that new hires would be trained and ready to go by Memorial Day. Because of the relatively high turnover of Lead Service Attendants, those jobs can show up at any time of the year. Hope this has been of some help.
  13. 1702

    Diner-Lite on the Cardinal

    I believe what he said was that in riding the California Zephyr and the Cardinal, he has now ridden all the long-distance trains, not every Amtrak route.
  14. Altho Linda Niemann's books are mainly about freight railroading (she was a brakeman/conductor for the Southern Pacific), she is an excellent writer. Her first book, "Boomer: Railroad Memories" was published in the late '80s and is out of print, tho it can be found at amazon, abebooks, alibris, etc. About 1997 "Boomer" was reissued under the title "On the Rails: A Woman's Journey" and is still in print, as is "Railroad Voices: Narratives by Linda Niemann, Photographs by Lina Bertucci."
  15. 1702

    Advice/tips on month long trip

    Altho it certainly isn't publicized, Amtrak still offers the one-, two-, and three-zone "Explore America" fares. In the peak season May 25th thru Sept. 4th, the three-zone fare is $579. After that, it drops to $498 until Dec. 13th when peak kicks in again. Restrictions include a limit of three stopovers and no travel over the same route more than twice. You can get more stopovers by scheduling yourself for a "forced" stopover, such as traveling Atlanta to New Orleans to connect to the Sunset. Waiting for the Sunset's next departure day doesn't count against your three stopovers. Same would be true with the Cardinal at Chicago or Washington, as both are tri-weekly trains. That $579 is quite a savings over the North America Railpass. "Explore America" can't be booked online, but the Amtrak res agent I spoke with was quite knowledgable about it, and I assume travel agents who handle Amtrak can book it as well.
  16. 1702

    Amtrak Store and the NARP

    Going to amtrak.com and clicking on "Privacy and Security" at the bottom of the page gives one all the details of what Amtrak may do with the personal information one provides, including by way of on-line merchandise purchases and requests for travel/promotional info. A couple of the relevant headings are "Section 2: The Personal Information We Collect from You on Amtrak.com and How We Collect It" and "Section 4: With Whom We Share Your Personal Information". In a quick scan of the policy, I found no way to opt-out of the info-sharing. California residents, by state law, do have the right to request once a year that Amtrak provide them with a list of anyone who received their personal information.
  17. 1702

    Booking 8 or more people

    R.R., Amtrak has a Group Sales line at 1-800-USA-1GRP (872-1477) or you can email them at groupsales@amtrak.com.
  18. 1702

    First Class Passengers?

    Not according to Amtrak's website, which says: You're correct on that reference. However, all other references to sleeping car service that I found - timetables, the sleeper info page, and usage of Metropolitan Lounges and other special waiting rooms - uses the terms "Sleeping Car Service" or "Sleeper Service", replacing the previously-used "First Class".
  19. 1702

    First Class Passengers?

    Actually, in Amtrak's current terminology, "First Class" designates the premium coach seating on the Acela Express services. The term has been dropped for sleepers, now called "Sleeping Car Service".
  20. The men and women of our military are losing lives, limbs, and sanity in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other than their families, no one in this country has been asked to make any sort of meaningful sacrifice since that whole mess began. How about letting the TSA (and other agents of our national security) do their thing and stop bitching and moaning about it? Considering the trauma this country suffered with the events of 9/11, any "inconveniences" we've had since are really minor, as the government's response could have been much more intrusive into our daily lives. If you do decide to stop whining and second-guessing, consider that your miniscule contribution to a situation that others are paying far more dearly for.
  21. As usual for television news, there's a lot less here than meets the eye. According to the Albany Times-Union, the affected stations are Syracuse, Utica, and Rome, with Albany-Rensselaer to be added later on. TSA has announced (!) that the first "random checks" will be done at Syracuse on April 6th. That should be a good day to board at Syracuse, shouldn't be any bomb-toters showing up! Full story at http://tinyurl.com/2jbzxz
  22. IMO, our ridership varied from good to excellent to "packed to the rafters" on both sides of New Orleans.
  23. Having worked the Sunset end-to-end for almost eight years (ending pre-Katrina), I think restoring the service east of New Orleans is the least favorable of three options, the other two being a new train with daily service from Miami or Orlando to New Orleans or an extension of the City of New Orleans to Orlando or Miami. From my experience, the bigger market is service from Fla/Ala/Miss. to New Orleans and on north to Chicago. When the Sunset was running to Orlando, the biggest passenger turnover by far (coach and sleeper) was at New Orleans. This was the case both eastbound and westbound. The run from L.A. to Florida is simply too long, given the inability of the Union Pacific and CSX to get the train over the road on time. Many, many times the train would arrive very late in Florida, be terminated short of Orlando (at the Sanford Auto-Train terminal) with no station personnel on duty to assist disabled passengers to their buses and no wheelchairs or luggage carts to be had. There were plenty of carts on the platform, but they were always chained and locked. And the late arrivals often meant late departures, meaning we were behind the eight-ball again from the start! And that scenario was of course somewhat minor compared to arriving so late eastbound into New Orleans that the train would be terminated there and the passengers put on buses the rest of the way. Having daily service New Orleans-Florida may even be more cost-efficient with the train and engine crews. When the Sunset was running, there was a lot of deadheading involved with crews based out of New Orleans and Jacksonville (Pensacola being the turnaround) due to the train being tri-weekly. So, hopefully daily service Florida-New Orleans with connections to the City of New Orleans and the Sunset (westbound at least). But let the "Coast-to-Coast Adventure" rest in peace.
  24. 1702

    Denver Union Station

    IIRC, the train servicing/inspection work at Denver (and Omaha) is contracted out and those folks are not Amtrak employees. As far as fueling the locomotives enroute, that is also contracted out and the work performed by employees of the fuel supplier. Except in emergency, waste system holding tanks are not emptied enroute, only at the endpoints.
  25. 1702

    Pac.Par. Car Attendants

    Really? I wonder if Amtrak ever saw a nickel of that "revenue".