Six years ago, I took a ride on the Coast Starlight.  In those days, there was a wine tasting in the Pacific Parlour Car, for a small extra charge.  I skipped on that ... paying money to indulge in Arch Deluxe, which is what the whole wine thing is, is contrary to my Yankee principles.  But the Parlour Car, a converted Santa Fe high level lounge, is a good place to hang out before dinner.


The wine-tastings are still on offer, but travel writer Jim Loomis wasn't impressed with his experience.
I was anticipating the kind of presentation I have enjoyed literally dozens of times before, with the attendant pouring one wine at a time and offering a brief description of each. This time, however, he placed three small plastic “wine glasses” on the little table in front of me and poured a red wine into the first glass, another red into the second glass, and a white wine into the third glass. And thus ended the wine tasting. A woman seated across from me–this was also her first long-distance Amtrak ride- rolled her eyes.

This half-assed stuff is really starting to piss me off. Sleeping car passengers are already being nickel-and-dimed. I don’t like it, although I understand why the Amtrak brass thinks it’s necessary. But obviously the on-board staff has seen it and it’s affected how some of them do their jobs: cutting a few corners here, saving a little time there. It is by no means universal, but I think it’s understandable. After all, management is doing it.

But it’s deplorable. A car attendant or a dining car server taking shortcuts and not providing the kind of attention and service passengers deserve and for which they are already paying top dollar — that’s not helping to improve Amtrak’s bottom line. In fact, when a family of four takes their first overnight train ride, it’s their interaction with those on-board employees that can boost the overall experience rating “good” to “memorable” … and result in another Amtrak trip next year.
Downsizing is a false economy. It's rampant all over Amtrak's network, including periodic withdrawals of the Parlour Cars for "maintenance."  (That's another way the old Soviet Union concealed that they were running out of everything, pretending that facilities were being "rehabilitated."  Only slightly more positive than rehabilitating enemies of people shot in Stalin years.)

And it puts staff in a difficult position: make the effort right, and after a while, it's a grind to have to apologize or explain.  Or cut corners and make do.
[S]omewhere on the To-Do list has got to be a serious effort to boost on-board employee morale and restore consistency and quality-control to the standards and procedures that have been successful in the past. Case in point: the parlor car attendant I mentioned above. Yes, he did a half-assed job with the wine tasting, but otherwise he was, in fact, friendly and personable.

The on board crews need to see and hear some optimism from the Amtrak leadership. They’re still doing their jobs capably and professionally, but they’re discouraged. Somehow, that has to change.
Yes, and the people who have other options will explore other options. Despite the depredations of Hope and Change, employers continue to seek people of ability. Some might even equip their hires with the right working conditions and the tools to do the job.

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