Saturday, December 31, 2005

Amtrak Angers Riders on 'Silver Streak'

People on board the Amtrak "Silver Streak" were not happy campers the past couple of days when they were stranded on their train, near Savannah Georgia after a freight train derailment ahead of them tore up the tracks and it took several days before the wreckage was cleared up and the track repaired.

I was watching CNN this afternoon and they had one of the trains passengers live on-the-air via her cell phone. This lady sounded tired, hungry and just plain mad at Amtrak for not finding them other means of transportation after this long two day delay. According to her, the passengers had been stuck on this, non moving train, for almost a day , at that time, and the company had not tried to find them fresh food to eat or had not offered to get them other forms of transportation so they could continue their trip.

An Amtrak spokesman said they had tried to find alternate transportation via charter buses, but there were not enough of them available because of this upcoming holiday weekend. While listening to this lady on the telephone talking to CNN, I could hear the frustration and anger in her voice and I'm sure if I was in the same situation, I would be angry too. She said that just like clock work the Amtrak employees changed shifts, but the train still didn't move from it's out of the way location.

I think the right thing to do would have been for Amtrak to put these passengers up in a motel or hotel just like the airlines do when there is a long delay like this one. Surely, their planners have figure some kind of problem like this into the operating manual and if their planned solution is to just strand passengers on the train until he tracks are eventually cleared, that plan needs to be revised.

I'm surprised that fights and other problems didn't breakout on this trip. Most people are not at their best when travel anyway, but you put the added stress of a train that isn't moving and a company that can't give you firm answers as to when your trip can continue, will add even more fuel to the fire. I hope this example will teach leaders at Amtrak that they need a better plan for rerouting passengers when unforeseen events like this one that place in the future.

I've always wanted to get on a train and take a long trip across the country. I know people that have done this and they tell me it was one of the best vacations of their lives. There is something romantic about traveling on a passenger train, especially at night and no doubt these folks on this particular train were hoping for a nice uneventful trip, but instead it turned into some kind of "Griswall" family vacation with Chevy Chase in charge of the planning!

Let's all hope that Amtrak will learn from this latest situation and have a better backup plan for their service in the years to come. They have had financial problems for a long time and many government leaders would just as soon they go out of business, but I hope they don't. I still want to take my cross country train trip someday, and if I don't want to spend it in a boxcar, Amtrak will still need to be around to make this dream trip a reality.

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