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TrainWeb Visitor Travelogue

Greetings All-Aboard list members,

Some of you may know that I (a lurker on this list and avid passenger rail advocate) recently had the most incredible opportunity of my life: spending a summer working for Amtrak as a train attendant on board the Empire Builder.

I went into the experience with a whole lot of apprehension. I've been on this list for a year now and knew enough that I didn't believe in RPS or long-hauls losing money (I absolutely LOVE corridor trains, but cannot accept that they make as much money, especially the NEC, as Amtrak claims. Please, let's not get the short vs long-haul thing going AGAIN!) I also had had quite the wide range of service levels on board Amtrak trains, as any frequent rider can tell you. New equipment and poor service, poor equipment and fantastic service, and then of course there's the Starlight with both new equipment and great service. I've ridden them all. Finally, I was apprehensive about the summer because I go to college and reside in Missouri, but had to (was lucky enough to) move to Seattle to work out of the Builder's crew base there.

Well, before I go any further I should inform you that I have a WHOLE lot to say and so will make this an ongoing installment-type series, if there is enough interest on the list to warrant that. Although I only made 6 round trips SEA-CHI, I learned more that I ever imagined possible.

First off, our training was a joke. We were paid 40 dollars a day to train, which meant sitting in a classroom for 6 to 8 hours a day learning about the company structure and FDA regulations, etc. It was obviously a device used to encourage team-building, but that backfired as our "team" immediately broke off into two social groups. The best part of training was the emergency P.R.E.P.A.R.E. course led by a conductor named Bud in which we simulated emergencies, then got to locate emergency equipment on board both the passenger cars and locomotives (By the way, the emergency windows in Super I's are impossible to replace once taken out!)

The second week, we met Manuel Walton and Ed Forrest, our two trainers, with whom we met the inbound (to Seattle) Empire Builder (#7) at King Street Station and turned both the sleepers and coaches around for the afternoon departure of #8--ie we cleaned the sleepers and coaches, restocked the sleepers' linens and supplies, made any unmade beds, etc... This was by far the most practical and useful portion of our training (but I still didn't learn how to make a bed--that's an art!) I also got the chance to observe pros in action setting up their cars (Seattle is one of the highest seniority crew bases on Amtrak.) I most definitely recommend Amtrak increase the hands-on portion of new hires' training.

In the next installment, my first training trip to Chicago, coaches one way and sleepers returning.

Before I sign off, however, I'd like to say that I really enjoyed working in Seattle. We had only one train (TA's don't work the corridor trains except in emergencies) and therefore were able to take ownership and pride in our product. I've never been more proud of anything than I was of the Empire Builder this summer. That may seem stupid, childish and unintelligent, but that sort of pride makes most Seattle crews rival any crews on board the Starlight. Unfortunately, the EB's management subscribes to RPS very heavily, especially its fully-depreciated clause, and the Builder has only Superliner I equipment (except the occasional Super II diner and once a Super II sleeper.) Ironically, the crew sleeps in a nicer and newer car than the paying passengers. I was extremetly frustrated as I tried to provide excellent passenger service and had to explain to someone paying several thousand dollars for a deluxe room why their door wouldn't stay on its track or why the bed rattled and vibrated all night long.

I think the run-through with the City of New Orleans would work *IF* the trainsets were maintained properly, but they're not. I'm going to get crucified for saying this, but Chicago maintenance crews are, for the most part, the laziest people I have EVER encountered (one foreman actually told our train chief that he was wasting his time!) But that will come in a later installment. Bottom line, I learned that although the run-through looks good on paper, it is NOT working in real life.

Well, that just about does it. I can't wait to get some responses to this one, and I haven't even gotten into the touchy stuff yet.

Amtrak Seattle-Based OBS employee

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