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Amtrak Rail Travelogue

Hello Amtrak:

My wife and I had a wonderful time on our most recent train trip from Seattle to Chicago to Houston (Longview). We booked this trip through Amtrak Vacations (Houston to Vancouver, B.C. and return).

We have several comments and suggestions.

First, on our May, 1998 trip (Houston to Milwaukee to Flagstaff to Houston), we noticed that there was only 2 people assigned to the diner car on all 3 trains we traveled on. The Chief of Onboard Services spent most of their time in the Diner, helping out, instead of doing their job. They were worked to exhaustion on these trains. Our most recent trip had 3 waiters and the steward in both diner cars (Seattle to Chicago and Chicago to Longview). This was a vast improvement in the service and hospitality in the diners and the Chief of Onboard Services could do their job. I realize Amtrak is trying to be self-sufficient and cut costs, but this is not the area to do it. Meals are such a wonderful part of our train experience, I believe it should be staffed properly.

Continue fighting for capital improvements from Congress. All of the Superliner I equipment should be replaced or refurbished. We were in a Superliner II sleeper from Chicago to Flagstaff. It's a much nicer car. Let's be honest; the rust and avocado green color scheme is DATED!!! I will continue to write my Senator (Kay Bailey Hutchison) requesting that Amtrak get at least a penny of that 4.3 cent a gallon gas tax (that Clinton slapped on us in 1993) for capital improvements. We taxpayers subsidize all forms of transportation. Amtrak is a pleasant form of that transportation. Being self-sufficient is do-able if capital improvements are off-budget and subsidized by the taxpayers for a defined period of time (10 to 12 years is my guess). I don't think the current Congress would fund capital improvements forever, so get whatever you can.

I want a Texas Zephyr from Houston to Dallas to Denver, connecting with the Texas Eagle in Dallas and the California Zephyr in Denver. Houston has a lot of traffic to Colorado in the winter (skiing). This could be a lucrative route if properly marketed. I find it ludicrous that the 4th largest city in this nation is only serviced by the Sunset Limited. There has been talk for decades about a high-speed express train between Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. The Texas Zephyr could be the first part of this. It would be a nice alternative to air travel.

Some of the best parts of our July 28, 1998 train trip were the excellent service, outstanding scenery, great food, and over-all relaxing nature of train travel. Some of the down sides were the smoking accommodations, old (but very clean) equipment, no pretzels at the Chicago Metropolitan Lounge, and the track through Arkansas and Texas (heat related problems).

The smoking accommodations could be corrected with a refurbished smoking car. The ventilation needs to be stronger and vented to the outside. I could always smell the smoke in the coach car that had the smoking section. I smoke cigarettes and my wife smokes pipe cigars (Black and Milds). She was not happy that she wasn't allowed to smoke on the trains.

The service on the Empire Builder was better that the service on the Texas Eagle. The Empire Builder staff seemed genuinely happy to be doing their jobs and seemed to be having a good time while they were working. The Texas Eagle staff seemed to be remembering that their train was almost canceled. The service was good, but not as good as the Empire Builder.

I tried to purchase an Empire Builder coffee mug onboard, but they didn't have any. Where can I get one? I also want a California Zephyr and a Coast Starlight coffee mug to compliment my Texas Eagle, Sunset Limited, and Southwest Chief mugs. These are the 6 trains the wife and I have traveled on. We did not receive Empire Builder wine glasses. Has this been discontinued recently? I've read almost everything has written about Amtrak, and the wine glasses were mentioned in several of the travelogues at trainweb. I am cc'ing Steve at trainweb with this letter.

We are currntly planning our May, 1999 trip from Houston to Washington, DC, to Milwaukee to Houston. I've heard great things about the new Viewliner sleepers and will try one out from New Orleans to Washington.

Thanks for reading this.
Mike and Tzena Smith

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