March 27, 2019
It's Always Good Riding The Rails
By Carolyn Cokley, Director, Customer Programs
It is always good to get out and ride the rails. And I could not be happier to work a position that allows me to get out of the office, every now and then and take a trip.
On Saturday, February 23, I boarded Train #19 in Washington, DC headed to New Orleans. Riding the Crescent was new for me. I have always heard about what a great ride it was and was really looking forward to the trip. I was also looking forward to eating in the dining car and meeting a couple of new people. I must have one of those faces because it never fails that I am often asked a question or two, “Do you know why we are running late?” “Is this your first Amtrak trip?” So I find myself drawing from both my previous Amtrak life experiences as well as my current RailPax life to engage other passengers in discussion on the need to maintain the Amtrak National Network and how they can lend their support.
We departed on time and had been running on schedule since the night before, so at breakfast on Sunday morning, I was asked if this was my first trip on the train. The young man (24 years old) I was sitting with was a coach passenger and going to Atlanta to visit his grandmother. She recently had surgery and the family was gathering to support her. This was his first Amtrak trip. He did not like to fly so his aunt suggested that he take Amtrak. Yes, he knew that it would take 10 hours, if on time, “but was excited about taking the slower route”. He did not know what to expect, but knew that the fare was very reasonable, that he could get a good meal while on board and most important would have a Wi-Fi signal to connect so he could work on his paper due at the end of the semester, so he was content. He shared with me that he was happy to find that the seat was comfortable, the Conductor and Attendant were very professional in helping him navigate his first Amtrak trip and while sometimes spotty, a pretty decent Wi-Fi signal. Moreover, he was impressed with the dining car and did not expect the menu options available in both the dining and lounge cars. He had the pancakes and I had the omelet and we both enjoyed the conversation. I shared with him what I did for a living and how RailPax would value his feedback through our Travel Review. He was very excited to share his POV and promised that he would participate. I gave him my business card and talked to him about our very affordable student membership. Hopefully a new member.
It dawned on me that he and I, 34 years apart in age savored exactly the same things in our travel essentials. We both needed to get where we were going, on time. We both needed to conduct work while we were traveling and valued a reliable Wi-Fi connection. We both needed a comfortable place to sleep (he in coach and me in a roomette) and a decent meal to keep us nourished. He also understood the need for a strong national network that would continue to give Americans variety in their travel options and vowed to travel Amtrak again.
I had a very similar encounter on my trip to Miami earlier this month. They were a couple who were frequent Amtrak travelers, but had never ridden on the Silver Meteor. They were fully aware of the funding challenges that Amtrak has faced in this country and compared it to European train travel experiences they have had in the past. They never heard of the Rail Passengers Association and was very excited when I told them that I was a staffer who used to work for Amtrak. They had the Angus burger and I had the Entrée salad with chicken and I told them about what we do and how they could make such a difference by joining our organization.
I am glad to say that both of my trips were very successful. I was able to present customer service awards to two well-deserving Amtrak employees and make connections that I hope to cultivate in the future. Perhaps if I had the opportunity to ride along with Mr. Torchinsky who “Took Amtrak Instead of Flying and It Made Me Want to Die a Little Bit”. Maybe, over a meal, I could have changed his POV.
"The National Association of Railroad Passengers has done yeoman work over the years and in fact if it weren’t for NARP, I'd be surprised if Amtrak were still in possession of as a large a network as they have. So they've done good work, they're very good on the factual case."
Robert Gallamore, Director of Transportation Center at Northwestern University and former Federal Railroad Administration official, Director of Transportation Center at Northwestern University
November 17, 2005, on The Leonard Lopate Show (with guest host Chris Bannon), WNYC New York.