The slow demise of Amtrak customer service

It is a breathing, filthy mass of humanity in here. Groups of youth are sprawled across the floor, some on computers or smart phones, some eating fast food and others staring forlornly off in the distance, slowly rocking back and forth. A group of ten-odd Amish mill about in quiet companionship, belongings folded solemnly into hard luggage from a generation past. Feverishly, a woman swipes her credit card through the vending machine and stabs at the blue-illuminated lights. *Invalid* it says. *Invalid*.

This is the south Amtrak lounge at Chicago‘s Union Station.

Three hours into our delay with no updates from the staff, it strikes me that if this were the airline industry, then people would be up in arms. Bloggers would be furiously stroking their mustaches and writing angry letters to the executives deep inside of Amtrak ranks, while pundits in the community would be making ombudsman calls. Some sad politician would draft up the the Rail Sanity Act of 2011, only to get it shot down by a filibuster.

Instead, it seems like these Amtrak passengers have accepted their fate and that in a solemn, desperate way they’re starting to bond together and power through it. Somewhere along the way, Americans have just come to accept the fact that Amtrak isn’t reliable and that customer service here doesn’t equal customer service at a hotel or on an airline or cruise ship.

What would be ideal is if Amtrak passengers took a step in the direction of airline passengers — and vice versa. If airline passengers realized how damn hard the industry was trying and what the real effect of weather and logistics was then maybe they’d better appreciate the art of flying. On the flip side, if train customers were more vociferous about the atrocities that they experience then maybe quality could improve. To begin with, complaints and comments should be made on their comments page here.

[flickr image via haydnseek]