So, notwithstanding my love of rail travel, I have to say that I had a pretty crappy rail experience on Sunday. It started with the Amtrak agent’s sincere disinterest in helping me make the 11 o’clock Acela, which would have saved me from two hours of fiddling in Union Station. But that was a minor annoyance compared with what happened with Acela 2254 when we got to New York Penn Station.
As anyone who has ever traveled on Amtrak knows, station stops are typically brief, under a couple of minutes. Sometimes stops can be a bit longer at big stations, like Penn Station, but they are unlikely to last more than 5 minutes unless something is wrong. And so, after an uneventful trip from DC to NYC, when my train on Sunday was stopped for 10, then 15, then 20 minutes at NYP, I didn’t need to have Spidey sense to know something was wrong.
An announcement confirmed it: “The Acela 2254 to Boston has been canceled, and this train will now be heading to Washington, D.C. Boston-bound travelers, please exit the train and proceed upstairs for more information.” I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist. Not a word about why or what contingency plans were. Ugh. And a double ugh when I went topside and encountered the mob scene created by the just-finished Rangers game. And a triple ugh when I noticed that 350+ people were in Amtrak’s customer service line.
Strangely, I didn’t find myself consumed by rage. I figured that the Amtrak drones had no information anyway, so why wait in that hell-line or yell at people who’s fault this wasn’t (although they could’ve stowed the surliness). I asked the regular 34th Street district info booth where the nearest car rental place was, and, to my relief, it was a Hertz around the corner on 34th between 8th and 9th.
Unfortunately, that Hertz had no cars and it did have two people in front of me who also wanted a car so they could drive to Boston for the exact same reason. Perhaps chastened by an unexpectedly high blood pressure reading recently, I continued my Zen approach, took a number and a seat. Forty-five minutes later, I was ensconced in a surprisingly-nice Kia Sportage that someone had been kind enough to return. An hour after that, I had navigated free from the departing MSG hockey crowd, wended my way crosstown to the FDR, realized that the Triboro is now called the RFK, and made it onto the Hutch. A few, relatively painless hours later, I was home.
Apparently, the cause of all the agita was a power outage on the line between NYC and New Haven that was fixed some four and half hours after I left the City. This is, natch, no surprise, but the fact that it occurred is a shame and the way Amtrak mishandled the situation (not exactly Alitalia-esque, but still botched) is a shame. This is one person’s anecdote, but I fear that it is telling. There are a lot of people who would ride the rails on a regular basis; there’s lots of reasons to do so. Plus, we’re now in a political climate in this country that seems receptive, at least, to reducing our dependence on oil by promoting trains. But until Amtrak gets its act together, especially by addressing its customer service failings, it will squander this golden opportunity.