Don’t Be Amtrak

Train: California Zephyr Route: Chicago to San Francisco area (Emeryville) by way of Denver and Glenwood Springs Photo Credit: Amtrak/Phil Gosney
California Zephyr Route: Chicago to San Francisco area (Emeryville) by way of Denver and Glenwood Springs Photo Credit: Amtrak/Phil Gosney

I was recently traveling to NYC with Amtrak. It's not a bad deal, for what you pay. Plus, I don't have to drive myself; which is the biggest selling point for me. Not a fan of driving for many hours. But this last trip on Amtrak was different. I learned something new about Amtrak that pissed me off. Lost your ticket? Buy a new one!

The representative was calm in explaining why they charge for new tickets, even if you lost it. Apparently, back in the day people would say they lost it so they could get a refund later. So, Amtrak decided to screw everyone else and start charging for lost tickets.

OK, I see why they would do it. They want to make sure they won't lose money. But it's 2011! If we can track individual's location with GPS in real-time, don't you think we can track if they got on a train or not? This is a simple case of being cheap and extremely lazy on Amtrak's part.

Remember in the old movies on a train the conductor would walk around punching holes in the paper tickets? Well, if you've been on an Amtrak train lately you don't have to think too hard about it. They still punch holes in paper tickets. People were smarter than Amtrak and ripped them off.

UPS and Fedex have scanners to update the system about delivery status. Why can't Amtrak use a simple scanner to track passengers? Stop screwing  passengers. If I lost my ticket, issue me a new one and let your system know that Viktor Nagornyy has a new ticket issued and void my lost ticket. How hard is that? Really?

Amtrak is really dragging about 10 years behind current technology. No WiFi on the trains. Come on, my local buses have WiFi on them. Freaking planes have WiFi on them. If a Greyhound bus can have WiFi on it, than any moving machine can have WiFi. But Amtrak? Nope, no WiFi. Amtrak's new motto should be: Never late to bore you. There's really no excuse for not having WiFi on the trains anymore. This is not 2005. We've grown you know, we need WiFi to stay connected.

So don't be Amtrak. Stay current on the technology that will make your customers happy. Making their lives easier by providing easy to use service, friendly service, and quality service with those fringe extras is an awesome way to retain them. If you screw your customers over and over again, you will be screwed by your customers in return.

Don't be the caveman of your industry. Stay current on innovations in your industry. But don't forget to talk to your customers. Simply ask, what makes you happy? Once you do ask, LISTEN. Clearly Amtrak doesn't like to listen to their customers. Otherwise they would have WiFi on their trains and not rip off their customers when they simply lost their ticket.

One happy customer is better than a $2,000,000 billboard in Times Square.

10 thoughts on “Don’t Be Amtrak”

  1. Avatar for Dani

    Thank you writing this. Like you, I “lost” my ticket and am still in disbelief that I essentially lost $138.

    My story: On the day of my travel I went to a ticket kiosk at the station to print my electronic tickets. Although the machine read “Printing 1 of 2 documents”, I assumed one document was a one way ticket and the other was a receipt, so threw it away. Wrong. The second document was my return ticket. On my return trip, a station customer rep informed me what I tossed away was my return ticket. Amtrak’s kiosks are not like airlines, which only prints 1 way travel at a time. It prints roundtrip whether you request it or not.

    What upsets me the most is that the kiosk never asked if I wanted to print one way or round trip nor did it alert me that it was printing my roundtrip travel. Furthermore, the system didn’t alert me that the tickets are worth cash. Had I known they were cash, I CERTAINLY wouldn’t have wanted to print roundtrip tickets (I am notorious for losing items when traveling).

    Amtrak’s reasoning for the continuation of this antiquated ticketing policy is backwards and unacceptable. “That’s the way things were done in the ’70s so that’s how we do it now.” There are various technologies that track tickets. A conductor can scan tickets as he goes through the train. If two of the same tickets are scanned, he can ask for I.D. from both passengers. However, this means Amtrak couldn’t refund customers for missed trips (unless no other ticket had been issued for that account and they can show receipt and identification).

    Amtrak is just being lazy. And I have little sympathy now for Amtrak’s financial woes given this recent episode.

    1. Avatar for Viktor

      Hey Dani,
      Thanks a lot for your comment. I’m sorry to hear that you had to go through the same dilemma as I did. I think, Amtrak’s reluctance to move to a more efficient system of check-in is due to the money they make on lost tickets. Giving people both tickets increases the likelihood that people will lose the return ticket, hence giving Amtrak an opportunity to make additional profit on top of what they already made. It has to be lucrative to charge again for a lost ticket.

      We can only hope that they will decide to become fair and improve their check-in process.

      Thanks a lot,

  2. Avatar for Diggy

    I got a super-crazy question for you. Before that, let me tell you that I’ve always LOVED trains – I grew up on the MTA in NYC, and I was one of those 12, 13 yr old kids that would ride the subways all through the city just for fun, staring out the front car to watch the train roll along the tracks. I used to draw the track alignments of my favorite subway routes using colored pencils and paper – that’s how into it I was. As an adult, I sometimes play the SimCity-ish game Locomotion because I enjoy designing train routes. Anyways, I’ve always wondered about how rail systems overseas are built with better and faster trains yet we’re so far behind. It sucks that Amtrak is so antiquated. I almost wish someone had the money and gumption to create a new interstate passenger railway system that would seriously threaten the stronghold Amtrak has. Nothing will ever be faster than a plane, but there are still several advantages that trains can offer, especially for those who have a fear of flying.

    1. Avatar for Viktor

      Thanks for commenting. One of the main reasons for not having a better rail system is money. It would take millions, if not billions, to build a new rail system across a state or two – not to mention the whole country. I believe NJ was planning to have some sort of bullet train-like system, but it fell through due to the budget. I think it was a year or two ago.

      It takes a lot of money to build it and Amtrak is not profitable, sure they do make money, but not nearly enough needed to build new systems. So they upgrade and maintain current ones. As you said flying is fast, people prefer it to train due to saving time. But, train is still great to enjoy the ride and scenery.


  3. Avatar for BC

    Amtrak has pretty gone to eTickets on all routes starting Aug 2012.

    If you buy online, they send a PDF page with a QR code. You can print it as many times as you like. Maybe even stash a copy in different places in case you’re worried you’ll lose it. Even with that, you always have the option to print out your ticket at one of their Quik-Trak automated kiosks. Since they’re not live tickets with a cash value, you can reprint them until you’ve used that reservation (i.e. the conductor scans your ticket code). I’ve done that twice for the same reservation just so I could give my kid a souvenir. This is what it looks like:

    They’ve even got an iPhone app (I think they just came out with an Android version too) where the eTicket code can be displayed. Once I boarded without anything printed and used this alone. Once or twice I’ve laid out the print at home eTicket, an eTicket printed on the Amtrak ticket stock, and the eTicket displayed on my iPhone – then gave the conductor the choice of which one to scan. I’ve scanned the QR code myself, and it’s just the reservation number and date of purchase.

    The only live tickets now are the multi-ride and the monthly passes. I’ve got one since it gives a pretty steep discount, but if I lose that it would be like losing cash.

  4. Avatar for BC

    Amtrak pretty much doesn’t own their lines for the large majority of their service. The lines are owned by either the major freight railways or by commuter rail services. Amtrak doesn’t provide maintenance on the rails, which is very expensive. I’ve seen rail maintenance being done before, including Union Pacific pickup trucks that were designed to ride on the rails such that the rails could be caught on video and the rails inspected.

    For example, Amtrak would love to run the San Joaquin all the way from Oakland to Los Angeles. However, it stops at Bakersfield because the Union Pacific won’t let Amtrak use their heavily used Tehachapi Loop freight line, and haven’t let Amtrak use it since about 2005 save the Coast Starlight when there’s maintenance on the coastal route.

    1. Avatar for Viktor

      Thanks for commenting with updated information. Haven’t traveled Amtrak since I moved to DC from Rochester. Thanks for letting me know they fixed it, finally. I hope they’ve added wifi to trains too, that would be sweet!

      Not sure when I will use Amtrak again, since most of my travel now is either flights or bus to NYC, which is only $30 both ways.

      1. Avatar for BC

        You’re asking about WiFi?

        I take Amtrak somewhat regularly now, and they’ve got WiFi onboard. They tap into cellular data. You need to bring up a web browser and it automatically calls up a start page where you’ll need to agree to their terms. if you’ve got some device (like a Kindle) without a web browser, it probably won’t work. Many of the major lines seem to have WiFi now.

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