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Amtrak: The Train To Heck

Two days before July 4th, I took an Amtrak train from New York City to Boston. Suffice to say, this was a pretty dumb thing to do since the Boston fireworks usually drew everyone and their in-laws on the East coast.

In short, the train was packed like a thimble of sardines. There was no seating; there was no floor space. If you were lucky you got to sit/stand on the floor. If you were unlucky, you got to stand in the stairwell of the space between the train cars.

I’m not an expert on trains but it seems to me that Amtrak was breaking several safety laws by overbooking and forcing passengers to stand in the area between cars. I shuddered to think of what would have happened if the train had to make a sudden stop.

To make things worse, the weather that time of year was hot and toasty, approaching and surpassing 100 degrees. And the area between the train cars did not have air conditioning. I don’t want to be that close to the mass of humanity again; exchanging moisture is not my idea of a good time.

In summary the trip took six hours. I stood for 3.5 hours near the car door, where I kept a flow of water from the dispenser to the poor, unfortunate souls stuck outside. Then I managed to sit on the floor for 1.5 hours. Finally, I got a seat for the last hour.

Here are some interesting excerpts.

I talked to a college student who told me, “I’m going to refuse to hand over my ticket. What are they going to do?” He ended up hiding in the bathroom. The ticket collector (TC) didn’t even bother checking the bathroom. Darn, wish I had thought of that idea. [By the way, the bathroom is a good place to take a breather from the crowding. Just don’t breathe too deeply.]

“I don’t understand how they can overbook. I mean, the computer tracks the ticket purchases so they should know when all the seats are taken,” a nerd said. Wait, that was me.

A man asked “Is it always like this?” An elderly woman responded, “Yes, every year.” Her elderly companion added, “They’re just greedy! There’s no other reason.”

When the TC finally came (it took her a while to climb over people), the passengers were surprisingly restrained. Only a few spoke out.

Man: “How could you overbook like this? There aren’t enough seats!”
TC: “We guaranteed passage, not a seat.”
Man: “Isn’t there a law against this?”
TC: “Like I said, we guaranteed passage, not a seat.”

After I got back home, I sent a letter to the Massachusetts and New York State Board of Transportation, the Federal Board of Transportation, the Boston Amtrak office, and the New York Amtrak office. I never got a reply from the government offices, but I did get an apology letter from Amtrak plus two $56 coupons.

Have I redeemed those coupons? Nope, it’ll be a cold day in Heck….

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