Amtrak locked me in!

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Service issues are sometimes unavoidable, but when you put the safety of a customer at risk, the least you can do is show empathy and make some service recovery efforts. Amtrak's service and negligence during a recent trip shocked me, but their response to my complaint left me speechless.

It was January, and I was excited to take a 24-hour train ride from San Francisco to Vancouver to see friends. How often do you get 24 hours to yourself? And how often do you get to take a train ride with observation cars that have seats facing outward?! I was excited. But after falling asleep while waiting for the train to arrive, Amtrak let me down. BIG.
I'd been waiting for hours for the train to arrive. Surrounded by honest-looking people, and understanding we were all waiting to board the same train, I closed my eyes for a power nap. I assumed someone would wake me up if the train came. But when I woke up I felt like I was in a surreal dream — there I was, the only person left sitting in the middle of a small empty train station with all its bright lights still on. Was it possible that everyone left without me?!
I grabbed my bags and rushed to the platform doors. Locked. Was this happening? I called out for assistance. No answer. I knocked on the supervisor door and called out again. No answer. I ran to the main entrance doors. All locked. And then one swung open. And that's when I realized the Amtrak station in Emeryville, California, is in the middle of nowhere. Panic. The next train would be in 24 hours!
Only then did someone appear, screaming as she charged toward me. "You broke our door! You're going to have to pay for this!" In disbelief I simply repeated, "WHEN did the train leave??? When did it leave? Will you tell me when it left?" Realizing there was no use in asking her, I told her to call the police, take my license details, but at least tell me when the train left. At that point her colleague, standing quietly next to her and equally shocked that I had been locked in, told me that I was in luck — this was the only leg on the route where a car could actually beat the train to the next station. As her angry counterpart continued yelling to herself, I thanked her, turned around and found a lone cab driver waiting to zip me over to Martinez, California.
According to Google Maps, Emeryville Amtrak station to Martinez Amtrak station:
  • By car: 26 miles, 33 minutes

By Train: 35 miles, 28 minutes

(I didn't know this until searching for it online this week.)

And it was true. 4.3 miles up I-80, we actually intersected with the train as it passed over us, and we beat it to Martinez with minutes to spare.

I later wrote a letter to Amtrak commending them for their great onboard service and then told them about my experience at Emeryville. I highlighted their negligence in having doors that don't open in "case of an emergency" and the appalling service of their employee. In two weeks I followed up with another email, and then turned to social media.

On February 14th, more than one month after the incident, they replied with the following:

Dear Yvette,

Thank you for your recent correspondence.  

Amtrak welcomes feedback from customers, as it helps us to focus our efforts to improve service. We hope that you will accept our sincere apologies for the lack of adequate service. We have entered your concerns into our customer database. This information is shared with the responsible managers for review and any necessary corrective action. We have also forwarded your email to the manager so your comments are on record. 

Thank you for writing. We look forward to the privilege of serving your travel needs in the future, under better circumstances.

Sincerely, 

Amtrak Customer Relations

In the end I reached my destination. I got my photo. And I even had a personal guide on the train compliments of the Klamath County Museum, which puts volunteers on trains to provide historical and environmental information to passengers for free!

But I still have a bad taste in my mouth for Amtrak customer service. What would you have done if you were me? Or if you were Amtrak?"

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Craft House Founder and Director, Yvette Jong, contributes regularly to her HOTELS Magazine Blog titled, "The Good, the Bad and the Funky." Topics of discussion include all aspects of hospitality development, operations, branding, marketing, human resources, sustainability and much more.