Transit Adventures

Total Confusion on the Phone with Amtrak and at Penn Station – Meeting my Grandmother on two hour late Train #280 that got a second section only a half-hour late ALB-NYP

This morning there was a derailment of a CSX grain train that delayed Empire Service Train #280 in Utica for over an hour and then it finally arrived in Amsterdam after passing through the derailment site 2 hours and 24 minutes late. I wasn’t riding the train but was picking up my elderly grandmother (who has a cell phone she barely uses) at New York-Penn Station.

This is all of the events and confusion that resulted from Amtrak’s deciding to form a second nearly on time section of Empire Service Train #280 in Albany but not having a good way to indicate it in ARROW so agents had no idea passengers from points west of Albany were now riding (the same trainset) under the new number of #238 down the Hudson. I would have spent quite a lot of time on hold today if I didn’t have the benefit of the Priority Number to help me get through to customer service:

The day started with a phone call around 9am from my Grandmother stuck on the train in Utica, I even started overhearing the announcements about how they would start moving again, start and stop through the demailment zone. I tell my grandmother I know how to track Amtrak trains and to not worry about me.

Around 11am I’m on my iPhone and realize there is no status of the train getting to the next stop of Amsterdam yet. I call up the AGR priority reservations line and talk to the nicest agent who reads me the full service disruption notice he has from his computer about the service disruption involving a CSX grain train derailing between Utica and Amsterdam. He tells me a second section of the train has recently left Albany. He tells me to call back later for more information.

At Noon I bring up Amsterdam on my phone and notice the train has left at 11:21am. I then track Penn Station and see the train is listed as due to arrive at 1:00pm. It is physically impossible to get from Amsterdam to New York in that short a period of time. I call up Amtrak again and get the nastiest agent who I explain that I just talked to an agent who told me a second section of the train was dispatched from Albany but I need the status of the train from Syracuse. She won’t listen to me, after putting me on hold briefly, tells me the train is due at 1:00pm and hangs up on me.

At that point I’m done with something I needed to do in the Bronx and get on the D train to go to Penn Station with a few errands I can run in the area around Penn Station. I get off at Herald Square and open my phone, I look up Albany and notice the strangest thing:
280 Empire Service To Albany-Rensselaer, NY (ALB)
Scheduled Arrival: 9:50 am
Thu Jan 10, 2013
Actual Arrival: 11:57 am
Wed Jan 9, 2013

From Albany-Rensselaer, NY (ALB)
Scheduled Arrival: 10:05 am
Thu Jan 10, 2013
Actual Arrival: 10:37 am
Thu Jan 10, 2013
Departed: 32 minutes late. is showing the fact the train departed Albany an hour and a half before it arrived.

I go over to Penn Station to try and find a person that tells me what’s going on. My first stop is clubAcela I show my temporary S+ card and I tell the agent I’m meeting someone on #280, she tells me 1pm and that’s all that ARROW will give her and to go outside the club (why isn’t one in the club?) and look at an arrival monitor. The arrival monitors look like this (can’t quite remember how there abbreviated):
12:30-Niagara Fall-Empire Service-AM 280-2:15 Late
12:35-Albany- Empire Service-AM 0280-0:30 Late
I then wanted to confirm this with a staff member. I started by going to Customer Service since the Penn Station information booth was totally closed. The two ladies there were extremely rude to me and simply told me to look at an arrival monitor. I said I wanted to know the ETA time and actual status for #280 not #0280 and that the 1:00pm time they were giving me was for #280. I asked another employee at the entrance to the waiting area who told me the same thing “Just look at an arrival monitor”. At that point I heard an announcement for “Red Caps Train #280 Track 7.” There was another Empire Service train about to board at that platform (with a line of “Know the train can use only certain tracks” Empire Service riders waiting to board it) and unfortunately one of the nasty women at customer service was standing there to be an usher and screamed at me that people would arrive at the West Gate.
Couldn’t I have gotten verbal confirmation from someone at Penn Station about the differences in status of 280 and 0280.

At that point I returned to ClubAcela realizing I couldn’t think of any other office to go to in Penn Station to try and confirm things (I don’t fully trust computer screens in train stations), had some tea and a disgusting cinnamon roll and tried to calm down.

Around 1:30 I decide I need to get out of the overheated (isn’t always this way) underground ClubAcela and the blare of CNN and go back up to the street and take a walk plus running my errands. I try calling Amtrak one more time and say I want the status for Train #280 and a passenger traveling between SYR and New York. This agent is equally clueless and I tell her just to look up the status for Albany and you will understand why I’m so confused. I think I’m getting hanged up on again but am transferred to customer relations. This agent also thinks at first I’m just a ridiculous person but doesn’t just hang up on me eventually I’m put on hold, he comes back and tells me that those passengers are now on Train #238 that is a half hour from Penn Station, will arrive in half an hour and is just leaving Croton-Harmon. He asks me if I need any other assistance, I’m tempted to give a whole long story about my saga today in Penn Station to customer service but I don’t feel like it, too relieved to finally know what’s going on.

I return to Penn Station at about 2:15 and go back to the ClubAcela, our agreed upon meeting place (She as a guest) since I want to leave her bag there for an afternoon museum. I’m sitting in a chair, tracking #238 now and notice it has arrived 10 minutes early at 2:25pm. I rush outside to glance at an arrival monitor and #238 has arrived on Track #7 but #280, that late train at the very top of the arrivals monitor is listed now as 2:15 late. It hasn’t also arrived on Track #7. I do a few laps to try and find a staff person above track #7 and debate sneaking down (something I’ve done before) to try and find my grandmother.

I can’t find someone and go back in the ClubAcela to see if they can confirm anything. At this point there is an extremely long line of people going all the way back to the door, (with 3 agents at the desk) waiting to check in. The agents recognize me (as in I don’t need to flash my temporary print out for the fourth time today) but I’m trying to ask someone to confirm to me that the second section of #280 (now #238 has indeed arrived). My grandmother makes it into the Club before I get to the desk to ask and we leave her bag for our afternoon. I try and show her (she gets ‘confused’ easily) the fact that according to the Arrivals Monitor she hasn’t arrived yet. No one had to dash across the platform in Albany today, #280 simply became #238 once it arrived in that station.

I dash back to Penn Station to grab her bag around 5:00 but forget to glance at an arrivals monitor to see if #280 was still at the top or had disappeared.

In conclusion (I’m sorry this post is so long but I don’t know how to condense it) this is the second time I’ve met someone on a train that got a second section because the first section (that the person I was meeting was on was so late) was late. The other time was a year and a half ago when I was meeting a friend at NY Penn Station coming from Westerly, RI that was about an hour late. I had gotten to Penn Station just as it was announced that ‘A new New YOrk originating section of Train ?? is now departing for Washington.’ I stopped to ask the gate usher who was boarding the new ‘On Time’ second section and she told me that the first section was arriving in a little under an hour, this confusing a boarding passenger who overhead the conversation and thought I was making it sound like they would be an hour late.

Adding a second on time section for the corridor portion of the route of a late train is something Amtrak should continue doing, they just need some flag in Arrow so we can still track loved ones arriving on the now delayed (and renumbered) old sections of those trains that disappear from Arrow.