Friday, July 04, 2008

Fun With Amtrak

As I metioned in my previous post, I've been busy. We returned from the week of camping on Saturday, 21 June. On Sunday I left to go to Boston. Rather, I attempted to go to Boston.

I had a reservation on Amtrak. I knew in advance that Amtrak had cancelled all Acela trains between New York and Boston between 14 June and 17 June to repair a bridge in Connecticut. No problem, I wasn't leaving until the 21st. What I did not know was that the bridge repair was not finished.

I had packed all my fancy clothes (I was scheduled to present at DIA) and just before we left the house, I turned on my cell phone. There was a voicemail message from Amtrak saying that all trains between Boston and New York had been cancelled starting on Tuesday. Uh oh. I immediately dialed the Amtrak reservations number but "all their agents were busy." I could talk with an agent if I waited a mere 21 minutes. In 21 minutes I was supposed to be on a train. So we took off for the station.

Bad move #1.

At the station, the line to talk with an agent is almost out the door. There is one - one!- agent at the desk. My train is scheduled to arrive in 10 minutes. So I got out of line and tried to pick up my ticket at the Quick Ticket machine, thinking "I'll just get on the outbound train and fix the return trip in Boston."

Bad move #2.

The machine tells me that my reservation is "not found." Now panic starts to set in, that rising hot feeling in your stomach that you are truly screwed. Not found? Where the hell did it go? I have the confirmation email. I've paid for the ticket. I have to be in Boston tomorrow to give my presentation.

My train arrives. I run to speak to the conductor, telling him that I have a reservation on the train but that I cannot get my ticket out of the machine and the line is too long to get to an agent. He says he can't let me on the train without a ticket. "But I have a ticket, I just can't get it!" I say. "I can't let you on without a ticket." he replies. I look to the other Amtrak train employee on the platform for help. "He's the conductor." the employees says, shrugging. Arrrgh! Now I am hot, sweaty, panicky, and MAD.

So back into the agent line I go. The train pulls away. When I get to the window, I explain my plight, starting with reservation not found and ending with "and now I've MISSED my train." The agent, whose name was Mariea, was incredibly helpful and patient. She explained that the machine can't handle changes in train schedule and that is why it wouldn't print my ticket. Note to Amtrak- if your machine can't handle train changes, please come up with another message than "reservation not found." Like, say, "please talk to an agent."

She fixed my return. Because of the bridge work there were only two trains out of Boston on Wednesday, both in the morning and both regional, meaning the trip would take 10 hours, rather than 6. I would miss the morning sessions at the conference but getting home was important. Now for the trip to Boston. The next train was a regional- so much for my comfortable Acela trip. Add to that the complication that the next two trains were showing sold out, so she couldn't know if there was really a seat available until the trains left Washington, DC. In the end I got a seat on the afternoon Acela (in first class!). I missed my dinner date but I did make it to Boston. My presentation went fine and I gained a good story to tell.

While I was at the conference, I mentioned my ordeal to a colleague, who looked at me in horror. "You mean, they've cancelled all the Acelas this week?" she said. Obviously Amtrak didn't notify everyone, a fact that became even more clear when I arrived at the Boston station on Wednesday to ride back to Baltimore. Person after person showed up at the station to discover their train had been cancelled. With only two trains between Boston and New York I can't imagine how these people got where they were going. Also, because the train was much taller than the platform I had to lug my bag and carry-on up three narrow stairs. I need to work out more.

The kicker? I was so flustered at getting the initial Amtrak call that I forgot to take any knitting or crocheting with me. I did catch up on all the episodes of Cast On, however.

No comments: