Amtrak Inconsistencies

Ticket Taking Process #1

Sunset Limited – Boarding the Sunset Limited in Los Angeles Union Station the car attendants looked at the tickets at the door, but didn’t take them.  One aboard and in our roomettes the attendant then came and took the tickets.  I pulled the receipt part of the ticket since I usually always do so to expedite the archaic ticket taking practice that Amtrak follows still.  The attendant in Los Angeles also assigned the room that was not specified on the ticket.

In Maricopa the attendant that was changing out with the crew came around and took everyone’s tickets, and handed us our receipts.  In both of these situations nobody clipped or otherwise marked the tickets so that they would show as being used.  The time, train, and origination and destination where specific and technically, the ticket is either used or not.  Again, the attendant did not put us in the room that was on the ticket.  This time we did receive a reason why we were being given another roomette instead of the assigned one.

Ticket Taking Process #2

Coast Starlight – Boarding in Portland we enter the First Class Lounge which is basically a waiting room with nicer amenities.  The lounge attendant took our tickets, handing us the receipts.  Again, no other marks or specific directions.  He gave us a room and car assignment in station.  When we boarded, we got another room assignment than the ticket.  This boarding had us go through a total of 2 assignments, before we finally got our actual assignment.  It isn’t really a big deal, it is just ridiculously stupid to need that much busy work for the process.  In reality we shouldn’t even need but ONE room assignment and we don’t need anyone to help us get into or out of the room.

Ticket Taking Process #3

Pacific Surfliner – Boarding in Santa Ana to come north into Los Angeles.  The tickets are unreserved and completely unorganized.  There is no actual seating, you just get on and fumble until you find a seat.  The conductor then comes through the train at some point, takes the tickets (and don’t you dare take the receipts off ahead of time) and clips the tickets and the receipts.  The conductor requested, after I had removed the receipts, that she clip the receipts and that the tickets wouldn’t be valid without the receipts.  It seems beyond stupid to sell unreserved tickets on a train that has reserved seating – at least, that’s what the cars are designed for.  Again, a complete failure for Amtrak to once again be logical.  I do understand that the tickets are not for a particular train, but they are for a particular day, and if I just handed them to her they should NOT BE available to any other customers.  This flow of process is again, stupid.  It doesn’t follow a smooth, coherent, or streamlined process at all.  In many ways, several of the steps are even redundant.

Pacific Surfliner – Boarding again in Santa Ana to come north, a few days before the above mentioned trip.  I removed the receipts from the tickets in front of the conductor.  He clipped the tickets, did NOT ask or take the receipts to clip, and carried on.  Why this is different than the seating before?

The Historical Facts

So really, what is the deal.  This little annoyances don’t really detract from the trip, they just add a bit of confusion to the adventure itself.  For some people, it is reason to be turned away and not try to take the train.  For some people it really ticks them off, since the processes are dissimilar between trains run by the same Government Corporation, Amtrak.  The illogical breaks in the process sow these seeds of frustration and absolutely need fixed.  So Amtrak Execs, get your acts together and get this done.  The disparities are absolutely unnecessary and are wasting Amtrak’s/Taxpayers’ Monies.  One might think these little things don’t add much cost, but they easily add up to thousands upon thousands of dollars of wasted USEFUL employee time.

Amtrak, when it formed, was supposed to fix many of this frustrations, and as is apparent, has barely updated its trains let alone many of its other processes.  I do commend Amtrak on the online ticketing, but still, they have a major labor force that consists of doing unnecessary menial labor and could be utilized doing things that are vastly more important than running what, appears to be, dysfunctional passenger trains.

Overall everyone of our trains was ok, some where great, and some where rather exceptional.  So far, my ratings for the various trains I’ve been on in the last 4 years.  I put an * by the ones that where used recently on the PHX/LAX trip.

Coast Starlight * * * * * 4 stars, a few negative points for timeliness.
Empire Builder * * * * * 5 stars, no actual negatives.
Cascades * * * * 4 stars, timeliness issues.
Acela * * * * 4 stars, the seating is stupid, and basically unreserved even though the train is all “first class”.
Metroliner * * * * 4 stars, seating similar to Acela.  Seats are much smaller.
Sunset Limited * * 1 star.  Train was uncoordinated, crew was a mess, riders are usually half bum/redneck.  Rough train.
Pacific Surfliner * * * * * Same dumb unreserved scrambled herd seating nonsense.
Lakeshore Limited * Train was broke, toilets not working on multiple cars, timeliness issues, attendants had a bit much attitude.

Anyone else got any Amtrak stories?  I hate to give em’ gruff all the time, but really, these things should have much smoother and simplified process around them.  The complexities that the archaic ticketing and seating processes currently used are completely, without doubt, unacceptable and should be resolved ASAP.


  1. I have two Amtrak stories.

    In August, when I went to San Diego to see a Padres game, on the way home the train broke down leading to a 7-hour one-way trip for one that should have taken three hours. Amtrak doesn’t issue refunds but a credit for a free ride in the future. Amtrak made good on the credit and promptly mailed me a voucher. Two of them. The train on the way down was fine, and arrived 15 minutes early. Yet I get two free rides.

    Amtrak doesn’t want the credit check back.

    The other is one I see on the Amtrak Web site.

    Since the Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited are coupled together between L.A. and San Antonio, why is an Eagle ticket twice as much as a Sunset ticket for what is the same journey? I see an L.A. to Tucson trip on the Sunset is about $40, and a ticket on the Eagle is $78. ! and ?

    You rode this. Any explanation?


  2. I’ve no explanation, because it is THE exact same train once connected. Not like there are service differences on one or the other, or they have a special car like the Coast Starlight. Not sure what they’re thinking.

    …oh jeezum. Amtrak…

    I agree with the idea to get rid of them and form a completely new passenger rail corporate entity. They seem to have such a massive array of issues.


  3. From what I’ve read, Amtrak has "bucket" pricing, where the price goes up as the train fills up, and after two trains are joined into one, their seats/rooms are still accounted for separately. What probably happened is that a lot more people got assigned to the Eagle or are coming from the Eagle route (from Chicago) than with from Sunset (from Orlando officially but currently New Orleans). Moreover, only some of the Texas Eagle cars might continue west, meaning that there are fewer of them to fill up. In fact, I believe the Empire Builder between Chicago and the twin cities can actually be made up of THREE trains–one to Portland, one to Seattle and a local car that just runs to there.

    Regarding boarding differences, coach seats (especially ones on short-distance trains) and sleeping rooms are very different. In coach, there’s lots of seats, they’re all the same and everyone is on their own once they get seated. In sleeping cars, there’s a lot fewer travelers, different types of rooms and more service provided. The other part is just different conductors having different ways of doing things. In addition, I think you’re confusing reserved/unreserved (being able to board the train and pay the conductor) and assigned/unassigned seating. Lastly, I’ve read someone say that LA has the worst boarding procedures.


  4. That does sound about right Jason. Regardless of what "method" they use, then people price those trains and then notice price differences, they can’t help but feel some level of dishonesty or lack of credible virtue in the process with Amtrak.

    As for California, yes, they have without doubt the worst ticketing and seating practices I have found yet. Similar to the north east corridor, but more annoying and confusing.


  5. Actually Surfliner tickets are valid for any train any day between the days listed on the ticket. Most tickets are good for a year, but blackouts specify the type of ticket you have, a Peak Ticket (May-Sept) will only blackout the holidays, an Off Peak Ticket will black out the holidays PLUS the Peak period. Other than that, a Surfliner ticket is valid for any train on any day, regardless of when you purchased it. The Surfliners are the 2nd busiest line in the Amtrak system, and it sort of supplements Metrolink service, A Metrolink Monthly Pass holder can ride Amtrak between the stations listed on the pass. Its easier to run the line unreserved because of that for one, and many commuters use it, its less hassle to not be bogged down to a certain train when they run every 45-75 min. It seems not logical, but its in the best interest. I rode the first train up last year, and i saw handfuls of Metrolink Passes and Amtrak 10-ride tickets (Cascades offers 10 ride tickets N of Seattle and S of Portland, no reservation required). The best part is, if its full, you can at least stand and get a ride, instead of being left behind with no ride. I do believe Thanksgiving travel period is Reserved, and Metrolink Pass holders are forbidden during that time.


  6. That does make sense punkrawker4783. The only problem I have with that is I want to purchase and know I have a seat. They aren’t clear about that. In addition, because of this ticketing they recoup very little of the cost of operations – which also annoys me when they could do so much better…

    then we get to the topic of a REAL modern ticketing system. If they did modern ticketing they could get people on the train and have seats without this massive confusion. Same goes for commuter trains…

    but I digress.


  7. You do realize that Amtrak was created, in large part, to take care of the unions that defined the growth and death of U.S. passenger rail, right? These ridiculous extra manual steps are just what they want. Every effort to introduce automation is fought tooth and nail.


  8. Yes, I am unfortunately very aware of that fact. But that’s the thing, if the Unions are in my way of getting better services, increased frequency, better ticketing, and other such things than I will do everything I can to fight them. Because in the end, it is in the favor of the employees AND I to get the riders/customers better service.


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