So, yesterday I wrote a post about how much I like taking the train to NYC and how it is better than flying there, etc. I went ahead and put it up today because basically I still do feel that way but the experience I had on my way home after writing the post……. let’s just say I am a little tainted.
Yesterday I went to NYC on an Amtrak train for business. The train ride up was uneventful, my meeting and presentation went well and I returned to Penn Station to catch the 5:39 Amtrak Regional back to BWI Airport Station. This trip back was uneventful as well until we were about 10 minutes outside of Baltimore’s Penn Station.
One of the conductors came through the cars announcing that there had been a train derailment outside of Washington and that everyone would need to get off in Baltmore. He also said that Amtrak would be arranging for buses to take people to their final destinations.
Ok, so here it is 8:30 at night and I am one stop away – about 10 minutes by train – from my final destination where my car is parked. The news of the derailment sucks and the thought of riding a bus to BWI sucks even more because I know this translates in to at least another hour before I am in my car and heading home. But I can deal with this because it had been a good day and it is not as if the cause of this is the result of anything that could have been avoided. These things happen.
I follow everyone into the station expecting to be lead to some waiting buses or at least to an area to wait for the buses to arrive. This is where it all broke down. There are several details I could provide you but I have basically categorized them into the 4 things that really pissed me off about what happened over the next hour.
1) Amtrak’s total lack of preparation, communication or concern for their potentially stranded passengers.
Upon entering the station it was not clear where to go. No one from Amtrak was directing people or making any effort to communicate what was happening. Finally, I saw a few people heading toward an office tucked int he corner of the station with a small sign above the door that read “Amtrak Customer Service”.
Inside a woman behind a desk was in a very quite conversation on the phone and when she saw the crowd of people standing in front of her a look of “crap I am going to have to work” came over her face. Her conversation went on a for a few more minutes as no one interupted her assuming it was a call related to the events at hand. She finally could be heard saying, “Ok, honey I will see you when I get home,” right before she hung up. (sigh, “this is not going to go well,” I thought.)
She proceeded to tell us that they were waiting to see if they could possibly get a train through to Washington so everyone should just wait. No buses were being planned for now until a decsion on running a train could be made. She had no idea when the decison wold be made but guessed it would be “at least an hour or two.”
I immediately turned around ans asked who was interested in splitting a cab to BWI.
How could Amtrak be so unprepared? We were not the first train to have to stop in Baltimore that evening. This was not the first derailment Amtrak has ever had to deal with.
2) Yellow Cab’s monopoly over the cab lane at Penn Station and unwillingness to help people
At Penn Station in Baltimore the cab line out front is for the exclusive use of Yellow Cabs only. All other cabs must park away from this cab lane and the gentleman employed by Yellow Cab to direct traffic in the curb lane makes sure they do.
So, I don’t really understand this since I beleive Penn Station is publicly owned (ok, acutally it is owned by Amtrak but Amtrak receives over $2 Billion (yes, that’s a B) a year from the US Government so technically I think of it is as publicly owned). As such, how could any company be allowed to set upa monopoly like this?
But what really gets me is that in a moment of “crisis” like this why couldn’t Yellow Cab put aside their exclusivity to insure there were enough cabs for everyone to get to their destinations safely? And why didn’t someone from Amtrak come outside and use their leverage over Yellow Cab to get them to waive their exclusivity? I am sure Amtrak is getting a pretty penny from Yellow Cab for this monopoly.
3) The breakdown of society and common courtesy right before my eyes
As a result of Yellow Cab not allowing other cabs to pull into the cab lane, people toward the back of the line were going out and hijacking other cabs arriving at the station. They were blantantly stopping these cabs from moving to the area where the front of the cab line was, where the people who had been there first and been waiting there the longest were. And they were doing this right in front of everyone depsite calls and jeers from the people still waiting in line.
In addition, while we were waiting in line for cabs another train arrived which meant more people pouring out of the station. As they came out there were numerous of them who had the gall to try and just blend in and cut in line!
I have waited in long lines for cabs at numerous airports, hotels, train stations, etc. and I have never seen anything like I saw last night. I could not believe the complete disrespect for other people, the complete breakdown of unwritten social norms and courtesy, the completely personal acts of selfishness. Waiting in line for your turn is all part of the rules and structure that we learn as early as kindergarten and is what keeps our live from collapsing int o complete turmoil.
Fortunately, those of us who chose to stay in line until enough Yellow Cabs arrived for us to get one, remained calm and maintained some civility. But it was the perfect recipe for civil disrest that fortunately never quite got ignited.
4) If O’Malley can’t control the cabs in Baltimore, how can he possibly run the state as the newly elected Governor?
In closing, let me just say that I still think the train is the best way to travel to NYC. The experience I had last night is certainly an anomaly as the behavior of the crowd was really unlike any I had ever seen before. 98% of the time Amtrak runs really well. But the 2% of the time that it doesn’t – well….. However, had Amtrak been more responsive to the overall situation and communicated what was going on, none of it would have happened.