Good Will for Amtrak — Not!

On the night/morning April 5-6, trains were delayed out of Penn Station/New York due to signal problems. My normally short stay in the Amtrak operated waiting area, which also accommodates New Jersey Transit passengers, became indeterminate. I decided to occupy the time working on my laptop, but it needed a charge. I discovered, to my dismay, disgust, and rage, that all outlets in the waiting area save one (which was in use) had been either disabled by removing the internal contacts, or roped off and prohibited for use by passengers.

I inquired with the desk attendant about this policy. She replied, with oily malice in her voice, “We don’t provide outlets to passengers”, as if I had asked for a luxury item. I’ve been commuting from Penn Station/NY for 30 years, and there have always been outlets in the waiting area pillars that passengers have been allowed to use. The standard electrical outlet  is not a new invention. It’s  been around since 1928. The cost of the electricity required to run a laptop computer for an hour is about 0.1 cents. It costs less to charge a cell phone.

So what changed? Someone came up with a scheme to charge for the electric air we breathe. A vending machine was developed that rents, for five bucks, cell phone power packs, the same kind, but smaller, that you can own through Amazon for 20 bucks. The vending machines have been in Penn Station for several years, but I have never seen anyone use one. They are a pure ripoff, since for the cost of four rentals, you can own your own, more powerful power pack.

It appears that someone pressured Amtrak management to make their vending operation profitable. One way to do that was to remove the  free alternatives, electrical outlets. That laptop users are cut off is of no concern to the operators of  this mercenary scheme.

In spite of the crowded desperation of the waiting area, full of dying phones, nobody bought the scam. One young man gave it a hard look, and walked away. I would like to shake his hand.

If the above were merely a wart on an Amtrak that draws the admiration of travelers, my complaint wouldn’t have much traction. But Amtrak is also a killer, an operation with a defective safety culture that costs lives. The December crash in Washington state in which three passengers died does not lie in the gray area of “undetectable fault” or “lax inspection procedures.” According to the crew involved, it was the result of a willful decision to not provision adequate crew training on that specific run. Some of the trainees rode backwards, so that they could not visually experience the run as they would on revenue runs. Quoting CNN,

Some training runs were performed at night, with as many as six or more crew members stuffed into cars with just three seats, which meant some trainees rode backwards, in the dark, the sources said. Engineers felt they did not get enough practice runs at the controls and could not properly see to familiarize themselves with the route.

If the employees are truthful, the inadequate training probably constitutes negligent homicide, death resulting from criminal negligence, which, relying on objective findings, doesn’t require malicious intent. Bumbling, kindly Amtrak kills. There has been no push for prosecution, probably because we give Amtrak a human persona, of a corporate “person” trying its best under difficult circumstances. In return for that, we expect little courtesies, expressions of kind intent, like electric outlets in waiting areas, which existed, and cost literally nothing to provide.

But now, for the little things, like the electric air we breathe, “kindly” Amtrak has colluded with a vendor in an evil, if trivial manipulation. It’s just one more way to make the life of the train traveler miserable – if, indeed, the traveler is not caught up in a fatal mishap, and actually survives the experience.

So now I’m thinking “kindly” Amtrak really is Ebenezer. The riders are his Tiny TIms.  Maybe Amtrak should have the experience of no electricity. Maybe it’s time to pull the plug on Amtrak.

Amtrak, if you read this, I’ll take one 50 foot extension cord with my mineral water.

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