Holiday travelers may choose to go with private buses rather than publicly subsidized trains if Amtrak continues with this kind of customer service. According to a 6 p.m. update to Amtrak's website, service between New York and Washington, DC is running on schedule. But at 8:22 p.m., with still no update, Amtrak hasn't advised its riders that it has, in fact, cancelled all trains to Washington this evening.
For instance, look at train 169, the 11:05 p.m. train from New York to Washington, D.C. If you check its status online, you get this response:
Information Unavailable: Sorry, due to a service disruption, we are unable to provide estimated departure and arrival times. For additional assistance, please contact us at 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
If you decide to call that number, though, be warned that the wait time on hold is woefully underestimated. I was told it would take 11 minutes to have my call answered. Two and a half hours later, “Sharon” picked up, and informed me that the train had been canceled. Would there be any this evening? “No.”
You'd think that with major delays like that on picking up phones, they'd at least put information like that in the hold message. Instead, hold music is interrupted every so often with a message thanking customers for their patience. (To make sure I wasn't just an odd man out, I have called again. I'm still on hold after 45 minutes, but I've been spared the false promise of an 11-minute wait, having not been promised anything.)
Now, contrast that to private bus line DC2NY. The company sent out an email in the early afternoon to inform passengers scheduled to take buses to D.C. from New York at 6 p.m. and at 8 p.m. that their buses were canceled — and further, that someone would call to reschedule. Within an hour I received a phone call and got a refund without a problem. If cheaper bus lines provided no such notice, fine — at least they don't get a subsidy, and at least they don't cost a lot per trip.
Amtrak, which also maintains a Twitter account, has yet to update their status, too. I've tried to reach Amtrak's press office both by phone and by email, but, of course, nothing. Keep this in mind next time Congress reauthorizes a subsidy to the railway boondoggle.