Trains For America

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Reservation computer crash: one story, two versions

This was posted on the site, which has several areas for discussion and exchange of information. Much of the area is by subsciption, but the front pages of threads is available to the public. This was in the “Passenger train” section and was posted by Gene Poon.

The following are two different viewpoints of what happened out on the railroad when Amtrak’s Arrow computer system went completely down a few days ago:

Dear Co-workers,

We write to thank and recognize the efforts of the many front-line employees who persevered in the face of this weekend’s unprecedented system-wide Arrow system outage.

On Saturday and Sunday morning, call center employees, ticket agents, conductors and many others pulled together to manage what was a very difficult situation. While our front-line employees were handling the situation with customers, IT employees worked around-the-clock to identify and resolve the problem.

In some cases, conductors assisted station employees with long lines and dissatisfied passengers. Tickets were booked by hand and online confirmation printouts were being accepted as tickets.

-excerpted from an Amtrak advisory dated 29AUG2007, and signed by William Crosbie, Chief Operating Officer; Emmett Fremaux, Vice President Marketing & Product Management; and Ed Trainor, Chief Information Officer.


No one out here in the Midwest knew what they were doing. Chicago and St. Louis both REFUSED to issue hand-written tickets. Agents in St. Louis said they weren’t issuing tickets because they did not know what to charge. They were offered a Conductor’s tariff book but they absolutely refused to take it.

A Conductor remarked that if the train breaks down, he won’t call the ticket agents and ask them to come aboard and fix the problem or deal with pissed-off passengers; so he was irritated that the station agents thought they could just pass off their job on the Conductors.


During the outage, NO ONE received any official guidance on what to do from what I could see. CNOC could have faxed each station, or at LEAST each crewbase, with some documentation showing what to do, but they failed to do so over the entire 24-hour period. What are THEY there for, then?


Chicago refused to issue tickets for one train that I know of, because the system had just gone down, so the crew let unticketed passengers board. ARROW then came back online but Joliet reported they still had no service. Downline stations issued tickets for
Chicago passengers, but it was like pulling teeth to get those ticket agents to do it (to their defense, perhaps Arrow wasn’t really working all that well. -GP).


Work a train that actually originated with the system being down (i.e., no manifest, no data on pre-pays or existing reservations)? CNOC Customer Service desk likely would’ve dodged the question as to what to do. Several conductors made up their own minds: Not to take a single ticket.

Selling tickets on the train meant relying on the passengers to tell the truth “Oh, the guy behind me already paid for his ticket so he doesn’t have to pay now? Uh, I did, too!” (YEAH, SURE!) Since there would be no information to work with, I wouldn’t take a single one of them, even if the passengers offered one. After all, why should I take tickets from people who made their reservation in advance and picked up their ticket in advance if I am going to let last-minute passengers, folks who may not even have a reservation,
ride for free?

There should’ve been more communication from the leadership on what the front-line folks should’ve been doing.

-statement by an Amtrak front line employee

Filed under: Amtrak

One Response

  1. Ran says:

    I was on an Acela that Sunday from BOS to NYP, which was a zoo. South Station clearly had no idea how to handle the outage, nor did the 800 number. We switched from the Acela to 87 in NYP, and it was late enough that things had come back on line, and 87 was a much better run ship that day.

    I sure hope we hear a better explanation for how the center at Manassas could fail like that, and how it could take so long to come back online.

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September 2007


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