Posts Tagged ‘Marc Magliari’

Reinstated Amtrak Ticket Agents Won’t Actually Sell Tickets to Passengers at Stations

October 10, 2020

Amtrak and Congress may be heading for a clash over what constitutes a ticket agent and what they do.

Lawmakers in 2019 ordered Amtrak to reinstate ticket agents at stations that lost the agents a year earlier if the station averaged at least 25 passengers a day.

But what Amtrak has in mind is what it terms customer service representatives who will assist passengers in buying tickets online but won’t actually sell the tickets.

That has drawn the ire of some Montana officials, including members of the Montana congressional delegation.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Havre (Montana) Daily News that the Amtrak representatives can do the online booking for those who lack the ability to do that.

However, passengers must provide their own device or use an Amtrak-issued device in the case of those who lack sufficient internet connectivity or equipment or information.

The Amtrak representatives also will not accept cash. The passenger carrier has stopped accepting cash for ticket transactions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dining Cars to Remain Sidelined Through June

May 22, 2020

Full-service dining is not expected to return to Amtrak’s western long-distance trains until late June at the earliest, a story in Railway Age reported.

Amtrak in April suspended full-service dining on those trains in favor of the “flexible dining” service it provides on eastern long-distance trains of serving to sleeper class passengers a limited array of meals that are prepared off the train.

No sources were named for the information about full service dining restoration, but the article did quote an Amtrak spokesman as saying that a widely reported company internal planning document was not a final plan for service restorations of suspended services this summer.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the document was not an announcement of any decision by Amtrak or its state partners that fund corridor services.

“Many of the dates written in it are placeholders and nothing more,” he said.

Magliari said Amtrak will continue to operate its long-distance trains with reduced consists but that could change.

“We’re watching the ridership and the boardings,” he said.

Amtrak officials are monitoring ticket purchase patterns and the passenger carrier can adjust consists to meet increased demand.

Magliari said Amtrak is currently handling about 10 percent of the ridership it had before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The carrier has been selling only 50 percent of the capacity of its coaches in order to enable passengers to practice social distancing.

Magliari said Amtrak received enough aid from the federal the CARES Act to keep crew members employed, including a robust extra board.

Amtrak’s Michigan Trains are Invariably Late

February 26, 2020

Passengers board an Amtrak train bound for Chicago at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Chances are they will arrive late in the Windy City.

If you’re riding Amtrak in Michigan the chances are your trip is going to be late.

A report by the Detroit Free Press said the on-time rate last year in Michigan was 43 percent. On the Wolverine Service route between Chicago and Detroit it was just 33 percent.

That compared with a national average of between 60 and 70 percent.

Amtrak considers a train late if it is 30 minutes or more behind the published schedule.

Figures released by Amtrak show that the performance of the Michigan trains is getting worse.

On-time performance fell from 71 percent in 2016 and 2017 to 62 percent in 2018.

Amtrak is hoping that as part of a renewal of the federal surface transportation law that Congress will strengthen the law giving passenger trains preference over freight trains.

Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman based in Chicago, said such a law would give the passenger carrier legal leverage to better deal with its host railroads, which Amtrak blames for delaying its trains.

“It’s a very important issue to us because our reliability is suffering,” Magliari said.

The Free Press said it tracked the arrival times of six Amtrak trains in Troy, a Detroit suburb on the Wolverine Service line.

The trains from Chicago varied in lateness from 30 minutes to more than two hours.

Amtrak figures show that the afternoon Wolverine from Chicago to Pontiac, the Detroit suburb that is the terminus of the route, arrived in Troy an average of 42 minutes late.

Six times it was more than an hour late and once in mid-January it was two hours behind schedule.

The newspaper said passengers it spoke with who disembarked at Troy said that although they found the delays annoying they still liked train travel.

In its efforts to put pressure on Congress, Amtrak has created a YouTube video titled Your Right to be on Time that urges viewers to contract lawmakers to complain about late trains and urge them to support legislation “that puts people before freight.”

The video contends that Amtrak’s host railroads are giving their freight trains priority over Amtrak trains in dispatching decisions.

“Usually, it’s what we call freight train interference. That’s when our trains are delayed by slow freight trains ahead of them,” the narrator says in the video.

The video acknowledges that delays can also be caused by such things as weather, track maintenance, mechanical problems with trains, and obstructions on the track.

“You can be certain we’ll tell Congress that the original law setting up Amtrak in 1970 does not allow us to bring litigation over the poor handling of our trains by the freight railroads,” Magliari said. “Imagine paying for a service from someone who knows you can’t go after them in court.”

Magliari said one reason why Amtrak trains are getting delayed by freight trains is that the latter are getting longer and sometimes are too long to put into a siding to allow Amtrak to pass.

The Association of American Railroads, which represents the Class 1 railroads that host Amtrak trains, contends the federal government should fund construction of additional tracks and longer sidings

“It would be nice to see the public coming forward” — that is, with federal and state dollars — “where they have an interest in keeping passengers trains operating,” said AAR’s John Gray, senior vice president for policy and economics.

Much of the track Amtrak uses on the Chicago-Detroit corridor, though, is owned by Amtrak or the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Wolverine Service trains, though, use within the Detroit metropolitan area tracks owned by Conrail, Canadian National and Norfolk Southern.

Amtrak’s Michigan trains use the busy NS Chicago Line to reach Chicago from Northwest Indiana.

MDOT, which helps fund Amtrak service in Michigan, said most of the delays incurred by Amtrak’s Michigan trains occur on that 40-mile stretch of NS.

The agency owns 135 miles of the Wolverine Service route between Kalamazoo and Dearborn. Amtrak owns the track from Kalamazoo to Porter, Indiana.

MDOT spokesman Mike Frezell said Amtrak trains using track that it and MDOT own have largely unimpeded travel there.

“We’re hoping within two years to have speeds up to 110 m.p.h. on portions of that, and we’ll be raising all the speeds through that section,” Frezell said.

He said the objective in raising speeds in the Chicago-Detroit corridor is to make train travel competitive with driving and flying.

The $25,000 Question: Was Amtrak Doing the Right Thing or Trying to Avoid Answering Tough Questions?

January 28, 2020

It didn’t take Amtrak long to back pedal away from an effort to charge a group of passengers, half of them using wheel chairs, a $25,000 service fee added atop tickets that normally cost $16 per person.

Actually, it might be more accurate to say the passenger carrier turned tail and ran away from the fee once it began receiving national attention that turned up the political heat to an unbearable level.

As is typical in these situations, Amtrak sought to spin it by framing it as a wrongful application of policy.

If the heat gets high enough, blame a rank and file employee for making a mistake. You might even call it an honest one. Then you apologize.

Yet there is much we don’t know and may never know about what led to this fee.

Amtrak may have appeared in the end to have done the right thing, but let’s not overlook that it reversed course in part to seek to avoid having to answer some tough questions, including why the fee was so high in the first place.

To recap the facts of the situation, a group of 10 members of Access Living, a Chicago disabilities group, wanted to travel together aboard a Lincoln Service train from Chicago to Normal, Illinois, to attend a conference.

Half of the group would be traveling in wheelchairs. It is not that Amtrak can’t accommodate those in wheelchairs, but it is not set up to handle large groups of wheelchair passengers who wish to travel together in the same car.

Each Amtrak coach has space for just one wheelchair. That means that the group had to be spread out over multiple coaches or seats needed to be removed to enable then to be seated in the same car.

The Chicago group has traveled via Amtrak before and the passenger carrier removed seats to accommodate them.

It is unclear how much above the regular fare the wheelchair passengers had to pay for those past trips.

One news account quoted a member of the group as saying they paid a few hundred more while another account quoted an Amtrak employee as saying the carrier absorbed the cost of removing the seats.

The group contacted Amtrak group sales last month to buy tickets and was told by a sales agent that a new policy meant they would have to pay a fee to have seats removed to accommodate additional wheelchairs in the same car.

The fee was an eye popping $25,000. When the group protested, the sales agent wrote back to say it was in line with the carrier’s policy pertaining to reconfiguring a rail car.

“With the removal of seats, it can be quite costly,” the agent wrote.

The group then turned to the news media. Initially, Amtrak stood behind the fee, telling National Public Radio it has a policy of adding “an additional fee when any group requires reconfiguration of our rail cars.”

Amtrak also suggested the group split up with some members riding one train and others riding another operating three hours later.

That stance lasted a day or two. Not only did the story get picked up by other news media it also drew the ire of Illinois U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth who described the fee as outrageous.

Duckworth is not just another senator. She lost both of her legs after the U.S. Army helicopter she was co-piloting in Iraq was shot down.

She uses a wheelchair and has taken a great interest in legislation affecting the rights of the disabled.

Duckworth also is the ranking minority party member of the Senate Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on transportation.

After she demanded a meeting with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, Amtrak lawyers contacted an attorney for Access Living and offered a deal.

The carrier would remove seats, drop the fee and even offer a buy one get one deal.

The group accepted the offer. Amtrak later said it was dropping the policy that led to the $25,000 fee in the first place.

“After further review, Amtrak has determined to suspend the policy in question,” said Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari doing his best impersonation of a referee in the National Football League.

“It was never meant to be applied to this situation. And we apologize for the mistake.”

A news story noted that Magliari spoke shortly after protesters gathered outside an Amtrak station in Illinois and chanted, “We will ride.”

The story seemed to have a happy ending with the group making the trip on Jan. 22 to the conference aboard Amtrak.

Adam Ballard, an Access Living transportation policy analyst, said everything went smoothly.

“Everyone got on the train really great,” he told NPR. “We were treated like kings and queens. There was extra staff to help with bags and work the wheelchair lifts.

“And they had extra staff on the train to attend to our every need. So it was not the typical Amtrak ride.”

Of course it wasn’t. It is no surprise that Amtrak decided to bend over backwards in an effort to save face. That is the substance of good public relations.

It also was an attempt to make the situation and its attending bad publicity go away.

It will, but will anyone in a position of authority ever demand that Amtrak provide a detailed bill showing why it costs $25,000 to remove a handful of seats from an Amfleet or Horizon coach?

There are fees that are designed to enhance revenue and there are fees that are designed to discourage certain customer behavior.

The $30 that airlines charge to check a bag on a flight is an example of the former. People grumble about it but they either pay it or take as much as they can aboard with them stow it in the overhead bins or under the seat ahead of them.

However, the $25,000 fee Amtrak wanted to impose on Access Living sure seemed like discouragement. It came across as the type of exorbitant fee someone dreamed up knowing a group such as Access Living couldn’t or wouldn’t pay it.

It not as though Amtrak would have to hire additional personnel to remove the seats. That task would be done by regular employees.

How long does it take to unbolt seats and put them aside on a shop floor? Amtrak would have you believe it’s a very complex and expensive task.

Amtrak is not unique in saying that something is expensive without having to prove it.

Companies of all kinds routinely engage in this behavior to pressure their customers to behave in ways favorable to the company.

What Amtrak doesn’t want to admit is that it wanted to force Access Living to do things its way because it didn’t want to remove the seats.

It either saw removing seats as a hassle and/or it could lead to lost revenue.

Under ordinary circumstances, if a group of 10 disembarks at Normal the seats they occupied from Chicago become available for sale to new passengers boarding in Normal or some other station downstream.

But the chances of selling that space to other wheelchair users probably were slim. It could be days before that space gets back into revenue service.

Amtrak CEO Anderson has been aggressive about cost cutting and revenue enhancement. He has his agenda of trying to do what he can to make Amtrak’s finances look better, which he sees as a bargaining chip to talk Congress into giving Amtrak more money.

The carrier has a lot of decaying infrastructure in the Northeast Corridor that needs to be replaced and that won’t come cheap. It also wants billions to finance its new urban corridor oriented network.

Although Anderson tries to run Amtrak like a private company, the passenger carrier can’t survive without public funding. That creates the perception in the minds of many that it is a public agency.

It didn’t help that the way the $25,000 fee came across in the news media and on social media was that of a heartless organization trying to bully a small group of handicapped citizens into submission.

That’s not how Amtrak would explain it but at some point high-ranking executives at the carrier, perhaps including Anderson himself, concluded that they couldn’t win this public relations battle. So Amtrak went into high gear damage control.

It is tempting to suggest that poor management at Amtrak led to this situation. There may be some truth to that given Anderson’s desire to squeeze every nickel and pick up every dime.

Some middle level manager should have recognized that if a $25,000 fee being imposed on wheelchair users went viral that Amtrak would suffer a great big black eye.

But middle level managers are not always courageous enough to put their jobs on the line. Some would rather curry favor with the managers above them by being all in on company policy.

As those who initially dealt with Access Living probably saw it, the group might protest but in the end would capitulate.

More often than not when Amtrak pulls the rules on its passengers they have no viable recourse. They don’t know how to get their plight publicized on NPR or gain the attention of a powerful policy maker.

But someone at Access Living is media savvy and Amtrak apparently didn’t take that possibility into account.

These types of situations will continue to occur so long as those whose job it is to enforce rules and policies lack authority to make exceptions when discretion is called for and/or lack the foresight to be able to see the consequences of how the company’s behavior could be seen by others if they find out about it.

It is unclear what the episode involving Access Living means long term for passengers with disabilities traveling as a group.

As one member of Access Living commented to a reporter, getting around can be pretty tough for those in wheelchairs even in the best of circumstances.

Underlying this story is that Amtrak wanted the Access Living travel party to change its behavior to fit Amtrak’s needs rather than Amtrak doing all it reasonably could to meet the group’s needs.

Most people traveling together would like to sit together. It wasn’t as though the Access Living members showed up one morning at Union Station and demanded accommodations on the next train out.

They contacted Amtrak weeks before they planned to travel in recognition of the fact that it takes time to arrange accommodations for a group of wheelchair passengers.

An overarching issue that Amtrak probably would like to dodge for now is what obligation it has to accommodate those with disabilities. That is not necessarily an easy question to answer because at some point it becomes a matter of character.

Amtrak is not insensitive to the needs of those with disabilities. It has been reconfiguring its stations in recent years to better accommodate passengers with disabilities and has taken other steps to be helpful to them.

But a fault line lies where the carrier has to forgo revenue and incur an expense in order to accommodate those with disabilities as they wish to be accommodated.

Amtrak said it suspended its policy which is not necessarily the same thing as repealing it.

The suspension might buy time to let things die down or to rethink and revise the original policy.

It remains to be seen if Amtrak management sees what happened with Access Living as a fluke and goes about doing business as usual or a sign that it needs to make some hard policy choices that come with price tags it doesn’t want to pay but must to avoid a similar PR train wreck down the track.

Amtrak Spokesman: We May have Underestimated Difficulty of Keeping State Funding of Hoosier State

July 6, 2019

An Amtrak spokesman acknowledged in an interview with Indiana Public Media that the passenger carrier may have underestimated how difficult it would be to convince Indiana lawmakers to continue funding the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

“People don’t understand how this works, because culturally the Cardinal comes through there [Indianapolis] late at night or early in the morning, [and] people don’t see it. People don’t have a picture of how this works,” said Amtrak’s Marc Magliari.

In the interview, Magliari said Indiana gave up on the Hoosier State before it had a chance to be successful.

The Hoosier State ran for the final time on June 30 after the state legislature declined to continue its $3 million annual funding of the train, which operated four days a week on days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal did not operate.

Magliari drew a comparison between the Hoosier State and the Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette, which is funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

He said the Hoosier State and Pere Marquette routes are the approximate same distance of 181 miles.

“We have the same seat size on the Pere Marquette that you saw on the Hoosier Line, the same food service that you saw on the Hoosier Line, is on the Pere Marquette, and the same Wi-Fi,” Magliari said.

He said Michigan as a state is reaping the benefits of a long term investment in rail.

“No matter how wide you make the highway, it will probably get filled up,” Magliari said. “It’s cheaper to put money into rails than it is highway, rail improvements can last 10 or 20 years, you can see how long it takes for pavement to wear out.”

MDOT spent spent $4 million on the Pere Marquette in fiscal year 2019.
Michigan officials told Indiana Public Media that the state funding of the Pere Marquette equals about $41 per passenger per year, but they make some of that money back through ticket sales and concessions.

Indiana Public Media operates TV station WTIU and FM station WFIU, both based in Bloomington.

Signal Failures Ding Metra Again at CUS

April 13, 2019

Amtrak signals problems this week again delayed Metra commuter trains using Chicago Union Station on Thursday.

News reports said that trains were delayed 30 to 45 minutes during the morning commute. Only Metra trains using BNSF tracks were affected.

Metra said that its trains had to be talked by signals with delays occurring as trains stacked up waiting to get in and out of the station.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the signals issues were resolved before 9 a.m. and the passenger carrier is investigating the cause of the malfunction.

On Feb. 28, Metra and Amtrak trains were delayed after a similar but more far-reaching computer failed resulted in Amtrak dispatchers being unable to line switches and signals.

Amtrak Said it Hasn’t Given Up on Hoosier State

April 11, 2019

Amtrak isn’t giving up on the Hoosier State and said its announcement that it will suspend the Chicago-Indianapolis train on July 1 should be viewed at this point as a 90-day notice.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Lafyette (Indiana) Journal & Courier that the carrier continues to work to try to keep the quad-weekly train operating.

“It means we’re not certain there will be service after July 1,” Magliari said. “What would you do if you were us? Would you merrily take reservations? Or would you be transparent to customers? We’re being transparent to customers.”

He was referring to Amtrak’s announcement that it will no long accept reservations or sell tickets for travel on the Hoosier State after July 1.

The 500 passengers who’ve already made reservations or purchased tickets for travel after July 1 will be accommodated on Amtrak’s tri-weekly Cardinal, which uses the same route as the Hoosier State between Chicago and Indianapolis.

However, Amtrak is also warning that some of those passengers may need to find alternative transportation arrangements.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb removed funding for the Hoosier State from his budget request sent to the Indiana General Assembly early this year.

Thus far the House has gone along with that although the Senate has not yet acted on the budget.

News reports have indicated the prospects for the Senate restoring the funding appear to be bleak.

In the current fiscal year, Indiana is paying $3 million to Amtrak to operate the Hoosier State with another $500,000 coming from communities served by the train.

Magliari said Amtrak is still reworking the schedule for the Hoosier State to cut 15 minutes from the five- running time.

It has said a new schedule is expected to be implemented in late April.

Sarnia Mayor Wants Proposed New Amtrak Route

April 11, 2019

The mayor of Sarnia, Ontario, is hoping that Amtrak’s interest in starting a Detroit-Toronto route may lead to a restoration of service to Michigan.

Sarnia was a stop for Amtrak’s International, which once ran between Chicago and Toronto via Sarnia and Port Huron, Michigan.

That service ended in 2004, but Amtrak continues to operate the daily Blue Water between Chicago and Port Huron with funding from the State of Michigan.

The International had been a joint venture of Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said the route through the tunnel between his city and Port Huron deserves a closer look.

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak have discussed for years the institution of bus service linking Michigan and cities in Ontario.

Amtrak’s interest in a Detroit-Toronto route was mentioned in its fiscal year 2020 budget request to Congress.

“Amtrak is exploring places it can modernize and expand its services and network,” Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari said. “A Chicago/Western Michigan – Detroit – Toronto corridor is one of the services where we see promise.”

It is not clear if the route east of Detroit would operate via Port Huron/Sarnia or go through Windsor, Ontario, which is opposite of Detroit across the Detroit River.

“At this early stage, speculation would be premature,” Magliari said.

Bradley said his greater interest is to see restoration of passenger rail service lost over the past few decades.

He pointed out that the Sarnia VIA station is located on the Canadian National line running under the St. Clair River while Windsor’s new VIA station has no connection to the Detroit River rail tunnel.

Bradley said that although the market for passengers is bigger in Detroit and Windsor, the rail crossing at Sarnia and Port Huron worked well for many years.

The International was discontinued in part due to long delays in border crossing inspections follow the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Other factors included declining ridership and the desire of Michigan officials for a scheduled that allowed day trips to and from Chicago.

VIA operates just one roundtrip between Sarnia and Toronto.

He acknowledged that border crossing issues would still remain, but those would exist regardless of where it’s located.

Amtrak to Suspend Hoosier State July 1

April 9, 2019

With state funding set to expire in just over two months, Amtrak has ceased selling tickets for its Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

Amtrak said on Monday that the Hoosier State would be suspended on July 1 when state funding will end.

Gov. Eric Holcomb removed funding for the quad-weekly train from the budget proposal that he submitted to the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year.

Neither chamber of the legislature has taken steps to continue the funding.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the 500 passengers who have purchased tickets to ride the train after June 30 will be accommodated on the Cardinal, which operated between Chicago and New York via Indianapolis three days a week.

“This service only exists because of the state contract,” Magliari said. “We can’t in good conscience continue to sell tickets without a contract in place.”

The Indiana Senate is expected to approve is budget plan late this week, but news reports have suggested that funding for the Hoosier State has not gained enough support in that chamber.

The Indiana Department of Transportation has provided $3 million annually for the Hoosier State in recent years with another $500,000 being contributed by communities served by the train.

One news report in Indianapolis said Amtrak continues to discuss with Indiana policy makers saving the Hoosier State, but it is not clear if those efforts will bear any fruit.

Nor is it clear if Amtrak will implement a previously announced plan to cut the Chicago-Indianapolis running time by 15 minutes and reschedule the Hoosier State in late April.

Rensselaer Mayor Stephen Wood said he has discussed saving the train with state legislators but it is unlikely funding will be restored before the June 30 deadline.

Although he said the outlook for the train “looks pretty bleak,” he said some deal to fund the Hoosier State is still theoretically possible, if highly unlikely.

Wood said there has been a report going around that Holcomb wants to use the funding normally given to the Hoosier State to underwrite more non-stop flights for Indianapolis International Airport.

Amtrak to Improve Hoosier State Schedule

March 23, 2019

In a bid to save the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State, Amtrak has reached an agreement with host railroad CSX to shave 15 minutes off the train’s running time and to reschedule it for more convenient times.

The schedule changes are to take effect in April, but may be too little, too late.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has recommended ending the state’s $3 million annual funding of the quad-weekly train and the House of Representatives defeated an effort to add funding for the train to the state’s biennial budget, which is now being considered by the Senate.

In addition to the $3 million in state funding, the Hoosier State also is funded by more than $500,000 contributed by local governments along the route.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the changes are intended to attract passengers.

He said Amtrak is also talking to CSX about changing the schedule of the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal, which uses the same route as the Hoosier State in Indiana and which operates on days the Hoosier State does not.

“We wanted to show that there’s improvement that’s possible,” Magliari said. “And there’s more improvement that’s possible. But there has to a train to improve for it to be improved.”

In a news release, Amtrak said the Hoosier State will depart Indianapolis later than its current 6 a.m. departure time and arrive back in Indy earlier than the current 11:39 p.m. scheduled time.

Amtrak said the schedule changes will save $72,000 in annual operating costs to the state, although it not clear how that will be achieved.

The Hoosier State operates northbound on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and southbound on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

“Together, these trains [Hoosier State and Cardinal] carried more than 60,000 customers last year and provide daily service on an important Amtrak Midwest route, one with great potential that we look forward to developing with our partners at INDOT and CSX,” said Joe McHugh, Amtrak’s vice president for state-supported services, in a statement. “As partners, we can further improve the financial performance, reduce trip times and offer a still better option than driving I-65.”