As we celebrate our growth over the past 50 years, it’s important to commemorate the people who made it all possible. We value and appreciate all current and retired employees and are sharing just a few of their Amtrak stories to celebrate our 50th Anniversary. Amtrak would not be the company it is today without our employees. Every employee brings something special to the Amtrak family and we hope you’ll get to know us all just a little more by reading these stories.
"At Amtrak, I understand you can make an impact on someone's life just by the way you treat them.” Lead Customer Service Representative Krystal Armas discovered something about herself when she joined the Amtrak team. For Armas, each customer is a priority, no matter their background. Thanks to her outstanding customer service, Armas received the President's Service and Safety Award for Excellence in Customer Service in 2019.
Lead Customer Service Representative Krystal Armas discovered something about herself when she joined the Amtrak team.
“I never knew I liked people so much until I started here,” she said. “Before, I was always handling computers in offices. At Amtrak, I understand you can make an impact on someone᾿s life just by the way you treat them.”
Armas, who works in Miami, began her Amtrak career in January 2013 in Baggage and Ticketing, becoming an Onboard Services clerk before advancing to her current role in 2016.
For Armas, each customer is a priority, no matter their background. Thanks to her outstanding customer service, Armas received the President᾿s Service and Safety Award for Excellence in Customer Service in 2019. A manager nominated Armas after noticing her attentive daily interactions with customers.
“Every person who walks through our doors means something to me,” Armas said. “They could have traveled by driving, taking the bus, flying, but they didn᾿t — they came to us, and I᾿m going to make them feel valued and heard. No matter their reason for traveling, we᾿re going to make sure they get there safely and have a good trip.”
Armas has noticed she᾿s welcoming a younger generation of Amtrak customers alongside her seasoned regulars. “I᾿m excited to see that our ads and social media presence have been reaching a new segment,” she said. “More people are realizing our train system is for everyone, and anyone is welcome.”
Following in her dad’s footsteps, Material Control Clerk Ashlee Boruff was able to find stability with the railroad. Boruff worked at Amtrak’s largest heavy maintenance facility, the Beech Grove Shops. Boruff has been able to play a large role in Amtrak’s COVID-19 response by sending gloves, masks, sanitation supplies, and other personal protective equipment across the system over the past year.
Material Control Clerk Ashlee Boruff never thought she would hire on with Amtrak, let alone get to work with her father.
“It definitely wasn᾿t in my original plan, but I was trying to build my career and start a family,” she said. “I needed the stability the railroad could provide. When I was growing up, my dad always said Amtrak was putting food on our table and he had a great job.”
A third-generation railroader, Boruff fit right in when she joined the Beech Grove Shops, Amtrak᾿s largest heavy maintenance facility, in 2013 as a statistical clerk. Her father, Harvey McCann, was a machinist there from 1980 to 2016, and spent four years at Conrail before that. Her maternal grandfather worked at Penn Central and Conrail for more than 30 years.
Before McCann retired, Boruff interacted with him occasionally, as she was based in the front office while he worked in the air brake shop. With a journalism degree, Boruff applied her communications skills to supporting Beech Grove᾿s 500-plus employees — planning events, hosting visitors, even writing for the monthly newsletter.
Boruff᾿s passion for helping others led her to develop connections across the system, and she served on the President᾿s Service and Safety Award committee for three years. She once helped her father resolve an issue with the air brake machine he operated.
“I told him I might know an electrician at Beech Grove who can help him,” she said. “The electrician was able to fix the machine that same day. Dad still brings up this story from time to time. He never thought he᾿d be asking me for help at work. It᾿s awesome that I got to work with him.”
Today Boruff supports system needs at the company᾿s largest material and supply facility, the Indianapolis Distribution Center, located just down the road from Beech Grove. While she hopes to one day return to Beech Grove, she᾿s glad to play a role in Amtrak᾿s COVID-19 response systemwide.
For most of her life, Lorton, VA, Secretary Denise Hochstein has lived and breathed railroading. In 1978, Hochstein joined Amtrak in Onboard Services, thinking she had only found a summer job to pay for college. “The railroad has truly shaped my life,” Hochstein said. With her family legacy and her cross-departmental experience, Hochstein seeks to keep supporting the Auto Train team and watching the company proceed into the future. “We’ve gotten a lot savvier and slicker, and here we are 50 years later making it work.”
For most of her life, Lorton, VA, Secretary Denise Hochstein has lived and breathed railroading.
Hochstein’s father, Bill Autro, joined the Pennsylvania Railroad when she was 3 years old, then started working for Amtrak in 1976, having various roles until retiring in 1999 as general manager of Operations Standards and Compliance.
In 1978, Hochstein joined Amtrak in Onboard Services, thinking she had only found a summer job to pay for college. Hochstein᾿s son, Matthew Reidy, caught the railroading bug too. In 2002, he became a locomotive engineer with Amtrak in Reno, NV, where he continues to serve.
Hochstein returned to Amtrak in 2010 after taking some time away from the job to raise her family. In 2011, she met her husband, Chuck, who works on the Mechanical team servicing the Auto Train.
“The railroad has truly shaped my life,” Hochstein said. “It was my father᾿s livelihood, it᾿s my husband’s and my livelihood, and it᾿s my son᾿s livelihood. It᾿s kind of become the family business."
She adds: “Every time I see a train, I see that I᾿m part of a group of people that makes the trains run,” Hochstein said. “That᾿s part of me making sure someone gets to where they need to be.”
With her family legacy and her cross-departmental experience, Hochstein seeks to keep supporting the Auto Train team and watching the company proceed into the future.
“When I first started, we were a fledgling railroad,” she said. “We’ve gotten a lot savvier and slicker, and here we are 50 years later making it work.”
Howard Noll recalls entering the railroad industry in 1975, when batteries and electric generators helped illuminate steam-heated rail cars. When he retired in June 2015, steam heat had become a thing of the past and cars offered amenities such as Wi-Fi, electric outlets and on-board movies. During his 15 years as district manager, he oversaw efforts to enhance or remodel platforms, vestibules, even parking lots. “I’m proud to have helped people grow in their careers and get to greater heights.”
Howard Noll recalls entering the railroad industry in 1975, when batteries and electric generators helped illuminate steam-heated rail cars. When he retired in June 2015, steam heat had become a thing of the past and cars offered amenities such as WiFi, electric outlets and on-board movies.
“It’s interesting how we’ve evolved,” said Noll, who retired as stations district manager out of Buffalo, NY. “Today, power comes from the diesel locomotives to the cars for heating, air-conditioning and all the conveniences customers deserve.”
Noll always enjoyed working for the railroad. “It᾿s not an assembly line with widgets in a box,” he said. “It was interesting, and every day was a different experience.”
Noll credits his interest in railroading to his father, who produced freight car parts for Symington Wayne Corp., and his stepfather, who worked for New York Central Railroad and climbed the ladder to vice president of his American Railway Supervisors Association union.
After Noll graduated from Alfred State College with a drafting and design degree, he joined the Penn Central Transportation Co. in Buffalo, which was taken over by Amtrak two months later.
Noll worked as a coach cleaner and carman before transferring to Chicago in 1978. He was later promoted to foreman and general foreman before taking on the role of 14th Street Car Shop’s facility manager. In 1996, he returned to New York State as a Niagara Falls carman, until he became the district manager in Buffalo. Noll᾿s mechanical knowledge helped him supervise repairs while overseeing a 300-mile territory of ticketing, baggage and stations operations.
During his 15 years as district manager, he oversaw efforts to enhance or remodel platforms, vestibules, even parking lots.
“We had many employees who shared their talents and time,” Noll said. He said teamwork helped them provide the best service possible to customers, as employees often would help come up with solutions to enhance operations. What he loved most was mentoring others.
“I’m proud to have helped people grow in their careers and get to greater heights,” Noll said.
Now retired in Buffalo, Noll and his wife have two sons — one is an Amtrak electrician in Niagara Falls, and the other is a chief petty officer in the U.S. Coast Guard — and two grandsons.
And railroading is never too far away. He keeps a large model railroad in his basement. He also continues dabbling in mechanical operations and recently refurbished a 1953 boat.
New Orleans Timekeeper and Assignment Clerk Stephanie Pritchard's Amtrak story began when she was a teenager. It was August 1980. Her mother, Maria Creamer, was looking for a new career and a neighbor suggested Creamer apply at Amtrak. In 1993, Stephanie followed in her mother's footsteps and joined Amtrak, first working on the extra board and learning every role she could. “I hope when employees walk out the door, they know I'm doing my very best job for them so they can do their very best job for our customers — just like my mom did for them so many years ago. And I hope that by following in her footsteps, I have made my mom and Amtrak proud!”
In a sense, New Orleans Timekeeper and Assignment Clerk Stephanie Pritchard᾿s Amtrak story began when she was a teenager. It was August 1980. Her mother, Maria Creamer, was looking for a new career and a neighbor suggested Creamer apply at Amtrak.
“She did, and got the job,” Pritchard said. “I remember being amazed that a woman could drive a forklift or unload wheel sets. That was traditionally a man’s job — but my mom did it.”
Creamer worked in various roles in New Orleans until she settled into her favorite role before retiring: bulletin and assignment clerk. She loved adding her special touch to the Amtrak customer experience, such as dressing up in a costume to meet incoming trains during Mardi Gras.
Creamer demonstrated her love for food to her Amtrak family, and even made an entire Thanksgiving dinner for co-workers on duty that day. “Mom felt it was important to make the day special for those employees who had to be away from their families on a holiday,” Pritchard said.
In 1993, she followed in her mother᾿s footsteps and joined Amtrak, first working as an extra board and learning every role she could.
Creamer and Pritchard share many parallels in their careers. Today, Pritchard holds the same role her mother retired from in 2006. Though she doesn᾿t prepare entire Thanksgiving dinners for co-workers like her mom did, Pritchard is known for special touches that capture her mother᾿s care for all in the crew base: gifting rubber ducks for National Rubber Duck Day, for example, or rolling out a hot chocolate bar, just because.
“Having the privilege of a mother at work, showing me firsthand what it meant to be an employees᾿ employee, cannot be matched,” Pritchard said. “I hope when employees walk out the door, they know I᾿m doing my very best job for them so they can do their very best job for our customers — just like my mom did for them so many years ago. And I hope that by following in her footsteps, I have made my mom and Amtrak proud!”
Each morning, Lead Service Attendant James Lake begins his day running through a self-developed acronym, P.A.M., which stands for preparation, awareness and mindfulness. James takes the effort to make each Amtrak customer’s experience individualized and memorable. He appreciates the customers, co-workers, and supervisors along his journey that have provided him with feedback and ability to grow.
Each morning, Lead Service Attendant James Lake begins his day running through a self-developed acronym, P.A.M., which stands for preparation, awareness and mindfulness.
“I do this even on my days off because it᾿s good to pay attention to your environment for any hazards and what you, co-workers, customers or others around you may need,” he said. “It helps me get in a good mindset to enjoy each moment as it comes.”
In October 2005, Lake hired on as train attendant out of his hometown, Seattle. He spent some time working East Coast regional trains, before transferring to Los Angeles seven years ago.
Now based on the Southwest Chief, Lake says his favorite part of his trip is interacting with customers. As Lake welcomes and serves each person, he tries to remember names so he can greet them later or on a future trip. While en route, he points out sights or wildlife. For Lake, great customer service involves listening well and showing humility, strength and authenticity.
“Create connections, spark some joy and make the trip memorable and fun,” he said. “I learn something new every trip, which is what makes the journey enjoyable for me too.”
On a recent trip, for instance, Lake befriended a couple and discovered their shared love of cooking and baking. He now exchanges recipes with them.
Lake᾿s service has earned him praise from customers and co-workers alike. For his part, Lake expresses thanks to supervisors and managers who have provided consistent support throughout his career.
“They’re always keeping me aware of what’s going on, whether it᾿s customer compliments or something I need to work on, so they’ve been a big part of my growth,” he said. “I feel grateful to work with such great people.”
When faced with the decision between working as a police officer for a local department or for Amtrak, Kevin O’Connell ultimately knew Amtrak would be able to provide him more opportunities for growth. From working presidential inaugurations, to special national security events, he’s always seen his career with Amtrak as “law enforcement with a twist”. With the opportunity to meet a diverse team of individuals, and experience an everchanging organization, he offers this advice to new employees: “The horizons are endless... so it is key to maintain an open and eager mind.”
When Kevin O’Connell began his career in the workforce, he faced two job offers, one from Amtrak and one from a local police department, both for the position of police officer. He ultimately decided on starting his career with Amtrak as he felt it was an organization that would afford him more opportunities and advancement for growth as Amtrak is nationwide, and he stated that to this day Amtrak continues to prove to be just that, a place with an overflow of opportunities.
The constantly changing environment is what has kept him at Amtrak. Within Kevin’s department specifically, he described it to be a transient and diverse community with constant opportunities to meet a variety of people. He also enjoys that with working at Amtrak it’s not traditional law enforcement. He described it as “law enforcement with a twist”, given how everchanging the organization is and all it has to offer. Kevin has had incredible opportunities over the years working virtually everywhere, from working presidential inaugurations, 14 national security special events, and he’s even met every sitting president at Amtrak during his time here.
His advice to new employees is for new employees to come in with an open mind. He stated, “at Amtrak the horizons are endless, there is always something new to experience and learn so it is key to maintain an open and eager mind."
One of Kevin’s top memories are from when he was a K-9 handler. He worked the security detail for President Clinton at the time and was able to personally meet him and even got to take photographs that were published. His other favorite memory at Amtrak was when he worked the National Democratic Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2011.
Over the course of his time at Amtrak, Kevin has noticed the strides Amtrak has taken to become more and more into a customer centric company. In specific regard to his department, when he first began at Amtrak, police never boarded trains, and now they do and can offer that added level of safety for customers onboard.
“Keep an open mind and challenge yourself.” This advice comes from military veteran Ralph McClinton. Striving to always put one’s best foot forward and be constantly bettering themselves are top ingredients for success according to Ralph. After serving in the military, Ralph found himself at Amtrak. Ralph is thankful that his lifelong dream of instructing was able to be fulfilled while at Amtrak in his current position. We are grateful to Ralph for always looking out for the success and safety of his peers.
“Amtrak chose me.” These words come from Ralph McClinton, a senior technical trainer in Chicago. Ralph left the military and applied to a few options, but ending up opting into Amtrak. His first job was a machinist in 1990 doing, more or less, heavy repairs on locomotives, traction motor change outs, power assemblies, and turbos. He got transferred to the locomotive air break department from 2007- 2019 where he troubleshooted air breaks. Ralph then got transferred to the Technical Training department which is his current position.
According to Ralph, Amtrak is a great place to work. He believes the best about Amtrak is its longevity and consistency. “You don’t get 30+ years in one place always.” It has been consistently a great place for him to work. He has also seen great improvements in safety and advancements in certain areas over the years. Ralph encourages anyone interested in the railroad to try Amtrak.
Ralph advises new employees to have an open mind and to always challenge themselves and put their best foot forward to strive and better themselves on a daily basis. Ensuring safety for themselves and others should be any new employee’s first priority. The third thing he would advise new employees to do is to develop a sense of awareness to encompass the safety standards of the railroad and Amtrak’s core values.
Ralph’s long-term dream of instructing was also able to be fulfilled at Amtrak. Getting advanced to his current position and opportunity to teach is something he is grateful for.
“There’s plenty to see and do in America’s wide open spaces, as well as plenty of friendly people to meet along the way.” These words come from Pauline Pena, Williston lead customer service representative. Pauline gets to interact with commuters and tourists of the Empire Builder line. Her small town passengers have become a part her life and experience here at Amtrak.
There’s plenty to see and do in America’s wide open spaces, as well as plenty of friendly people to meet along the way. As a transplant from California to North Dakota, Williston Lead Customer Service Representative Pauline Pena passes along that insight and experience to her customers.
Pena works with customers who ride the Empire Builder. Some commute to work in Williston’s oil fields from as far away as Portland, OR, and Seattle. Others are tourists coming to see attractions in the Rocky Mountains and points west.
Pena answers questions about the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, Mount Rushmore and even the Medora Musical—a relatively little-known summer musical production in nearby Medora, ND, adjacent to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
“As lead agent, I’m responsible for making sure the station is up to standard: all the ordering, deposits, cleaning, maintenance of station, everything,” she said. “If the station needs fixing, I call contractors; if the buggy needs fixing, I’ll send it for maintenance.”
Pena picked up the “just-take-care-of-it” spirit after moving to the northern Great Plains several years ago.
“What I most enjoy about working with Amtrak are the passengers,” she said. “All the people in Williston are so friendly. The passengers in this small town have become a part of my life and being able to celebrate Amtrak’s 50th anniversary with them will be memorable.”
Following her mother’s legacy, Kim Jackson has been working at Amtrak since 1988. Her growth and improved work ethics over the years has influenced her top advice today. “Stay focused... Someone is watching your work ethics even when it seems as though they are not.” Kim appreciates her Amtrak family and the comradery between all agents, supervisors, and managers. The vast network of Amtrak across America allowed Kim to volunteer at Washington Union Station during President Obama’s first inauguration: a truly unique experience. In the words of Kim Jackson, “Amtrak is Me, and I Am Amtrak.”
Kim R. Jackson has held many positions with Amtrak over her 32 years. She is currently a refund research lead working out of Philadelphia. Many people who were once strangers to Kim have now become her family and closest friends. The good days have outweighed the bad days at Amtrak. Although she may have made some mistakes along the way, she was given some second chances as well as some constructive criticisms from supervisors that humbled her and allowed her to mature.
She has seen quite a few changes happen at Amtrak. In 2003 when the Chicago, Illinois Call Center closed, she chose to relocate to the Philadelphia Call Center. With Amtrak being a union shop, she was protected with that move. In addition, to the protection of the union, many supervisors, and managers as well as her peers, believed in her and respected the person of integrity that she had become which led to recommendations for other positions. Her brother Kelvin Jackson is now even employed with Amtrak.
Kim’s advice to new employees is to stay focused, stay on point with what the company requires, complete tasks given by your supervisors, and always be prepared for the potential for change. “Someone is always watching your work ethics even when it seems as though they are not.”
Kim also cites some of her fondest memories with Amtrak. Early in her career with Amtrak in Chicago, they had winter dances at Annie Tiques Banquet Hall. “This was a time when agents, supervisors and managers came together for dining and dancing. All our titles were put aside, and we were just people coming out for laughter and fun, plus the attire was formal, so we all were in all our finest attire.” Another great memory for Kim was being chosen for a Hawaiian luau themed luncheon in Chicago. Kim also got to volunteer at Washington Union Station during the first inauguration of President Barack Obama.
The two main positive changes Kim reflects on from her time at Amtrak are effective communications and leadership. With leadership Kim believes you should always set the example for others with your own actions. “Let what you say and what you do be cohesive.”
Retiring this summer, Kim will leave Amtrak with 33 years of railroad experience under her belt.
"Amtrak is Me, and I Am Amtrak.”
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