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.”
“Everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came”. This rhyme comes from Sleeping Car Attendant Steven Busch. He’s been able to see and experience a lot while working on cross-country trains. The “Dream Team” of Busch and his wife work on the same crew and have been able to see how much Amtrak has kept passengers safe during COVID-19. Busch has always made it a point to provide the best experience for customers and live a life full of joy and appreciation.
Southwest Chief Sleeping Car Attendant Steven Busch views cross-country train travel like some TV sitcom fans viewed a certain beloved bar in Boston called “Cheers.”
“Where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came — that’s how I see the train,” said Busch, who will complete his 21st year with the company in May.
Busch has experienced a lot while serving customers on cross-country trains — everything from saving an elderly man from choking to death to witnessing the first-ever meeting of twin brothers who were separated at birth six decades earlier. Busch and his wife, Tamesha, now work on the same crew together, which their co-workers refer to as the “Dream Team,” and he salutes Amtrak for finding a way to keep people traveling during the complications of COVID-19.
Customers are much more likely to return when they have a memorable experience. Busch makes it a point to greet travelers personally, remember their names and check on them throughout the day.
“I’m as excited about working for Amtrak as I was on my first trip,” he said. “I try to make people feel comfortable and let them know I’m honored to help with their travel.”
Amid his many responsibilities, he takes time to enjoy the amazing scenery and breathtaking sunrises right along with the customers.
“There are two kinds of people in the world: got-to people and get-to people,” Busch said. “I get to go to work; I have a job while millions don’t. I get to mow the lawn because I have a lawn. One looks at the obligation and the other looks at the opportunity. I have a different lens and appreciation, and that’s part of the joy that I reflect to others. The world treats you the way you treat it, really.”
Amtrak dining cars turn into Veronica Gonzalez’s dining room when she’s on board. Southwest Chief Lead Service Attendant wants customers “to feel like they᾿re enjoying time with family, not strangers.” Before working with Amtrak she had a hospitality background working in the restaurant industry. Her flexible schedule allows her to stay close with her family and spend time with her kids.
In her 13 years at Amtrak, Southwest Chief Lead Service Attendant Veronica Gonzalez has welcomed customers into the dining car as if they were entering their own dining room.
“I want them to feel like they᾿re enjoying time with family, not strangers,” Gonzalez said. “I try to remember key points they mention about their life, like if they᾿re going to see a grandchild for the first time or dropping a child off at college. Then I welcome them back on their return journey or next time they ride with us again.”
Her professionalism and warmth recently earned her high praise from a passenger who wrote, “I want to specifically recognize Veronica. I have never seen a crew serve in the diner with such efficiency, care and pride. Additionally, all her announcements were very clear, articulate and timely. Thanks for the ride.”
Before Amtrak, Gonzalez had worked in the restaurant industry, where she hosted, bartended and worked in the kitchen. She was a hospitality major finishing her winter semester at Mt. San Antonio College when an Amtrak Los Angeles crew base manager recruited her.
Knowing nothing of rail travel back then, Gonzalez checked out the onboard services job and fell in love with it. And now she appreciates a schedule that allows her to spend a week at a time with her two children, Zoey, 3 and Jessamine, 4.
“There᾿s something different every trip, and it᾿s fun to get regulars from other parts of the country,” she said.
Gonzalez got her start aboard the world-famous Pacific Parlour cars that ran on Coast Starlight until their retirement in 2018. After serving on commuter routes, Gonzalez discovered she preferred cross-country travel, such as Sunset Limited or her current assignment on the Southwest Chief. She enjoys meeting international guests from Australia and New Zealand, who visit during wintertime in the Southern Hemisphere.
“I love seeing how personalities change across the country and how the train brings everyone to the same level for socializing,” she said. “You can come on board saying you don᾿t socialize much and end up making friends on the train."
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.”
Jose Lopez found a way to turn the busy platforms of Los Angeles Union Station into a seamless experience for customers. In the summer of 2020 Jose began holding up a sign with the train number and final destination while welcoming customers on board. Jose says that, “anything he can do to make things easier for the team and customers, he’ll do.” Official signage was approved in December 2020 following Jose’s idea.
Deciphering which train to board can be difficult on the busy platforms at Los Angeles Union Station, but Pacific Surfliner customers now have a helpful visual aid thanks to Train Attendant Jose Lopez.
In July 2020, Lopez began displaying an 8-by-7-inch Business class sign complete with train number and final destination as he welcomed customers on board. A 15-year Onboard Services employee, Lopez said he got the idea after noticing customer confusion when Coaster, Metrolink and Pacific Surfliner trains arrived on the same platform around the same time.
“I᾿m always looking for ways to improve the customer experience, so I thought, 'let me do something that can help me and my customers,'” he said.
Onboard Services Manager Carl Mayo applauded the idea and recommended that Lopez present it to LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency, which oversees the Surfliner route. The agency’s board of directors loved the idea and approved official signage for Business class in December 2020.
Lopez said Amtrak and non-Amtrak customers alike have appreciated the signs as they can tell at a glance whether they᾿re heading to the correct train.
Lopez enjoys assessing and tweaking these details to make the Amtrak experience more enjoyable for himself, his co-workers and everyone he serves.
“Anything I can do to make things easier for our team and customers, I’ll do,” he said. “If it works, I keep it; if it doesn᾿t, I try something else.”
“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.”
Greg Williams, based in Chicago, is a senior Employee Assistance Program counselor who joined back in June 1999. As people have learned how to cope with COVID-19, Greg has been here to help by taking care of employees. He applauds Amtrak for the work they have all done during the pandemic, including offering remote work options, giving employees time off and constant communicating about the resources they offer. “I know we’re going to get through this,” Greg said. “Let's share that hope and optimism with every interaction we have.”
For more than two decades, Greg Williams has been just a call away from employees who need confidential support in work and life.
Based in Chicago, the now senior Employee Assistance Program counselor joined Amtrak in June 1999, with 10 years of experience working in behavioral health. Today he is one of three, full-time EAP counselors covering the system’s west, midwest and east regions; his territory is the area west of Chicago.
As people cope with COVID-19, Williams has heard from many who feel on edge. “The fears were and are very real,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to Amtrak for how they᾿ve handled communicating about the pandemic. We᾿ve really stepped up when it comes to taking care of employees, including offering remote work options, giving folks time off who need it and pointing folks to resources we offer.”
Throughout his career, Williams said his calling has remained “people first.” "Confidentiality and empathy," he said, "are key to building trust and rapport." He sometimes rides along with locomotive engineers and conductors and does walkabouts to engage with employees.
“The 1-844-AMTRAK1 number is a one-stop shop,” Williams said. “I love that I can talk to a stranger over the phone, and by the end, we both walk away for the better.”
Helping co-workers move out of their low moments back to the job they love is rewarding to Williams, and benefits the company as well. “We᾿re working with people, not widgets,” he said. “It’s about empathy, compassion and the lives you touch. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing that I᾿ve made a difference in someone᾿s life.”
In these tough times, Williams urges employees to continue being kind and sensitive to one another, recognizing that each person is in a different place.
“I know we’re going to get through this,” he said. “Let᾿s share that hope and optimism with every interaction we have.”
Coast Starlight Onboard Services Team
The Coast Starlight Onboard Services Team has providing exceptional service through the years. Each team member operates in their own way with their own special routines. Christopher Addison “report[s] to work early to get [his] cars set up, because once [his] customers arrive, it᾿s go-time,” Addison said. “Its lights, camera, action—smile and treat customers the way you want to be treated.” Lead Service Attendant Service Attendant Sergio Garcia sets the tone in the Diner or Café car by creating a welcoming atmosphere. He likes to point out the route’s spectacular scenery including oceans, mountains, and lakes.
As Amtrak celebrates its 50th year of operations in 2021, several Coast Starlight employees reflect on what it᾿s been like to serve satisfied customers through their decades-long careers.
Onboard Services Supervisor Melody Wooten leads in seniority with 35 years of service. Alongside her are Train Attendants Christopher Addison, Robin Graham, Harold Lee, Guadalupe Hernandez and Gingi Yee, who celebrate 32, 32, 29, 28 and 22 years of service respectively in 2021. Lead Service Attendant Sergio Garcia will soon mark his 13th year and is another exemplary employee.
“They have tons of experience and receive consistent praise from customers,” Onboard Services Manager Zoila Hernandez said. “Each one brings their strengths and goes above and beyond every day.”
Wooten᾿s passion lies in serving others on board. After 14 years in Reservations, she has spent the rest of her time in OBS.
Happy employees make for happy customers, Wooten said, which is why she᾿s quick to assist on any trip. Those who have worked with Wooten appreciate her compassionate leadership style and solution-based approach.
“If there᾿s a team player, it’s Melody,” Graham said. “She will lend a hand wherever help is needed. Everybody loves her.”
Graham and Addison joined the Los Angeles Crew Base within a month of each other, and Lee and Hernandez within a year of one another. Equipment has changed over the years, they said.
Addison recalls serving on a Kiddie Car in the 1990s that was equipped with toys and live entertainment for children. Lee remembers when Amtrak rolled out brand new Superliner IIs, and the nostalgic Pacific Parlour car that customers loved to lounge in until it was retired in February 2018. Some of Hernandez᾿s fondest interactions are hearing loyal Amtrak customers recall how they traveled on the Coast Starlight in the 1970s—from dressing up for dinner to the fine china in the Dining car.
Employees grow and change over the years, too.
“Every crew has a ᾿mom᾿ and ᾿dad,᾿ and I used to be the hyper kid among these folks,” Lee said. “I᾿ve worked with them for so long they᾿ve become my family.”
Lee prizes attentiveness to customers, while Hernandez keeps guests informed every step of the journey. While Addison brings a calm, measured presence, Graham᾿s warm liveliness engages people from all walks of life.
“I report to work early to get my cars set up, because once my customers arrive, it᾿s go-time,” Addison said. “It᾿s lights, camera, action—smile and treat customers the way you want to be treated.”
The analogy resonates with Yee, who was a dancer before joining the railroad. Her mother would travel from Los Angeles to Las Vegas by train to watch Yee perform. So when it came time to consider a second career, Yee thought, “Why not Amtrak?”
“I love travel, love staying active at my job and genuinely want every customer to be happy,” she said. “Smiling and listening to customers, then addressing concerns is what works for me.”
Garcia sets the tone in the Diner or Café car by creating a welcoming atmosphere. Like Hernandez, he is quick to point out and savor the route᾿s spectacular scenery, from the ocean to the mountains and lakes.
“Children especially, or those who᾿ve never traveled by rail before, will remember the experience for the rest of their lives,” he said. “So we make sure they᾿re treated with courtesy and respect.”
Looking ahead, the team expressed optimism about the future despite COVID-19 setbacks. As they pass on their wisdom to the next generation of Coast Starlight employees, they hope Amtrak᾿s legacy will endure.
“I᾿m proud I can represent a company that has been around so long and still keep standards high, so people still have faith in us to travel,” Graham said. “My job is to make sure people have an enjoyable ride on Amtrak so they want to come back.”
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.
Dave and Chuck Crandall
Both Dave and his father Chuck Crandall have had long, successful careers at Amtrak through APD. Starting his career in local law enforcement, Dave saw great opportunities in the railroad industry. Although Dave and his father’s careers overlapped for two years, Chuck gave him space to be able to create his own course and story at Amtrak. Chuck was named APD Officer of the Year in 2015 for his role in a two-year investigation. Dave keeps the Crandall name alive in the Amtrak family as he continues to enjoy the cross-departmental teamwork and customer service aspects of his job.
As a child, Officer Dave Crandall knew he wanted to be a police officer just like his father, Chuck. He just had no idea that he would follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the Amtrak Police Department (APD) too.
Growing up right outside of Harrisburg, PA, Dave spent five years in local law enforcement before realizing the railroad’s potential for career advancement. When he was in elementary school, he and his brother, Chaz, visited their father at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.
“Dad let us wear Amtrak hard hats, and we got a picture at the station,” he said. “I saw that Amtrak provided well for him and our family, and it had many opportunities.”
His father had been a Pennsylvania municipal officer looking to progress in his career when he befriended an Amtrak sergeant by chance in 1980. In March 1988, he became an APD officer in the same Harrisburg field office that now serves as a home base for his son. In November 2018, his father capped his career as a detective.
While they occasionally worked together when their careers overlapped between 2016 and 2018, Dave said his dad gave him space to chart his own course. “He didn᾿t want to be father hen,” Dave said. “But my dad has a wealth of law-enforcement experience, so it was easy to call him and ask for help if I ever needed it.”
Chuck Crandall had a distinguished three decades at APD. His experience included working the anti-crime detail at the Mid-Atlantic headquarters in Philadelphia and serving as a detailed firearms instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, GA, from 1996 to 2000. Right after 9/11, he was assigned an explosive detection dog, a Belgian Malinois named Ryann, with whom he conducted numerous sweeps.
In 2015, he was named APD Officer of the Year for his role in a two-year investigation of copper wire theft, which resulted in eight arrests, and for aiding an injured state trooper who was hit while assisting a motorist. In 2016, he won two President᾿s Service and Safety Awards for these contributions.
“I᾿ve had what I would consider a very good run,” Chuck said. “Nowhere else would I have gotten the variety of experiences I’ve had than at Amtrak.”
As for Dave, he continues to enjoy the cross-departmental teamwork and customer service aspect of his job too. “What I love most is being able to provide a public service to our passengers,” he said. “We work well with other crafts, and go above and beyond to ensure the safety and satisfaction of our customers.”
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.”
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!”
As he’s been interested in railroads since childhood, Ed Courtemanch joining Amtrak when it started in 1971 is right on track. Hired as Employee No. 30, Courtemanch started his time at Amtrak as a senior planner. When he retired four years ago, Amtrak had over 20,000 employees. Courtemanch’s career at Amtrak consisted of numerous roles, most of which were in planning and operations. He rode over 90% of Amtrak’s full 25,000-mile long service network. At the time of his retirement, Courtemanch was also the longest-serving employee at Amtrak.
Growing up in the 1940s and 50s, Ed Courtemanch first took an interest in railroads as a small child. After graduating from Georgetown University in 1965, he accepted a position in the college graduate management training program of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
Courtemanch stayed with C&O/B&O until being called up for active military service in 1967. He served at Fort Eustis, Va., until being ordered to Vietnam. Because of his railroad operating experience, Courtemanch was made night operations officer of the Movement Control Center of Saigon Support Command, overseeing the operations of more than 2,000 trucks as they were loaded and organized into regular daily truck convoys that went to various tactical units in the field. For his service, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
Following his military service, Courtemanch returned and worked in various positions for C&O/B&O until he joined Amtrak in 1971. Recruited by Amtrak as soon as it was organized in 1971, he was hired as Employee No. 30, as a senior planner.
At the time he was hired, Courtemanch was interviewed by then Amtrak President Roger Lewis because the organization was too small to have a personnel department. His first few payroll checks were actually written and signed by the corporate controller. At the very beginning, most of what Amtrak had to do was done by others. The (by-then) freight-only railroads continued to perform all train operating and maintenance functions under contract. A skeletal (but growing) direct staff, supported by staff of the Federal Railroad Administration, plus numerous consultants and others, did all the rest.
Courtemanch often briefed top management on the company's non-financial performance indicators, including safety, train performance, ridership and sales. He said, “Whenever I interacted with Amtrak’s top officers, I got to learn their visions and plans, to understand the opportunities and threats that faced us, and to be very involved in designing the methods needed to meet required goals.” He added, “Amtrak's spontaneous management culture tapped into the knowledge of its most experienced managers' centuries of combined experience.”
In contrast with its early days, when Courtemanch retired on New Year’s Eve 2017, Amtrak had more than 20,000 employees. Before retiring, he held numerous roles, mostly in planning and operations. To develop a continuous understanding of nationwide operations, he traveled on Amtrak to every state served by, and rode over more than 90 percent of, Amtrak’s entire 25,000-mile network. Having responsibility for many years for cross-border operations into Canada, he also knew about all Canadian border provinces, VIA Rail Canada, and the border-security agencies of both countries.
Courtemanch’s most memorable role began in 2011, when then Amtrak President Joe Boardman asked him to be project manager for takeover of the CSX Transportation Hudson Line, almost 100 route miles of railroad between Poughkeepsie and a point beyond Schenectady, NY. Courtemanch worked with a team to initiate the replacement of worn-out tracks, updating signals and communications, improving highway grade crossings, and extending boarding platforms to improve reliability. “That was the most interesting role of my career,” he said. “I reported directly to the top, and it felt a bit like I was running my own little part of the railroad.”
Courtemanch recalled other career highlights: The pre-Amtrak auto-carrying passenger train service between Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The 1973 energy crisis, which led to such huge gasoline shortages that numerous Americans “rediscovered” passenger train service, causing sometimes-impossible demand. Amtrak’s takeover of the Auto Train service, after a private company proved to be unable to make it sustainable.
On New Year's Eve 2017, Courtemanch’s last act as an employee was to ride on his son (and Amtrak Conductor) Patrick's train to Roanoke, VA, and back. At the time of his retirement, Courtemanch was the then longest-serving employee of Amtrak. He regrets not being Amtrak to celebrate our 50th anniversary. However, he appreciates time with his family: children Stephen, Michael, Laurel, Dwight, and Patrick, plus his five grandchildren.
During her full career at Amtrak Barbara Hanna lead the way on many diversity and inclusion initiatives. Hanna’s career in Human Resources began in 1973. When she first started in the railroad industry, it was heavily male-dominant. Hanna is proud to have been one of the first women to be promoted to management. During her time at Amtrak she won a distinguished President's Service and Safety Award for Sustained Excellence in 2009. In reflecting on Amtrak’s 50th anniversary, Hanna is grateful to have experienced a varied career in the railroad industry.
Before she retired as a Los Angeles human resources director, Barbara Hanna helped spearhead diversity and inclusion initiatives throughout her career.
“At Amtrak, I worked alongside men and women of many backgrounds and learned the value of having a workforce representative of the communities we serve,” she said. “I felt that as a company, we needed to look like the rest of the population because that makes us a stronger team."
Hanna's journey into Human Resources occurred naturally. She started March 10, 1973, as a secretary in LA and served regional vice presidents. During that time, she began to handle HR paperwork — a learning experience that was exciting and challenging as she had no prior HR background, she said. Seven years as a recruiter and supervisor sealed Hanna᾿s passion for HR.
Hanna became a labor relations officer in 1987; and by 1997, she was a Chicago HR manager championing more minority hiring in the Midwest, and mentoring and promoting from within.
In 1997, she became an on board services manager and moved back to LA, closer to her ailing mother. Hanna found her way back to HR in 2000, and capped her career as HR director in 2010.
"When I started, the railroad was a male-dominated industry," she said. "I was among the first group of women to be promoted to management, so I’m proud of that."
Hanna also takes pride in winning a President᾿s Service and Safety Award for Sustained Excellence in 2009. Reflecting on Amtrak’s 50th anniversary, she’s grateful to have experienced such a varied career with the railroad and toasts its longevity.
“It’s absolutely incredible that Amtrak is celebrating 50 years,” she said. “We fought so hard for funding year after year, and no one thought we would last this long. But we made do and we did, and I hope we can get what we need to operate for many more years.”
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. 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.
Tricia “Patty” Saunders
Despite being written years prior, Tricia “Patty” Saunders compares Amtrak to the book The Little Engine That Could. The beginning of Amtrak was tough, so seeing Amtrak make it to 50 years is a proud moment for her. Saunders was one of the first female hires and the 75th overall hire for Amtrak. As a passenger service representative she learned lifelong customer service skills. After leaving Amtrak to pursue her dream of working in Hollywood, she returned as an onboard services employee and held that role until she retired from the railroad in 2004.
The Little Engine That Could was written long before the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 established Amtrak. But Tricia “Patty” Saunders — a retired 33-year Amtrak employee — still couldn’t help but compare America’s Railroad to the book as she reflected on its golden jubilee.
“The first year was tough; it was a struggle, but we made it through,” said the youthful septuagenarian, who was one of Amtrak’s first female employees and its 75th hire overall. “To see Amtrak reach 50 years, I’m getting choked up; I’m so proud.”
Saunders was hired by Amtrak on April 30, 1971, as a passenger service representative (PSR). As an early brand ambassador, she assisted customers on board and promoted company initiatives while garnering valuable feedback from customers and co-workers alike.
Prior to Amtrak᾿s first anniversary, Saunders served on a national public relations tour in 1972. Traveling with representatives of the company’s public relations firm, she visited more than 60 cities in six months. She noted that a typical stop would involve interviews with two newspapers, three or four radio stations and two TV stations.
“Interviews would be anywhere from 90 seconds trackside to up to half an hour on the radio or a TV show,” she said. “My job was to explain to the public what Amtrak had done in its first year and what it looked forward to doing in the future.”
As Saunders and her counterparts were positively received by the public, Amtrak expanded the number of female PSRs from three to 48 within a year, according to a 1972 article in the St. Paul Dispatch.
Following two years as a PSR, Saunders became a sales representative in California, then headed east again to work as a station services specialist at Amtrak headquarters, then located at L᾿Enfant Plaza in Washington, DC. She subsequently served as a station supervisor at Washington Union Station. To pursue a long-held dream of acting, she left Amtrak and went to Los Angeles, where she worked at the famed Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood and appeared in numerous productions as part of a local theater group.
Saunders returned to Amtrak within a year, this time as an onboard services employee, a role she held until she retired from railroading in 2004. The 77-year-old now resides in Portland, OR, where she works as a hotel concierge—a job she’s done for the past 12 years using some of the same customer-service skills she learned at Amtrak.
“I try to smile and be positive all the time,” said Saunders, who also takes a vested interest in her customers. “There are just so many stories out there.”
Although she hasn’t been an official Amtrak employee for almost 17 years, she stays connected with several past co-workers through Facebook, noting, “All you have to do is mention Amtrak and you’re family.”
Across three decades, Jeff Pierce held Amtrak leadership roles in Chicago, Boston, and Washington, DC. Starting his railroad career off with New York Central Railroad in 1967, when he joined Amtrak in 1972, he was already an established railroader. Jeff has been able to see the company transform over the years as Amtrak employee number 130. Retiring after four decades in the industry, he leaves us with an optimistic view on the future and what Amtrak’s employees will bring.
For more than three decades, retiree Jeff Pierce held leadership roles for Amtrak in various locations, including Chicago, Boston and Washington, DC. At every stop, he maintained a laser focus on building up infrastructure and maintaining rolling stock in a manner befitting “America’s Railroad.”
“We always believed that passenger transportation was something, is something and will be something under Amtrak,” he said. “If you work for Amtrak, you have a lot of heritage behind you.”
Having started as a carman apprentice in 1967 with New York Central Railroad, Pierce was already an established railroader in 1972 when he arrived at Chicago’s 12th Street Coach Yard. As Amtrak employee number 130, Pierce immediately set down roots as the facility’s assistant general foreman.
“I had an instant family the minute I went there,” he said.
Pierce described Amtrak in its infancy as a caretaker that paid bills and did its best to ensure that host railroads operated efficiently. Early on, he oversaw employees of host railroads, including Burlington Northern, Santa Fe, Milwaukee Road and Illinois Central Railroad. Amtrak had few employees, and host railroads ultimately had final oversight even as they operated trains for Amtrak.
As Amtrak’s employee count rose and its culture gained influence, employees such as Pierce were able to take greater ownership of processes and direct use of limited capital. In 1974, Pierce moved to Amtrak’s Turboliner facility in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood and served as general foreman.
“It was one of the brightest spots for me,” he said. “It was a new facility with new technology and trains—and the equipment needed to maintain them.”
But Pierce called Chicago’s 16th Street Engine House his “glory spot.” In 1976, he became locomotive manager there, oversaw nearly 100 employees and championed repairs and upgrades for the facility.
Pierce transferred in 1986 to Washington, DC, managing Amtrak’s overhaul shops. He crisscrossed the country assisting managers across the system and was eventually promoted to general superintendent of Boston Division Mechanical. Pierce concluded his Amtrak career as assistant chief mechanical officer-East in 2006.
To make Amtrak a success and keep passenger railroading alive, employees such as Pierce had to go above and beyond—and never accept defeat. “It just wasn’t in our nature,” he said. “We were always there to put a train in service, and we did.”
After four decades in the industry, Pierce still feels passionate about railroading. He enjoys O-scale model railroading and owns 400 cars and 80 locomotives from various roads. Amtrak also is still on his mind. He’s optimistic for its future but believes now is a crucial time in its history.
“The future is up to the people over there right now,” he said.
Locomotive engineers in training begin their Amtrak career at the Amtrak Training Center in Wilmington, Delaware. Rodney Brown, a lead technical trainer, tells his students that “there are no gray areas in this job.” Engineers need to be aware of everything they’re doing and ensure all checklists are fully gone through every time. Brown explains that “when it's your life and 400 others on the train in your hands, you don't take any chances.” The newest Acela simulator arrived in February 2020 to the training center and will train employees to operate the new trainsets which will enter service in 2022.
At Amtrak, providing safe, efficient and comfortable rail service starts with proper training.
Aspiring locomotive engineers begin their journey at the Amtrak Training Center in Wilmington, DE, where four lead technical trainers — Rodney Brown, Freddie Butts, Gavin Cranston and Susan Cataldo — take students through nine to 11 weeks of initial training.
Brown is marking his sixth year in the Training department, but his Amtrak career began in 1990 when he joined On Board Services, based out of New York City. He became a conductor in 1993 and then a locomotive engineer in 1997.
“I tell students there are no gray areas in this job: There’s stop and there᾿s go; there’s no maybe,” he said. “You always have to be aware of what you᾿re doing. If you᾿re unsure, seek answers. Go through a checklist every time, and double-check everything. When it᾿s your life and 400 others on the train in your hands, you don᾿t take any chances.”
As main technical lead on simulators, Brown has been busy programming computer-generated imagery for the newest Acela simulator, which arrived in February 2020. Using a GoPro camera, he᾿s been recording Northeast Corridor track footage that will be used in simulation scenarios.
Unlike previous console and desktop models, the Acela simulator looks like a shipping container on the outside and replicates the full-scale interior of an Acela cab within.
“We’re still doing some validating,” System Road Foreman Carey Lacey said, “but eventually every Northeast Corridor locomotive engineer from Boston to Washington, DC, will learn on this simulator prior to operating our new Acela trainsets. These next-generation, high-speed trainsets are slated to enter service in 2022.”
In a typical year, Brown and his colleagues take about 125 student engineers through classroom and simulator training. Upon completion of written exams, students return to their home territories to learn the lay of the land and qualify on PC — physical characteristics that may affect train handling — for every route over which they will operate.
Student engineers who have passed PC tests learn how to operate equipment under guidance of direct supervisors called road foremen of engines (RFEs) and on-the-job-training instructors who are experienced locomotive engineers with excellent track records and a knack for passing on their skills.
After accumulating 18 months of train-handling practice, students run a route as a final exam under the watchful eye of an RFE. If they pass, they are certified to operate a train on that route.
Besides learning about operating rules, air brakes and mechanical components in a classroom, Amtrak students benefit from getting a first taste of train handling on simulators. Brown said today᾿s technology allows for better graphics, better control customization and integrated positive train control (PTC) features.
“Simulators are not meant to replace hands-on running of a train by any means,” he said, “but they’re one of the best tools we have to start developing hand-eye coordination, concentration and situational awareness to operate a train safely.”
Simulator scenarios are designed to challenge the locomotive engineer’s rules knowledge and train handling skills. These scenarios also give a safe environment to train engineers with failed PTC and signal outages to ensure the correct rules and actions are applied under these conditions.
“Thinking about Amtrak turning 50 this year, I᾿m glad to have a hand in instructing every locomotive engineer and building up the training program,” Brown said. “Many good people taught me all I know, so I want to pass on that knowledge while I᾿m here.”
The Boston Centralized Electrification and Traffic Control (CETC) facilities team controls the rail from New Haven, CT to Boston and the railroad from New Haven to Springfield, MA. Boston CETC handles on average 40 Amtrak trains, 300 Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) trains and 50 Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) trains every day. Assistant Superintendent of Operations Glenn Underwood oversees the CETC dispatching team. Over his career he has seen many positive changes from paper to computer and the electrification of corridors in the 1990s. He notes that “[t]echnology has really changed things in the world of train dispatching."
At the Centralized Electrification and Traffic Control (CETC) facilities in Boston, 44 train dispatchers and seven power directors staff nine dispatching and three catenary power desks. Together they control the rails and catenary (the wire above the rail that carries the electric current to power the trains) from New Haven, CT, to Boston and also the railroad from New Haven to Springfield, MA.
Assistant Superintendent of Operations Glenn Underwood oversees the CETC dispatching team on the top floor of historic Boston - South Station.
“We play a substantial role in moving intercity and commuter passengers on the Northeast Division,” he said. “We also proudly dispatch and provide catenary power for Acela service between Boston and New Haven, featuring quite a bit of high-speed territory with speeds up to 150 mph.”
On average, Boston CETC handles 40 Amtrak trains, 300 Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) trains and 50 Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) trains daily. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of trains across all services was reduced.
A day in the dispatching office involves planning for the interweaving of commuter trains with higher-speed Amtrak trains. There are few places for the trains to pass, so Underwood and his team work hard dispatching each service so it runs safely without impeding the others.
An even more complex undertaking is coordinating with the Track and Engineering departments on infrastructure maintenance and capital improvement projects. Even amid the pandemic, construction has continued on a 50-story tower over the catenary system and tracks at South Station.
“These projects require a lot of planning and coordinating with all departments and then the dispatchers and power directors implement the plan to get the work done,” said Underwood. “There are a lot of moving pieces.”
The CETC operation also oversees the bridge tenders who work at five movable bridges in Connecticut to let boat traffic through. A variety of marine traffic, from commercial fishermen to pleasure boats to U.S. Navy submarines, pass through the bridges on the Connecticut, Niantic, Thames and Mystic rivers, as well as Shaw᾿s Cove in New London, CT. The waterways are especially busy during the summer.
For Underwood, who joined Amtrak as a block operator 32 years ago, the highlight of his railroad career has been witnessing dispatching operations go from paper to computer, plus the electrification of the Northeast Corridor from New Haven to Boston in the late 1990s. Coming from handwritten train sheets and manual switch levers in 1989, Underwood marvels at the changes he has witnessed during his career. “Technology has really changed things in the world of train dispatching,” he said.
As CETC upgrades the Amtrak Train and Electrification Control this year, Underwood is grateful to the technical support staff who help ensure that various crucial systems, including the communication lines and fiber optics, keep functioning optimally. “It is a team effort” to move a train, he said.
Reflecting on how far the railroad has come since its inception, Underwood takes pride in wearing his Amtrak jacket and letting others know he works for the passenger railroad.
“I feel proud to work for a company that has made it through thick and thin over the past 50 years and in a business that has been an important part of our national transportation system.”
Consolidated National Operations Center
The Consolidated National Operations Center (CNOC) ensures the 300+ Amtrak trains that operate every day are safe for 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Working with every department of Amtrak, CNOC ensures all engineers, conductors and other employees are ready for the day ahead. “I couldn't be more proud of what our team does with such grace and pride,” Director of System Operations Tina Slapcinsky said. “Trains are always running and the phone never stops ringing. It takes a special kind of person to work with a 24/7/365 operation; and here at CNOC, we're doing that every day.”
Each day, more than 300 Amtrak trains operate in various corridors, regions and long-distance lines throughout the nation.
Working behind the scenes, employees at the Consolidated National Operations Center (CNOC) in Wilmington, Del., connect the dots to ensure safe service, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
“To me, CNOC employees are like the grand wizard behind the curtain,” said Senior Director of System Operations Howard Conway. “Their hard work and interaction extends to every department, if not daily, then at least weekly. This multidisciplinary collaboration forms the building blocks, allowing Amtrak to prosper not only within our building but also out in the field.”
System Operations, Crew Management and Customer Service are among the teams playing integral roles to keep the network running safely and smoothly.
Two hours before trains are scheduled to run, crew dispatchers such as Michelle Green and Celeste Jackson—35 years and 34 years of service respectively—call conductors and locomotive engineers for jobs for the day.
Green and Jackson are part of Crew Management, whose 50 team members help manage and assist more than 3,000 T&E employees across 75 crew bases nationwide. Four nine-person teams cover 12-hour shifts, keeping Amtrak trains staffed for every trip.
“In this role, you have to be patient, organized, detail-oriented, confident and an especially good communicator,” said Michael Hebel, supervisor of Crew Management, with 33 years of service. “When we call T&E to work, we᾿re not just needing to fill a job—we᾿re presenting them with an exciting opportunity to serve our customers. So we convey that in a positive way.”
Creative problem-solving is another must as many different situations arise, including bad weather and service disruptions. Because of the teamwork required, Jackson said crew dispatchers develop close relationships with field operations counterparts and the T&E employees they call.
“They know my voice and I know their voices or numbers when they pop up,” she said. “Having good relationships with your team makes everyone᾿s jobs easier because we᾿re all on one accord.”
For trains encountering en route issues, there᾿s one number to call: that of the lead System Operations specialist—formerly known as the SODO, the system on-duty officer.
Darin Stoick is one of nine in this role responding to every and any operational issue that might crop up. With 36 years of service in various departments around the country, Stoick has mentally categorized potential train issues into “Darin᾿s dozen”: derailment, track, passenger, engine, car, crew, host railroad, weather, catenary wires, bridge failure, police activity and signals.
“And I have a solution for each one of them,” he said. “In this role, you have to be resourceful. You have to know your territory, equipment and available avenues to resolve issues.”
Technological advancements have greatly helped with his job, Stoick said. Now he can track trains through live data feeds showing metrics such as speed, location, emergency brake application and fuel. Communication with other departments has improved, too, thanks to various channels available.
At CNOC, Customer Service Specialists are the subject matter experts behind the Amtrak value Put Customers First.
For Senior Customer Service Specialist Sophia Holder-Ryales, it᾿s all about what she can do to make the customer happy, as well as support her co-workers in meeting this goal.
“I know Amtrak offers a unique product,” she said. “When I hear positive stories and receive calls or letters of thanks from our customers—that᾿s what inspires me.”
If a train is running late, Holder-Ryales reviews the schedules of connecting customers to ensure they will make their connections, or arranges alternate transportation for them. She assists with a host of other requests from employees, including field personnel checking bus statuses or conductors verifying or changing reservations for passengers. She also arranges automatic calls to customers due to delayed trains, coordinates bus bridges around host railroad track work—and even sets up restocking if a train runs out of food en route.
Reflecting on her 33 years at Amtrak, Holder-Ryales expresses pride about witnessing a renewed focus on customer experience, in addition to on-time performance and equipment renewal. In recognition of her efforts, she received a President᾿s Service and Safety Award for Sustained Excellence in Customer Service in 2017.
On the Car and Locomotive Desks, Director of System Operations Tina Slapcinsky works with Consist Planning to review service plans and equipment needs for the upcoming season, including any train specials, tracks out of service or changes based on ridership projections.
Her team of space and equipment control analysts and managers ensures that train inventories are updated in all systems, so tickets can be sold for those trains. They also coordinate preventive maintenance with field personnel to ensure safe and available equipment.
“I couldn't be more proud of what our team does with such grace and pride,” Slapcinsky said. “Trains are always running and the phone never stops ringing. It takes a special kind of person to work with a 24/7/365 operation; and here at CNOC, we᾿re doing that every day.”
With 30 years at the company this year, Slapcinsky is excited for the arrival of new equipment—such as the Siemens Charger locomotives and the new Acela trainsets—to take Amtrak into the next half century.
Locomotive Engineer Training Simulators
As Amtrak has evolved over the years, so has its locomotive engineer training program. System General Road Foreman Stephen Reaves spearheaded simulator use in training programs back in 2014. He explains that “[i]t gives them a better understanding of what it would be like to run a live train.” These simulators help provide a safe and controlled environment to walk through some of the worst possible scenarios for engineers in training. Training success has also come from streamlining curriculum and identifying clear learning objectives.
As technology and regulations have advanced and changed, Amtrak᾿s locomotive engineer training program has evolved as well.
Today, simulators in Chicago; Los Angeles; New Haven, CT; New York City; Oakland, CA; Raleigh, NC; Seattle; Washington, DC; and Wilmington, DE, help locomotive engineers maximize hands-on practice in a safe, controlled environment.
With a decade in freight railroading and 13 years at Amtrak, System General Road Foreman Stephen Reaves oversees 110 road foremen of engines and supervises the certification of more than 1,600 conductors and 1,000 locomotive engineers systemwide.
He᾿s not only witnessed the training program progress, but in 2014 he helped spearhead early simulator use in training so that student engineers could better learn brake tests and train-handling techniques.
“We get them on simulators the second week of the program,” he said. “The simulator helps them apply and reinforce what they᾿re learning: operating rules, brake tests, cab signal testing and so on. It gives them a better understanding of what it would be like to run a live train.”
In the early 1990s, Amtrak had a simulator that was used for training — nothing sophisticated, Reaves said. It played video of the territory — a section of the railroad — that didn᾿t respond to manipulation of controls, but it helped with train handling training.
An Acela full-scale motion simulator arrived in 1998 and was used in training until 2019. Students sat in a small enclosed cab replica with screens displaying Acela service territory on the Northeast Corridor alongside working controls.
The simulators allow instructors to program scenarios – rain, snow, daylight, darkness, track obstruction or mechanical failures — to test students, said System Road Foreman Carey Lacey, who works with the training team and Reaves to ensure the programs meet Federal Railroad Administration regulatory requirements.
“We have the opportunity, in a controlled environment, to safely throw the worst possible scenarios at students, then walk them through the best way to respond,” Lacey said. “Technology has come so far since I became a locomotive engineer ten years ago. I᾿m just amazed at the resources we have now to better prepare our crews.”
In 2004 several console simulators featuring P42 and F59 locomotive control stands were purchased, and some were sent to locations outside Wilmington. In November 2019, eight new desktop simulators were distributed around the country, while five are based at the Wilmington Training Center.
In February 2020, the Training team began validating a full-scale simulator of a new Acela trainset, which will prepare Train & Engine employees for the next-generation, high-speed trainsets slated to grace the Northeast Corridor starting in 2022. Lacey said the team also is excited for 22 new desktop simulators slated for arrival in 2022 — with six to be designated as traveling units.
“That means we᾿ll have the flexibility and availability to deploy simulators to locations around the system for better outreach,” he said. “We᾿ll also be adding computer-generated imaging for 25 miles of track from every crew base that Amtrak owns so we can enhance testing.”
Reaves said standardizing route qualification plans, streamlining curriculum to practical applications and defining clear learning objectives have also improved training success rates in recent years. He᾿s not slowing down: This year, Reaves is putting together a leadership development plan for front-line supervisors.
“It᾿s been so rewarding for me to be able to come up within the company, have opportunities to implement changes to make us better and see those improvements bear fruit,” he said. “It doesn᾿t happen overnight, so we must be patient.”
“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.
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.
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.”
Sara is a Lead Business Analyst in Los Angeles and has been with Amtrak for over 30 years. Amtrak has provided Sara with the opportunity to work in different areas of the company. With customer service as her top priority, it makes sense why she’s a firm believer in the golden rule: “Treat everyone how you want to be treated." Her time at Amtrak, starting when she was just 19 years old, has taught her the great lengths respect and kindness can take you.
Currently a Lead Business Analyst in Los Angeles, Sara Lyle has had many positions in her 33 years at Amtrak. She has held more than a dozen jobs and appreciates the ability to move around positions and the flexibility available at Amtrak. At Amtrak, you are able to work in so many different areas and experience many opportunities. Sara has been able to do a specific job and then try something new within Amtrak.
Sara is a firm believer that customer service is everything. She is a recipient of the PSSA award and believes that it was due to putting customers first. Sara gives the advice to “treat everyone the way you want to be treated, both internal and external. Be respectful, and kind. Do the best job you can.”
Since Sara began working at Amtrak when she was 19, she always looked forward to the Christmas parties every year as the call center consisted of younger people. She chaired the Christmas party for 5 years for the reservation call center. It was a great event for her to look forward to at the end of every year.
Sara is a firm believer in Amtrak and would encourage anyone to work there.
“Amtrak’s stockholders are the American people,” Craig Roodenburg of Labor Relations states. Although he’s eligible to retire, Craig is in no hurry to leave his Amtrak family. Craig has been able to bear witness to all the difficulties and success of Amtrak over the past 31 years. Struggles including strikes and lack of loans; however, Amtrak has also seen successes such as a shift towards customer service and being close to reaching its goal of self-sufficiency. What may have seemed impossible 20 years ago is possible now.
Craig Roodenburg chose Labor Relations as a career. He focused on the railroads because the governing legislation sustains unionization. He deeply believes that unions give employees a voice and Labor Relations exists to listen and respond, which is better for everyone concerned. Most of the union representatives he deals with would probably scoff that, since he’s part of management. However, he’s watched the system work, and it is better to have it than to not have it — it works better when everyone on both sides of the table believes that.
Amtrak, as a public service, appealed to the values instilled in a child of the 1960s. Specifically, that serving the public good was preferable to pursuing wealth. Amtrak doesn’t exist to increase its stock price or pay out cash dividends. Amtrak’s stockholders are the American people. Employees increase Amtrak’s value for them by improving the transportation options we offer, while being fiscally responsible with the support they receive.
Craig has reached 60 and has 30 years of work at Amtrak, so is eligible to retire. But he loves his work. He feels that what he does and who he is is respected and appreciated. His mom is over 100, he’s healthy and expects to live at least as long, so he’s in no hurry to leave. Craig says, “If what you are doing here doesn’t make you happy, find something else to do.”
In thinking back in Amtrak’s history, Craig says the early 1990s were hard. Inadequate funding resulted in Amtrak becoming deeply in debt. Three years without Congressional appropriation bills contributed to a near strike in 1997. The Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act (ARA) of 1997 helped Amtrak get out from under the debt load but required that if Amtrak was not operationally self-sufficient by 2003, the company would be dissolved. It wouldn’t be until the last years of the decade that the New Haven to Boston portion of the corridor would be electrified and upgraded in anticipation of Acela.
The new century got off to a rocky start. By 2002, Amtrak’s President David Gunn had to tell Congress the railroad only had enough cash to operate for about two weeks and required a loan against future appropriations to avoid shutting down. Amtrak got the loan along with strings, and continued to struggle for adequate funding, but the dissolution threat in the ARA was never pursued. In 2008, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIA) of 2008 brought some stability. It also continued the “tough love” begun by the ARA and the conditions attached to the 2002 emergency loans and funding. Our relationships with our state and municipal partners became less political and more businesslike. Overall, our business practices became more financially accountable. Acela had demonstrated that investments in improved products would produce financial gains. Initial fears that competition from for-profit companies would siphon off revenue and leave Amtrak with only the worst performing routes turned out to be overstated. Most importantly, by the end of the decade a long, slow cultural shift that Amtrak’s business wasn’t just running trains but providing rides to customers had taken hold.
Over the last decade the cultural shift towards improved financial accountability and customer service focus changed Amtrak’s fortunes. Were it not for the pandemic, it is entirely reasonable to believe that Amtrak would have been able to enter FY22 without an operational subsidy. In the late 1990s Amtrak’s espoused goal of a “Glidepath to Self-Sufficiency” was nearly catastrophic. Now, Amtrak has almost achieved that goal. Twenty years ago, Craig did not believe it was possible. He does now.
The uncertainty of graduating college and choosing a career path is no stranger to Camille Ross. Camille followed in her aunt's footsteps at Amtrak starting as a temporary employee in her summer after graduating. The end of 2021 will mark Camille’s 35th year at Amtrak. Camille highlights her time at Amtrak with the great opportunities, room for growth and fresh initiatives that are always taking place. Camille advises new employees to “be inquisitive” and always be on the lookout to learn more about different areas of Amtrak.
Graduated from college in 1986 as a marketing major and unsure of what she wanted to do, Camille’s aunt at the time worked at Amtrak and was extremely passionate about the organization and encouraged Camille to get a summer job with Amtrak so she could begin to explore what she wanted. Camille was a temporary employee in the summer of 1986 and fell in love with the passion and commitment she saw in fellow Amtrak employees. She was challenged by the work, loved the environmental impact of the organization and felt she belonged. In December of 1986 she was offered a full-time position and never left. She is currently a Senior Manager and provides Business Services for the law department.
Camille felt Amtrak provided challenging work, a variety of opportunities to learn and room for growth within the organization. She said how it was “impossible to get bored,” as there were always changes in the organization to keep it fresh. Camille advises new employees to be inquisitive, learn from multiple areas of the company and don’t be restrictive to certain tasks or departments.
Camille remembers past “national train days” fondly. These days were centered around the anniversary date as a fun day to celebrate the train and get to know other employees. Group meetings away from the office also allowed for socialization with co-workers in a non-work environment. Over the past 15 years Camille has seen a shift in the company from not just a railroad, but a profitable organization as well with many opportunities.
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