Missed Opportunity and #Amtrak

Or, how Amtrak both dropped the ball and missed a great opportunity the Friday before Labor Day.



On the Friday before the Labor Day weekend, the sainted Mother-in-Law (MIL) is coming from Philadelphia for a visit.  As she does 4-6 times a year, she is taking Amtrak’s NE Regional, leaving 30th St. Station around 10:30, arriving at Route 128 around 4:30.  At the same time Hurricane Earl is bearing down on New England.


Knowing from past experience that Friday trains tend to run late, the “Boss” tries to get a status on NE #86 by going on-line.  The information posted is meaningless, with directions to call for updates.  The phone center is busy, so I am enlisted to talk to the person when they answer. After about a 30 minute wait, the Amtrak person says: “Let me check, I really don’t know…oh yeah, that train is still working and is 90 minutes late.”

No additional information, no details, just that it is 90 minutes late.

I go on twitter (#amtrak) to see if anyone is tweeting about Friday’s service.  The answer is YES, about every 30 seconds a new tweet is posted:

  • There is a tree across the electric wires, all service is out
  • Amtrak is stopping service north of NYC at 4:30
  • All traffic north and south is cancelled

I post a couple of tweets asking about train #86 and continue to monitor.  Reading them I realize that some trains already in New Haven are being connected to diesel locomotives and will continue to Boston.  What I cannot decipher is which trains.

The Boss and I go to the Route 128 station to meet the train which is “90 minutes late,” only to be told it will be 3 hours late.  We eventually meet up with MIL almost 4 hours after she should have arrived.

Subsequent news reports showed a high level of customer dissatisfaction with Amtrak, much of it centering on their lack of clear communication regarding the problem and solution.

Opportunity Missed

Amtrak asks passengers to follow them on facebook and twitter…they currently have 3800+ twitter followers.

While a tree falling on railroad lines is rare (note that utilities have a trimming service) the lack of clear communication was the major issue in this case.  If Amtrak had the knowledge to send “rescue” locomotives they should have had the capability to post arrival information on twitter, facebook and their web site.  Not doing so cost them a significant amount of good will, customer satisfaction and probably earned them another shot from Jay Leno.

Lessons From This Failure:

  1. The ability to communicate clear, transparent information in a timely fashion is fundamental to achieving customer support and satisfaction. 
  2. Information is currency and has value.  Giving something of value to a person usually engenders good will. Not providing information when it is expected or needed subtracts from any good will that may be present.
  3. If you are going to ask your customers/clients to follow you on facebook/twitter make sure you have resources and policies to use these communication vehicles to provide updated, timely information to your customers in the event of a crisis.


As is often said, it takes years to build a reputation (brand), but only seconds to lose it.   Amtrak lost it this past Labor Day weekend.

A side note, the Globe reported this morning that MBTA bus riders can now find out arrival times of buses by using an app on their smart phones and the GPS devices mounted on the buses.  Perhaps Amtrak could learn something from the MBTA.

RHM   9/10/2010

2 comments to Missed Opportunity and #Amtrak

  • Jim Matorin

    Where have I been? I missed this one completely, maybe because I stayed home Labor Day weekend in the thick of meeting a deadline. Your point re: years to build a brand, seconds to lose it is so true. However, candidly as it relates to Amtrak, I look at a bigger picture in that it is not a branded service that is losing it here, it is our country’s infrastructure that has lost it. A conversation for another day.

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