U.S.: Amtrak has a new president and executive vice president, plus here’s a tip for you at the beginning of vacation season

Editor’s Note: The bulk of this article originally appeared on this platform on February 8, 2021, and has been updated for information about Amtrak’s new president and executive vice president plus photos and illustrations have been added. – Corridorrail.com editor

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; June 23, 2022

Press release from CEO Stephen Gardner’s Amtrak; June 23, 2022:

Amtrak Appoints Roger Harris President and Gerhard Williams Executive Vice President of Service Delivery & Operations

WASHINGTON – Today, Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner announced the promotions of Roger Harris to President and Gerhard (Gery) Williams to Executive Vice President, Service Delivery & Operations, effective July 5, 2022.

Roger Harris, Amtrak’s new president. Amtrak photo.

“Amtrak has entered an exciting new era of growth and development, with more opportunities than ever before,” said Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner. “The appointments of Roger to President and Gery to Executive Vice President of Service Delivery & Operations by our Board will help the company accelerate our progress in recovering, growing and transforming the business.”

As President, Harris will directly report to Gardner and lead the coordination of the service delivery and operations, marketing, customer service, network planning, real estate, and accessibility functions of the company. Roger and his team will be dedicated to improving the delivery of Amtrak’s services and the experience it provides its customers and partners, while ensuring the integration of critical functions that market, sell, plan, design, and deliver its services to our current and future customers.

Harris has served as Chief Commercial Officer in charge of marketing and revenue since April 2019. He is a proven leader with more than 25 years of experience in the transportation industry, expertise across all commercial functions, and decades of collaboration with various operating functions to create field-tested product improvements built around the needs of customers. Reporting to Harris will be Williams, Executive Vice President, Service Delivery and Operations; Dennis Newman, Executive Vice President, Strategy & Planning, and his current direct reports, while a new Chief Commercial Officer is sought.

Williams is succeeding Scot Naparstek, who is retiring to Texas after 10 years of service to Amtrak, including serving in this role since January 2017, where he successfully led Amtrak Operations through the many challenges of the COVID-19 Pandemic while delivering major safety improvements, such as the implementation of Positive Train Control safety technology across the Amtrak network and the U.S. rail industry’s first FRA-approved Safety Management System. Williams will be responsible for leading the strategic development of Amtrak’s operating capabilities, including the transportation, mechanical, infrastructure, and customer service functions, as well as overseeing the day-to-day delivery and improvement of services to Amtrak customers onboard its trains and in its stations.

Williams is a proven leader in the railroad industry, with more than 30 years of experience. Since January, he has served as Senior Vice President, Service Delivery & Operations and joined Amtrak in June 2017 as Vice President and Chief Engineer responsible for the maintenance, construction and delivery of Amtrak’s railway infrastructure assets, including the Northeast Corridor. Prior to Amtrak, he held a wide range of senior leadership roles with CSX, including Vice President, Mechanical, Chief Mechanical Officer, and AVP Network Operations – Locomotive Management. – End

There is a knee-jerk reaction by some to instantly criticize Mr. Harris because his primary background is in the airliner industry. You can hear the groans from here.

However, Mr. Harris has been with Amtrak since 2019 and has been in charge of what little of Amtrak’s advertising and marketing there has been, and what he has produced has been excellent. He brought much-needed travel industry professionalism to Amtrak’s public image as well as upgrading the onboard and station images.

Now that he has a full, broad title, let’s see what he does before offering any condemnation. Yes, he has been part of senior management for three years and during that time there have been a number of poor decisions made, but from the outside we don’t know who made what decisions other than that now-CEO Stephen Gardner was the man in charge with broad powers over every area. It will be interesting to see what Mr. Harris brings to his new role, perhaps for the best for Amtrak.

The appointment of Gerhard Williams to Executive Vice President, Service Delivery & Operations has to be a good sign. He came out of CSX where he was Vice President, Mechanical, Chief Mechanical Officer and before that Assistant Vice President, Network Operations – Locomotive Management. This is a real railroad guy who understands equipment maintenance and asset management. Importantly, maybe, just maybe, he’s the guy to go into Chicago and shake some things up and actually begin to launch trains from their terminal on-time on a reasonable basis. Just as with Mr. Harris, we will see what Mr. Williams brings to his new role, but it has to be an improvement.

Vintage post-war New York Central System ad for vacation fun via the train. Today, different era, but same message. Internet image.

There has always been a tradition of tipping onboard services employees, but that has regrettably been fading in recent years.

In a kinder, gentler time, both coach and sleeping car attendants were tipped by detraining passengers, and dining and lounge car employees were tipped upon presentation of the check.

New York Central did its bit for the war effort, explaining how they served their passengers who were helping to win the war. Internet image.

Several things have happened that have for some reason made passengers believe tipping is no longer necessary.

The classic, professional dignity of a Pullman Company sleeping car porter. Each porter traveled hundreds of thousands of miles during their careers, always offering a professional demeanor even while expertly handling the most demanding situation, usually with very little sleep when working. Internet photo.

In a better time with better passenger train management, each coach had one car attendant assigned to the car. One car, one attendant. That attendant was able to provide a much higher level of service than what is found today when trains such as the Palmetto may only have one car attendant for an entire train. Passengers entraining and detraining often are helped (if at all) by train and engine crew employees – conductors and assistant conductors – instead of car attendants.

Unfortunately, at times, passengers may not even be aware car attendants are on the train.

There are also cases of the mysterious, “missing car attendants” that too often may be found in the cafe/lounge car instead of prowling the train looking or opportunities to assist passengers or – tragically – not keeping restrooms clean while the train is enroute.

Sleeping car passengers have better attention from car attendants as the routine is still one sleeping car attendant for one sleeping car. Sleeping car attendants earn their pay because they have the responsibility of turning day rooms into sleeping rooms, and in the morning reversing the process. They also have a shower room to maintain, and, with the highly unfortunate flexible dining policy in the east, have food to order and deliver for their passengers.

An Amtrak dining car lead service attendant. They deftly manage the flow of passengers and service attendants upstairs while keeping everything moving downstairs in the kitchens. Amtrak History photo.

Cafe/lounge car attendants usually have a tip jar prominently placed for passengers to make use of; the question is, how many passengers ignore its presence?

Full, traditional dining car service has returned the western inter-regional trains for sleeping car passengers. Even though menus do not have prices shown, calculate your tip to reflect what you think the meal may have cost you in a land-based restaurant.

Onboard services employees you always tip: Dining car lead service attendants and servers, lounge/cafe car lead service attendants, coach attendants and sleeping car attendants. Tipping is also recommended for Red Caps and station agents helping with luggage before entraining and after detraining. Internet photo.

For those on trains east of Chicago still under the horrors of flexible dining, since the only job remotely related to a dining car server is the attendant/warmer-up/passing out food employee in what used to be a full dining car, it’s tough for some passengers to envision this employee as a server similar to a waiter. These attendant have the thankless job of explaining flexible dining to passengers who may have been hungrily expecting real, satisfying food. Offer them a tip. In the end, they worked for it.

People you never tip: Conductors and assistant conductors. A conductor is in charge of the entire train; the locomotive engineer does not move the train unless told to do so by the conductor. The conductor and assistant conductor are responsible for the safe operation of the train and the safety of all other employees and passengers. Amtrak History photo.

Some passengers will note the onboard services employees are different from hotel or food service employees because they are well-paid, hourly union employees, guaranteed 180 hours a month in pay, have full health and retirement benefits, and are able to arrange their work schedules so many can have a second job or own a side-business.

What passengers do not take into consideration is onboard services employees uniquely work away from home exclusively, trains operate (in non-pandemic times) 365 days a year, so for every holiday some other employee is home with their families, onboard services employees are on the road, taking care of passengers. That also goes for special events such as family birthdays, babies being born, and everything else you can think of that there is an expectation by employees there will be time off, but it just isn’t possible for many onboard services employees.

Post-war Southern Pacific ad for its premier train, the Sunset Limited. Internet image.

And, if a typical employee goes to work on any given day, and, at some point in the workday becomes ill, they simply go home. That is not the case with onboard services employees. While there are procedures in place for taking care of onboard service employees who become ill, it is a situation which is a far cry from “normal” when any other type of employee becomes ill at work.

Through the years and with the sad agreement of unions, onboard services employees have had very little contracted “down time” for sleeping; at times it has been as little as four hours a night for sleeping car and coach attendants. It’s difficult to imagine giving consistent, good service or being able to react quickly and properly in an emergency on that small amount of sleep.

Northern Pacific wanted the world to know it operated the premier train Vista Dome North Coast Limited. Internet image.

That also brings up the issue of safety. There is a reason why every railroad is so outwardly conscious about safety. Railroading, whether you are an onboard services employee, train and engine employee, car knocker, working in a classification yard, or working in a maintenance facility is a highly dangerous profession. There is a reason why crews begin their shifts with a safety meeting.

Keep in mind, just as flight attendants on jetliners are safety employees, so are onboard services and train and engine crews on passenger trains. Onboard services employees have enough on their hands to deal with, but, get an over-enthusiastic rail fan on a train who doesn’t know limits, and things can really get out of control too quickly.

There was a time – not in recent history – when a dollar or two was an acceptable tip for a coach attendant. Five dollars was usually considered the minimum for a sleeping car attendant if you were just on for one night. These days, things have changed.

Both the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central System would never let a little bad weather stop their nightly dash between New York City and Chicago and all of their other routes as well. Cancel a departure? Never, unless a hurricane to blizzard so fierce the steel wheels would not connect with the steel track. Internet image.

Think what you would tip a hotel bellman for helping with your bags. Think what you would tip a cab driver who was helpful. Apply that to an onboard services employee.

If you are in a sleeping car and traveling 12 hours or more/overnight, consider what you now leave as a tip for housekeepers in hotels. And, then, add some more to that. A good sleeping car attendant works as your personal valet, butler and food and drink server. Tip accordingly, especially on western trains where you are onboard for more than one night.

For cafe/lounge car employees, who often work from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. with only two meal breaks during the day, don’t be cheap when the tip jar is in front of you. For dining car servers, treat them like you would a server in a restaurant. Since dining car meals are included in the cost of your sleeping car accommodations that doesn’t mean you have a free ride on tipping. Consider the cost of the meal you are having, and tip appropriately, as if you were paying for the meal.

Vintage Illinois Central ad. Internet image.

Onboard services employees choose their line of work; nobody forces them to take that job. But, we all know the utter joy of having a good car attendant, whether in coach or a sleeping car. It can be the difference between an okay trip and a really good trip. Motivated onboard services employees can significantly erase problems with good, personal service recovery when there has been a failure due to a late train or other problem.

Everyone should be treated with respect; you can show your respect for onboard services employees by tipping appropriately. You are traveling for perhaps fun and leisure, they are traveling and away from home and their families because it is their job to make your trip more enjoyable. Show your appreciation when a job well done deserves recognition.

Please share with others