Amtrak Offers Customer Satisfaction Program

Amtrak introduced a new logo and a new commitment to customer satisfaction today, promising to compensate riders unhappy with their experience on America's national railway.

Amtrak passengers who believe they did not receive a safe, comfortable and enjoyable trip will be entitled to a certificate good for future Amtrak travel at equal cost.

"We know of no other passenger transportation provider that offers anything of this kind," said Bill Schulz, Amtrak's vice president for corporate communications.

Schulz said the guarantee technically began Tuesday -- Independence Day -- although Amtrak officials announced it today at a news conference in Union Station.

Amtrak President George Warrington said the company recognizes the need to counter its reputation for poor service.

"We're not tired, we're not worn out, we are not complacent," he said.

Brand New Branding

Amtrak also unveiled a new logo. Gone is the "pointless arrow" design that represented Amtrak since its creation in 1971. The new design depicts three parallel lines winding their way to a horizon.

"There's a new look to Amtrak that allows Americans to take a new look at Amtrak," Schulz said.

Formed by Congress from a collection of failing passenger railroads, Amtrak has struggled financially over the years. Facing a congressional deadline to wean itself from federal operating subsidies, the railway is working to recreate itself in image and substance.

Earlier this year, in a departure from past practices, Amtrak officials announced plans to add new passenger routes and expand into package delivery rather than make cuts to balance the books.

Amtrak also began a full-scale promotional campaign for new high-speed service beginning in the Northeast and spreading to other busy corridors throughout the nation.

But the much-awaited "Acela Express" high-speed service between Washington and Boston, originally scheduled to begin at the end of 1999, still is not rolling. Federal watchdogs warn continuing delays -- the latest start target is August -- threaten Amtrak's ability to reach self-sufficiency by the end of 2002, as ordered by Congress.

The watchdogs also question how Amtrak is using the money it has. Phyllis Scheinberg, associate director for transportation issues at the General Accounting Office, told a congressional panel in March that Amtrak is spending most of the federal tax dollars it gets to maintain equipment rather than invest in new equipment or better tracks.

Relentlessly Upbeat

Amtrak officials remain relentlessly upbeat about their ability to reach self-sufficiency and the prospect of attracting travelers frustrated with congestion on highways and in the air.

"This satisfaction guarantee represents our promise to travelers that Amtrak will treat you like a guest and make service excellence the central focus of everything we do," said Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, chairman of Amtrak's governing board.

Schulz said Amtrak prepared for the new guarantee program pop over here by training its 25,000 employees "to take personal initiative and do what is necessary to solve guest problems."

A model for hop over to this website the program is Amtrak's Los Angeles-to-Seattle "Coast Starlight" service, which has offered a service guarantee for three years. In that time, about 17 to 20 riders -- roughly one for every 107,000 trips -- have requested a voucher, according to Amtrak officials.

Amtrak is counting on dissatisfied riders to bring any complaints to the attention of an employee. But that will not be a prerequisite for seeking a service guarantee coupon after an unsatisfactory trip.

"We think this is going to be a very powerful statement to the guests who ride us, and to those who haven't yet tried us," Schulz said.