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Amtrak Coast Starlight
Travelogue & Photos by Steve Grande
Los Angeles, California to Portland, Oregon
Friday, June 11, 2008 - Saturday, Jul 12, 2008
www.trainweb.com/travelogues/stevegrande/2008g11a.html

Superior Service on the Amtrak Coast Starlight is back with a vengance!

After arrving from Fullerton on the northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, my wife and I rolled our luggage down the tunnel and into the main lobby of Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS). Right by the gates I immediately noticed the check-in desk for Amtrak Coast Starlight Coach Passengers, but the check-in desk for Sleeping Car Passengers was noticeably missing.

I picked out a pair of seats in the main lobby that were facing the check-in desk and the Amtrak Information Booth so that I could keep my eye on things as boarding time approached. But just then, I heard an announcement over the LAUS P.A. system. As usual, it was very difficult to hear. I think the garbled accoustics of announcements in older cavernous train stations have been a problem since the day that amplified announcements were invented. However, I was able to understand that they were encouraging Amtrak Sleeping Car Passengers to come to the Traxx Bar to relax and enjoy complimentary refreshments prior to boarding the train. My wife and I grabbed our luggage and started rolling toward the street entrance of the station where the Traxx Bar is located. My wife got confused for a moment as we passed the Traxx Restaurant that was closed. The Traxx Bar is further down and on the opposite side of the grand lobby.

As we approached the Traxx lobby, I noticed a number of people already seated and relaxing. We were greeted by an Amtrak staff member who welcomed us and explained that we could relax in the Traxx Bar Lounge and help ourselves to the complimentary beverages. She also mentioned that alcoholic beverages were availabe at an extra cost. My wife and I picked out two unoccupied lounge seats with a small table. Coffee and several types of juice and ice tea where layed out across the bar for self service. The shelving throughout the bar showed that it was well stocked with wine and every spirit immaginable. I asked if they could make a bloody mary. Unfortunately, the one item they were missing was tomato juice or even any Bloody Mary Mix! So, I decided to forgo my usual morning "vacation" adult beverage.

This was certainly a welcome change from the usual "cattle call" that greeted all passengers for the Amtrak Coast Starlight in the past! Amtrak used to have two check-in desks by the gates: one for Coach Passengers and one for Sleeping Car Passengers. Other than the signs on the desks, there was no difference in level of service. Everyone had to just sit and wait for the train in the main lobby. Once the train was announced, everyone from both classes of service would have to stand in one or the other big long line and wait to check-in. That is, unless you knew the secret of just going to the platform without checking-in at all! I've never been turned away and I don't know anyone else that has ever been turned awar from just boarding the train without first checking in with the Conductor in the station. But with these new upgrades in service, you may want to make sure you do experience the relaxing send off in the station! While we were sitting and relaxing at the Traxx Bar, the Conductor came around to each Sleeping Car Passenger individually, welcomed them to the Amtrak Coast Starlight, took their ticket and handed them their boarding pass. This is much more similar to the level of service that Sleeping Car Passengers receive in the Amtrak Metropolitan Lounges of just about every other major Amtrak hub city. It always seemed strange that Los Angeles was missing a Metropolitan Lounge for passengers considering that LAUS is the launching point of the flagship of the entire Amtrak fleet, the Coast Starlight! But that all seems to be fixed for now.

In addition to the Amtrak Greeting Person and the Conductor, there was also a Customer Service Manager making his rounds through the Traxx Lounge greeting all the Sleeping Car Passengers and checking to see if he could answer any questions. He let everyone know that he'd be onboard the train with them all the way to Oakland. After a while, another Amtrak staff member joined the other three already tending to the Sleeping Car Passengers in the Traxx Lounge. I don't know if she was another Conductor, but she seemed to have full knowledge of the status and operation of the train itself. She started explaining when, how and where we would be boarding the train. She talked more with the Conductor than the other two Amtrak staff member, so I imagine she had more to do with operations than with customer relations. It was interesting seeing four Amtrak staff members doting over the Sleeping Car Passengers in the Traxx Lounge; quite a contrast to the old "cattle call" at the old lobby check-in desk.

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