Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
New hires go through a thorough training program and have
periodic refreshers. As with all new hires, they'll have to take a
number of “student trips” and perform up to standards before
becoming permanent employees.
I had always assumed that brand-new attendants are started
out working in coaches and gradually work their way up to sleep-
ing cars, but that's not necessarily true. Amtrak people bid for their
assignments and whether they get their requests is determined in
part by seniority and in part by how popular the particular trip
is. Whether an attendant works in coaches or sleepers seems to
be pretty much a matter of choice; in fact, many attendants prefer
the coaches. Sleeping-car attendants make more money because
of tips, but even under normal circumstances, they work a lot
harder and their passengers can be much more demanding.
Amtrak assigns one train attendant to every sleeping car, no
matter if it's one of the single-level Viewliner sleepers or a bi-level
Superliner. Not so with coaches. You'll usually find one attendant
for every three coaches on single-level eastern trains, while one
attendant looks after two coaches out west in the Superliners. (By
the way, in Amtrak slang, these folks are known as “tacos,” an
acronym for “ t rain a ttendant, co ach.”)
Many of the attendant's duties are the same, whether work-
ing in coach or sleeper: boarding passengers, helping to stow their
baggage, maintaining a seating chart, keeping the car orderly and
the bathrooms clean, making sure each passenger gets off at the
right stop, and generally doing whatever is necessary to make
sure the trip goes pleasantly for everyone. Coach attendants dis-
tribute pillows throughout the car and retrieve them after each
passenger leaves the train.
Sleeping-car attendants have fewer people to look after but
much more to do. I once had a wonderful conversation with a
longtime train attendant who provided the best description of
the job I've ever heard. “This sleeper,” he said, “is just like a
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