Coston calls Amtrak’s Southwest Chief “the perfect trip—I’d recommend it to anyone”

March 20, 2013

CHICAGO (March 19)—Corridor Capital LLC Chairman James E. Coston returned to Chicago Saturday from a professional conference in Albuquerque with a rave review of his 1.341-mile Chicago-Albuquerque trip on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief

“I’ve been riding Amtrak trains since the company was established in 1971, and my trip last week on the Chief was the best I’ve ever had, particularly on a long-distance overnight train,” Coston said.

Coston, who was employed by Amtrak as a ticket and reservations agent during his college years at Northwestern University and the DePaul University School of Law, said his enjoyment of the overnight trip had a lot to do with the performance of the train, its rolling stock and its Amtrak employees.

“We left on time, and we were on time or early at every one of the twenty stations from Chicago to Albuquerque,” he said. “Even though our Superliner sleepers had not received the latest upgrades, the cars were clean, all of their systems worked well, and ride quality was excellent, even on the so-called ‘bad track’ I had been warned about between Newton and Albuquerque. We had several rough spots, but basically the train ran smoothly at speeds between 60 and 79 miles per hour, slowing only for tight curves.”

Coston had high marks for both the train-and-engine crews and the on-board-service personnel.

“All of them were friendly and approachable and seemed to be enthusiastic about their jobs,” he said. “The dining-car people were wonderful, the food was excellent, and the lounge-car attendant was the best bartender I’ve had on Amtrak in years. The same goes for my sleeping-car attendant. These people reminded me of the pros who ran those cars when the Santa Fe Railway still operated the trains on this route.”

Coston said although it was clear that both the conductors and on-board-service employees had been well trained to interact with passengers, some of their effort and enthusiasm was a “halo effect” created by the train’s success.

“The train was nearly full, all sleeping-car space in the two sleepers and the transition car was sold out, and the train was full of people who seemed happy to be going somewhere,” Coston said. “That kind of popularity affects crew attitudes.”

Coston noted that the conductors seemed to become even more animated when they got news that large crowds of students on spring break were going to board at Albuquerque and Flagstaff for points in California.

“A busy train generates a kind of infectious atmosphere that makes the crew feel needed and appreciated, and they seem to respond by trying to make the passengers as comfortable as possible,” he said. “The atmosphere on these long-distance trains today is totally different from what I remember from 40 years ago, when the trains were disappearing, the passenger loads were dwindling, and the crews were depressed because they believed they were in a dying industry. Now the business is growing, and it shows on the faces of the crews. They were really upbeat and energetic.”

The passengers also seemed to take inspiration from the scenery that greeted them on waking: first the high plains and steppe country of eastern Colorado and then the steady climb south into New Mexico and the penetration of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains via the narrow, twisting Glorieta Pass.

“The passing images of America’s West, seen from the window from the moment you get up on the first morning, are both somber and striking in their quiet magnificence,” Coston said “Everyone – particularly future generations – should have the opportunity to see the this vast, haunting terrain from the comfort of the Chief.”

Coston said the train delivered him to downtown Albuquerque only a two-block walk from the hotel where the conference was being held.

“When I walked in I felt refreshed because the train trip didn’t tire me out the way an airline trip usually does,” he said. “I had a good night’s sleep, I ate wonderful food and hung out with friendly people who enjoyed doing their jobs.”

Coston said several of his professional colleagues were intrigued by the news of his train trip and asked whether he would recommend an Amtrak overnight train for their own business.

“I told them they definitely should consider a long-distance train if its route and schedule meet their needs,” he said.

“Twenty years ago—or even as recently as ten years ago—I might not have said that, but as of 2013 Amtrak’s long-distance service definitely is ready for prime time,”
Coston said.

“I would not hesitate to recommend an Amtrak overnight train to a friend, a family member, a college student, a visitor from overseas or a professional traveling on a serious business assignment,” he said. “The only problem with the long-distance trains is that we don’t have more of them going to more places.”

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