Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

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So Nice to Work With a Competent Public Servant

I have written here in the past, I think, about my admiration for Eugene Skoropowski, managing director of the Capitol Corridor rail service between San Jose-Oakland and Sacramento-Auburn. Unlike many so-called "public servants" who don't give a fig for anything other than drawing a paycheck and keeping the "public" at bay, Skorpowski goes so far as to make his e-mail address available to the ridership. Unlike a lot of other systems where such e-mails to management are screened by some low-level drone and never seen by someone important, Skorpowski reads those e-mails directly and responds to them himself, including passing action items on to staff as needed.

(Note that when I did this sort of thing as Co-Chairman of ConJose, I was criticized by the staff for doing so. I was told, "The Chairman should never respond to e-mails from the members. Wait for the staff to answer, and even if they don't answer, you shouldn't say anything." But I digress.)

Skorpowski also publishes a periodic Message to Riders that, in my opinion, levels with the ridership when there are problems and says what they're doing to fix them.

Anyway, after the little affair with the ticket vending machine at Fremont-Centerville last night, I thought I should report it to someone who might be able to get it fixed. I don't have any direct contact information for whoever is specifically responsible for those machines. I know from experience that trying to call Amtrak's reservation or customer service numbers doesn't work -- the agent there sound puzzled and didn't even seem to know what a ticket vending machine was, let alone how one would go about getting it fixed. (I don't blame the agents personally; the system discourages them from knowing anything other than their tiny little piece of the puzzle.) So I figured Skorpowski would know at least to whom at "Big Amtrak" actually maintains those machines.

While I was at it, I talked wistfully about the folly of doing a wooden tie-replacement project and following it up almost immediately with an entire concrete tie-replacement project in the same place. I further mentioned that I'd be riding over Thankgiving and crossing my fingers that I wouldn't end up on a ride like last year when the cars were so overloaded that the suspension was bottoming out.

I was not really that surprised, but was pleased, to hear back from him the next day. He wrote:
Thanks for the report on the Fremont TVM, Kevin. In another month or so, all these machines will be replaced with new ones that are faster and more reliable. Meanwhile, Amtrak is trying to hold these 'old arks' together.

As for the tie work, the wood ties were not replaced through the station platform areas (the machines would have torn the platform edges to pieces), so it was decided for long-term track stability through the platform areas to have concrete ties installed after the 'big tie replacement project' was completed, mostly by hand. This work is being done at Great America, Fremont-Centerville, and at the main platform at Hayward.

As for Thanksgiving, I will be working at Sacramento Station on the Wednesday before (manning the TVMs). I do not expect a repeat of the crowded conditions on what is now Train #532 (old #534 last year). That train was supposed to have 6 cars and ended up with only 4 cars, jammed to the gills. It was actually the only 'jammed to the gills' train. This year there are many more trains in the schedule, more to San Jose, and we will be adding as many cars as we can to each train consist. No guarantees that there won't be lots of folks on board, but there should not be the mob scene you encountered last year.


It is so nice to encounter someone in transportation who really cares this much about his job and never seems to lose sight of the customers -- we, the ridership. It's easy to get cynical about things when you fight and fight for transportation improvements and find mostly stupidity, laziness, or worse. While certainly not perfect, the Capitols service is a great example of how incrmental improvement can have an impact, and how a motivated, energetic manager can make a difference. We need more people like Eugene Skorpowski working for us.
Tags: amtrak
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