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not exactly railroaded

By enelson
Monday, August 28th, 2006 at 7:29 pm in Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), Security, Transit vs. driving.

CC outweighs.bmpOn Friday I related the lamentations of David Francis of Wooster, Ohio and how his 15-year-old daughter, lacking ID, was rather brusquely ejected from a Capitol Corridor train by an Amtrak conductor.

This could only have been a sign from on high that I need to pay more attention to the downside of transit as I zealously attempt to keep my car parked and redeem my Commuter Checks.

But a call from Priscilla Kalugdan, the Corridor’s marketing manager, also reminded me that a gaping vacuum in this space cried out for the rest of the story, to quote Paul Harvey.

As I suspected, Francis’ perceived runaround by Amtrak, which he said involved never getting back to him about the status of the conductor’s disciplinary proceeding, would be somewhat mitigated by the Corridor, which pays Amtrak to run the railroad.

“It’s terrible what happened to her,” Kalugdan said in an admission I have rarely heard from a public agency.

“We’ll certainly be sending a letter of apology; I’m drafting one right now,” she told me this morning. “That isn’t how we want people to be treated.”  

What’s more is that Amtrak, after mulling over the complaint, decided to eject the conductor in question from the train for 30 days without pay, she said.

“She was very kind, she said she’d make it a priority and `take it to my team,’ ” Francis told me when I reached him in Ohio this evening.

But that didn’t make everything better, however.

Francis said that while the conductor had been punished, his daughter, Isabel, had not had a chance to face her humiliator.

As Francis had explained, somebody at the railroad had promised him a hearing, at which her story could be told. 

“It wasn’t OK with me that one the guy was back at work without (her) having a chance to confront him.”

But the guy missed a month of paychecks, I pointed out.

“To me, the real issue is that I’ve got a kid that’s been publicly humiliated. There’s never been anybody who said that hey, `I’d like to write her a letter of apology,”’ or for that matter, anybody to “let this guy know that hey, this is not OK.”

“I’ve trying to give my daughter positive life lessons. The lesson here is that if you stall long enough and get the union to back you up, you can treat somebody like s— and never have to say you’re sorry,” Francis said.

While it would be nice if we could all face down the people who make us feel less than human, things rarely turn out that way. Even if this were to go to court, which Francis told me in our first conversation that the was not inclined to do.

A month without pay, as our teen-aged children will eventually discover, is no slap on the wrist for mistreating a customer in a situation where, thankfully, nothing worse happened as a result.

On the other hand, I don’t blame Francis for wanting the wheels of justice to turn in the manner promised. I also don’t think I’d be so quick to forgive and forget, either. But if some supervisor decided to mete out punishment swiftly and sternly, that’s something I’d also support.

All too often, we end up waiting years for such processes to run their course, only to be disappointed with the results.




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6 Responses to “not exactly railroaded”

  1. vsmoothe Says:

    The entire situation is one without any good resolution. Being a devoted transit advocate myself, I found it heartbreaking to read the original blog post about this girl’s experience. But while being suspended for an entire month without pay is no doubt an incredible hardship (an one I’m not certain I could survive), it sounds like nothing to the person who experienced that treatment. In fact, putting myself in that situation, I can’t imagine anything that Amtrak or Capitol Corridor could do that I think would make me feel sufficiently satisfied that the situation was resolved.

    I really don’t know what the solution is for things like this. Clearly, we need drivers who don’t behave wrongly towards their patrons (I have found this to be a very frequent complaint from disabled riders of AC Transit), but I don’t know how to ensure that. And once someone is treated poorly, what kind of resolution is possible that can satisfy anyone who has been abused at the hands of a driver?

    Like I said, I don’t know the answers, but I think it is something to think about. Public transportation is an entirely different world than private retail, so we can’t get all our answers from the way they operate. Still, there must be something. All I can say is that if that had happened to my daughter, a one month suspension without pay would sound like a slap on the wrist to me.

  2. Isabel Francis, Wooster, OH Says:

    Dad pointed out your blog to me. I thought your readers might be interested in hearing my story.

    My Dad, sisters, and I were visiting family in California this summer. On July 7th dad put me on a train in Emeryville so that I could see an old friend in Davis. We were planning on going to Pirates of the Caribbean opening night, and dressing up as pirates. But soon after getting on the train my excitement changed to horror..

    This is what happened: No sooner than the train had started moving, the conductor burst in and aggressively demanded to see my I.D. Now according to Amtrak policy, minors between 15 and 18 can travel alone without I.D.

    I was confused and scared. He started shouting at me, ordering me off the train. I finally managed a few weak protests through my tears. I told him that I was a minor, traveling alone, and that I would be stranded. I received “GET OFF MY TRAIN!” in response. I got up slowly and walked to the stairs and he followed me, forcing me down the stairs with his body. I have never ever been so badly treated in my life. Please note that during this whole encounter, I did absolutely nothing that could be possibly interpreted as threatening or even impudent.

    The conductor left me in an unmanned station in Berkeley. I had no way to contact Dad, and had to borrow a cellphone from a stranger, who, incidentally, I would like to thank. Anything could have happened to me.

    I’m not even that angry about being thrown off, but am absolutely fuming about the mistreatment. It was frightening and humiliating.

    We returned to Emeryville, where we filed a complaint. AMTRAK personnel later asked if I would be willing to testify. We were promised a hearing during which I could tell my story, but have received none. After a month of stalling, a supervisor overrode the process and allowed the man return to work. Amtrak has been incredibly unresponsive, not answering calls, and leaving us completely in the dark about what was happening, and as of yet, I have not received any apologies or even acknowledgement.

    I want an apology, and I want that hearing. I feel as if there was no real investigation, only searches for evidence in the conductor’s favor. I’m really angry about this and much more cynical about the whole system. Amtrak should sort themselves out before expanding.

    By the way, I would appreciate letters to Amtrak, to try force them to address these issues:

    Why did an AMTRAK supervisor override the process and deny me the opportunity to confront the conductor in front of a neutral mediator?

    Why doesn’t AMTRAK check tickets and id before people get on the train?

  3. Frequent Amtrak Rider Says:

    First let me say that Isabel’s treatment was terrible and inexcusable. I’ve encountered rude conductors (very few, fotunately) so she has my sympathy. Conductors are the king on trains and they can throw people off. Perhaps this is a cautionary tale for overzealous conductors.

    The problem with checking ID’s and tickets before boarding is that there are multiple points of entry to a train and it would take several people to do the checking. To check during boarding, Amtrak would have to require a single point of entry to the train area similar to the airlines. It would add time to the schedule but it might be worth it. Ticket agents should tell passengers about requirements and restrictions when they buy their tickets, and/or better still, give them something in writing. Another option is when minors are traveling alone, their parents should contact the conductor directly during boarding.

    What a terrible story. I’m glad the conductor got some time off to think about it.

  4. Realistic Dope Says:

    It is unfortunate Isabel was mistreated on Amtrak, especially in light of the increasingly unfriendly skies. Train travel is usually a pleasant experience for many, despite the many delays on Amtrak.
    I am glad the conductor was punished for how he acted. A month without pay, formal disciplinary action, AND re-training are NOT a mere “slap on the wrist” for the conductor. Endure through all that, and any intelligent person will be thinking twice.
    However, if all he got was a letter of reprimand and was back to work the next week, then THAT would be a slap on the wrist. Let’s not call an apple, an orange.
    As for a hearing: sorry, but that is not likely to happen now. Amtrak personnel at Emeryville have no authority to “promise” a hearing. As Isabel stated, “AMTRAK personnel … asked if I would be WILLING TO TESTIFY” (emphasis added). The filed complaint is an OFFICIAL statement and is entered ON THE RECORD in disciplinary proceedings. In-person, oral testimony is NOT required if a written statement suffices. If, however, a formal hearing were necessary, such as due to factual ambiguity, then Isabel and her dad could be called to testify.
    Here, the written complaint was sufficient, alone, to find the conductor acted inappropriately. Amtrak took disciplinary action. CASE CLOSED.
    To Isabel and her dad:
    If you want a personal apology from the conductor, then demand one. But understand, the time for confrontation is over; YOU WON, without needing to waste your time, AND money, to attend a formal hearing, in California.
    CAVEAT: How much time and money would it cost you and your Dad to come back out here to testify? Your Dad, a hard-working man, will be forced to take time off work, use vacation time, AND need to leave your sisters under care (assuming they are minors). You are probably starting back in school now, meaning, you will miss class and have to make-up work. What, then, is the real cost, to your 20 minutes at a hearing? Is it realistic?
    Just let Amtrak be it’s beaucratic self, knowing you made some jerk conductor just a wee bit wiser, and go enjoy the free travel Amtrak has offered (or, at least, post it on eBay and cash out for a nice family dinner somewhere).r

  5. Friend in Davis Says:

    After what he did loosing a months pay is a mere slap on the wrist, a fifteen year old girl being left at an unmanned station is just unacceptable, no mater what the reason. You are also forgetting how I felt, she’s my friend and I didn’t know what was going on until she finally arrived. Also you seem to have forgotten that her father had to leave her sisters with family go pick her up, drive her to Davis and then drive back.

    Another thing you seem to not understand that Isabel and I where raised together and where almost as close as sisters until she moved, now only get to see her rarely, when you don’t get to see someone very often every minute counts. Those minutes I lost where priceless, and docking some guy’s pay for a month isn’t going to give me those minutes back is it? Nor is it going to solve this problem, something needs to be done to make SURE that nothing like this EVER happens again.

    Oh and by the way Realistic Dope: the constitution gives the accused the right to face the accuser then is it not also implied that the accuser has the right to face the accused? And have you ever been fifteen? ‘Cause it’s a scary time in the best of circumstances, (I would know, I’m fifteen) and anything done to make it worse is on the verge of criminal by it self.

  6. Realistic Dope Says:

    To Friend in Davis:

    I certainly sympathize with the situation. I am not saying he got away scot-free, but neither will he forget this experience. Your response brings more light to the story. Your time is precious, but even jail time or a $5,000 fine would not undo the missed time together, right? “Priceless,” as you said.

    I am only stating the obvious: Amtrak did all it was required to do. Isabel and her dad should still demand the personal apology.

    Yes, you are correct the Constitution gives the accused the right to face the accuser. However, that applies to CRIMINAL COURT. Here, this is an administrative (CIVIL) proceeding, NOT before judge and jury. Maybe not even that much, since this is within a corporate structure.

    But, it does NOT imply the converse. The Constitutional right is to protect the criminal accused from false accusations: the “innocent until PROVEN guilty” standard. Proof of guilty allows the right to face an accuser, but ONLY in CRIMINAL cases.

    In all other proceedings: civil cases and administrative hearings, the accusation is usually made through written statements or a specific representative. A written statement can be a formal complaint (like it was here). The representative may be an attorney (civil lawsuit) or company disciplinary official (adminstrative proceedings).

    I hope this explanation makes sense.i

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