Black mold in my Amtrak cabin — how about a refund?

Here’s a case where a ticket contract and the reality of an experience find themselves on a head-on collision of sorts. And I’m kinda in the middle.

Heather Ormsbee and her family of four recently took Amtrak’s California Zephyr from Salt Lake City to Chicago. But when they boarded the train, they were shocked at the conditions.

She writes,

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications. The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Our sleeping cabin and the three airplane-size bathrooms that at least 15 people were using were filthy.

There was black mold growing on the ceilings, floor, closet doors and vents and there was a one-inch layer of hair, dirt, etc. on the seats that also became our bed at night.

When Ormsbee pointed the less-than-immaculate conditions to an attendant, she was told to take pictures and send in a complaint. So that’s what she did.

I’ve posted an image of the bathroom above. Here’s a closer look at some of the mold.

Ormsbee continues,

By the time our train arrived in Chicago, we couldn’t imagine getting on the next one headed toward Washington, D.C. So we rented a car and drove the 12 hours home to Philadelphia (and additional $350 expense).

When we got to the Chicago train station, there was a long line for complaints and they just handed everyone a paper that listed phone numbers that we could call to contact an Amtrak representative.

Well, that didn’t go as planned.

The Ormsbees contacted Amtrak in writing, and it agreed to refund $767 for the unused portion of the trip. It also apologized for what it called “dirt” and blamed it on its personnel.

Amtrak gave the family a $100 voucher which, “as you can imagine, we’re not real eager to use,” says Ormsbee.

She’d like a full refund of her fare. But Amtrak’s terms of transportation suggest it did its job — transporting her family to Chicago.

I’ve had several cases like this in the past. Refunding the unused fare and apologizing for the condition of the cabin is appropriate. The voucher, while nice, is unnecessary; anyone who voluntarily left a train mid-journey is unlikely to try Amtrak again in the near future.

But a full refund? I don’t know. Amtrak got the Ormsbees to Chicago. I’m not sure if I can push for more.

At the same time, the cabin conditions were unacceptable, and a borderline breach of contract.

From the Amtrak site:

Experienced travelers say the California Zephyr is one of the most beautiful train trips in all of North America. As you climb through the heart of the Rockies, and further west through the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas, you may find it hard to disagree.

Reserve a spacious coach seat for your journey or, for a more luxurious experience, reserve a roomette or bedroom in one of the Superliner sleeping cars.

Um, maybe not.

72 thoughts on “Black mold in my Amtrak cabin — how about a refund?

  1. I’d honestly like a few more pictures of the “filthy” conditions.  The two photos above, while not sparkling, don’t seem that bad.  I realize it may be difficult to photograph the black mold she mentioned, but a “one-inch layer of hair, dirt, etc”?  Are we really supposed to believe there was a full inch thickness of filth on their seating/beds?  Why wasn’t THAT the picture shown?

    I understand the LW is upset, but I’m not sure I find the terrible conditions really so terrible. She seems to be embellishing her story, which makes me less inclined to believe her tale of woe.  Amtrak refunded the unused portion of the trip plus gave them a voucher.  Case closed.

    1. Nobody likes a grubby floor, but most people don’t plan to lick it. Ridiculous exaggeration is happening here. I think the refunded unused portion is fair; I’m sure that punished Amtrak appropriately for accidentally forgetting to clean the bathrooms perhaps once.

  2. There was garbage in my airline seat back once, I was so appauled I demand a complete refund! Oh and the bathroom had a weird smell, I think I deserve a double bonus refund and extra FF miles!

    Seriously, they still managed to get to Chicago and didn’t even look to see what the Chicago to DC train looked like yet they decided they deserve a refund on their entire itinerary? You were offered fair compensation plus a voucher. Why exactly do you feel you deserve more?

     Chris, you seem to be attracting the entitled consumers lately.

  3. I am a landlord, and as such, any time I hear someone claiming to have encountered “black mold”, my BS detector goes into high alert.  Any garden variety dirt, grime, or mildew always magically becomes deadly, toxic “black mold” when a customer is trying to extract concessions to which they are not entitled.

    Did 60 Minutes do an expose on “black mold” or something? Where do people come up with this nonsense?

    1. Good question, there must have been some sort of expose recently.  We just sold our old house and after the inspection came back perfect, the buyer started complaining that they went back and re-inspected themselves and that there is black mold all over the crawlspace and that they want us to give them $6,000 in concessions.  The buyer sent out pictures and the buyers own inspector just said it was dirt.  I finally hired a mold expert to test it, and he concluded it was also dirt (The crawlspace had a dirt floor).

  4. A one inch layer of hair? Really? I’d think that’d make the seat way more comfy… On the one hand, I’m glad they bailed on the rest of their trip. At least that shows they were serious about how they felt about the cleanliness factor. But a full refund? Whatever. When I go to a restaurant and get bad food, I simply do not go back again. I don’t eat the meal and then ask for my money back. If it were me and I felt I’d need to use the toilet many more times during the trip, I would’ve asked for cleaning supplies and cleaned the toilet myself (and took pictures to prove it).

    But I’m serious about the hair mattress. I want pictures!

    http://www.dreamtravelblog.wordpress.com

    1. Your restaurant analogy is a good start, but its not correct.  It’s not as if the OP ate the meal and then wanted a full refund.  Its more as while the OP was eating the salad  she discovered a couple toenails and refused the main course.  What should she pay for?

      I am assuming the OP learned of the full extent of the gross conditions after the train began moving or else they would have disembarked immediately.  I am satisfied that the conditions were horrible.  That the OP disembarked at the first possible opportunity and expended additional funds is a sufficient reason for Chris to at least look into this further.

      1. Not quite sure I agree. No one could reasonably expect someone to keep eating after they find toenails in the salad. People typically go to a restaurant for a good meal. That’s 90% of the reason. The peripherals (decor, ambiance, etc.) make up the other 10. In the case of Amtrack, people use it primarily to get from A to B. The peripherals (how the bathroom is, the food on the train, etc.) probably don’t figure too highly. In this case, her main reason (ie. the 90% = the transport) was met. She didn’t like the ‘extras’ (which I can surely understand) but asking for a full refund is asking for too much. So in keeping with the restaurant analogy, it’d be more like: the food was fine, but the service was atrocious. Would you be entitled to a full refund after eating the meal? No. But might you get something as a goodwill gesture? Maybe.

        In dealing with companies that disappoint me, when I ask for something, my guide is: Is this reasonable? Would they do this for everyone in my situation? I wouldn’t expect preferential treatment. If that thinking applies, would Amtrak be prepared to offer whatever it is that the OP wants to everyone who traveled on that train on that day, assuming everyone dealt with the same dirty bathrooms and mysterious hair carpet?

        Methinks not. Maybe the OP is better off reporting them to the Health Department! “Hello? Health Department? I’d like to report a human hair seat cushion, please…”

        http://www.dreamtravelblog.wordpress.com

        1. James, I would have to disagree. The reason for traveling by train is to get the “ambiance” if you will of traveling across country and taking in the beauty. It is NOT to get from point A to point B in any meaningful quickness. The peripherals ARE part of the transport and one of the reasons people pay so much extra money to get a cabin or a room on a train. I think a refund of perhaps 25% would be appropriate.
           
          I am also in agreement with the poster above when he talks about black mold. By nature, mold is dark in color, leading everyone to make the comment that it is black mold. The only true way to find out is to take a sample and have a lab test it. I doubt the OP did that. If they did and had confirmed it was black mold, the train would be shut down and taken out of service. None of that happened.

          1. actually, the point IS to get you from A to B.  And they did that – and they refunded the portion which was not used – which in this case I think is all she deserved.  The black mold claim is just BS, and if the worst conditions were the seat, why no pics of that?  i think she was just embellishing, and she needs to put her big girl panties on and grow up!

        2. Guys – PLEASE stop combining “toenails” and “salad”.  Monday morning post-Super Bowl excesses means it’s salad for dinner 😉

        3.  ummm.. I have to agree with the others. Once the train took off, where was she suppose to go?
          I have ridden Amtrak, the eastern corridor line since 1977..the bathrooms can be a little….
          Awful!!!!!
          My trips aren’t any longer than 4 hours so it’s no big deal.. but a long trip and as a woman..NO!

          These types of trips are for pleasure,ambience..
          not my idea of ambience ..BUT… her trip was ruined and not by her..

          So Amtrak, give it up!!!!!

    2. Don’t return to the establishment or submit a comment on Yelp.com.

      They won’t care that I do not come back, but they do not want it posted publicly.

  5. I think that Amtrak did enough. My eyes aren’t what they use to be but the two pictures don’t show me an unacceptable level of cleanliness. Perhaps some pictures of the vents and ceilings could change my mind. The bathroom might have been left that way by the previous user and the staff hadn’t had a chance to clean it before it was used again.

    1. Who cares why the bathroom was the way it was and why it wasn’t cleaned? Checking in for a reservation (whether a hotel, a plane or a train) and finding dirty facilities is simply unacceptable.

      1. I am not sure how you travel but washrooms on aircraft, trains etc are probably not cleaned between users. If someone makes a mess before I go in I can hardly blame the cleaning crew. I am more than willing to change my mind when I see evidence of the shocking conditions. The pictures supplied do not show that.

        1. I’m not suggesting that it should be cleaned after each use, but at the very least someone should do a quick wipe down of each bathroom at each stop. The picture seems to show the spot on the counter where a bar of soap had been sitting and allowed to dry which indicates to me such a wipe down was not done.

          1. That’s pretty unrealistic. Train stops aren’t like airplane layovers. They maybe last 5 to 10 minutes, and part of that time is taken up with getting new passengers on and assigning them seats.

            Regardless, the photo appears to me to show dirt, not mold.

          2. And could someone please explain to me what’s so disgusting about a soap mark on a counter? It’s SOAP. Ew, soap everywhere, how disgusting? What?!

      2. The train runs from San Francisco to Chicago – this party got on in Salt Lake City. Obviously the “train maids” should have prepared their cabin for them, but the bathrooms are public and other passengers use them every once in a while. Just because the “train maids” apparently don’t clean them right before reaching Salt Lake City doesn’t mean they never do.

      3. Maybe someone follows YOU around to clean up your messes, but public areas don’t have a person there to clean up after every single passenger — so if there really was a problem, she should have asked it be cleaned – not expect a free trip!

  6. She doesn’t deserve a full refund but, in addition to the refund on the portion of the trip she didn’t take, she should be refunded the difference between a basic seat and the upgraded accommodations she paid for on the part she did take. The voucher should be ignored as it’s worthless in this case and whoever sent it should know that.

    1. I don’t feel she should receive the difference between the seat and the room. She did use the beds and had privacy away from the rest of the traveling public. Also, her meals were included, as was a special observation car for first class customers.

  7. “one-inch layer of hair, dirt, etc. on the seats”

    That’s what I wanted to see! A whole inch!?! Show THAT pic! While I don’t doubt the cleanliness was not up to her standards…the exaggerations don’t help. The pics posted, while not something anyone would put in a brochure, certainly do not fully indicate the filth as described.

    Managing expectations. Did she realize she would be sharing a bathroom with other people? Did she realize that someone ahead of her may leave the soap in the sink and not fully dispose of a paper towel?

    Were there any other factors contributing to the problems? On an Amtrak trip in the winter, we once had no running water due to the pipes below the car freezing. No hot food, toilets were a mess and we got to Chicago late, and had to wait in a long, but swift, line to be re-accommodated. It never even occurred to me to seek a refund.

    Speaking monetarily, she received a refund of $767 and had an additional expense of $350, so she netted out ahead. (No surprise, as Amtrak is no real bargain on long haul trains.)

    This is Amtrak, not the Orient Express. I would be more interested in the facts to support the claims. Sorry, I don’t see it.

  8. She was a no-show on her Chicago-WashDC train, got a full refund – promptly, and walked away with $767 – $350 = $417 in her pocket. What’s her problem?

  9. A one-inch layer of dirt on the seats?  Seriously?  Are we really expected to believe there was a layer an entire inch thick of crud on the seat cushions?  I’m with the other posters… where is THAT picture? (Maybe she meant to say a one-inch ring of dirt around the edges? That I could believe; cleaners too lazy to get out the edge attachment for the vacuum.)

    And I understand it’s hard to take a good picture in a cramped cabin, but I’m not seeing any mold.  I’m seeing a frayed carpet near the floor, and some off-color old vinyl paneling.

    The bathroom looks fine.  It appears somebody left their soap bar on the counter (which has fallen in the sink.)  And there are a couple of drips on the mirror.  Where’s the problem?

    Chris, I’m not sure why you took this one… while the cabin is indeed filthy, I’m not sure how arbitration is possible when the customers claims are over the top and/or have nothing to back them up.

  10. Amtrak’s bathrooms on the east-bound cross-country journeys tend to be intolerable.  I’m not sure why that is.  On our west-bound trip on the Empire Builder, the train was maintained well, and I didn’t worry about the cleanliness.  On the east-bound trip, I waited six hours to go to the bathroom, because the conditions were so bad.  I think that an appropriate resolution would have been to transform that $100 voucher into cash.

  11. If it was bad enough that they got off the train after the first leg, then I’m good with mediating this one.  That and the fact that I read this eating breakfast and almost got sick…  Gross.

  12. 15 people for 3 bathrooms, if I could only be so lucky! That sounds like pretty decent accommodations for public transportation.  I’m sorry, but I can’t see anything bad from either of those pictures.  The bathroom is sure a lot cleaner than those on the LIRR .  Yeah the bathroom is not shiny and new, but then again, this is Amtrak.  I really can’t see anything that looks like mold on the floor.  And even so, it’s the floor.  What I really want to see is this supposed 1 inch of hair.  Hearing the exadurated hair and the black mold everywhere makes me think the OP is simply a complainer and trying to shock people.  Sorry.
     
    Amtrak refunded her 100% of her unused portion and gave her a voucher.  Yeah, she will probably never use the voucher, but still, they got her from point A to point B and refunded what she didn’t use.  As a gesture they gave her a voucher.  I would not pursue it at that point unless she can provide some better pictures.  I seriously want to see this hair chair.

  13. A couple of points of order….

    First, as long as she did not print her tickets in advance for the CHI-WAS portion of her trip, she should be entitled to a full refund, so long as she canceled her trip prior to departure anyway. If she did that, Amtrak didn’t really do anything for her, other than follow its own terms and conditions. This is one of the huge advantages over the airlines, in my opinion. You can make the decision at the last minute to not take your trip and you will still get your money back – not a credit or a voucher, but your hard-earned greenbacks.

    The cleanliness of the bathroom and the sleeper room fall on the shoulders of the Sleeping Car Attendant. It sounds like she didn’t have a very good one, but the $100 voucher seems entirely appropriate. If she doesn’t want it, I’ll happily use it. If things are as bad as even the photos show, perhaps the appropriate course of action was to not tip the attendant, which may have also happened.

    I just rode the Capitol Limited (WAS-CHI), the California Zephyr (CHI-SFC), Pacific Surfliner (SAN-LAX), and the Coast Starlight (LAX-SEA). I encountered a few problems myself – and, from the pictures shown above, maybe I encountered more problems than I allow myself to think I encountered – but nothing worth making a huge stink over. I was much more unhappy that there was no working WiFi on the Coast Starlight – and, yes, another passenger told me that I should contact Amtrak and ask for compensation.  So, it seems that what has really happened is that we have developed a compensation culture in this country, and now people demand it for things that aren’t really compensation-worthy. In my opinion, in the end, it hurts the people who have a legitimate complaint the most.

    1. I’m with you, Steve.  For anyone who travels a lot, sometimes there are bad experiences.  

      My family and I laugh about so many of them now.  We have a story from the New Mexico highway (out in the middle of no where, 50 miles between cities) that involve my husband, a bad taco and no city to be found. He really wishes I’d forget it…  But he still laughs when my son or I bring up, “Remember when Dad…?”

  14. No. There’s nothing to mediate.  She chose not to take the train from Chicago to D.C. – and from the info given did not even bother to check out that train.  Because of one bad experience she’s never going to use that means of transportation again??

  15. Chris – you sure you aren’t posting some of these “should I mediate” stories just to spur some conversation?

    Was Ms. Ormsbee expecting Gilded Age private-car level service and amenities?  This is Amtrak.  Struggling to stay live, not-well-funded Amtrak.  The trains are old, and it appears to have been a shared bathroom.  So unless this is how Ms. Ormsbee found the bathroom the second she boarded the train, how does she know one of her fellow travelers wasn’t a pig and did this?

    She got a refund and a voucher.  More than enough.  She should also realize that any form of public transport is hardly likely to be super-clean and germ-free.

    1. Yes, I do believe Chris is airing these stories in order to encourage debate. It is what makes this “column” interesting….as long as people don’t revert to name-calling and hurling insults.

      1. The California Zephyr (San Fran-SLC-Chicago) does not have an exclusive observation car; that is unique to the Coast Starlight (LA-Oakland-Seattle).  It has a lounge car that all passengers can use.  It also has a diner which supplies the three included meals for sleeping car passengers (or on a cash basis for coach passengers).

          1. The term “Pullman” does not apply to any accomodation offered on Amtrak.  That term was last used in the 1960s! The observation/lounge on the Capitol Ltd is not exclusive – all classes of service can access it.  As I said, the only long distance route with an exclusive lounge – which is called a “Parlour Car” and offers wine tastings – is the Coast Starlight between Los Angeles and Seattle.

          2. I’m aware that the term Pullman is anachronistic. On the train I was on, the attendant led me to believe that the observation car I was in was for those with rooms. If he was wrong, I apologize for him too.

  16. Amtrak sure does throw out the word “luxurious” an awful lot in their bid for people to upgrade. I would be totally disgusted by the conditions of that cabin and bathrooms. They bill the Zephyr for it’s scenery, which you can’t complain about. But, when someone upgrades and pays premium and expects “luxury”, then that is what they should get. Blaming it on its personnel is a cop-out. They are responsible for their personnel. They should hire people to do the job right, or lower passenger expectations with more accurate promotions. Amtrak should refund her, for all four passengers, the money she spent to upgrade from a seat to a cabin.

    1. The problem is that demand for Amstrak sleeping car accomodation is quite high – almost every room is sold out on every trip.  So Amtrak can afford to be a little lax in their service delivery and piss off a few customers, because there will be plenty more who will gladly take that room, and pay for it.  I agree it’s not the epidome of luxury but I have travelled this way several times and enjoy the privacy of the private room and the slow pace of train travel – if I wanted true luxury I would fly first class and then stay in a top hotel.  A first class train trip is not cheap, but still much more affordable than other “luxury travel.”

  17. You need to fight for them…why….you paid for the rife…but you also paid for a standard in terms of a healthy environment.   They failed on the latter.   At minimum they should get a 50% refund on the used part of their trip. 

    Were it me Id be suing them because of my serious mold allergy.

  18. does not match what I have seen on Amtrak, not as nice as the european trains but not bad enough for a full refund. Refund for the unused portion plus a voucher offered upfront was a good response

  19. Amtrak is getting old. Trains companies around the world are usually 10 x’s cleaner and happier to travel on (Except India and the Siberian Express ) but you know that you want to ride them. I have had no clients enjoy Amtrak long distance trains in years. They need to become privatized.

      1. If Amtrak were privatized, it wouldn’t exist.  Remember that the corporation was formed because the rail companies wanted out of the passenger business.

        The real problem is that everyone in government thinks it’s a “subsidy” to fund Amtrak, but it’s an “investment” to fund highway and air travel.  Amtrak is constantly fighting for funding (certain presidents in recent history have tried to give Amtrak a total budget of zero).  If we would take passenger rail service seriously in this country — including keeping to the published schedule — the experience could be a lot better than it is.

        1.  And everyone wants to take days to travel coast to coast.  Why just the other day I was saying that 6 hour flight was ridiculously short, and way cheaper than a rail ticket.

  20. I’ve traveled on Amtrak before, in a sleeping room, and felt not just the experience to be wonderful but also the staff.  I find it difficult to believe they were so cavalier about a customer’s complaint who was standing in front of them.

    The OP lost me when she said there was a “…one-inch layer of hair, dirt, etc. on the seats that also became our bed at night.”  Hyperbole, anyone?  One-inch?  Really?  Where’s the picture of that?

    Another one that got me was, “the three airplane-size bathrooms …” Honey, really, it’s a train. OF COURSE the bathrooms are small. What were you expecting? Bathrooms the size of the Taj Mahal? The sleeper car I was in? The toilet was out in the open and when one of us had to use it, the others had to turn their backs. Such is life on the road – making compromises and experiencing life. What could have been some funny stories to laugh about with your kids and grand kids down the road (“Remember when we…?) are now a cause of angst for you because your expectations were too high (and you are unwilling to lower those expectations and just EXPERIENCE it all.)

    They were refunded the unused portion of the train trip, which more than covers the cost of the car rental, and they got another $100 voucher(s?).  I think your work here is done, Chris.

    I have to say, the sense of entitlement people are beginning to feel when it comes to travel is getting more than a little outrageous.

    1. I remember when the toilet was disguised as room furniture and we used to play at who can find the toilet first. As kids, we always had to wait in the hallway when our parents “went.” Now, the private bathrooms I’ve experenced are enclosed, somewhat like those in RVs. 

  21. It is my experience that those cleaning rooms, planes and trains, do so in a quick fashion with little attention to details.  I, too, have found some disgusting rooms and airline seats.  It doesn’t matter the price you pay, the job of cleaning isn’t getting done properly. 

    I have to say that the pictures shown here don’t show me much to share in the black mold concern.  I always tell clients that they are paying Hyatt pricing for Motel 6 accommodations, so what I see in the photos isn’t far from what I would expect on a train.  The photo that should have been shown is the one of the seating so why wasn’t that one provided?

    I, like Nancy Dickinson, am getting tired of the entitlement attittude.  When I write a letter of complaint, it is in hopes of getting management to improve what I found unsatisfactory. 

  22. Here’s my Zephyr “horror story”:

    Several years ago, my sister-in-law, wife and I took the California Zephyr from Martinez, California to Reno. We stayed overnight in Reno, then took the train back to California the following day.

    When the train arrived six hours late from Chicago for the return trip, the toilets (on the lower level) of the car to which we were assigned were beginning to overflow.  Not only did the toilets become quickly become unusable, but a nauseating “aroma” floated up into the seating level above.  It took a near riot to convince the conductor to open up an unused car so we could all move into it for the remainder of the journey.

    One would think that Amtrak long-haul trains like the Zephyr would make at least one “pit-stop” to “unload” the toilets, but it didn’t do so on that occasion. 

  23. I am a conductor on an Amtrak lomg haul train and I can assure you this passenger has embellished the conditions. I will not argue that our facilities require attention enroute and the staff does the best they can most of the time. You just would not believe the mess some passengers will leave for others to deal with. The staff does get to sleep a minimum and often conductors are left to handle truly nasty conditions left by our customers. “1” layer”…come on. I can tell you that many times people have relied on what others have told them or other unreliable sources and have no idea what they purchased as a room accomodation. “where is my private bathroom?” common question. That info is readily available on site and in tickets offices nationwide. As in any transportation business our hardworking men and women do the best we can with old and sometimes outdated equipment but cannot, and will never, please everyone.

  24. This situation reminds me of a legal case I took last year.  My client made some allegations that were totally true; but as the case progressed I realized that she was lying about some other things.  In short, both sides were partly right, and partly at fault, and completely obnoxious–it made for an impossible case to argue (and I did lose…).
     
    The situation here sounds much the same.  On the one hand, the charge of a one-inch layer of hair, unaccompanied by photos, is ridiculous.  The photos the OP did submit don’t look all that bad either.  And the OP’s expectations about both sharing bathrooms and the size of those bathrooms seem unreasonable.  We’re inclined to dismiss her complaints and defend Amtrak.
     
    ON THE OTHER HAND, Amtrak’s advertising about this particular travel itinerary suggests a level of luxury which they at Amtrak HQ surely MUST KNOW is exaggerated.  The fact that the OP got off and refused to continue the trip indicates that it really must have been a lot more gross than these photos suggest, since that’s a very extreme reaction!  The comment that there was “a long line” of people wanting to file complaints suggest that the OP wasn’t a tiara-wearer with an unusually low tolerance for imperfection–or else that there were a lot of other tiaras on board with her.  We may thus be inclined to admit that the OP probably does have a point.
     
    Additionally, note that the OP DID complain to Amtrak personnel while still on board–the correct course of action–and look at their reaction: “she was told to take pictures and send in a complaint.”  Common sense would dictate that the CORRECT response from Amtrak would have been to CLEAN THE DIRT, but there’s no indication that they did.  Note also that the subsequent letter from Amtrak (a) acknowledged the dirt, and (b) faulted their own staff.  This suggests that the OP not only did have a valid complaint, but that the problems could have been remedied by Amtrak workers, and yet THEY DIDN’T. 
     
    I have to interject my own impression based on multiple experiences with Amtrak: in a nutshell, stereotypic govt workers who don’t give a flip about doing a good job, since they won’t get fired anyway.  It’s too easy to envision someone tasked with keeping things clean, and paid specifically to do so, but preferring to hang out in the employee lounge making endless calls on her cell-phone.  (And NO, I am NOT suggesting that 100% of Amtrak employees are like this… just the majority.)
     
    So it becomes possible to imagine that the OP got enraged not only by the crud, but also by the facts that nobody was making an effort to improve it, and that nobody cared, and that nothing was going to change, and that she had been taken in by false advertising, and that others like her would be taken in similarly in the future, and that the only way to get Amtrak to care was to hit them in the wallet, where it hurts.
     
    Bottom line: I suspect that the OP had a legitimate objection, which doesn’t cancel out my other suspicion that she’s prone to exaggeration AND needs a better camera.
     
    A messy case…

    1.  Everybody lies . . . .

      I practiced employment law for 30 years  . . . everybody lies.  My client ALWAYS lied.  Did not matter if I repped the employer or employee. But I knew that going in.  Every single case the employer claimed this employee was the worst they ever hired and the employee claimed they were an unappreciated angel who was just wronged through insider politics and whatever excuse existed that week. . . .

      Sure – some folks were mostly accurate but there was always some white lie in there somewhere that when discovered destroyed the client’s credibility whether it is the employer or employee they always exist.  I never complained and saw my role as more of a bs detector trying to spot the misleading facts and uncover some of what really happened . . . .

  25. People in this country think they’re entitled to everything. You want
    public bathrooms to be clean enough to eat off the floor -then pay for
    the staff to clean them every time someone uses them. Scuff marks from shoes or luggage are not mold.
    Those pictures show nothing other than basic public usage. Amtrak
    doesn’t have any money now, and she would probably complain it costs too
    much to fund for a bathroom attendant. If you think this is bad, travel in Estonia then try and get a refund.

  26. To be perfectly honest, Amtrak has many problems.  The company has never been adequately funded, from day one.  Had the railroad companies had their way, passenger service probably would have ended for good in the early 70s.  Amtrak came into existence to save at least a basic system of long distance rail transportation.  The notion that privatizing it now would somehow “save” it seems quaint, at best.  Other than possibly the northeast corridor, there would be no companies interested in operating a passenger rail company, least of all the freight rail companies.  There would be no rails on which to run the trains (Amtrak pays rent to run most of it’s trains, by law….a new private company would not have the legal authority to make the freight railroads rent right of way to them).  “Privatizing” is non-starter. 

    As far as these complaints are concerned, yes, I would say the photos show some sloppy housekeeping.  I am disappointed that we do not see pictures of the room interiors, which are far more important than the public restrooms.  Canceling all service because of one incident tells me that someone is probably looking for a reason to complain.  I don’t see that as objective criticism.

  27. Many western foreigners will tell you Americans are known elsewhere as “too clean,” and obsessed with cleanliness.  While filth is not a selling point, public accommodations which are a bit dirty are to be expected.  Ever walk into an airplane rest room on a 15-hour flight?  Come on.  Ever ask for a refund with puddles of urine on the floor, no towels, and a stench?   

    An “inch-thick layer of hair, dirt, etc.”?  OK, things were not like at home, but this traveler was a bit on the hysterical side.  I am not convinced they should have gotten anything more than a sincere apology and perhaps the voucher.  I am sure their onward seats went unfilled because they were no-shows.  Assess the proper penalty for no-shows and that’s that.  

  28. This is like riding Greyhound and complaining about the cramped conditions and the creepy dude sitting next to you. I mean really, what did they expect?

  29. If there truly was black mold, as the OP is claiming, then Amtrak owes her a full refund. Black mold is potentially very dangerous, especially to those people with respiratory illness, eldery people and even healthy children. Granted, exposure is of fairly short duration as compared to someone that has it in their home, but Amtrak would still be liable if they were aware of any black mold issues and did not fix them.

    If there isn’t, as it appears from the pictures that this was just dirt?  I think Amtrak did what was necessary-refunded the unused portion of the ticket, apologized and offered a voucher.

    Personally I want to see more photographs. Including the 1″ of hair and dirt on the seats and actual proof of the black mold. Close ups would be nice. Because I sure as hell would be taking close up pictures of black mold on the train and plastering them all over the media.

    1. There is nothing about “black mold” that is any more dangerous than any other mold.  Mold requires a fibrous surface to grow on (like wood or wallboard), and wouldn’t grow on the hard surfaces shown in the photos (it could grow on upholstry).  And of course the areas must be moist.  As stated in a few previous comments, this is likely a complete hysteria driven by some scaremongering TV show or ambulance chasing lawyers or something.  Good unbiased fact sheet here:  http://www.cdc.gov/mold/stachy.htm

  30. Besides the obvious lies about the room condition, I just don’t see any filthy conditions in the pictures. Sure, it appears as if someone had used the soap in the bathroom beforehand. I think it would be a horrendous waste of money for an attendant to clean the restroom between each use. If I demanded money back after using a restroom which had been used prior to its last cleaning, I would have spent less than $100 in my entire life.  Also, I know superliner equipment fairly well(the type of equipment described here) The bottom image is not from a restroom. I see what is possibly a coffee spill there (probably from earlier in the trip.) Other than that, It really does not look particularly dirty at all, although perhaps in need of a new paintjob. 

  31. When you are traveling, it’s not unusual to find housekeeping far from perfect. I recall my wife pulling me away from fixtures in our $450+ Sheraton Park room in New York. I was cleaning up using toilet paper. Of course, I should have called for housekeeping, but…
    Of interest, on occasion at home in corners I find unacceptable housekeeping. But, of course, this is MY grime.

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