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,

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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.