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Amtrak is the only approved DOD rail passenger carrier in the US. According to the Joint Travel Regulations, rail may be provided only when it meets mission requirements and is most effective mode taking in consideration best value such as time, per diem and miscellaneous expenses. More and more travelers are forgetting about taking the Amtrak. Amtrak is always an option when it comes down to the mode of transportation. Many travelers chose to take the Amtrak if they have a fear of flying. As I understand it, you must have a medical certification stating you have a fear of flying. This fear of flying must be documented in writing by a physician. Fear of flying “is a huge problem,” says Jerilyn Ross, president of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Like other phobias, it is an irrational, involuntary fear that causes a person to avoid everyday situations.
My first experience booking travel on Amtrak for a traveler was appalling. Amtrak schedules are shown within the reservations module of the Defense Travel System (DTS). The traveler attempted to select the desired train reservations. To our dismay the travel was not able to select any reservation. I had them go on the Amtrak website and pick out some reason. I later discovered that you must also make a comment in the rail reservation screen of the reservation module to inform the Commercial Travel Office (CTO) of the Amtrak reservation. If you apply this function, the traveler is subject to an additional fee depending on your CTO contract. We checked virtually there three days prior to travel and no e-ticket. I thought may be the CTO office was busy. It probably was my fault since I waited until the day before travel to call to inquire with the CTO. I was informed Amtrak reservations are not issued electronically. In fact, Amtrak is still utilizing paper tickets. Since Amtrak only issues paper tickets, the traveler is responsible for making arrangements with the CTO for delivery of tickets. By this time, it was too late to have the federal expressed or pick them up at the CTO office. The traveler opted to just go to Amtrak and purchase the ticket using their individually billed account. In the end this was the best solution to the problem. We amended the authorization to show the rail tickets were personally procured.
My second experience happened a few months thereafter. The traveler had asked me about using the rail. I informed the traveler of the last incident and if he was going to use the rail to let me know. Of course, he came to me at the last minute telling me about his TDY trip. At this point, I’m thinking of my first experience and hoping nothing will go wrong. After jumping through many hoops, I was pleased to say that this turned out to be successful. I was able to communicate with the CTO to have the tickets federally expressed to the traveler. I was kind of nervous since the traveler was not in the local area. I followed up to ensure the traveler had received his paper tickets and no changes were required.
Most recently, I had a refresher course in as the DTS Administrator, we never once discussed about the Amtrak. My office was using the DTS two years before a traveler asked me about taking the Amtrak. I was told you could just make reservations through DTS and there should not be a problem. Since this time, try to educate my new travelers on Amtrak by presenting quarterly briefing on travel policy. One of the things I incorporated was travelers must inform me 10 business days prior to travel if using the Amtrak. This has worked out terrific for me. It gives me ample of time to actually make the arrangements through the CTO. My goal is to have the tickets delivered in at timely fashion. I understand the train saves the government money, but sometimes it’s just easier to catch the plane.
In my opinion, the Defense Travel Management Office should educate the travel managers more. This means beefing up the training courses for travel managers and re-writing their material. The process of book Amtrak reservation should not be complex, but in fact simple. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has a story like this. There are probably other travel managers who will experience the same scenario. I was kind of surprised to find out Amtrak can still issue paper tickets. They do not have to follow International Air Transportation Association rules. With all the technology in the world, you would think someone would find a way to get rid of Amtrak paper tickets.
By: Stacey Clark