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AMTRAK - Falling meal tray
On the morning of January 31, 1995, I boarded Train #463 from Springfield, Massachusetts en route to Penn Station, New York, a route I have been travelling for over ten years. As I am accustomed to doing, I pulled out my notebook computer shortly after leaving Springfield and began my day's work. At some point between Hartford and New Haven, where there are stretches of rough track, the meal tray attached to the back of the seat in front of me sprang free of the mechanism that holds it in place, and came crashing down on my computer, splitting the screen casing open and causing my hard drive to fail.

I reported the incident to a crew member in New Haven. He instructed me to file a property damage claim, but did not take down a report. I filed a claim on February 7. A few weeks later, C. Fred Kleykamp, a supervisor with Amtrak's claim department in New Haven, CT, wrote me a perfunctory letter indicating they could not entertain the claim because "none of the [crew members] could recall the incident as having been reported," and referred me to my homeowner's insurance carrier as a possible remedy.

After receiving that reply, I wrote Amtrak President and CEO Thomas Downs to express my dismay with the way Amtrak had handled the claim. I also inquired about the safety issue and whether the trays were being inspected. I received a letter back from Customer Satisfaction Advisor Brian Bolger, boasting of Amtrak's mission to "consistently deliver high-quality, safe service that exceeds our customer's expectations." The problem surrounding the defective tray latches was never acknowledged in any of the correspondence I received from Amtrak. Furthermore, I have not been assured, personally or otherwise, that the matter was being investigated or will be resolved.

The turn knobs that hold the trays in place vibrate and become loose when travelling over rough track. They were adopted from the airlines, which don't have the problem. And while it may be expensive for Amtrak to replace the latches on all of the cars, it's surely a fraction of the cost of settling a wrongful death suit. That's right. If the force of the tray springing free was great enough to split open the screen of my laptop computer, I shudder to think what it would do to the skull of an infant being held in his mother's lap.

I have since informed Mark Yachmetz, Chief of the Passenger Program Division at the Federal Railroad Administration in Washington, D.C. of the situation and am awaiting his response. I feel my concerns are legitimate and just want to make other Amtrak travellers aware of the possible danger.

Jeff Evans, USA

TravelASSIST Magazine is currently attempting to contact Amtrak personel. The general opinion of those that frequent rail related News Groups is that this is a rare occurance. Most agree that it would be a good idea to check the fastener which holds the meal tray in its upright position before placing anything in its possilbe path.

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