New York By Rail 14th ed. - Page 74

MEET Amtrak Employees How did you come to work at Amtrak? I left the Navy after 14 years through early retirement. I was a chief petty officer, and I wasn’t looking to manage anything again. I wanted to get another career going. I started out as a contractor in 1999 in the Albany-Rensselaer station, running the commissary. Then a job opened up as a ticket agent at the station in 2007. I wanted a change, so I applied. With the district manager’s job, people encouraged me to apply and after some soul- searching I applied and got the job. I’ve managed the stations in the Albany-Rensselaer area and North Carolina. I’ve spent seven years as a district manager of stations, including the last two for Amtrak’s western New York region, which goes from Utica through Buffalo and Niagara Falls to Erie, Pennsylvania. Why did you hesitate? I wasn’t sure whether I had the leadership skills. We also get into train operations, and crews and station staff cooperation. We I f you’re a passenger who prefers buying your ticket at the train station ticket window rather than the kiosk, you’ll love Jim Gallagher. As a Syracuse Station agent who started his 36th year on the job in March, Jim’s favorite aspect of his job is meeting people. How did you start with Amtrak back in 1981? I had just gotten engaged. One of the stipulations of my taking the job was that I would need a week off that August for the wedding. Luckily, Amtrak agreed; the rest, as they say, is history. What’s kept you going all these years? Not to sound clichéd, but I really enjoy people, especially when they’re coming to the window for the first time. I like giving infor- 72 | New York By Rail make sure train gets into the station and out on time. What’s best about your job? I flat-out enjoy the challenges, the variety of issues. That’s what keeps me in it. What kinds of issues come up? Our number one focus is the safety of our customers and employees, but it’s also about improving each station through our partners—the State of New York, the cities that own the stations and the freight railroad companies—and our employees. Amtrak has changed from an almost 100 percent federally- funded unit to a for-profit unit, and our employees understand that we have to operate as a for-profit as best we can. Government funding is not always there for us. Our employees have been fantastic in accepting that change and dealing with its challenges. mation, making reservations, and I end the interaction with humor and a smile. When someone comes to the window, I’ll say, “Can I help you?” They’ll say, “I’m on train 284,” and I’ll say, “Not yet, you’re not!” and they’ll laugh. I like little quirky things like that. But you’ve got to be able to read people and know who to joke with. There’s a thin line between them getting a joke and thinking I’m being a wise-guy. What do you want passengers to know about your job? I’m on their side. I don’t work on commission, so I work with them to find the lowest fare. I’m here for them. If they need a wheelchair or help with their bags, I do that. My job has changed from just selling and issuing tickets to being more about customer service. I’m What does a good day look like? Recently, there was a teddy bear left in the Rochester station. As soon as I saw that bear in the lost baggage room, I knew it belonged to somebody. It was grungy— definitely well-used and loved. The employees researched who had boarded with children over the past few days, and called them. They ended up reuniting the teddy bear and child. That kind of thing happens all the time. We go above and beyond moving a passenger down the railroad line. If the station staff is almost invisible but still appreciated, they’re doing the right thing. What do you do when you’re not at work? I do a lot of model warship woodworking as a hobby. One ship takes up a whole winter. It’s a nice way to get me to spring. spending a lot more time on the other side of the window with people, and I enjoy that. Do you ever get asked hard questions? Sometimes I’ll get asked for information on hotels and rental cars. I’ve been on a lot of routes, so I like to tell them what to expect, but if someone asks me about attractions in a city I’m not familiar with, the computer’s a great tool. I try to help people out as much as I can. lasting impression on me. Everybody from the station here pulled together to get people off the train and to shelter. What’s your favorite Amtrak train? I have a daughter out in Portland, Oregon, so my favorite train is the Empire Builder. It takes my wife and me out there to see her on our vacations. What’s one of your favorite days on the job? I don’t know if I’d call it my best day, but my most memorable day was back in February 2001. One of our trains ran into the back of a freight train outside the Syracuse station. It was the first time I’d ever been thrown into a situation like that and it made a GALLAGHER A s a former Navy chief petty officer, Brian Sawyer joined Amtrak in 2007. He couldn’t be happier as district manager of stations for Amtrak’s western New York region, even in a time of change.