Tricia Saunders’ #AmtrakStories
Tricia “Patty” Saunders is a familiar face to many—although they probably don’t know her name. In her role as a public relations ambassador for Amtrak in 1972, Saunders traveled the country promoting the new company’s services and also modeled in early Amtrak photo shoots.
Talking with Saunders, it’s clear that from an early age she had a sense of wanderlust, a desire to travel and see the world. The train bug bit her early, and in a March 1971 newspaper article she told a reporter: “The thought of going back to an office job is just awful. After this, nothing else is quite the same.” In the course of her 33 year Amtrak career, Saunders lived in approximately 20 cities.
In her first Amtrak position – as a Passenger Service Representative (PSR) – Saunders was “the eyes and ears of Amtrak.” She assisted customers on the train, listened to their complaints and compliments regarding Amtrak service, talked about future company initiatives and passed on ideas for improvement to management. Back then, she also wore Amtrak uniforms that reflected the current 70’s style trends, which included go-go boots in different shades.
Following two years as a PSR, Saunders became a sales representative in California, but then headed east again to work for Station Services at Amtrak Headquarters. She subsequently served as a station supervisor at Washington Union Station. To pursue a long-held dream of acting, she left Amtrak and returned to Los Angeles. Saunders worked at the famed Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood while belonging to a local theatre group, and she was in numerous theatre productions in the Los Angeles area.
Within a year Saunders was back at Amtrak, this time as an On Board Service employee, a position she held for the remainder of her career. Train attendants work on coach or sleeping cars. In general, they greet passengers at each station, assign seating areas, assist with luggage, keep the car spotless and answer general questions—from describing passing landmarks to giving a preview of the dining car menu. In addition, a sleeping car attendant makes up the beds in a roomette or bedroom, ensures that shower areas are stocked with towels and toiletries and may also deliver meals to a passenger’s room upon request.
Saunders especially liked working the many long-distance trains, including the California Zephyr and Empire Builder “At night, you can look out the conductor’s window and see the magnificent stars and simply enjoy the amazing views.” Over two decades, she interacted with a wide range of people from around the world, including singers Ella Fitzgerald and Dolly Parton.
Many of her best memories relate to her coworkers: “Crews get very close and it was sad when the group would break up, but that was an opportunity to make new friends. By the end, I knew somebody on every train.” Social media has provided new ways for Saunders and her former SCL and Amtrak coworkers to reconnect.
Looking back at her career, Saunders concludes: “It’s hard work, but rewarding…you can’t compare passenger railroading to anything else. You have to love the public and be understanding.” Her advice to the next generation of Amtrak employees: “Make the most of it, including the bonds you’ll make with all kinds of people.”