What It's Like to Work at Amtrak

FRAMINGHAM (07/03/2000) - Interviewee: Nick Doggett, director of information technology, distributed systems groupCompany: Amtrak (officially named National Railroad Passenger Corp.)Main location: WashingtonTenure: Since 1997Number of IT employees: Just shy of 400 in Washington; another 50 located at train stations, sales offices and a mainframe data center in VirginiaNumber of employees: 25,000; most, but not all, are considered IT end usersMajor IT systems: A reservation and ticketing system running on IBM mainframes using a transaction processing facility; a mainframe-based scheduling system; a Unix-based data warehouse for analyzing revenue and ridership data; a number of Windows NT-based applications; an Internet-based QuickTrack automated ticketing system installed at all 240 train stations nationwide; and an online ticket-reservation system. "We also provide a lot of the fiber that the Internet runs on."

New IT initiatives: "We're in the midst of a major project to improve the underlying technology of our Internet booking system; deploying the Fare Collection and On-Board Food and Beverage Sales systems; systems to support the Acela Express, the new high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor [scheduled to open this summer]; and systems for a new mail and express-delivery business for large palletized packages."

What's unique about "working on the railroad all the live-long day?" "That's definitely part of the appeal of being in IT here. We have quite a few railroad buffs who work here. ... And a lot of our offices are right by our train stations, so you'll be on a conference call and hear the trains chugging and the whistles blowing in the background."

Biggest misconception about working at Amtrak: "People think we're part of the federal government, but we're actually a private company."

Career development: "The IT positions here are well defined, and the career paths for each position are reviewed fairly regularly in concert with human resources to make sure the organization is competitive with comparable industries."

Bonus programs: "We all share in [incentive-based bonuses] for meeting annual revenue and ridership targets."

Dress code: Business casual every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day; business attire the rest of the year, with business-casual FridaysWorkday: "I put in half an hour on my laptop on the train on my way to the office. I usually get in before 8 a.m. and leave about 5:30 p.m."

Come on. Really? "We don't put in a lot of late nights except when we have a system cutover. During the early stages of the rollout of our new networks into the stations, there were a lot of late nights."

Number of telecommuters in IT: A few applications developers and some contracters.

On-site day care? No.

In-house cafeteria/food service: "There are plenty of great places to eat nearby."

The one thing everyone complains about: "Space has been an issue, but that may be temporary because we had staffed up [with contract IT workers] for our high-speed rail and marketing initiatives, and now that we're scaling back on the contract employees, that's freeing up space."

Where the office gossips: "We have a lovely rooftop area in our building."

Office mascot: "If we had one, we'd name him Spike, for railroad spikes - some people have those on their desk."

Little perks: Travel benefits, Employee Appreciation Days at the National Zoo and other venues and IT group get-togethers.

Would employees feel comfortable e-mailing the CEO, George Warrington? "Anyone who does have reservations about it shouldn't, because George is a no-nonsense businessman whose heart is with Amtrak and whose door is open to all employees."

Quote: "The stodgy old railroad isn't stodgy anymore."

- Leslie Goff (lgoff@ix.netcom.com).

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