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Why are all meals included on the Auto Train?


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#1 GlobalistPotato

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 06:20 PM

I'm curious how that works out and why Amtrak does that on the AT.

I've heard that the sleeper pax's meals are a bit nicer, but could someone elaborate on this and show what the actual difference is? Preferably in pictures. Posted Image

#2 AlanB

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 06:54 PM

I'm less sure of the why, although I suspect that they include coach meals because they have a captive audience and in part because they include that amount in the charges for the car. It also probably helps to get the snow birds to ride the train.

The how is easy, the train runs with 2, sometimes 3 dining cars. One car is located in the middle of the sleepers, 3 on one side and either 2 or 3 on the other, and is used only by sleeping car passengers. The coach dining cars are always at the southern end of the passenger section of the train. This is how they control the food content that each "class" gets.

As for the meals, I have no pictures. But for example one year when I rode the AT, sleeping car passengers had Filet Mignon medalions as one of their choices. Coach passengers had a strip steak as one of their choices. At one time only sleeper pax got free wine with their dinner, but that perk has now been extended to coach pax too. However, it's my understanding (I haven't sampled the coaches) that the sleeper diner gets better wine choices.

Breakfast is the same for both.
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#3 PRR 60

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 07:52 PM

The practice of free meals for all passengers on the Auto Train is a legacy of the service provided on the original, privately run Auto Train. When the Auto Train began service in 1971, free meals for passengers, much less free wine, was not the practice for US passenger rail in any class of service. The Auto Train provided that for all passengers - coach and sleeper. The Auto Train touted the perk in advertising, and it was a selling point. When Amtrak acquired the Lorton and Sanford terminals and the cars of the bankrupt Auto Train corporation in in 1983, it is my understanding that the continuation of the prior service levels was a condition of the purchase. I can't confirm that detail, but that is what I have heard.

It is my opinion that the clearly better and well publicized on board service levels provided by the private Auto Train was a thorn in the side of Amtrak and was at least partly responsible for Amtrak moving to provide free meals to sleeper passengers system wide. In its day, the Auto Train took great delight in pointing out the benefits it gave to passengers which contrasted starkly with the often criticized service provided by Amtrak's in its early days (itself a legacy of the pre-Amtrak service levels). Amtrak certainly took notice of that, and made changes so as to not look as second rate.

#4 railiner

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 11:42 PM

Another reason is the unique market the auto train serves...all passengers travel the same (entire) journey. There are no intermediate station stops. So everyone pretty much has the same dining requirements. With economy of scale, it is probably easier to plan and produce meals for all, and just include them in the fare.
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#5 Shanghai

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 04:57 AM

Does the Auto Train have a snack bar / lounge car?
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#6 amtrakwolverine

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 05:19 AM

I have also read via trip reports that no soft drinks are available to coach paxs in the dinner. If you want a can of soda you got to buy it in the lounge car cafe before going to the coach diner.

#7 Cho Cho Charlie

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 06:06 AM

I also wonder if it is also that even coach passengers on the AT pay a hefty fare due to the charge for their car. I mean, compare the total fare of one coach passenger with a car on the AT, with the fare of one coach passenger on a Silver from WAS to ORL.
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#8 dlagrua

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 07:41 AM

I also wonder if it is also that even coach passengers on the AT pay a hefty fare due to the charge for their car. I mean, compare the total fare of one coach passenger with a car on the AT, with the fare of one coach passenger on a Silver from WAS to ORL.


If you price the cost of transporting a car from Lorton to Sanford and do a comparison, the Amtrak cost is less. Also bear in mind that there are far fewer automobiles in one auto carriers than there are passengers in one coach and autos are heavier.
As for Shanghai's question, yes there are lounge cars on the Autotrain and I believe that the bar stays open until 10 or 11 PM. Its not a sightseer lounge but one that looks like a dining car. They usually play G rated movies in the eveining after dinner time.
As for the included meals; the Amtrak primary passenger audience on the A/T are vacationers, families with small children going to Disney (or to see their parents), snowbird seniors commuting to and from Florida to the NE/Mid ATl area. Occasionally there are a couple of "college trains" but I could take up many more lines about the stories that were told to me by the onboard staff. I would imagine that with the demographic that rides this train; including the meals is the best way to keep everyone happy and coming back. The Autotrain is almost always crowded and it is rare for us to come across anyone who has ridden this train only once so Amtrak is making all the right moves.

#9 RyanS

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 08:00 AM

If you price the cost of transporting a car from Lorton to Sanford and do a comparison, the Amtrak cost is less.

I'd love to see what this comparison is based on.
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#10 Cho Cho Charlie

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 10:23 AM

If you price the cost of transporting a car from Lorton to Sanford and do a comparison, the Amtrak cost is less.

I'd love to see what this comparison is based on.


Me too, since I was comparing Amtrak AT fares to Amtrak non-AT fares (but still Amtrak to Amtrak).

My point was that even AT coach passengers are paying a premium price, and therefore not really "no frills" passengers. Kind of like the way the Acela is BC and FC, and no coach because of the premium being paid for faster travel.

Maybe the AT should rename their "coach class" to something sounding better?
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#11 dlagrua

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 11:46 AM

If you price the cost of transporting a car from Lorton to Sanford and do a comparison, the Amtrak cost is less.

I'd love to see what this comparison is based on.


You're obviously a "doubting Thomas" and never shipped a car. Since I am a car collector I have shipped a few. If you contact any one of a number of car moving companys (they are online); interstate shipment of an automobile can easily run you $1.00-$1.50 per mile. If you lucked out you may find someone to do the VA to Florida run for $800 but that would be on the low side.
The only way to get it for less would be if you are one of the large automakers that ship in bulk via rail and truck but for a noncommercial shipment you are looking at a few bucks. There are also car driving services that will move cars for you. They are less expensive but they are putting miles on your car and you pay the gas. Amtrak is by far the best buy and to attract the rail passenger it has to be.

#12 RyanS

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 12:42 PM

As I thought - that's what other companies can and do charge to move cars.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the marginal costs that Amtrak incurs when transporting a car on the Auto Train. A good analysis would start with the cost of an AutoRack, divided by the number of cars that it'll carry over it's lifetime. Then add in the marginal cost of fuel to haul that car (plus its share of gas for the AutoRack itself) and then maintance money and the switching crews required to assemble the trains every day.

Once you've got an idea of how much it costs Amtrak to move your car, then you can compare it to what Amtrak charges and make some sense out of the situation. What other carriers charge to move your car has no bearing on the situation.
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#13 AlanB

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 02:20 PM

Does the Auto Train have a snack bar / lounge car?


Yes, the AT runs with two lounge cars; one for sleeper pax and one for coach pax.
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#14 dlagrua

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 02:22 PM

As I thought - that's what other companies can and do charge to move cars.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the marginal costs that Amtrak incurs when transporting a car on the Auto Train. A good analysis would start with the cost of an AutoRack, divided by the number of cars that it'll carry over it's lifetime. Then add in the marginal cost of fuel to haul that car (plus its share of gas for the AutoRack itself) and then maintance money and the switching crews required to assemble the trains every day.

Once you've got an idea of how much it costs Amtrak to move your car, then you can compare it to what Amtrak charges and make some sense out of the situation. What other carriers charge to move your car has no bearing on the situation.

The poster originally asked why you pay a hefty fare to take your car along and I disagreed that its expensive. My response was pointing out the alternative cost of transporting an automobile from point A to point B nothing more. If the poster believed that the auto transportation charge was high, comparatively speaking Amtrak is the most economical way to do it. If you wish to debate the reasons the Autotrain car transport is less expensive thats a completely different point. Saving money transporting your car is the bottom line and Amtrak is the price leader.

#15 AlanB

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 02:26 PM

As for Shanghai's question, yes there are lounge cars on the Autotrain and I believe that the bar stays open until 10 or 11 PM. Its not a sightseer lounge but one that looks like a dining car. They usually play G rated movies in the eveining after dinner time.


They look like dining cars because that's what they were originally, dining cars. Auto Train shop personnel in Sanford converted 5 Superliner I diners into special lounge cars. Special in that half the car on the upper level can either work as a lounge car or as overflow seating from the dining car. The other half is strictly lounge car, as is the downstairs area, which also has a special enclosed room for smokers.

There is also 1, perhaps 2, Sightseer lounge cars that have been specially altered to serve as lounge cars on the AT. They too have table seating on one end and the smoker's penalty box on the lower level.
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#16 AlanB

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 02:32 PM


If you price the cost of transporting a car from Lorton to Sanford and do a comparison, the Amtrak cost is less.

I'd love to see what this comparison is based on.


Me too, since I was comparing Amtrak AT fares to Amtrak non-AT fares (but still Amtrak to Amtrak).

My point was that even AT coach passengers are paying a premium price, and therefore not really "no frills" passengers. Kind of like the way the Acela is BC and FC, and no coach because of the premium being paid for faster travel.

Maybe the AT should rename their "coach class" to something sounding better?


Checking a random date for next September a trip on either Silver from DC to Orlando costs $101, low bucket. Pricing the Auto Train for the same date shows a low bucket of $93 one way. So I'm not sure how the AT passenger is paying a premium for their seat. They're paying 8 bucks less for their seat in fact.

It's not until you add in the car charges, which include transporting the car and the meals, that the AT becomes more expensive.
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#17 RyanS

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 02:51 PM

I assumed that's what he was talking about - that the coach prices were roughly the same, but you had to pay a premium (the car charge) to get that seat on the Auto Train.

I think that his idea to rename Coach Class on the Auto Train a good one, since the meals are included with the fare. Business Class doesn't quite cut it (and would lead to yet another class of service with the same name but different amenities). Economy Class? That doesn't have such a positive ring to me, but it's unique (in Amtrak's system) and descriptive.
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#18 jimhudson

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 05:22 PM

Since Ive Never been on A Florida train (Silvers or Auto Train) Wondering if, Since having a Vehicle is Mandatory to Ride, If there is a Site to Share Trips with Single Travelers or Even Families w a Vehicle Since to My Way of Thinking the Coach Fare which Includes Meals is a Bargain???

Auto-Coach Class Sounds About Right IMO!

Edited by jimhudson, 20 April 2011 - 07:37 PM.

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#19 Cho Cho Charlie

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 07:16 PM

I assumed that's what he was talking about - that the coach prices were roughly the same, but you had to pay a premium (the car charge) to get that seat on the Auto Train.


Yep. Thanks.

I think that his idea to rename Coach Class on the Auto Train a good one, since the meals are included with the fare. Business Class doesn't quite cut it (and would lead to yet another class of service with the same name but different amenities). Economy Class? That doesn't have such a positive ring to me, but it's unique (in Amtrak's system) and descriptive.


Yea, Business Class doesn't seem right. I don't think there are many business travelers on the AT either.

Second Class sounds, well, second rate.

Leisure Class? Lounger Class? Recliner Class?

Comfort Class? Comfette Class? :giggle:

Edited by Cho Cho Charlie, 20 April 2011 - 07:19 PM.

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#20 AlanB

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Posted 20 April 2011 - 07:49 PM


I assumed that's what he was talking about - that the coach prices were roughly the same, but you had to pay a premium (the car charge) to get that seat on the Auto Train.


Yep. Thanks.

I think that his idea to rename Coach Class on the Auto Train a good one, since the meals are included with the fare. Business Class doesn't quite cut it (and would lead to yet another class of service with the same name but different amenities). Economy Class? That doesn't have such a positive ring to me, but it's unique (in Amtrak's system) and descriptive.


Yea, Business Class doesn't seem right. I don't think there are many business travelers on the AT either.

Second Class sounds, well, second rate.

Leisure Class? Lounger Class? Recliner Class?

Comfort Class? Comfette Class? :giggle:


Since it's quite clear on one's ticket, or eTicket now, that one is paying X for a seat and Y for the car, I see no need to call coach seating anything other than coach seating. The charge for your car appears in the accomodation charge box, just like if you brought a sleeper on a regular train. The coach charge is still called railfare like it always is. This coach seat is identical to every other LD coach seat in Amtrak's system. The meals are part of the accomodation charge, not part of the railfare.

You get the same things in coach on all LD trains. So no need to call it anything else IMHO.

It's not like Acela Business Class where instead of the normal Business Class perks, one only gets a slightly faster transit time. That's what needs a name change, either that or BC on all the other trains.
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