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Guest Jeff T

Breakfast at Train Origination

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The vast majority of long distance Amtrak trains seem to leave right after a meal service would normally be scheduled. The few that leave at or just before a meal service generally serve a single abbreviated meal seating.

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It seems to me the west of CHI LD trains I ride originate when they do to optimally place the train relative to nice scenery on the route. on day 2 &/or 3 of the route, with meals falling where they may in the schedule.

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The TE out of SAS leaves at 7AM so breakfast can be served. The EB departs before Dinner both East and west. The CZ, SWC, and TE depart CHI in the afternoon so the first meal is Dinner. The SL leaves LAX at 10PM so no meal until the next morning. The SWC serves dinner after leaving LAX. The CS departs LAX before lunch, the same out of Seattle. The SL departs NOL too late to serve btrakfast, buy you will get lunch and dinner before SAS.

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It seems to me the west of CHI LD trains I ride originate when they do to optimally place the train relative to nice scenery on the route. on day 2 &/or 3 of the route, with meals falling where they may in the schedule.

The westbound California Zephyr leaving at 8AM out of DEN seems reasonably well planned for lots of daylight viewing, but the eastbound Empire Builder leaving SEA/PDX just before 5PM seems to be wasting a lot of scenic beauty under the cover of nightfall.

 

Now take a moment to consider how the following trains seem timed to just miss a scheduled meal at their origin or terminus.

 

Sunset Limited departing New Orleans (9AM)

 

Sunset Limited arriving at Los Angeles (5:30AM)

 

Coast Starlight departing Seattle (9AM)

 

Coast Starlight departing Los Angeles (10AM)

 

California Zephyr departing Emeryville (9AM)

 

Texas Eagle departing Chicago (2PM)

 

California Zephyr departing Chicago (2PM)

 

Southwest Chief departing Chicago (3PM)

 

Sunset Limited departing Los Angeles (10PM)

 

That honestly seems like more examples than I would expect to see from simple coincidence. Even when a route does happen to serve a meal just after departure or just before arrival it's almost always an extremely limited selection of two or three quick fix meals. Personally I believe the evidence of meal based scheduling is reasonably strong, even if it's not 100% perfect across the board.

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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Out of the considerations Amtrak gives to scheduling, I'd be surprised if a large portion of any scheduler's mindset is "how can we avoid serving one meal." I'll admit, the westbound transfers in Chicago are conveniently placed over the lunch period so Amtrak doesn't have to serve lunch, but eastbound the timing for the Capitol Limited and the Cardinal both allow a relatively full-length supper on board.

Especially for the long-distance trains, I'd imagine the timing is significantly more impacted by "how can we time the trains to allow most people to transfer between them in a single direction of travel" and "how can we have a decent calling time at the origin/destination" than it is "how can we serve the least amount of meals on board." A fair amount of the examples given are either Chicago connections, where they're all pretty stacked to make connections from the eastern trains to the western trains as seamless as possible while allowing for delays, or leaving after breakfast, which could be as much of a decision to make the departure time a more desirable hour for passengers (a 9:30 AM departure is a lot easier/more pleasant to get to than a 6:30 AM departure) as it is a "let's not serve breakfast" decision.

Looking at the specific trains on your list, most of them fit either the "leave late morning instead of early morning" criteria:

Sunset Limited departing New Orleans (9AM)

Coast Starlight departing Seattle (9AM)

Coast Starlight departing Los Angeles (10AM)

California Zephyr departing Emeryville (9AM)


or the "use Chicago as a stacked east/west transfer hub" criteria:

Texas Eagle departing Chicago (2PM)

California Zephyr departing Chicago (2PM)

Southwest Chief departing Chicago (3PM)


This leaves us with only two left, both regarding the Sunset Limited at LAX.

Sunset Limited departing Los Angeles (10PM)

Sunset Limited arriving at Los Angeles (5:30AM)


The 10 PM departure is almost certainly to try and allow a transfer from the Coast Starlight if possible. The CS gets in LAX at 9:00 PM, and the connection, if I remember correctly, is at least often allowed as a guaranteed transfer.

 

The 5:30 AM arrival into LAX is probably a mix of "don't want to have to deal with rush hour at LAX" and allowing the CS connection northbound. Push it until after rush hour ends and you're probably too tight to account for delays along the way.

 

Could some of the decisions be influenced by being able to time meals at transfer points? Maybe, but the only real place where that happens on a large scale is the Chicago east coast train to west coast train transfers. I wouldn't doubt that part of the timing decision was that it'd allow Amtrak to not have to worry about lunch for transferring passengers, but it doesn't seem to be enough of a call to push the eastbound Cardinal or the Capitol Limited to later times so they don't have to serve supper. I certainly don't think Amtrak's intentionally making "avoid serving meals" a top scheduling priority.

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Out of the considerations Amtrak gives to scheduling, I'd be surprised if a large portion of any scheduler's mindset is "how can we avoid serving one meal."

It's not one meal. It's closer to a dozen meals. Served to thousands of passengers. Meals that on paper cost Amtrak a net loss of twenty or thirty dollars to stock, prepare, and serve. Per person, per day. In a company that has the unusual task of begging an adversarial government for continued funding and a long history of being micromanaged at the Food and Beverage level. By moving train schedules an hour or two in this or that direction they could potentially be saving millions of dollars per month on a line item that receives an exceptional amount of attention by the people who fund Amtrak.

 

 

Especially for the long-distance trains, I'd imagine the timing is significantly more impacted by "how can we time the trains to allow most people to transfer between them in a single direction of travel" and "how can we have a decent calling time at the origin/destination" than it is "how can we serve the least amount of meals on board."

Feel free to imagine whatever you want but so far you've provided no specific argument that precludes meal service as a determining factor. Rather than openly accepting that our theories are inclusive of each other, you simply went down my list of examples casually trading one assumption for another in an arbitrary fashion. A theory or premise is not logically disqualified by the mere existence of a competing theory or premise. Our personal biases shape our perspectives and influence our assumptions, but that doesn't mean they should be allowed to dictate our conclusions.

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The 98 out of Miami serves breakfast until after West Palm Beach ( scheduled departure from WPB is 9:47 AM).

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Amtrak Forum

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Out of the considerations Amtrak gives to scheduling, I'd be surprised if a large portion of any scheduler's mindset is "how can we avoid serving one meal."

It's not one meal. It's closer to a dozen meals. Served to thousands of passengers. Meals that on paper cost Amtrak a net loss of twenty or thirty dollars to stock, prepare, and serve. Per person, per day. In a company that has the unusual task of begging an adversarial government for continued funding and a long history of being micromanaged at the Food and Beverage level. By moving train schedules an hour or two in this or that direction they could potentially be saving millions of dollars per month on a line item that receives an exceptional amount of attention by the people who fund Amtrak.

 

 

Especially for the long-distance trains, I'd imagine the timing is significantly more impacted by "how can we time the trains to allow most people to transfer between them in a single direction of travel" and "how can we have a decent calling time at the origin/destination" than it is "how can we serve the least amount of meals on board."

Feel free to imagine whatever you want but so far you've provided no specific argument that precludes meal service as a determining factor. Rather than openly accepting that our theories are inclusive of each other, you simply went down my list of examples casually trading one assumption for another in an arbitrary fashion. A theory or premise is not logically disqualified by the mere existence of a competing theory or premise. Our personal biases shape our perspectives and influence our assumptions, but that doesn't mean they should be allowed to dictate our conclusions.

 

 

You sure find a lot of things to get upset about.

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Sunset Limited departing New Orleans (9AM)

 

Sunset Limited arriving at Los Angeles (5:30AM)

 

Coast Starlight departing Seattle (9AM)

 

Coast Starlight departing Los Angeles (10AM)

 

California Zephyr departing Emeryville (9AM)

 

Texas Eagle departing Chicago (2PM)

 

California Zephyr departing Chicago (2PM)

 

Southwest Chief departing Chicago (3PM)

 

Sunset Limited departing Los Angeles (10PM)

 

For most of these, if you adjust the schedule to include the meal right after departure, then you'd be cutting out the meal just prior to arrival. For example, if you have the Southwest Chief leave Chicago at 12:00 to allow for lunch on day 1, then you have a scheduled arrival in Los Angeles of 5:15 AM, which is too early for breakfast on day 3. If the northbound Coast Starlight leaves Los Angeles early enough for breakfast, then it arrives in Seattle too early for dinner. And so on.

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You sure find a lot of things to get upset about.

I'm in the camp that thinks Amtrak dining is nothing special, so why would I be upset at having less of their bland precooked pantry food to waste? This is merely an observation attempting to explain an opaque decision making process. If you wish to critique the merits of my position be my guest. If you're just here to attack the messenger then feel free to run along.

 

 

 

Coast Starlight departing Los Angeles (10AM)

Southwest Chief departing Chicago (3PM)

For most of these, if you adjust the schedule to include the meal right after departure, then you'd be cutting out the meal just prior to arrival. For example, if you have the Southwest Chief leave Chicago at 12:00 to allow for lunch on day 1, then you have a scheduled arrival in Los Angeles of 5:15 AM, which is too early for breakfast on day 3. If the northbound Coast Starlight leaves Los Angeles early enough for breakfast, then it arrives in Seattle too early for dinner. And so on.

That's a good point to consider. I'll have to take a deeper dive later but this does sound like a legitimate disqualifier.

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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Amtrak is in a strange middle ground in between airplanes (board right before take-off, take your seat, stay in your seat, we will let you know when you are allowed to get up or request a coffee) and other forms of casual transit such as boats and first class trains in other parts of the world that allow you to board early and settle in to to your cabin, go straight to the lounge if you like, etc.

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So you would rather have the CZ depart CHI at 11 am?:huh: You could then serve lunch!

 

But instead, you may miss the connection in CHI for all the passengers from the CL and the LSL if either of those are late. Not to mention that it may get dark before GJT, thereby missing some of the best scenery!

 

And if they schedule the SL to arrive later in LAX, that would necessarily mean it would have to depart SAS at a later time!:o If I recall, I remember you saying that the SL arrives and departs SAS at a late hour. Now you are saying that you want it even later? And you do not care if it misses the connection with the CS?:huh:

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Guest Jeff T

Interesting discussion, which makes me wonder about an earlier part of my PDX-CHI/CHI-NO/NO-LAX trip. I've been told food will be served on the Empire Builder leaving Portland, but isn't the diner on the Seattle section?

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The cold boxed dinner served out of PDX to sleeper passengers is (IMO) one of the best meals served on Amtrak!:)

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The cold boxed dinner served out of PDX to sleeper passengers is (IMO) one of the best meals served on Amtrak! :)

 

I do not agree. I had the dinner this fall and was not overly impressed.

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I've had the cold dinner and liked it. I have some of the choices are better than others for the entree. I guess I've always picked the good ones because I've always liked them.

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The meal out of PDX was decent. It was a nice change of pace from standard Amtrak fare, but I'm still more of a fan of a hot entree for dinner.

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The cold boxed dinner served out of PDX to sleeper passengers is (IMO) one of the best meals served on Amtrak! :)

I guess it depends on the menu rotation. I would prefer a side salad, grilled to order salmon and baked potato vs. any cold boxed entree. Ha.

 

But The boxed meals on the Builder do the job. I've only has the dinner once, and I feel like the sleeper attendant made a big difference. It seems odd that your only choices for a drink are coffee, juice and bottled water.

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It has been several years since I took the Crescent out of New Orleans at 7am and can't remember if they served breakfast. I am thinking they did but not sure. Thanks.

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It has been several years since I took the Crescent out of New Orleans at 7am and can't remember if they served breakfast. I am thinking they did but not sure. Thanks.

Yep, "..Nothing could be finer than Breakfast in the Diner.." as the Crescent crosses the Causeway across the Lake heading for Mississippi as the Sun comes up!😎

Edited by Bob Dylan

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