Experiential service class on long distance routes

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by lordsigma, Mar 24, 2019.

Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

  1. Mar 24, 2019 #1

    lordsigma

    l

    lordsigma

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2017
    Messages:
    462
    Amtrak’s five year service Line report clearly indicates that Amtrak is interested in focusing and marketing the premium services on certain long distance routes to experiential travelers and to try to reach younger experiential travelers. While it is probably wise to tailor the PREMIUM products to such riders it is also important they not forget why the routes are federally funded (to provide essential transportation to certain rural areas.) it’s certainly possible to do both, the Canadian is an example of a train that targets such travelers but also serves an essential purpose. There is an interest in redesigning the sleeper and diner spaces to directly focus on train aficionados both of younger and older ages and those traveling for the train travel experience. They would like to implement this on a beta train to gauge the customer reaction and then make decisions on whether to implement this elsewhere. The two night long distance trains seem to be the focus. I would imagine this would likely be coupled to a superliner interior refresh. It will be certainly interesting to see what this looks like. Amtrak seems to want to bring more younger riders into the long distance product while also continuing to cater to retirees and older riders. Will be interesting to see how they try to cater to both. I’m sure whether folks ultimately support this depends on what it ends up entailing and what the sleeper and diner experience looks like in this model. If they are genuine in this desire, it seems the Canadian would be a good influence to look at.
     
  2. Mar 24, 2019 #2

    jis

    jis

    jis

    Conductor AU Lifetime Supporter Gathering Team Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2003
    Messages:
    24,175
    Location:
    Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
    The Canadian is far from a model for serving a transportation purpose though. The Ocean is probably a more appropriate model.
     
    neroden likes this.
  3. Mar 24, 2019 #3

    lordsigma

    l

    lordsigma

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2017
    Messages:
    462
    Does the Canadian not serve any rural markets that rely on it?
     
  4. Mar 24, 2019 #4

    Skyline

    Skyline

    Skyline

    OBS Chief

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2016
    Messages:
    505

    Not very well. OTP makes it unlikely rural pax can depend on it for mere transportation.
     
  5. Mar 24, 2019 #5

    lordsigma

    l

    lordsigma

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2017
    Messages:
    462
    Well that I understand and OTP needs to be the number one priority. But I do think it makes sense to try to improve the marketing and experience for the sleeper, lounge, and diner spaces to try to increase opportunities for revenue. I guess by referencing the Canadian I meant the premium services offered on such but not necessarily the fact that they only vaguely operate on any kind of schedule. If these trains are going to have these cars for the prices they charge (which aren’t part of the basic transportation needs) I do think improving the product in a way that tries to increase revenues makes sense. But also remembering that they have a duty to serve the communities along the way is also critical which means focusing on OTP as well (which also would attract more experiential riders if the trains were more timely.)
     
  6. Mar 24, 2019 #6

    Just-Thinking-51

    Just-Thinking-51

    Just-Thinking-51

    Conductor AU Lifetime Supporter AU Supporter

    Joined:
    Sep 18, 2009
    Messages:
    1,670
    Location:
    USA
    Flavor of the month.

    Ever wonder if the staff at Amtrak has ADHD. Or just a short term memory loss.

    Wine and cheese tasting, Well prepared fresh foods, flowers on the table, newspaper, lounge cars for sleeper pax, and gift bags.

    This type/level of service has been done before. Just repackaged the old with a new red bow .


    Add WiFi, just in time for it replaced with the next thing.
     
    neroden and PaTrainFan like this.
  7. Mar 24, 2019 #7

    Maglev

    Maglev

    Maglev

    OBS Chief

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2016
    Messages:
    682
    Location:
    Orcas Island, Washington
    I have wondered if there might be some different dispatching for an experiential train. Would it work to, for example, sell tickets from Los Angeles to Chicago on a train that just fits in with the freight flow, and maybe only has an approximate arrival time at its destination? (Isn't this sort of what the Canadian does?)
     
  8. Mar 24, 2019 #8

    Amtrakfflyer

    A

    Amtrakfflyer

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2005
    Messages:
    288
    I still don’t buy the premise younger riders don’t ride Amtrak. How do you appeal to younger riders to make their ride more enjoyable right now today? Run trains on time and lower dining car prices to start. On our 6 night trip over the holidays. The trains were packed with people in their 20-30’s. What I noticed more than once was younger people upon being seated in the diner and seeing the menu asking to order the Hot Dog kids meal specifically for cost purposes. We need a $12 burger, chips, soda special “in” the dining car for dinner. Our last meal of the trip was with a 20 year old girl she was going to get up to leave until we offered to pay for her dinner. Great meal, great conversation.

    Along the same lines younger people want a useable lounge to mix, mingle, drink, work on laptops. That’s where contemporary dining hurts coach passengers more. No diner but it also makes the lounge less attractive since it’s so busy. Same can be said of most Amfleet LD trains. The Amfleet snack car on the Palmeto, Stars, etc isn’t as enjoyable as a Sightseer on the Superliners.

    Really none of this has to do with age at all. This is all stuff that everyone would benefit from including Amtrak.

    Talked my wife into another trip 4/9 GBB to Sac see family and fly home. Our daughter just turned 1 so she’s racking up miles at a young age. Be interesting to see what a non holiday 2 night trip looks like ridership wise.

    One last thought. I hope their idea of experimental isn’t $7000 fancy rooms and lounge access ala the Canadians prestige class.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2019
    daybeers, neroden, PaTrainFan and 2 others like this.
  9. Mar 24, 2019 #9

    Amtrakfflyer

    A

    Amtrakfflyer

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2005
    Messages:
    288
    Flavor of the month..
    Bingo.

    That was the Coast Starlight of 10 years ago. Parlour car, wine, cookies etc.
     
    oregon pioneer likes this.
  10. Mar 24, 2019 #10

    cocojacoby

    c

    cocojacoby

    Service Attendant

    Joined:
    May 13, 2014
    Messages:
    182
    I think there are two markets lumped together here.

    The younger crowd is not looking for luxurious accommodations and probably are more suited to DeltaOne type mini-suites at low fares. Forgive me for not suggesting stacked dorm type shared rooms like they have in Europe and Asia. Also they would want to get off and maybe hike or bike in the National Parks and other remote areas along the way.

    On the other end of the spectrum you have the older affluent "cruise type" passenger who may just want the super expensive luxurious accommodation with high-end service like Rocky Mountaineer perhaps. They might also want escorted tours to the same National Parks and other points of interest along the way.

    I don't know how luxurious Amtrak could make a Superliner bedroom. If we are going to fantasize about the ultimate accommodation, I would suggest Ultradomes with glass dome roof bedrooms.

    http://trainweb.org/ultradomes/crm/lcsctour.html
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2019
  11. Mar 24, 2019 #11

    crescent-zephyr

    c

    crescent-zephyr

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2015
    Messages:
    1,516
    The “younger crowd” is either going to be happy with coach, or can afford a roomette. I don’t think there is an in between.

    Improve customer service, and offer the “little extras” like fancy dining atmosphere, better bedding, etc. and you’d have what you need. I do think having a dedicated lounge for sleeping car passengers with activities, bar, etc. could make a big difference on trains like the zephyr and builder
     
    neroden likes this.
  12. Mar 24, 2019 #12

    Seaboard92

    Seaboard92

    Seaboard92

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2014
    Messages:
    2,954
    Location:
    South Carolina
    They can always rent some PVs. We know how to give a superior service.
     
    Mystic River Dragon likes this.
  13. Mar 24, 2019 #13

    Anderson

    A

    Anderson

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2010
    Messages:
    9,022
    Location:
    Virginia
    Yeah, if Amtrak doesn't run the PVs out of business. I know that's a bit of a low blow right now, but it feels like it bears saying.

    In Amtrak's shoes, I would honestly be looking to coordinate with a small number of larger providers/coordinators and working out pricing agreements and the like. There's a way to milk the PV business to both fill that slot (and, somewhat more sneakily, market-test some routes in potential conjunction with new equipment orders approaching such a market) and make more money (in Amtrak's shoes, I'd be looking to at least cross-promote the option so that the PV operator(s) I was working with could, in turn, sell more space and pay my higher fees). I have to strongly suspect that Amtrak is leaving several million dollars per year in haulage fees net of costs on the table even before the latest PV fiasco.

    Fundamentally, it is painfully clear that a well-managed luxury operation can bring in quite a bit of cash. Prestige Class on the Canadian has shown this (IIRC the inclusion of Prestige on the Canadian was correlated with about a 1000 basis point (i.e. 10%) improvement in the operating ratio of the Canadian over two years; the improvement in net revenue was something like $5-7m/yr). Even a less-than-daily offering (perhaps branded with different trains' names...the Super Chief, Twentieth Century Limited, Champion, and some others beg using) would probably improve the overall LD operating performance by perhaps $10-20m/yr (bearing in mind that there are about a half-dozen routes that are decent candidates for this sort of thing).

    Moreover, I'd also point out that if it was taken "internal", you could probably "beef up" the OBS numbers with the revenue from these folks (if Amtrak can try to claim $40 for a cold boxed meal I see no reason that they couldn't dress up dinner for these folks and then cross-bill $100/head and dump a ton of F&B overhead costs into the operation)
     
    neroden likes this.
  14. Mar 25, 2019 #14

    MARC Rider

    M

    MARC Rider

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2011
    Messages:
    1,185
    Location:
    Baltimore. MD
    Even back in the good old days before the post 2013 cuts, the food was precooked and preplated. Look at my "Maine March Madness" post in the travelougues. You cannot have "fresh cooked to order" food unless you're willing to pay at least $50 per person for a meal, and on my trip, at moderately priced restaurants, I paid $70 to $80 for a complete meal. (That's entrees in the $20 - $25 range.) Even at chain restaurants, you can expect to pay $30 for a complete meal. And that's for non-unionized land-based restaurants that don't have all the special operational challenges involved in dining car service on a train.

    That said, going back to circa 2013 food service would be a no brainer.
     
    neroden likes this.
  15. Mar 25, 2019 #15

    crescent-zephyr

    c

    crescent-zephyr

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2015
    Messages:
    1,516
    And how many privates are legal to operate in common carrier service?
     
  16. Mar 25, 2019 #16

    MARC Rider

    M

    MARC Rider

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2011
    Messages:
    1,185
    Location:
    Baltimore. MD
    Actually, what they could do is have lunch and dinner items available at both lunch and dinner. They could also have a la carte pricing so that someone wouldn't have to order a full meal.

    ' ' '
    You're sort of right. What they need is two price points of "experiential" travel. Younger people, on the average, have less money. If you don't offer a decent product for them, they won't become potential patrons for the premium services when they get older. But even "utility" travelers might appreciate a lower price point "experiential" product, which means, if you ask me, that part of the Amtrak (or passenger rail) product in general is the "experiential" part. So, in other words, these distinctions are a little silly.

    Amen to that, brother.
     
  17. Mar 25, 2019 #17

    tommylicious

    t

    tommylicious

    OBS Chief

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2013
    Messages:
    586
    PV is extremely expensive and out of reach for most of this market each time I've priced it out.
     
  18. Mar 25, 2019 #18

    crescent-zephyr

    c

    crescent-zephyr

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2015
    Messages:
    1,516
    On paper (literally it was printed on the menu) this was how it was supposed to work for a good while. The burger, veggie burger, and entree salad were available for both lunch and dinner. In reality it seemed to vary from crew to crew, but I def. remember sitting with passengers who got burgers for dinner over the years.

    In a way, they did go to a more a la carte menu when they took away the salad and the drinks (you used to get coffee, tea, juice, or milk with your meal). But of course they didn't lower the entree prices when they did that. Still the prices are pretty reasonable for what they are imho. You are always going to pay a premium when eating in a hotel, airport,etc.

    When comparing prices... 2 eggs, potatoes, croissant and a coffee is $10.75.
    At starbucks an order of egg bites, a croissant and a grande cup of regular coffee is close to that at around $9.
    At Waffle House the all star breakfast and coffee is $9.30.
     
  19. Mar 25, 2019 #19

    neroden

    n

    neroden

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2014
    Messages:
    7,243
    Location:
    Ithaca, NY
    That's the US today: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and there is no middle class.

    And yes, Amtrak should deal with the bimodal market as it actually exists.
     
  20. Mar 25, 2019 #20

    Anderson

    A

    Anderson

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2010
    Messages:
    9,022
    Location:
    Virginia
    Except I'd contend, at a bare minimum, that there are at least two buckets of rich and two buckets of poor. On the high end you have the (relatively) super-wealthy who are willing to do cruise trains and the like. This is the Prestige Class crowd (or International First, in a sense).

    Then you have the more moderately wealthy (this brings in the upper end of the middle class such as it is). These folks can work with the current fares/offerings, though you might have some room to bring in more volume with a modestly improved product (e.g. better mattresses, modest improvements to food service) at the current price point. This is, by the way, going to include a subset of folks traveling for non-experiential reasons. Call this International Business.

    On the "poor" end, you've got a group that's going to chase the cheapest fare in a condition they can tolerate and that's gonna be whatever seat is available. This is a subset that will travel from New York to Miami in a Regional coach if it will save them $20. Then you've got a group that is looking to save money, but for a variety of reasons will fork over for the equivalent to "premium economy" in this context.

    To be fair, that last group may also include some shorter-haul pax who don't want "just" a coach seat but can't justify a roomette.

    VIA handles the first three groups reasonably well (with the first two consolidating down in the Corridor due to volume vis-a-vis Amtrak). Amtrak handles the second and third well on the LD trains, and also sweeps in the first group on the Acela but ignores them elsewhere. Neither Amtrak nor VIA really hit on that last group or differentiate the last two from one another terribly well, particularly in the LD market.
     
    daybeers likes this.
  21. Mar 25, 2019 #21

    neroden

    n

    neroden

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2014
    Messages:
    7,243
    Location:
    Ithaca, NY
    I think very few of them are riding trains. Only a few are railfans -- not enough to make a significant, every day of the year, market -- and those are happy with the same service as the next category. They might take private cars if they had the option, but private cars don't operate often enough or to enough places.

    I'd describe this market as people like me who have enough money to travel however they want, but really strongly prefer to ride trains. The vast majority are travelling for non-experiential reasons -- we just don't like flying / driving. And we have money so we would like to take the most comfortable way we can afford.

    And how much we can afford varies, by person and by year. There's room for a lot of differentiation within here, because this is the exact market where hotels offer an endless series of small upgrades. (Queen? King? Two Queens? Balcony? Slightly larger room? Would you like breakfast included? Chocolate on your bed?) In "cruise trains", this is where the Grand Canyon train can offer a ridiculous number of different classes of service, each slightly pricier than the last.

    Amtrak is losing these people to sketchy bus operators with unsafe drivers and unsafe buses, or if those aren't present, Greyhound or Trailways. And frankly I don't think Amtrak can compete on price with those bus companies. And it shouldn't. In North Dakota, you'll get these people because there aren't any buses, though.

    I think this is Amtrak's core coach-class market. People who don't want to spend much money, but, just like the wealthier equivalent, don't like flying or driving or taking the bus.

    Which probably justifies a "business class seat" offering. I'm old-fashioned; I like the idea of "first class, second class, third class, fourth class, fifth class", but for marketing reasons every company has avoided those names since the 19th century.

    I think the first two aren't very distinguishable, frankly. The true super-wealthy are in private jets, typically.

    Fair argument. But see my view above. :)

    Coach should be a "premium economy" service at all times, with business class being available everywhere; Amtrak's doing sort of OK at this except for wild inconsistency of both hard and soft product. They can sell leftover seats to the "cheapest seat" people if they haven't been sold and it's near departure, but the "cheapest seat" people will still mostly take the bus.

    On what you'd call "international buisness" -- the "we've got money to spend" category -- Amtrak's doing pretty poorly right now, mostly due to extremely weak soft product, but also due to poor maintenance of the sleeper cars and of course terrible OTP. There's also not enough differentiation available here; this is a category with infinite differentiation at hotels, and while Amtrak can't generate that much differentiation, it should be able to do more.
     
    daybeers likes this.
  22. Mar 25, 2019 #22

    tricia

    tricia

    tricia

    OBS Chief

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2011
    Messages:
    792
    Location:
    Spring Creek, NC
    A lot of good ideas here.... But I'm afraid none of this matters much, or at all, without reliable OTP.

    I'm also not comfortable with a government-run super-expensive option akin to VIA's Premier class. Seems inappropriate for the government of a democracy to be enabling the entrenchment of walls between social/economic classes. IMHO.
     
  23. Mar 25, 2019 #23

    jis

    jis

    jis

    Conductor AU Lifetime Supporter Gathering Team Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2003
    Messages:
    24,175
    Location:
    Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
    I think the top end should it need subsidy should be funded by various departments of tourism and marketed heavily worldwide as an US experiential thing. I know Indian Railways makes out like a bandit on such operations and they cost way more than any local normal mortal can afford.
     
    Artrina likes this.
  24. Mar 25, 2019 #24

    cocojacoby

    c

    cocojacoby

    Service Attendant

    Joined:
    May 13, 2014
    Messages:
    182
    One last thought. I hope their idea of experimental isn’t $7000 fancy rooms and lounge access ala the Canadians prestige class.

    Amen to that, brother.[/QUOTE]


    Why do you guys care? My wife and I have taken Amtrak sleepers for years. We took a Bedroom once and then settled on Roomettes after that since it was really all we needed and the food was included also. So usually we got our needs taken care of for roughly $750 - $1000 maybe?.

    Now if Amtrak added an additional class of super luxury service at $7000 in the sleeper car behind us, it really doesn't matter does it? It's more revenue in Amtrak's pocket. There will still be "regular" sleeper service I am sure.
     
  25. Mar 25, 2019 #25

    cocojacoby

    c

    cocojacoby

    Service Attendant

    Joined:
    May 13, 2014
    Messages:
    182
    So we should all have to ride coach?
     

Share This Page

arrow_white