Experiential service class on long distance routes

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

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  1. Mar 27, 2019 #51

    Seaboard92

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    Anything can be done in railroading if you have money. The more of it you have the more you can accomplish.
     
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  2. Mar 27, 2019 #52

    sttom

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    I am in the 20-30 age range and there are a few things that I would like to see out of Amtrak that would make me ride more.
    1) Better food in the cafe car, or at least a toaster over.
    2) Budget sleeper. I would rather have an open section with a blanket for $100 than pay $300 for a roomette for what is an overnight trip. On this note, better timed overnight trains. Not all of the US has these.
    3) An extensive regional rail network and the federal funding to back it up. I get that California has one of the better Amtrak networks, but if i want to go to Redding, I don't want to take the one train at 11 pm or a bus for most of the trip.
     
  3. Mar 27, 2019 #53

    StriderGDM

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    Here's the thing.. cafe cars actually DO have an oven. (or at least did, I think they still do). But I've been told attendants are not allowed to use them due to the risk of fire/burns.
    That said I've seen that rule violated at least twice. Once was for a perfectly done sub sandwich. The attendant took it out of the package, nuked the sauce and meatballs and toasted the bun and then reassembled it. It was really good.

    The second was a long time ago when they had these fairly large chocolate cookies and he heated mine up a bit... oh.. delicious!
     
  4. Mar 27, 2019 #54

    me_little_me

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    If Amtrak wants to provide a real experience and charge a real upscale price, then here are some changes I suggest:
    1) Cars that run as specials (until the business warrants more-often travel). Those cars would have bedrooms big enough to have real double or queen beds, private facilities and their own diner with better service and non-reheated food along with a private lounge area (Diner/Lounge on a Superliner?). They would run on regular Amtrak trains.
    2) Two types of trips - both would be between specific high volume cities only. Choice 1 would allow for optional tours and optional one way/RT or train one way and fly back. (Los Angeles to Denver)? Choice 2 would be one way and train would take along a single car carrier for people who want to stay for a while then either drive home in their personal car or book a return with their car along for the ride. The first type of trip is like the Rocky Mountaineer and the second provides a service not available anywhere else (except the giant auto-train). Something like Orlando to Chicago (attaching to Silver and Cardinal/Capitol Limited) might work.
     
  5. Mar 27, 2019 #55

    Skyline

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    Your proposal would probably work on select western routes once or twice per week to start; maybe even less frequently to start if it was super expensive. Marketing just to make the public aware of it would take awhile, no sense running near-empty until that happens. I do think a couple of intermediate stops between the bigger city endpoints would be popular and doable.

    I'm not sure about the auto carriers. That would require infrastructure changes at endpoints (vehicle staging, ramps and apparatus for loading/unloading, an all-weather structure for pax with vehicles to wait apart from the station, and possibly a new roadway to get pax and their vehicles to the staging area). It might be better to offer an optional bundle that included a car rental.
     
  6. Mar 27, 2019 #56

    sttom

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    The easiest way for Amtrak to get the capacity to upgrade service would be to start offering a budget sleeper option and better food offerings in lounges, something close to meal service, but still obviously pre-made and out of a toaster oven. I am saying this because Amtrak's sleeper service has to split the difference between offering First Class and a Second Class option. Having a Second Class option would allow the First Class option to get upgraded. I remember reading somewhere that the current roomette is effectively the old Slumber Coach double room. This forces Amtrak to split the difference between what was once a Second Class option and what was meant as First Class option in the physical design of equipment. Its kind of weird that Amtrak took what was about 9 different room types of the pre Amtrak railways and boiled it down to effectively 2, 3 on Superliners. No I am not counting the Accessible Room because it is mandated by the ADA.

    I would also like to see a revived Spirit of California. Having overnight service between Northern and Southern California makes sense given the Starlight isn't timed if you want to make a northbound trip at night or a south bound one for that matter. There are likely also other city pairs that would make sense around the country, that is having a budget overnight sleeping train that is timed to leave one city in the evening and arrive at its terminating point the next morning.
     
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  7. Mar 27, 2019 #57

    PaTrainFan

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    I'm jumping into this conversation very late, but to get back to the original intent of the thread, it's hard for me to imagine the political will exists in Congress to financially back "experiential" rail travel. We know the political will barely exists now, but there may be a bigger hue and cry to subsidize what is perceived as premier service. In my opinion, Amtrak is better served emphasizing the "essential" nature of the long distance service with middle sized and smaller flyover communities losing air service and even Greyhound. Arguably, there is little will within Amtrak to hang its hat on essential service.
     
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  8. Mar 28, 2019 #58

    Inlander

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    Speaking from experience down here in Australia, if you start experimenting with a premium product you will transition the whole train eventually into a land cruise. What happens is that the premium fares will be marketed typically from an end to end or major on route point to end . E.g The Cz selling Chicago- Emeryvile or Denver- Emeryville. Gradually the train will convert to a majority premium service. The first casualties will be interim points like Saltlake to Denver etc then it will loose Coach class ( to Buses). The fares of course will then rise to High levels. This is exactly what happened to the Ghan and IndianPacific trains down here. They were normal express trains similar to Amtrak with sleepers and coach class with a lot more stops. Now they are all Sleeper class . On the Indian Pacific you can only travel from end point to end point ( Sydney - Perth) with only one interim point being Adelaide. Be warned!!!
     
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  9. Mar 28, 2019 #59

    bretton88

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    Japan is moving into the luxury overnight as well. Several thousand dollars for the luxury overnight trains. They're wildly successful too, as they're sold out months in advance. Supposedly JR is making a killing on them.
     
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  10. Mar 28, 2019 #60

    bretton88

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    I suspect this is VIAs end goal with The Canadian as well. The only reason it still has coach is because of the Rural Service Mandate. However VIA is exploring making those required segments their own train via RDCs, which will probably be the end of coach class on The Canadian.
     
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  11. Mar 28, 2019 #61

    crescent-zephyr

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    Unless it is considered a good investment for tourism, VIA would probably need to show how the Canadian was paying for itself if it cuts out Coach and the intermediate stops.
     
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  12. Mar 29, 2019 #62

    crescent-zephyr

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    I think the danger in amtrak wanting to market an "Experiential Class" is that they (Anderson and the board) don't consider train travel a form of transportation. So rather than focusing on people that actually use trains to travel, they are wanting to focus on people who want to take the train for the experience. As others have said if you start to cater towards this crowd you start looking more like the Canadian or the Ghan in Australia and a lot less like the current California Zephyr.

    I think a "Legacy" class that featured some sort of modern day PPC car for wine tastings, extra dining choices, etc. along with newly refurbished sleepers and WELL TRAINED service staff. (Put Gul in charge!) could do well on trains like the Zephyr, Starlight and Empire Builder. It could potentially be extended to other trains as well. But this type of service couldn't be priced much higher than current sleeper prices without guests expecting something closer to "Prestige Class" style rooms, and that's not going to be practical without totally re-built equipment. Just the R&D to please the FRA would probably make this impractical to try as an experiment.

    In my mind you would have a refurbished SSL acting as PPC with fully staffed bar upstairs, and specialty dining downstairs. My thought on using downstairs of the SSL is that you could offer a truly intimate, upscale dining experience.... the same downstairs attendant could host the wine and cheese events downstairs and keep the upstairs bar / lounge open for those not wanting to partake. Make it a truly classy operation.

    The dining car could be split with half being for "Legacy Sleeper" and the other half being for coach. This would give coach passengers access to the dining car, while allowing the legacy sleeper passengers a chance to dine in a less rushed, and classier atmosphere.

    My biggest complaint about my own idea is your eliminating standard sleeping cars from the train, I don't know how you would have both on the same train.
     
  13. Mar 29, 2019 #63

    sttom

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    Making most Amtrak long distance trains into something more akin to the Canadian is kind of part of the problem with not giving Amtrak the latitude and the resources to segment the market. Like with sleeping cars options, how Amtrak boiled down 9 different sleeper options to 2 for the most part is beyond me. Having a higher class option or even just introducing a budget option to allow the first class option improve would be a good thing. The problem is not allowing Amtrak to totally do away with coach and budget sleepers if they were allowed to make the first class sleepers, first class.

    One way I could see them doing this would be to have a first class diner with wine tastings and the like. Overtime they would have to start upgrading the sleeping accommodations to be more in line with what was available prior to Amtrak. But this would be a slow going process and would probably have to wait until there is money for a new order.

    But overall, this still comes to the fact that Amtrak has a lot of demand and needs more resources to expand operations. Amtrak needs more of basically everything; more corridor service, budget sleepers, a first class worthy of the name, and probably other things that I can't think of at the moment.
     
  14. Mar 29, 2019 #64

    cocojacoby

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    Like these incredible trains:



     
  15. Mar 29, 2019 #65

    Skyline

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    Somebody is channeling the '80s TV show "Supertrain," you know...the show Fred Silverman spent millions on to "save" NBC. If only...
     
  16. Mar 29, 2019 #66

    Inlander

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    Yes I would say that will be where Via goes.
     
  17. Mar 29, 2019 #67

    Skyline

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    Pro: Intermediate RDC service would probably have better OTP.

    Con: RDC stuck in a Canadian snow storm? Not something I'd want to endure...
     
  18. Mar 29, 2019 #68

    jis

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    The whole Canadian prognostication sounds quite similar to what is being proposed for Amtrak national network in the US by some. And the Canadian Gunn isn't even the CEO anymore! :rolleyes:
     
  19. Mar 30, 2019 #69

    lordsigma

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    It seems like designating a couple two nighters as flagship trains and doing a really nice interior refresh as well as some improved diner menu options and an overall improved diner experience (while still catering to the basic travel travellers) is the best way to go to avoid getting too far from the trains’ mission. But I think trying to reach more into that crowd is a good idea. There is a market for “experiences” and “doing something different” I don’t think you have to go too crazy. All this along with Improving OTP would enhance ridership. Try to blend a modern experience with the nostalgia of long distance train travel.
     
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  20. Mar 30, 2019 #70

    Amtrakfflyer

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    Which brings us right back to the Coast Starlight of the 2008-2017 period. Redo 4-5 SSL’s or CCC’s and make new Parlour cars. They don’t seem to have any issues modifying brand new V2 diners. Why are they and us for that matter trying to re invent the wheel?

    I honestly don’t think they want the “experimental” train to work they just want to show they tried.
     
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  21. Mar 31, 2019 #71

    Skyline

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    A lot of US citizens travel north to ride The Canadian. If Amtrak offered something equal to it, they'd have a big start on a market right at home. International travelers would add to their numbers once the buzz trended in a few years. Once or twice weekly frequency of a far superior LD train than Amtrak currently offers -- at a price point to be at least somewhat profitable -- could eventually succeed.

    In my opinion, Amtrak would be wise to partner with a private third party for the design and operation of a train like this, with each party sharing startup, operating costs, losses, and profits.

    But this does divert from Amtrak's core mission and beyond what most of its present riders seek. While maintaining a minimally connected national route system, Amtrak needs to keep in mind that its current sleeper products are overpriced and underwhelming. Ditto, food offerings considering what they charge. Improve the experience just enough and force the freights to pay more attention to OTP and we might have an LD system people could be upbeat about. It's a totally different market from the "experiential" being discussed in this thread.
     
  22. Mar 31, 2019 #72

    Palmland

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    Going back to what the OP, lordsigma, said about Amtrak's experiential train initiative, I thought it might be of interest to post Amtrak's specific comments:

    "The strategy includes, but is not limited to, redesign of sleeper cars that are functionally updated and have a modern look and feel, contemporary seating in dining/lounge cars that provides more variety of seating options similar to current living space trends, updated menus and service equipment and specialized staff learning. The plan is to establish a “concept” or “beta” train to advance this initiative prior to a system-wide modification to the service standards and experience. "

    Their timeline for various initiatives indicated this one was slotted for 2020/2021. I do wonder what the Beta train will be. My guess is the CZ because of the cruise train appeal with its scenery and two night journey. Looks like there are no immediate plans to discontinue anything, assuming congress continues the current level of funding. This fits with the timing of Amtrak's next re-authorization at the end of FY 2020. Then we'll really know which direction they're going.
     
  23. Apr 1, 2019 #73

    crescent-zephyr

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    Thanks for posting those quotes Palmland.

    So provide lounge cars with actual lounge style seating, and update the sleeping cars so they feel modern. Oh yeah and "specialized staff learning." - hey whatever they want to call it but refurbished cars, real lounge cars, and better customer service is all I could ask for! ha. Sign me up.

    Again... isn't this exactly what they tried on the Starlight. That's why the Parlor Cars were a thing! And they had the more recently refurbished sleepers on the Starlight and Builder with the free wine tastings, welcome champaigne, fancy toiletry kits, "enhanced" dining options and presentation. It's enough to drive you crazy how amtrak goes in circles.
     
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  24. Apr 1, 2019 #74

    jis

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    This going around the circles thing may have something to do with the "Dog marking Fire Hydrant" syndrome that many CEOs suffer from. First clear the Fire Hydrant of all previous residue and then duly mark it, if you know what I mean ;)
     
  25. Apr 1, 2019 #75

    TiBike

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    It's also possible that they're thinking of a completely different type of service. I wouldn't assume that designing an "experiential train" is about adding frills to existing trains. Changing the Starlight, for example, from a transportation service to an entertainment service could involve making it a weekly train, or a hop on/hop off service that only stops at major tourist locations, eliminating all overnight stops, or even turning it into a two (or more) night trip. Lots of other possibilities.

    To use an analogy, maybe they're not thinking about how to add perks to an ocean ferry but rather scrapping ferry service altogether and starting a cruise line. That doesn't mean Amtrak would stop providing transportation services, but would focus resources – i.e. taxpayer money – on corridors and bus connections that actually provide meaningful public transportation service.
     

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