More Diners Cut effective October 1

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by SanDiegan, Jul 13, 2019.

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  1. Aug 12, 2019 #451

    Mystic River Dragon

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    Actually, this has convinced me to go back to my first love, which was the Star. I would rather have a veggie burger (not bad) and their breakfast sandwich (also not bad), and be able to make my own choice of what to eat from a ""normal" menu than have an "enhanced" dining experience: a trendy-sounding bit of glop in a box while sitting surrounded by garbage in what was a beautiful new dining car. It's an insult to the lovely new dining car, the crew, and the passengers. It's ironic that the Star still seems to be not as expensive (so far) as the Meteor, at least on the dates I checked.

    The Cardinal--well, what do we ride the Cardinal for except for the gorgeous, wonderful scenery? I could barely eat when I rode it because I couldn't take my eyes off the scenery. So I will miss the French Toast, but this might not be as bad as the other routes.

    What I certainly won't do anymore is check the price difference between LD and the NEC, then take one of the east coast LD trains in a roomette for just a few hours--it was a special treat with the dining car; now, of course, there's no point. (And yes, I count myself very lucky that I could do that for a few years, living in the mid-Atlantic, and know that I was more spoiled than if I lived elsewhere.)
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2019
  2. Aug 12, 2019 #452

    jis

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    Indeed. That is quite likely. Bureaucracies tend to behave similarly unless externalities of some sort or the other intervene.
     
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  3. Aug 12, 2019 #453

    Thirdrail7

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    I'm not sure I agree with this. If revenue and ridership takes a nosedive and people take the time to link it to loss of services, then you can make the argument that you attempted to reduce your losses but the f&b is indeed a loss leader and vital to your operation.

    This was done on the the NEC. Cafe service was cut on the NYP-WAS service and ridership on those trains plummeted. The service was reluctantly brought back.

    The reality of the situation is ridership on the eastern LD trains will not plummet. Indeed, if they drop the price (which is why the Start looks so good on paper), it will flourish (on paper.)
     
  4. Aug 12, 2019 #454

    jis

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    Yeah, good things could happen. It all depends on whether the powers that be actually want to keep running the LD trains or not though, and clearly part of that is being driven by externalities like the Congress and not by the Amtrak bureaucracy. I have no idea what the Amtrak bureaucracy wants, since they have been sending lots of mixed signals. A grumpy supercilious Chief does not help much either.

    Incidentally, I have on more than one occasion suggested that we introduce trains with only Coach service, with a Cafe, like the Pioneer originally was, and have been summarily shot down by everyone. As the airlines have discovered, there is a price point - facilities be damned, where people will ride in droves. The question for them has been if they can accommodate that price point such that RASM remains just a bit higher than CASM. So if there is a real desire to expand service and someone can bell the freight RR cats I am quite certain that there will be riders provided they are offered rides at the correct price point.

    I have been curious to see if Amtrak ridership has been keeping track with growth in population. While ridership has been growing, I am not sure it is keeping pace, while airline ridership is keeping pace and then some. That should be a reason for a bit of alarm.
     
  5. Aug 12, 2019 #455

    Qapla

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    Instead of simply pulling the diner cars out of service, maybe they should try letting outside companies operate them. It could be done on an "individual" basis. The same company would not need to operate every diner on every train. A company could operate a single diner with their menu and service. You know, like hae an "Outback" diner on the SM and a "Texas Road House" diner on the TE - that sort of thing.

    I realize this would cost Amtrak jobs ... but those jobs are being lost anyway - there would still be jobs, it would just be different jobs for different people.

    Also, taking @jis suggestion, you could even run a "coach only" train with a cafe/lounge car connected to a brand-name diner car to allow for more seating.
     
  6. Aug 12, 2019 #456

    Thirdrail7

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    Well, how can it keep pace with the population? You'd need to be able to add capacity, which means you need equipment. The original Acela equipment was the last real addition to the fleet, and that extra equipment resulted in additional ridership between NYP-BOS.

    It is kind of Gardener's point. With limited financing and equipment, is a cross country trip a better use of assets than say multiple trips between two emerging cities?

    My belief is you should push on and make the case to expand both programs instead of making it a one or the other choice.
     
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  7. Aug 12, 2019 #457

    Seaboard92

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    I have a few points I can make in here. First I’ll go with the facts then speculation.

    Facts
    1. The Silver Meteor currently runs with 4-5 coaches on a regular basis. According to the leaked docs it is moving down to three coaches. Which is a cut of up to 118 seats per departure.

    Speculation
    1. Is that capacity ever truly needed at any point on the route and utilized or is it empty. I can’t speak to this because the last time I was on the Meteor was in 2017. And I predominantly ride in the sleepers. Or is it a cut to force sell outs to have more seats in the higher bucket to make more revenue but also decrease ridership.

    Fact
    2. At one point in the 1990-2000s SBB CFF FSS in Switzerland contracted out their on board catering to McDonalds. However it was a short lived arrangement. And I really don’t know how it worked.
    3. ÖBB of Austria has contracted out food service on their EC, RJ and possibly the IC services. Last time I was in Europe it was Henry am Zug and the food was so so. And the diner lightly patronized. But of note European train stations unlike most of Amtrak’s have really good food outlets in them so patronage of the diner probably has something to do with that.
     
  8. Aug 12, 2019 #458

    jis

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    My interpretation of the slide was that 3 is the minimum. There is a starred footnote saying there may be additional cars based on demand. So based on thse slides alone there no way to know what the actual available seat numbers will be.
     
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  9. Aug 12, 2019 #459

    crescent-zephyr

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    You make a good point. It's bad to lock Amtrak into the thinking that in order to operate a long distance train you have to operate a full service dining car. I mean the Silver Star does work without a diner...
     
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  10. Aug 13, 2019 #460

    Qapla

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    The last couple times I rode the Star (as recent as a month ago) it had 4 coaches. We rode to Tampa Palatka. The train was fairly full whe we got on. By the time we got to Tampa, the four coach cars were very full - we had walked thru them going to the lounge car.

    Quite a number of people got off in Tampa ... but, almost as many got on as got off. Of course, this train still had to go to Miami.

    We came back later the same day. Again, a decent number of people got off in Tampa and a large number of people got on. As we pulled out heading north, the train was a little more than half full. We got off before Palatka, before the train gets to JAX. There always seems to be a fairly large crowd boarding in JAX.

    So, I guess you could say the Star works ... but the selections to eat in the lounge car are very lacking for a train that goes all the way to NYP. The through people do not have a very good selection for the 19 hour overnight trip.
     
  11. Aug 13, 2019 #461

    neroden

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    A few years ago I and another poster really dug into the economics of the so-called long-distance trains as deep as we could. We came to some conclusions.

    (1) The full-service dining car really do cost a lot to run. In order to cover its costs with increased ticket prices / ticket sales, they really needed to be turning over more tables. (This is the basics of the restaurant business.) No effort was made to do this; thoughtless staffing and operations choices reduced the number of tables served per day without reducing the costs comparably.
    (2) The sleeper cars are cash factories. On some trains adding a sleeper seems less profitable than adding a coach; on the Lake Shore Limited adding a sleeper seems to be much more profitable than adding a coach.
    (3) The cafe cars are cash factories. More selection == more cash. This does lead to the possibility that "enhanced cafe" service in the dining car is the way to go. Denying access to the dining car to coach customers, however, is a deeply retrograde and backwards step.

    There have been trains, in the past, which had two different cafe cars offering different meal selections. This... isn't so far off from what Amtrak is trying now, except that *coach customers could buy meals from both*. This is also a model used on ships.
     
  12. Aug 13, 2019 #462

    neroden

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    I would answer that multiple (on-time!) trips between New York and Chicago is a better use of assets than either. :) It has the maximum of network effects, which is the best way to deploy economies of scale in a railroad.

    New York is the largest metro area in the US. Chicago is the third-largest.

    LA is the second-largest metro area, but the distance from LA to Chicago is so large, with so much empty space in between, that it can't really support more than one train per day given airline competiton.

    Also, New York has the largest network of local rail in the US, by whatever measure you choose to use. Chicago has the second-largest, again by any measure. (Boston, Philadelphia, DC, and San Francisco are in the next tier, but they're way back.)

    NY-Chicago *can* support multiple trains per day; the network effects benefit both the NY network and the Chicago network as well as the trains between them. In railroading you gain economies of scale by stopping at large cities along the way -- and there are lots of them, on at least three different routes. Most of which already have one passenger train running. You gain economies of scale by running multiple trains per day on the same track, as well. Which is why, financially speaking, making the most of limited resources, getting the greatest bang for your buck, the optimal path for an additional trip is Chicago-Michigan Line-Detroit-Toledo-Cleveland-Erie-Buffalo-Empire Line-NYC.

    The Florida trains would similary be good contenders for increased service if the local rail network in Florida wasn't so weak, and if they actually bothered to connect to the network in Miami. There's an extraordinarily grotesque example of Amtrak deciding not to use their assets wisely -- terminating in Hialeah rather than going into the Miami Airport station which was specifically built for them.

    But as another discussion has been mentioning, Amtrak can't even manage to get the connections between the Lake Shore Limited and the Vermonter working, so Amtrak management shows no signs of actually caring about efficient use of assets.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019
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  13. Aug 13, 2019 #463

    dlagrua

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    Back in the day trains had luncheonette cars where there was a long counter with seats all along it and I believe with tables beyond. You took a seat at the counter, placed your order, it was served to you and you ate there. They served some prepared food but you could get some grilled stuff. Maybe Amtrak should look at bringing back the lunch counters of old.
    [​IMG]
     
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  14. Aug 13, 2019 #464

    jis

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    What was the staffing level in these? Will require more than one LSA? ;)
     
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  15. Aug 13, 2019 #465

    Winecliff Station

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    They're all over the state of NY now as stationary diners....pun not intended
     
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  16. Aug 13, 2019 #466

    JustOnce

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    I only know a little about the onboard service operating crafts and positions. Some of the abbreviations are confusing. Help me out here
    I get that the LSA is the "lead service attendant" a craft that's separate from the others. Only the LSA can handle cash and sign for supplies from the commissary. There are probably a couple other bargaining agreement stipulations that only an LSA can perform. There's one for a lounge car who handles everything and one for the dining car who acts as cashier (and maitre d'? manager?).

    CH stands for chef I presume. I recall that's a separate craft. I see that was only used on trains with full diners.

    I also recall that other than LSA and chef, most train service jobs were one craft, cross-trained as waiters, chef's assistants, sleeping car attendants, and coach attendants.
    I'm guessing SA is a service attendant (waiter?) and FS is food service (chef's assistant).

    What's an LD position? What am I missing? Why did some of these trains not have an LSA? It looks like diner lite/cross country cafe trains had a different staffing model.

    I'm still don't understand why they want to make diners sleeper lounges and not attempt to sell the boxed meals to coach passengers. My first thought was they wanted to eliminate an LSA slot (replace with lower paid OBS) by not having money change hands, but they're using LSAs in the sleeper lounges.

    They do cost a lot and lose money, but they also lost money for every additional meal served. They likely had no chance of making the money back with a higher volume and couldn't price above what the market would bear. And now their ability to subsidize these costs from other revenues has been legally eliminated.
    On this point I will agree with you. From management statements I recall, sleepers to make money: adding bunks adds more profit. The limiting factor has been sleeper availability. The additional V2 dorms and sleepers can't come soon enough.
    Again I disagree with you. Cafe service has been a money loser even with the almost stadium-level pricing. NY won't pay to subsidize cafe service on trains that don't travel past Albany.
    Two cafe cars probably means twice the money loss. Remember ships are often registered with flags of convenience and not governed by US labor laws and wage standards. Crews maybe non-American and not expecting US-standard wages.
     
  17. Aug 13, 2019 #467

    jis

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    AFAICT

    LD I believe is LSA Diner.
    CH is Chef
    FS is Food Specialist

    Maybe Thirdrail or someone else with knowledge of Amtrak OBS positions can help out deciphering.
     
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  18. Aug 13, 2019 #468

    jis

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    Ah! Just found a more complete list:

    AT-Auto Train Attendant
    CH-Chef
    LD-LSA Diner
    SA-Service Attendant
    FS-Food Specialist
    LS-LSA Cafe
     
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  19. Aug 13, 2019 #469

    dlagrua

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    Depending on the number of seats there were one or two food service employees in that car. In years past they were called "short order cooks" If you wanted a chicken or egg salad sandwich, they would open a large container scoop it out, put in on two slices of bread and serve you with a sliced pickle and some chips on your plate. If you wanted a burger they placed it on the grill behind the counter, went on to serve other patrons and then served it when it was done. If you wanted soup there was a pot of heated soup that they just scooped out some and put it in a bowl. It was a simple system and they didn't even have microwave ovens back then. I believe that picture was an early Amtrak luncheon car. If you wanted coffee the urn was always full. Not only were these cars in service there were also cars which they served hot food smorgasbord style. I believe that even the early Autotrain had it.
     
  20. Aug 13, 2019 #470

    Anthony V

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    I beg to differ on your statement that full dining service will never return to the trains losing it. Look back to the 24 hour diner experiment on the SL, which was successful on eliminating F&B losses on that train, while preserving full dining service. Once new leadership (both at Amtrak and in the Executive Branch) takes over, we should all write to Congress to pass legislation mandating full service diners to return on ALL LD trains and require them be open 24 hours.
     
  21. Aug 14, 2019 #471

    crescent-zephyr

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    I still say they eliminated the wrong position, keep the chef, eliminate the LSA. I could deal with the lack of table service (especially since “service” was always questionable) much better than the lack of a basic menu.
     
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  22. Aug 14, 2019 #472

    Bob Dylan

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    I'll have some of what you're Smoking!
    Seriously????:rolleyes:
     
  23. Aug 14, 2019 #473

    Dakota 400

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    Coby, Welcome back to the Forum! I am glad to learn that you check in from time to time.
     
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  24. Aug 14, 2019 #474

    Dakota 400

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    I am now officially confused by this thread. Before I decide on my return route from Florida North in January, will the Auto Train have a full service Diner for Sleeping Car guests or not?
     
  25. Aug 14, 2019 #475

    jis

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    Auto Train Sleeper will continue to have full service dining. In addition as a bonus you’ll get free booze too! Enjoy!
     

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