More Diners Cut effective October 1

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

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  1. Jul 13, 2019 #26

    PVD

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    It is not unusual for regional items or menus to be included on the state subsidized trains. NY does it also. Downeaster is unique in that food service is outside of the scope of the Amtrak contract, provided separtely, and the agency that oversees that service is willing to accept losses incurred in providing food service as an overall benefit to the route, since they believe it attracts more passengers and allows a higher price point.
     
  2. Jul 13, 2019 #27

    tim49424

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    RPA might as well be Amtrak regarding being a source. They’re going to bat for passengers and are constantly in contact with Amtrak to negotiate a better experience for us.

    Regarding the Texas Eagle, the announcement did state that Western trains are not affected by the changes. I believe the definition of a Western train is one the leaves Chicago westward. The Mississippi River has no bearing on the east/west border.
     
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  3. Jul 13, 2019 #28

    dogbert617

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    Yep, like others I have the impression(at least for now) that Texas Eagle isn't yet going down to contemporary dining. I worry that down the road(a year from now?), it may happen though. My only question, is if this cutback of trains to contemporary dining(excluding Auto Train) will affect City of New Orleans? I worry it may be one of the affected trains(and as that's a 2 day train from start to end, and not a 3 or 4(for combined Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited) day one), but just want some confirmation for sure. And as CONO is east of the Mississippi, I certainly do fear this contemporary dining (my arse) announcement does affect that train. :(
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2019
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  4. Jul 13, 2019 #29

    tim49424

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    I do believe the CONO will be affected as they are, I believe, considered an Eastern train. The most drastic changes will come to the Auto Train, Crescent and Silver Meteor which have the general Long Distance menu. I am not going to speculate about when (if) the Western trains will institute the “contemporary dining”. I’m putting my trust in the RPA where that matter is concerned. All I’ll say for now is I’ll continue riding the train, east or west even if it all gets changed. I’m not even sure where the deal breaker lies for me.
     
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  5. Jul 13, 2019 #30

    Amtrakfflyer

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    Regarding the RPA, another nonchalant Friday update with this news.
    When are they going to call a spade, a spade and call out Amtrak management in front of Congress. Starting with Anderson and Gardner are incompetent and deceitful (obviously not in those exact words).

    Fast forward 6 months from now the next nonchalant update very well could be, “we are disheartened to learn Amtrak is suspending 11 of the 15 national network trains, the 4 remaining will operate tri weekly, except the CA Zephyr which will be 1x weekly”, “please consider a donation at this time”.

    Before you jump on me with this, can you honestly tell me this is not what Anderson’s wants?

    I know it’s Congresses call but expect huge ridership drop off’s, more skewed facts, possible disregard for Congress and no 180 day train off notices with the backing of the Administration. Right now Anderson is boiling Amtrak like a frog in luke warm water

    RPA is respected in Congress they need to start challenging Amtrak more. We more then likely will have a new administration in 2020 but what will be left of Amtrak in 18 months?
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2019
  6. Jul 13, 2019 #31

    jiml

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    I don't want set myself up for a world of abuse, and like most others here I am saddened by the changes that have already happened and those further predicted here. However if one takes a step back to a more objective view of the transportation realities of 2019, this sort of makes sense. It's an airline model, and last time I looked Amtrak was run by an airline guy. The meal offerings (in domestic First Class) on airlines are totally based on distance travelled. Eastern routes tend to be shorter (<3 hours on plane, 1 overnight on train), whereas Western routes are much longer. That, and time of day, dictates what you're going to be fed. Of course coach passengers get nothing except what they purchase. For First Class, I'll use my airline of choice as an example: BOS - CHI, WAS - Florida or Toronto - DFW you get a meal. It consists of a drink, a packaged snack and something hot or cold served on a tray all-at-once. Fly from Chicago or Toronto to the west coast however and this increases to multiple drinks, hot nuts in a dish and a decent entrée with dessert served separately. Fly trans-continental (I did CLT-SFO last month) and the same airline adds tablecloths, appetizer course, entrée served on a china plate and hot fudge sundaes, along with a pre-arrival snack. I realize Amtrak doesn't do trans-continental, but if they did it might be the place to roll out the "red carpet" for premium guests.

    Another question arises from the airline comparison - would members prefer "contemporary dining" to be replaced with airline tray meals, such as those served on Acela or VIA Rail corridor? I'm sure the cost must be similar, requiring only a change of sourcing.
     
  7. Jul 13, 2019 #32

    MARC Rider

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    1. Whatever happens, be thankful they're not going the route of the Silver Star with no special food at all for sleeper passengers.
    2. The airlines (especially the budget carriers like Southwest, etc.) seem to be doing quite well without having ANY food service, even on long transcontinental fights. I can say from experience that going without a meal is a nuisance, but I can deal with it (and apparently, so can American airline passengers in general), especially if the alternative is not being able to take the trip at all.
    3. Train trips are longer than flights, so I can see the need for SOME sort of food service, but it doesn't need to be the sit-down restaurant model. I'd be fine with tray meals like the airline meals of yore. They could even serve them in the dining cars, as this would probably be more efficient than trying to move through the train with meal carts. So you'd still have the dining car experience, of a sort.
    4. As far as the complaints about the nutritional content of the meals served: I suspect that almost everything served up by the restaurant industry these days is overloaded with calories, fats, sugar, and salt. If it wasn't, most diners would complain about the taste of the food. I'm even including high-end dining on this one. I recall reading somewhere in one of Anthony Bourdain's books about the amount of butter chefs like to dump in their dishes. I like butter, but I know I'm taking risks with my coronary arteries when I eat out.
    5. As far as the complaints about the meals not being cooked to order, welcome to the 21st century. Even your local neighborhood diner serves up stuff that's been cooked somewhere else. And any chain restaurant is even worse. It's unreasonable to expect cooked to order food at the prices they charge. (Remember, food service on a train has expenses that your local neighborhood diner doesn't have, so the same food on the train has to be more expensive.)
    6. It's possible, once they eliminate restaurant style service, they could bring it back via outside contractors. Just because they were unsuccessful doing this before doesn't mean they won't succeed in the future. This has the advantage of taking food service off the books entirely.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2019
  8. Jul 13, 2019 #33

    FrensicPic

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  9. Jul 13, 2019 #34

    dlagrua

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    I believe info coming from the RPA. We have had the pleasure of having lunch with Jim Andrews and Jonsie Stone on the CL and they seem well versed as to what is going on at Amtrak and in the political arena. The only thing this means for us is that we will be taking less rail trips until the meal service improves. The current contemporary dining menu is so bad that the last time I had it I threw the entire box out. It was terrible. If my wife insists on another trip I'll just bring a good meal aboard and again throw that lousy crap in the garbage.
     
  10. Jul 13, 2019 #35

    MARC Rider

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    It's not just a question of what Mr. Anderson wants. it's a question of what Congress and the Administration want. The National Network is mostly a political sop to lawmakers in flyover country so that they'll support more necessary Amtrak service in other parts of the country. For example, the only place in the USA where passenger rail has a significant market share in intercity passenger transportation is the New York -Washington, and, to a lesser extent, the New York-Boston route. If I were Mr. Anderson, I'd want to put most of my effort trying to figure out how to replicate that in other parts of the country. It won't be easy, and Amtrak probably can't do it on its own, as it probably involves things like good intermodal connections, denser settlement patterns, interest of state and local governments and businesses, etc. It might even involve building new rail lines, as existing 19th century track routes may not go where people are living now. The vast majority of Amtrak passengers are taking trips of 500 miles or less, maybe even 300 miles or less. These passengers really don't care about fancy dining car service, so why should Amtrak's management?
     
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  11. Jul 13, 2019 #36

    jiml

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    MARC Rider makes excellent points above (in Post 32), particularly #'s 3, 5 and 6. Point #6 is the current VIA Rail Ocean model.
     
  12. Jul 13, 2019 #37

    AmtrakBlue

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    Rather than throw the box away, just don't take it if you don't want it. They're not forcing you to take it. Sheesh.
     
  13. Jul 13, 2019 #38

    tim49424

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    My thoughts exactly. Why purposely waste food? Maybe somebody else might like it if you don’t want it. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
     
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  14. Jul 13, 2019 #39

    jis

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    I had surmised as many as ten to fifteen years back that the evolving new norm in food service on trains will be food served at ones seat/compartment for upper class, and food available for purchase from a counter in lounge or table/buffet cars for the rest. In addition there may be a Restaurant/Diner Car for use by those that want to pay extra for the experience.

    I had my head cut off and handed to me back then stating that while that may be what happens in the rest of the world, that will never happen in the US. I was willing to grant that with the rather minimal LD service in the US it may be feasible to eat the cost of fancier food service. Afterall, fifteen, or even twenty trains a day is not really that much to contend with. Well apparently not.

    I will grant that my prognostication was based on what I saw unfold in India where prestigious luxury trains lost Restaurant Cars in the late '60s when they were substituted by Pantry Cars and at seat food service in all Sleepers and LD Chair Cars in those prestigious trains. The logic there was that Restaurant Cars were impractical for serving food to everyone in a 16-20 car train. Doing so would take two or three Restaurant/Kitchen car pairs (Indian Railways was operating AC Restaurant/Kitchen married pair of cars on the prestigious AC Express trains just prior to substitution by Pantry Car in late 1969, coincident with the introduction of the first Rajdhani Express, which never had Restaurant Car), and all that is potential capacity for additional passengers taken up by cars that provide a service that could be provided more efficiently. That made sense to almost everyone since demand of passenger capacity on trains so vastly outstrips supply in India. Again, I was willing to grant that demand is low in the US and trains are short, so Diners may survive.

    Anyway, the latest in India is removal of Baggage Cars (checked baggage service was never popular in India when it was available anyway) and substituting a passenger carrying car for them. Platforms at present can hold upto 26 cars, and the preference is for stuffing as many cars carrying passengers as possible among those 26 cars. So they are down to two service cars Pantry and train staff, now with the progressive uniform removal of End on Generators and replacement of them by Head on Generation fed from the locomotive. Hopefully that won't come to pass in the US too.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2019
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  15. Jul 13, 2019 #40

    amtrakpass

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    Although long expected, it is still sad for me to see Mr. Anderson and his cohorts getting their way as their goal to slowly dismantle the Amtrak network is realized. This was not mandated by Congress. It is just Anderson and Gardner and their disciples manipulating the legislation to suit their agenda. It is not just the dining car cuts. Think of how the Boston Lakeshore is not running again for most of the summer for CSX trackwork and Amtrak puts up no fight. Think of the extraordinarily high prices charged for sleeping car fares even in the winter when they are not full and only the maximum fare charged for an on board upgrade. Congress does not legislate fares. Amtrak charges what they want and it can have a great effect positive or negative on ridership numbers. They plainly do not want to run the trains or anything outside the corridor and state supported service if they could help it. Unless something changes, I see in a few years, almost all the LD's gone and maybe an additional train or two here and there like the Lynchburg extension. Along with vague promises of vastly expanded corridor services that never come to fruition. Maybe we will get one new corridor with 5 or six trains when 90% of the country will lose all service. Like another poster, I also had the chance to have lunch with RPA/NARP president Jim Matthews some years prior to the current administration. While he was cordial and knew Amtrak politics deeply, I have to say I came away with the distinct impression that he was not concerned about the regular Amtrak coach rider. He seemed happy going to meetings and conferences, and having insider info. He did like trains, so I am sure he is genuine but he also did not have much knowledge of actual railroad operations and I did not sense he wanted to learn. Although it was just one impression, I am not surprised to see RPA/NARP not put up a more vociferous opposition to Amtrak policy.
     
  16. Jul 13, 2019 #41

    chrsjrcj

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    Looking at this more, this is probably a huge mistake for Amtrak.

    On the Silver Meteor, 48.5% of passengers travel 500 miles or more. And while actual numbers aren't listed, it appears that a majority of those passengers are doing the journey in coach. Contrast to the Silver Star, where less than 1/3 of passengers are traveling more than 500 miles.

    While we can debate "contemporary dining" vs conventional dining for sleeping car passengers, this change is going to be a huge loss for a majority of Silver Meteor passengers.
     
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  17. Jul 13, 2019 #42

    Rasputin

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    The joke continues. I am glad I am not afraid of flying but I am sorry for those who are.
     
  18. Jul 13, 2019 #43

    bretton88

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    I do wonder if this means Amtrak has finished their modifications to the diners that they where supposedly doing. If they really did finish installing those heavy duty convection ovens, then the product that is coming might be much better than what the LSL and CL have had so far, as one of the issues holding back contemporary dining improvements was the very limited convection facilities on the current diners. It's a big reason why the hot meals kept running out on the LSL and CL.
     
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  19. Jul 13, 2019 #44

    jis

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    Do we have any reliable information from the likes of RPA on what proportion of Coach passengers on a train like the Meteor or Crescent actually use the Diner? I have heard all sorts of anecdotes, but coming to think of it, I have never seen any credible numbers presented by anyone. Would be even more useful to know how many had to be turned away due to lack of capacity to serve, but that might be tougher to come by. I know I have been turned away due to lack of capacity a few times, but again, that is anecdotal. I guess I will drop a note to Jim at RPA and see if they have anything (just did). Let's see what I get back.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2019
  20. Jul 13, 2019 #45

    spinnaker

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    I had Contemporary Dining for the first time on the CL this year. The food itself was much better then I expected (had the beef). Only a minor problem, the plate is just too darn small. If you are one of those people that does not like the different foods to touch on your plate, make other plans. ;)

    While the food was rather good, the presentation leaved much to be desired. Something a bit strange about picking your food up in a box.

    Speaking of the box. So I open a box meal. Inside was a ton of documentation, including a card describing their environmental friendly packaging. Just struck me as funny since that box all came inside another cardboard box. ;)

    The young lady heating and assembling the meals was way overworked. That is a lot to do for so many passengers. Mine was almost a half hour late. Not a big deal if it were not for my 5AM arrival time and losing an hour sleep right out of the box. All I wanted to do was eat and get some sleep.
     
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  21. Jul 13, 2019 #46

    Maverickstation

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    However on The Ocean the food is provided by local caterers on both end points. The food itself is reheated on steam trays, plated on board, the diner has a full wait staff.

    Ken
     
  22. Jul 13, 2019 #47

    Amtrakfflyer

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    If I was a betting man my bet would be on nothing’s been touched in the diners.
     
  23. Jul 13, 2019 #48

    Rasputin

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    That would not surprise me. This move is not being done to enhance passenger experience (except perhaps bad experience).
     
  24. Jul 13, 2019 #49

    Steve4031

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    Jishnu,

    Interesting observation comparing India operations with Amtrak. Iirc the longest train rides in India are generally 1 night and parts of preceding day and the next day for longer trips. The interesting thing is that food service was removed to increase capacity. How did Indian rail fans respond to this? How much was the food quality diminished? Was it in the same scale as what happened with the contemporary dining?
     
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  25. Jul 13, 2019 #50

    jis

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    No. The longest train rides are two nights and two days. India is a very big country. Not as big as the US, but still very big.
    Food service was not removed in any cases. Delivery of food methodolgy was modified. Indian railfans were not hung up on having Restaurant Cars at all. They were more fixated on getting the particular diet that suited them at their seats if possible, and that is what they got. In some sense the food that they got out of the deal was no worse and sometimes better than before.

    Remember very very few Indians had access to Restaurant Cars (only the Sahibs had access until independence), and even fewer could afford it even when they had access. So nothing was missed by 99.5% of the traveling public.

    Food was traditionally provided on trains from en route kitchens at food service stations in most cases. Orders were taken from customers on the train several hours before meal time and they were telegraphed forward to the food service kitchen station. When the train arrived there food was served at each customer's seat as per their order. That was the way things were and mostly are. Pantry cars are for trains that do not stop much en route, which is a new thing post-independence.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that India lives on Tiffin Carriers and Dabbawallas. They are used to carrying food for their entire journey with them in Tiffin Carriers, specially if their dietary needs are not met adequately by what is available en route, and lord knows Indians have varied dietary requirements that no one except themselves can meet sometimes.

    So all in all a very different environment. But the economics of it all has some common threads. static kitchens will always be way way cheaper then kitchen on wheels, for example.
     

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