More Diners Cut effective October 1

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

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  1. Aug 17, 2019 #501

    Winecliff Station

    Winecliff Station

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    Wow I really didn't mean to open a Pandora's box with such a minor aside.... just thinking out loud about why the diner cars aren't being stripped from the AT as early as the other routes.
     
  2. Aug 18, 2019 #502

    Amtrakfflyer

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    Has anyone been on the actual “Alaska railroad” operated cars operated by the state of Alaska as opposed to the cruise ship operated coaches?

    The Alaska railroad website is interesting and even the off peak dead of winter Menu looks better than anything Amtrak offers. Simple and reasonably priced.

    “The Alaska Railroad offers dining and bar service for purchase on every passenger train with the exception of the Hurricane Turn Train. Please note that our trains are cashless; for your convenience, we accept all major credit cards including debit and pre-paid cards that can be run as a credit

    GoldStar Service is inclusive of meals, soft drinks, and two complimentary adult beverages.”

    https://www.alaskarailroad.com/travel-planning/onboard-experience/dining
     
  3. Aug 18, 2019 #503

    pennyk

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    Yes, in May 2017, I traveled from Anchorage to Fairbanks on the "actual" Alaska Railroad in GoldStar Service. It was great, however, I am not sure why you are asking this question in a thread about Amtrak cutting traditional diners on its eastern trains.
     
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  4. Aug 18, 2019 #504

    Amtrakfflyer

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    Because it’s just another way it could be done. Different service levels/standards summer vs winter. Even Via has cooked to order meals for a short period during the peak season on the Churchill train. I was just curious if the Alaska service is as service intensive as an Amtrak diner is or was. We (Amtrak) should be trying to learn from similar operations what works and what doesn’t. Is this a way to model dining on experimental trains?
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2019
  5. Aug 18, 2019 #505

    pennyk

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    I do not think comparing the Alaska Railroad to Amtrak is a reasonable comparison (and maybe this thread is not the proper venue to make such a comparison).
     
  6. Aug 18, 2019 #506

    keelhauled

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    If you look at the Alaska Railroad menu, you will find that the food service is provided by a subcontractor, which is in general infeasible on Amtrak, and doubly so for the existing long distance trains.
     
  7. Aug 18, 2019 #507

    Ryan

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    I would bet that neither operation has a Congressional mandate to not lose money on their dining services.
     
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  8. Aug 18, 2019 #508

    crescent-zephyr

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    But both Alaska and VIA are in the same boat as far as getting government funding.
     
  9. Aug 18, 2019 #509

    PVD

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    There is a huge difference between a system that looks at aggregate results, versus one that looks at individual services by themselves. A slightly larger loss in one department often results in much larger gains in another. That's how most businesses run, even government managed. Amtrak is prevented from doing that. The isolation of food service as a profit center is not typical in the transportation industry. Look at the DownEaster, I've brought it up before. It uses contractors and non bargaining unit labor for food service. It loses money. But the agency running those trains is of the belief that the losses on food are more than made up by increased ridership and the ability to charge more for the service because of the perceived value.
     
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  10. Aug 19, 2019 #510

    Chessie

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    I was on the Anchorage to Seward segment earlier this summer. In a regular coach, not Gold Star and not cruise line operated. I was assigned a seat at the very last row of the very last car. The rail fan window and the dome cars were both very popular features.

    The cashless operation made no difference to most but it caught some people by surprise. A couple in front of me were hoping to use cash in the cafe car and were politely told they had to use a card.
     
  11. Aug 19, 2019 #511

    Ryan

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    With very different strings attached.
     
  12. Aug 19, 2019 #512

    crescent-zephyr

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    Indeed. But it’s the closest we’ve got for comparisons. Both the Denali Star and the Canadian specifically are seen / used as tourist draws so they are definitely a different ball game than Amtrak. Closest comparison there would be the coast starlight with the parlour cars.
     
  13. Aug 19, 2019 #513

    Seaboard92

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    Or the Ocean to Halifax. That train is more local than tourist.
     
  14. Aug 19, 2019 #514

    dlagrua

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    For those that are advocating for the Amtrak dining service to be taken over by a private corporation; I believe that we are seeing that now on the Eastern routes. Almost all of the dining car people are gone. Only one employee is left who is paid a fair wage to give out boxes of food packed by private industry. While we get to eat horrible food, all the money in the dining operation now goes to a food packing service that most likely uses underpaid labor to pack them. If these cuts do not meet the goal, the next step will probably be to fire the Amtrak employee and replace him/her with cheap private labor and serve frozen pizza. Its really criminal how Amtrak has treated their own food service employees all in the quest to meet the impossible task of making the dining cars profitable.
     
  15. Aug 19, 2019 #515

    crescent-zephyr

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    Yes. And they don’t have an on board
    Chef, but served catered meals. But, as you know better than me, they are plated nicely and served dining car style.

    What’s the arrangement on Alaska? Airline meals plated nicely? Or on board chef.
     
  16. Aug 19, 2019 #516

    Siegmund

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    I rode the Alaska Railroad a number of times when I lived up there, both in the state-run portion and the Princess Tours portion. (They both ran specials at the beginning and end of season to appeal to locals who otherwise wouldn't ride.)

    The furnishings, food, and service were excellent. And riding a real dome car was a treat.

    But it's a tourist train, both unusable and unaffordable as actual transportation. Coach fares were north of 50 cents a mile already when Amtrak's can still be under 15. Alaska had driven away 99% of the local travel business already 25 years ago.
    It's hard to even GET a fare quote from Anchorage to Fairbanks, since everyone gets off in Denali.
     
  17. Aug 19, 2019 #517

    neroden

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    Even Amtrak admits that the cafe cars as a group are profitable, and that most of them are profitable individually.

    They're profitable.

    The big problem, as for all restaurants, is *quantity*. The cafe cars are, mostly, managing sufficient turnover -- particularly on the routes with longer travel times. The Downeaster is a bit too short; doesn't cross mealtimes for enough people. The NY-Albany "short runs" might be too short too, but nobody's checked in years, so I'm betting they'd be profitable -- there's a shortage of cafe cars though, so I suspect Amtrak won't assign a cafe unless the state demands it or buys its own car.

    The dining cars aren't managing sufficient turnover -- as ThirdRail points out, they used to be operating continuously all day long and filling all their tables. For various reasons ranging from shorter consists to understaffing, they're not doing that now. Frankly on routes with lower demand and more price-sensitive coach customers like the Texas Eagle, they could probably never do that.

    On the Lake Shore Limited, with proper dining cars, they could have had much higher turnover, if they'd advertised properly to coach customers.

    Stupidity.
     
  18. Aug 19, 2019 #518

    jis

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    Fortunately, I rode the Winter Aurora from Anchorage to Fairbanks and back. This train has a single run each week, out from Anchorage on Saturday and return from Fairbanks on Sunday, and operates only in the Winter when there are no other passenger trains except the Hurricane Turn which apparently operates monthly from Anchorage to Hurricane and back. There were no Denali passengers on it, since Denali was closed for the season and the train did not even stop at Denali Park. Interestingly it stopped at Hurricane to pick up a bunch of people who arrived on a couple of snowmobiles. It had steadily snowed several feet the previous night. It also stopped several times at various trails between Hurricane and Talkeetna to pick up local folks who had flagged it down. They were typically heading into town for grocery or medical office visits and such. Alaska Railroad serves as a lifeline for the folks who live along it, something that is not too visible from the tourist runs I suppose.

    The train did have food service. I had lunch on both rides to and from Fairbanks. The item I had was a Bar-B-Que something or the other, pre-plated and heated before serving. It was quite good, and yes the service was cashless, and pickup food at the counter and take it to your table. They used one of those square card reader attachments for an iPhone with the associated App. You either had a credit card or you did not eat, unless you brought something on your own.

    In the tourists season they apparently run trains other than those for tourists, and the tickets are available only on board from the Conductor, is how it was explained to me. I don't know whether that is still true. On this train the Conductor did brisk business selling tickets to all those impromptu riders who boarded after flagging the train down in the middle of nowhere. There is absolutely nothing like that experience to be had anywhere in the lower 48 AFAICT.

    Incidentally, when we arrived in Fairbanks in the evening it was -35F with winds howling and piles of snow on the ground. The Taxi driver was a Punjabi Sikh, who was delighted to have run into a fellow Indian, and he insisted that I have dinner with him at his favorite Indian watering hole in Fairbanks before getting dropped off at my hotel. And so it was.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2019
  19. Aug 19, 2019 #519

    crescent-zephyr

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    Awesome story JIS. Reminds me when people tell me, quite confidently, that the only people who ride the Canadian are tourists. When I rode I met college students, people traveling to Saskatchawan for work, a family with kids who were riding in coach but wanted to eat in the "fancy" diner, and a man who was in the process of moving from Toronto to Vancouver and wanted to take the train vs. drive or fly.

    While I would prefer to visit Alaska in a warmer time of year, visiting in the winter sounds like a much more cultural experience!
     
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  20. Aug 19, 2019 #520

    cocojacoby

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    Exactly. The Lake Shore Limited is the perfect place to try out a 24-hour dining car which was supposedly a success on the Sunset Limited which travels through much less populated areas.
     
  21. Aug 19, 2019 #521

    Seaboard92

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    The one time I’ve been on the Canadian most of the people I was with were Canadians and not tourists. One was a family going to pick up a new car from Tennessee taking the train from Unity, SK to Toronto. Some college students, other various rural travel. The only tourists I remember were in Prestige, and one Australian Father-Daughter.
     
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  22. Aug 19, 2019 #522

    jis

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    Yeah. I loved it, the whole thing about getting to talk to the locals who live mostly off the grid and go into town only when absolutely necessary. It was quite fascinating.

    Also, we were allowed to open the Dutch Doors and take photos while freezing our noses off our faces in the beyond ice cold air rushing by, and getting running commentary from locals on what we were passing etc. Very warm and friendly environment. Very enjoyable.
     
  23. Aug 19, 2019 #523

    AutoTrDvr

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    Correct. The Alaska railroad is only a 12hour journey, roughly, Anchorage <---> Fairbanks. Both train sets leave at 8:15a and arrive at their destinations at 8:00p. The "subcontrators" that man the on-board consession stand, and do the in-train tours, etc. are (or they used to be) middle/high school students They switch trains at the half-way point where both train sets meet (which I gather is somewhere south of Hurricane Gulch but north of Talkeetna. So each OBS crew works a 12hour day but gets to go home each night. Not sure if the Engineers/conductors follow the same pattern or if they camp out there before heading back. So yes, probably the idea of a full meal service would not fare well on the regular Alaska RR service. Now, maybe on the Holland-America cruise trans that piggy back the Alaska RR train, but....
     
  24. Aug 19, 2019 #524

    crescent-zephyr

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    That must be a “used to be” - current job site says food service employees must be 21 years or older.

    There is a listing for “lead chef” but I can’t tell if it’s an actual chef that rides each train, or more like a chef that spot rides the trains to make sure food is being prepared / plated correctly.
     
  25. Aug 19, 2019 #525

    AutoTrDvr

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    Quite possible, as this was 1999 when I last took the train, just before they got MAC-70s. It also appears that they have dropped a lot of stops along the way as well, especially north of Denali Natl. Park. At least on the Denali Star service.
     

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