Amtrak Food Service: Down and Down It Goes. And Where It Stops, Nobody Knows.

For years, Amtrak has been under unrelenting pressure from members of Congress to cut costs. Fine. No problem. We’re all in favor of efficient operation. The problem is, the know-nothings and the publicity hounds on The Hill have been focusing their attention on food service. They do it because the general public is reluctant to put any serious effort into actually understanding complicated matters of public policy.

Knowing that, Amtrak critics in Congress don’t even bother looking into things like the high cost of maintaining rail cars built 40 years ago. Instead they make it easy for the voters.

That’s why clowns like Congressman John Mica (R-Florida) call news conferences and hold up a McDonald’s Big Mac as an Amtrak long-distance train rolls by. Mica figures people will agree when he fulminates that there’s something wrong if Amtrak dining cars are selling hamburgers for $9.50 when, he says, the actual costs to the railroad for that burger is 16 bucks.

First of all, that $16 also gets you fries and a drink. And, by the way, it’s all served at your table in a dining car on a train that’s taking you across the country at 60 or 70 miles an hour.

And what would happen to Amtrak’s ridership if the only food you could get on that cross-country journey came out of a microwave in a plastic bag?

But, because Amtrak depends on a miserly federal subsidy every year, executives from our national passenger rail system have to appear before Congressional committees and listen with respectful demeanor while smirking John Mica mocks them and mugs for the cameras.

And then those Amtrak people go back to their offices and do their desperate best to cut still more costs out of Amtrak’s food and beverage operation.

Do you want to know what’s coming next? How bad things have gotten? The coffee urns in Amtrak sleeping cars are now going to be unplugged and put away at 9:30 a.m. instead of making hot coffee available for sleeping car passengers throughout the day until dinnertime.

A veteran car attendant on my recent trip has so far refused to do that. He says he’ll keep on providing coffee for his passengers all day until he’s formally reprimanded for doing so.

Why?

“Because it’s chicken shit,” he said.

Yes, it is. And it’s got John Mica’s name all over it.