More Changes in Our Sleeping Car Routine.
Amtrak has been under pressure from Congress for years—it seems like forever—to cut costs in order to achieve what no other national passenger rail system in the world had been able to do: break even.
As it is, Amtrak has made remarkable progress, to the point that they are recovering something like 90% of their operating costs from the fare box and other revenue. And that, according to an Amtrak executive with a wry sense of humor, makes Amtrak “the most profitable money-losing national passenger rail system in the world.”
Anyway, with dollars needed but not forthcoming from Congress, Amtrak has been doing what it can to reach that illusory break-even goal by trying to save pennies. Sleeping car passenger are no longer welcomed aboard with a small—really small!—bottle of cheap champagne. Nor do we get a copy of a daily newspaper slipped under our door during the night. Hot coffee used to be available all day in every sleeper; now the pot is shut off at 9:30 in the morning.
And here comes the latest: an Operations Service Advisory distributed to on board crews last week announced something called the “Fresh Blanket Pilot Program.” Short version: sleeping car attendants will now make up your bed with sheets only. Your blanket will be left on top of the sheets in a plastic wrap and you get to finish up the bed-making. If you’re on a two-night trip, you’ll find your blanket folded on top of the sheets, sans plastic, when you go to bed on the second night.
The pilot program will run through the third week of April and is in effect on four trains: the Lake Shore Limited, the Capitol Limited, the Cardinal and the Southwest Chief. I’ll let you know how it works in practice: I’ll be traveling overnight on the Lake Shore next month.
I understand that this latest directive is going to save time for the sleeping car attendants, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how it’s going to save money for Amtrak. Someone in NARP’s Washington office will know, however, and I’ll pass it along when I hear.