Say It Ain’t So, Joe Boardman!
Some months back, Amtrak took the dining cars off of the Silver Star, one of the two trains that operate daily between New York City and Miami. That left a café car as the only source of food–sandwiches and microwaved packaged meals–which both coach and sleeping car passengers would have to pay for. To compensate for the lack of a full service diner, and because they would now have to pay for their meals, Amtrak substantially reduced fares for the sleeping car accommodations. This was announced as an “experiment” to see if passengers would prefer giving up quality food service in exchange for lower fares.
Of course, everyone following passenger rail in this country is interested in the results of this experiment. The concern has been that Amtrak will rig the results and use them as an excuse to drastically cut back on food service, hoping that will bring them closer to break-even and, as a bonus, get Congressman John Mica (R-Florida) off their backs.
Mica, the embodiment of the smarmy politician, has made a career out of Amtrak bashing, specifically over the fact that Amtrak “loses money” on food service.
On Sunday, the final day of the National Association of Railroad Passengers’ annual Fall meeting, an Amtrak executive spoke to our gathering. He was asked how passengers on the Silver Star were responding to the no-dining-car experiment. He said it seemed clear that people were willing to give up dining car meals in exchange for lower fares.
I must say in all honesty, I don’t believe him. In fact, I don’t think most of us in the room believed him. But if that is what Amtrak announces at the end of the year, I’m very much afraid they will have rigged the results to justify further cost-cutting at the expense of sleeping car passengers and in a naive attempt to appease Congressman Mica. You can’t imagine how much I hope I’m wrong.