Survey of One on Amtrak’s No Diner Experiment: Thumbs Down!
I have said many times that one of the great pleasures you get from a long-distance train ride is meeting nice people along the way over a meal in the dining car or a beverage-of-choice in the lounge. And it’s always extra nice to hear from them months or even years later.
Such was the case upon receiving an email from a gent I got to know on VIA Rail’s train #2, enroute from Vancouver to Toronto. And, along with friendly greetings, came a fresh report about Amtrak’s “experiment” of removing the dining car from the Silver Star (daily, Miami-NewYork via Tampa) as a trade-off for lower sleeping car fares. How’s it going? Well, here’s a reaction from one passenger:
“I won’t be taking that train again. All I heard were complaints from fellow passengers and crew members. There is nothing positive about this cut of service. It doesn’t solve anything [because] you still have to buy over-priced food in the café car. The food is at best SUB PAR.”
We have no idea what the actual quantifiable results of this so-called experiment are to date, but a lot of anecdotal evidence has come in since the dining car was removed from this train: Passengers don’t like it; Amtrak crews hate it. Once the experiment is over it will be interesting to see if the marketing strategy has worked. By that I mean will income from ridership at the lower fares increase enough to substantially exceed income when dining car meals were included in the higher fares. In simple terms, Amtrak needs to get a least three passengers at $1.00 each to replace the two passengers they already had who were paying $1.50 each.
Will ridership increase enough so they will actually come out ahead? I don’t know. Will we ever really know? I doubt it. All I can say is the café cars are OK for a ride that’s a few hours long, but I would never—and that’s N-E-V-E-R !—ride an overnight long-distance train without a dining car. I’m afraid Amtrak is going to insist on finding that out the hard way.