Answering Your Questions.
Q. What are the chances that Amtrak will do away with the long-distance trains? Does RPA have any insights?
A. We know there is a faction within Amtrak’s Upper Management that is advocating the elimination of most if not all of the long-distance trains. And it does appear that Richard Anderson, Amtrak’s president and CEO, is leaning in that direction. They’ve floated couple of trail balloons and, in addition to cries of outrage from RPA and other organizations, they’ve had very strong opposition from members of Congress who represent states that would be affected. I don’t think Amtrak is prepared to take on a lot of angry politicians, none of whom want to be blamed for the loss of “his” long-distance train in an election year.
Q. What can we do to get real dining cars back on all overnight trains? And I’m including the Cardinal and the City of New Orleans as well as the Lake Shore and the Capitol Limited.
A. Complain! And not just to Amtrak. Complain to your elected representatives in Congress, too. After all, it was Congress demanding that Amtrak break even on food service that has given Anderson justification for cutting back so drastically on the food service. The most effective way is to telephone their office and ask the person who answers to give your message to the Member. Leave your name, of course, but also your address (so they’ll know you are a constituent.)
Q. Why do I have to tip the dining car staff who are union employees making good money already?
A. First of all, you don’t “have to” tip them. That’s your decision to make. I always do (assuming reasonably good service) because it’s a very tough job. On the Zephyr, for example, the Chicago-based crew serves six meals on the way out to Emeryville. Then, after just 12 or 14 hours in a hotel room, it’s another six meals served in a little more that two-and-a-half days on the return trip. And that’s if the train runs on time. Finally, and this clinched it for me, the IRS assumes they’re getting tips and they are taxed accordingly. That alone is a good enough reason for me!