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About the Future of the Dining Car.

This is a time of uncertainty, isn’t it. Somewhat less than half the country is unhappy with the person who is going to be our next president. The pandemic is as  bad or worse than it has ever been. The economy is in bad shape and heading south. And when it comes to travel, no one has any idea when we’ll be back to normal.

For that matter,  no one has any idea what “normal” is going to be like . . . especially if we’re talking about long-distance travel on Amtrak.

 Me? I’m concerned that the Amtrak brain trust has no intention of going back to a schedule of daily long-distance trains . . . that they believe the three-trains-a-week schedule for long-distance trains is all that’s needed to accommodate the traffic and they are convinced that passengers will adjust our itineraries accordingly.

Well, of course we will, if that’s the only option! Our connections will be difficult and a thrice weekly schedule will end up costing more for extra meals and hotel rooms.

But my real fear is that Amtrak will do away with the traditional dining car service. By that I mean passengers being seated at the same table with other passengers . . . choosing from a menu, having a real conversation with total strangers . . . people who don’t work for Amtrak!

I wonder if the real decision-makers at Amtrak have ever fully slipped into the role of a customer on—let’s say—the Empire Builder all the way from Chicago to Seattle. No working on the laptop . . . no poring over ridership reports . . . no talking shop with another Amtrak executive. I’m talking about two nights on the train and a half dozen meals seated at tables in the diner with strangers.

Frankly, I doubt it. Because they’re too busy . . . too important . . . and their time is just too precious.

But if they did, I believe they would step off that train in Seattle and never again suggest that Amtrak could save a few dollars by getting rid of the traditional dining cars. Instead, I’ll wager they’ll talk about improving the food . . . offering different menus on different trains . . . and restoring New York cheese cake to the menu. If that’s done . . .

“People will come, Ray. People will most certainly come!” 

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