Amtrak Extends Its Awful Dining Car “Experiment”.
Amtrak has just announced that the Silver Star “experiment” will continue through the end of April. To refresh memories, there are two trains operating daily in both directions between Miami and New York City: the Silver Meteor and the Silver Star. They follow similar routes, but the Star’s is a bit longer because it crosses the state of Florida to Tampa before continuing north.
Both trains have several coaches, two or three Viewliner sleeping cars, a café car, and until a few months ago, both trains had full service dining cars. But that was when some people at Amtrak decided that, as an “experiment”, it would be a dandy idea to remove the dining car from the Silver Star while simultaneously reducing fares significantly for sleeping car passengers. (Dining car meals are normally included in the cost of the sleeping car accommodations.)
In other words, said the Amtrak execs, this move could increase ridership on the Star because, as a trade off for lower fares, a greater number of passengers would be willing to give up the “free” meals and the dining car experience and pay for the much more limited fare in the café car? (You can click on this link to get a look at the café car menu.) Increased ridership, of course, would mean increased revenue. The catch, of course, is that ALL of the sleeping car passengers on the Star, including repeat riders, are now paying substantially lower fares.
A lot of people think this is an absolutely terrible idea, including some of the top Amtrak executives. NARP (the National Association of Railroad Passengers) has condemned the idea and, while this is anecdotal, it does appear that both veteran sleeping car passengers and the Amtrak on-board crews hate it—the passengers, because there are long waits to be served and limited seating in the café cars and because they miss the interaction with other travelers in the traditional dining car setting. The car attendants don’t like it because they aren’t getting as much in tips. And that’s in spite of the fact that the loss of the dining car in no way affects the amount of work they have to perform for their passengers. To me, that’s a clear indication that passengers are not enjoying the overall experience as much as they did before the dining car was removed.
The fear many of us have is that Amtrak will fudge the results of this misguided experiment and, sometime after April 30th, announce that the results have shown that passengers would rather save some money than have a full-service dining car. And before we can say “But … but … but …”, café cars will have replaced diners on those long-distance trains that cover their routes with just one overnight. That would (or could) include the Crescent (New Orleans to New York via Washington), the Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York or Boston), and the Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York or Boston), among others.
All of this is largely the result of Republicans in Congress constantly demanding that Amtrak achieve break-even … that is, with revenue covering operating costs. Of course, none of those bozos has any idea what it’s like to travel long-distance by train.
Can you picture Congressman John Mica (R-Florida) standing in line in the Silver Star’s café car waiting his turn to pay 10 bucks for a microwaved pizza and a can of Pepsi? Not in a thousand years. All those anti-Amtrak members of Congress are much too important for that. They fly … and they go first class … and it’s on our dime.