How Long Can Amtrak Keep Cutting?
Over the past few years, Amtrak has been shaving costs wherever possible. One by one, the nice little extras have disappeared—tokens and gestures that make passengers feel as though they’re appreciated and that their long-distance train ride is a special experience. For example, this morning my coffee mug sat on a souvenir coaster I was given years ago on the Coast Starlight.
The days of those little gifts are long gone, of course. And so are the little bottles of cheap champagne that once welcomed us on board. So, too, the newspapers that were slipped under doors during the night. All gone.
It’s those of us riding in the sleeping cars who are bearing the brunt of all this cost-cutting. Coach passengers pay the basic rail fare and for that they get to sit in a nice, comfortable seat while being transported from Point A to Point B. Since Amtrak stopped providing the free pillows a year or so ago, there simply aren’t any on board perks to take away from them.
But when it comes to those of us who travel in roomettes or bedrooms, the cost-cutters have gone over our long-distance experience with a fine tooth comb. They’ve finished with our accommodations and now seem to be focusing on the dining car. For instance, the following was forwarded to me by a NARP member:
A passenger on the City of New Orleans has advised that breakfast served on the northbound into Chicago is now a cold affair, thrown together: a croissant, a cup of yogurt (no choice of flavor) that costs 50 cents at the supermarket, an individual-serving box of cold cereal (three choices), three strawberries and a cup of coffee OR tea OR juice. If you wanted juice AND tea or coffee? No can do.
Moreover, the yogurt, strawberries and the half-a-plastic-cup of milk accompanying the cereal were warm; probably all left out overnight in the kitchen.
As recently as Summer 2015, hot breakfast into Chicago was still being served, so this downgrade is fairly recent.
Regular Amtrak customers who travel in sleepers have only one question on our minds these days: What are they going to take away next?
Meanwhile, here’s the one question the Amtrak braintrust should be asking themselves: What happens when sleeping car passengers start thinking that a long-distance train ride is no longer worth the money?
The little things don’t bother me. They really don’t. Yes, I’d like a paper under my door in the morning, but I can read it on my iPad. The crews are usually adequate – some great, some not so great – but that isn’t an issue for me. I’ve ridden Amtrak close to 100K miles over the last 25 years. There are two issues for me 1. How ratty and threadbare the equipment is getting due to lack of capital and 2. The sameness of the menus. For the first time in my life, I’m getting to the point were I don’t jump on an opportunity to take a long Amtrak trip and it is for those two reasons. Amtrak needs a big inflow of capital and a long term funding stream. Unless those things happen it can only get continuously worse. I hate being pessimistic, but that is how I feel and why I’m a member of NARP.
I agree 100-percent. The “little things” are the symptoms; the old equipment and the deterioration of the menu … they’re the disease.
I strongly agree that once Amtrak gets a steady source of funding for capital and infrastructure, things will surely get better, otherwise will continue to deteriorate. I’ve posted earlier this idea and strongly believe that it would be a great way to go in order to secure funding and that would be to convert MOST of Amtrak into a public transit agency (view my comment about the other part of Amtrak in the Privatizing Amtrak). See, no where can I come up with an example where a public transit agency is not funded. Think about it, when have you ever heard of New York City MTA or even a Regional Transit District not being funded. Plus, once it is converted to a public transit agency, ideologues can NO LONGER bash Amtrak. Additionally, this would remove Amtrak having to beg for money each year. As I stated in my earlier comment, there would be a minimum funding amount provided to Amtrak which after doing the math would cost each taxpayer between $1.53 to $1.75 a month. If that’s not a deal then i’m not sure we as citizens could continue to okay funding in other transportation subsidies (ehem airlines, airports). Again, I wholeheartedly believe this would be the best starting point that would return passenger rail travel in the United States to a quality product and service.
I’m curious what happens when someone books a sleeper well in advance and a cut happens between the time of booking and the time of travel. Surely there must have been passengers, for instance, who booked sleepers on the Florida trains at prices that assumed meals were provided. Were they entitled to refunds for the extra fare they paid when the diners were eliminated on those trains? Similarly, I’d think that sleeper passengers on the City of New Orleans could legitimately complain of a “bait and switch” if they booked and paid at a time when full breakfast was provided, but they were in fact served less than a cheap hotel serves as continental breakfast.
With respect to the Silver Star, very early on in the “experiment” some passengers did complain that they were unaware that there was no dining car on that train. That is now spelled out quite clearly on the web site, although I would certainly imagine that it’s a detail that escapes some people. I’m sure some sleeping car passengers are attracted by the significantly lower fare on the Silver Star and there is clearly room for some confusion … and disappointment. Personally, I think this is a terrible idea and the more people who complain to Amtrak Customer Service the better.
A perfect example supporting your comments–as I am going to Boston for Thanksgiving, I checked on 31 July pricing from Chicago: American RT Y=$420 (including x charge selecting bulkhead aisle RT); Amtrak OW Roomette almost $600!
If this were still the “New England States” on the New York Central, with full dining and lounge services, and a fast schedule, I would have gone with the temptation, at least OW. But why put up with the “Lake Shore Limited?” Going into it with eyes open– horrendous schedule eastbound (leave Chicago 930pm; if on time, arrive South Station 801pm!); AMshack Cafe between ALB-BOS for dinner EB, lunch WB; most importantly, the pathetic cuts in the meal and lounge experience by pencil pushers who know nothing about travel.
Perhaps the Millennials and Generation Z were raised without manners (opening doors for women), or, to respect traditions, but filthy oil tablecloths, lack of holiday decorations, and no flowers do not make for a pleasant meal experience; menu selections-if even in stock, are a Gastroenterologist’s dream to increase volume; to beg for a refill of juice is not how I intend to live life.
BTW-Ameircan informed me this afternoon that I was bumped up to First Class on my flight from ORD-BOS, 24 Nov; and provided a choice of multiple entrees for lunch! And people wonder why it’s becoming that much more difficult to be a credible advocate for passenger trains in America…