How About a New Amtrak Dining Car Experiment?

Back in October, a charming Irish lady and I shared a table for dinner one evening in the Empire Builder’s dining car. After returning home, and knowing of my involvement in NARP, she very thoughtfully put together some comments and observations of her Amtrak experience. On the whole, she enjoyed the trip, but she did have some polite criticism of her experiences in the dining car. Mostly, she was less than thrilled with the sameness of the menu, the so-so quality of the food, and the casual and inconsistent service.
While reading her critique, I had a moment of possible inspiration: Why couldn’t Amtrak undertake an experiment that would be, in effect, the complete reversal of what they’re doing on the Silver Star? To refresh memories, Amtrak operates two daily trains that run between Miami and New York City on very similar routes: the Silver Meteor and the Silver Star. Thinking that sleeping car passengers would prefer lower fares to having their dining car meals included in what they now pay for their tickets, Amtrak has removed the dining car from the Silver Star. That means passengers from the sleepers are now standing in line with coach passengers for the microwaved sandwiches in the train’s café car. In theory, say the responsible Amtrak executives, the lower fares will prove so attractive that increased ridership will generate greater revenue.

But what about reversing that approach? What about raising fares on the other train, the Silver Meteor, and adding a REAL dining car? By that, I mean a dining car with white linen table cloths, real china, stainless steel tableware … a dining car with a different menu every day, featuring gourmet food, prepared on board by a real chef and served by a professional wait staff. Let’s see what happens if Amtrak were to tack another $50 or $60 onto sleeping car fares, but offer food service like that.
But, you say, that’s not realistic. Railroads just don’t do that anymore.
Oh, yeah? VIA Rail does.