Survey of One on Amtrak’s No Diner Experiment: Thumbs Down!
I have said many times that one of the great pleasures you get from a long-distance train ride is meeting nice people along the way over a meal in the dining car or a beverage-of-choice in the lounge. And it’s always extra nice to hear from them months or even years later.
Such was the case upon receiving an email from a gent I got to know on VIA Rail’s train #2, enroute from Vancouver to Toronto. And, along with friendly greetings, came a fresh report about Amtrak’s “experiment” of removing the dining car from the Silver Star (daily, Miami-NewYork via Tampa) as a trade-off for lower sleeping car fares. How’s it going? Well, here’s a reaction from one passenger:
“I won’t be taking that train again. All I heard were complaints from fellow passengers and crew members. There is nothing positive about this cut of service. It doesn’t solve anything [because] you still have to buy over-priced food in the café car. The food is at best SUB PAR.”
We have no idea what the actual quantifiable results of this so-called experiment are to date, but a lot of anecdotal evidence has come in since the dining car was removed from this train: Passengers don’t like it; Amtrak crews hate it. Once the experiment is over it will be interesting to see if the marketing strategy has worked. By that I mean will income from ridership at the lower fares increase enough to substantially exceed income when dining car meals were included in the higher fares. In simple terms, Amtrak needs to get a least three passengers at $1.00 each to replace the two passengers they already had who were paying $1.50 each.
Will ridership increase enough so they will actually come out ahead? I don’t know. Will we ever really know? I doubt it. All I can say is the café cars are OK for a ride that’s a few hours long, but I would never—and that’s N-E-V-E-R !—ride an overnight long-distance train without a dining car. I’m afraid Amtrak is going to insist on finding that out the hard way.
But in their defense, they have to deal with a hostile Congress!
Why, I have no idea.
Just came back through horrible traffic in San Antonio / to many cars / to little roads.
I confess, Im new to this conversation, but maybe a few more voices might help.
It seemed like a foolish idea when I read about it.
My wife and I made life long friends when we met them for dinner on the Empire Builder.
My son and I are taking the train in a few weeks to Chicago/ City of New Orleans.
First class, looking forward to the people we will meet for dinner
Back in 1969 I remember the AutoMat car on the Sunset Limited, coin operated, three day old sandwiches.
My hope was to never experience that again!
Has any financial-type calculated how much the sleeper passenger must now seriously pay on the “Silver Star” for multiple meals only available in the cafe car (and the additional cost for Pepto Bismal for food seldom found anymore in vending machines?) As well, to send these passengers back to their compartment to eat alone defeats the distinction (i.e., marketing-is there any left; how often do they ride the rails?) between sitting in the same seat flying to eat, sleep, etc. vs. the marvel of the long distance train–being able to walk around, go to the diner, to the lounge.
My greatest fear is that as Amtrak has been able to wink with GAAP standards to falsely proclaim the Northeast Corridor “profitable,” be prepared to see the same corporate flock declare the despicable downgrading of the “Star” a huge success, boosting revenues and raves by passengers. I wonder, when Rep. Mica declares Amtrak to be like a Soviet-style system, is he admitting that he falls for their PR machine right out of Pravda..?
How far will Amtrak be allowed to fall in 2016 as Boardman and his acolytes move on; when Congress looks at candidates–importantly, from outside of current Amtrak structure, but critically, with actual railroad operating experience, preferably in passenger service. Amtrak needs leaders in the wheelhouse who know how to operate trains, care about the customer, have solid union working relationships, and are not timid to deal with Congress.
To the same extent, never again shall the advocate community be fooled by another Amtrak Reform Council, as we should remember how the heavy, talented political appointees from the initial ARC quickly bailed out when they realized nothing was to be accomplished; nothing would change.