The Silver Star Experiment Continues.
Almost all of the people who patronize Amtrak dining cars are sleeping car passengers, and that’s because the cost of their meals is included in what they pay for their accommodations. It’s also true that the dining car is a bit pricey for many coach passengers, most of whom prefer to patronize the snack bar or bring their own food aboard. Just based on my personal observations, I’d guess that coach passengers account for no more than 15-percent of the dining car’s business.
For the notorious Silver Star Experiment, Amtrak removed the full-service dining car from the Silver Star, one of the two daily Florida trains, and then reduced fares for sleeping car passengers on that train. That left all passengers on the Star—both coach and sleeper—to purchase meals from a café car. The idea—dare I say the “expectation”?—was that the reduced fares would attract enough new passengers to the sleepers that the result would be a net increase in revenue.
I don’t remember exactly when this experiment was first launched, but it has been extended to the end of April—prompting a simple question: Why? What’s the point? Based on what I’ve heard, everyone on the Silver Star, both passengers and crew alike, hates not having a full-service dining car.
The most recent ridership numbers are in and they compare the Silver Star with its sister train, the Silver Meteor, which still has both a full-service diner and a café car. Take a look at how ridership for November of 2015 compares with the numbers from November of the year before:
Silver Meteor (with dining car): 30,089, down 0.6%
Silver Star (without dining car): 31,136, down 12.4%
I’m really not sure how much we can make of this because those figures are for all ticketed passengers, including the people in coach. But I do think it’s reasonable to assume that the lack of a dining car wouldn’t have a significant effect on ridership in the coaches. But a 12-percent drop in ridership, especially with the sleeping car passengers paying substantially lower fares, can’t be good news for the people who dreamed up this idea.
Things will certainly get interesting at the end of April when the experiment ends and Amtrak decision-makers have to decide if the Silver Star gets its dining car back. If the results clearly indicate that sleeping car passengers are willing to pay higher fares to have dining car with meals included in their fares, one would certainly think the powers-that-be will restore the Silver Star’s dining car. If they announce that a majority of passengers prefer to purchase food from a café car as a trade-off for lower fares, well . . . I hope NARP will demand a recount!
The diner-off program on the “Silver Star” started I believe in July. Interestingly, the program was continued beyond its initial end date rather surreptitiously, as there were quite a few at Amtrak HQ not in the loop on the extension.
This issue epitomizes the (needless) issues created by the current regime running Amtrak- its inability to cultivate congressional relations and not simply react to the whims of a minority in Congress intent on micro-managing the food & beverage service. But also, significantly, the diner-less “Star” points out a serious internal management issue–how marketing, operations, and finance are not rowing together.