Penny Wise; Pound Foolish … Again!
I have always enjoyed Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, which runs daily in both directions between Los Angeles and Seattle. It’s a very scenic ride, but the main reason is the Pacific Parlour Car that’s part of the consist.
But the Coast Starlight has become Exhibit A for examples of little perks and gestures that once made sleeping car passengers feel appreciated, but no longer exist.
I enjoy my morning coffee in an Amtrak mug which sits on a souvenir coaster, both welcome-aboard gifts from previous trips on the Coast Starlight.
It was nice to find two small bottles of inexpensive champagne chilled and waiting for us in our roomette when we boarded.
There was a souvenir booklet to take home after the trip.
And a newspaper was slipped under the door of our roomettes every morning.
We enjoyed a free wine tasting in the parlor car every afternoon. It’s now $7.50 per person.
Hot coffee was available all day from an urn in each sleeping car. The plug is pulled mid-morning now.
Ice cubes and a choice of several fruit juices used to be available in each sleeping car throughout the day. The ice is gone and the only juice is of an undetermined flavor.
And the unkindest cut of all? The Bloody Mary I enjoy in the parlor car before breakfast once came with a celery stalk and four ripe olives spiked on a toothpick as a garnish. Both gone.
And now, according to a crew member on my recent trip, two of the five parlor cars are “out of service” indefinitely, which means that several times a week there will be no parlor car in the Coast Starlight’s consist.
I’ve probably traveled on the Coast Starlight a couple of dozen times over the years. But all of the little extras that made this train so special and induced me to take an extra day and assume extra cost just to ride that train? They’re all gone. Only the parlor car is left, and apparently you’ve only got a 50-50 chance of finding one in the consist when you travel.
The troubling thing is that many first time passengers are becoming aware that the Coast Starlight is no longer the special experience they thought it would be.
Congress must come to understand that Amtrak cannot achieve break even, let alone profitability, by cutting costs, especially when those cuts affect sleeping car passengers who are already paying more than their fair share. Let us hope that a new Congress will finally, at long last, get it!
If the cost of wine for the Coast Starlight is a problem, given the plethora of wineries along the route, if Amtrac mentioned the exposure having their wine featured in a free tasting, there would be a line to contribute wine around the block. Think outside the box anyone? I have traveled the western routes and a few perks would be nice.
It has always been my understanding that in the early days of these wine tastings, the wines were provided at no cost to Amtrak by wineries eager for the exposure. I do not know if that is still the case, however. As an aside, I continue to wonder why a Malbec from Argentina is being served while the train is passing through the heart of California’s wine country. Go figure!
Yes, the long-term financing needs to involve the Congress.
But in the meantime, why on earth can’t Amtrak and its expert accountants adjust the sleeping car prices accordingly to bring back newspapers (preferably a national AND a local paper – it’s difficult to provide too much reading material on a long-distance train), bring back the darned ice and the three fruit drinks (orange, apple, cranberry drink), afternoon and evening coffee, and, yes, even olives for your martini (I would compromise and agree to give up the stalk of celery).
And, importantly, bring back that thick chocolate/devil’s food multi-layer cake I used to enjoy for dessert in the dining car about 10 years ago.
The experts have apparently computed that the wine and cheese tasting is worth $7.50. Why can’t they figure out what newspapers, ice, fruit juice, and all day coffee would cost and charge me accordingly instead of forcing me to give up all those amenities?
And what about maintaining ALL of the Pacific Parlor Cars? Could those costs be accounted for and included in Coast Starlight ticket prices since that’s the train on which they run?
As you say, the Coast Starlight, (and Empire Builder and other long-distance trains) should continue to be premiere travel experiences. Maybe this new guy at Amtrak agrees.