More Nickel and Diming.

Everyone knows that Amtrak has been in a cost-cutting mode for years now. I am of two minds about that. There is no doubt that the railroad is underfunded, but with the cold-hearted ideologues in Congress looking for every opportunity to criticize, Amtrak has had to show they’re doing everything possible to save money and thereby minimize the need for federal subsidies
They can’t save money on the coach passengers, of course—all they’re getting is a seat and their transportation—so it’s the sleeping car passengers who have borne the brunt of Amtrak’s cost-cutting. The trouble is, people like me who take frequent long-distance Amtrak trips every year, are paying more and getting less.

 Not that long ago, we were welcomed aboard with token gifts of appreciation: small chilled bottles of cheap champagne or a souvenir item like an Amtrak coffee mug. We awoke in the morning to find a newspaper had been slipped under our door. And a choice of orange, apple or cranberry juice was available in every sleeper each morning. (On my last trip, there was one small carton suspiciously labeled simply “Juice”.) Hot coffee was once available all day and into the night in every sleeping car; now the urn is unplugged at 9:30 in the morning.

And today I was told by a reader who missed his connection in Chicago that he and other passengers were not accommodated in a hotel for the night. Rather, Amtrak now has two Superliner sleeping cars parked in Chicago’s Union Station for that purpose. Once again, passengers who have already paid top dollar for their roomettes or bedrooms are being nickel-and-dimed. First time sleeping car passengers aren’t aware, but it’s hard for us old timers not to feel resentful.

 I have no idea how much money Amtrak saves by this kind of cost-cutting. And, to be clear, I don’t really fault them for it. Mostly, I suspect they feel the need to show the small minds in Congress that Amtrak is doing everything possible to reduce the need for federal subsidies.
In the meantime, while Amtrak looks for new ways to save pennies and nickels, the infrastructure continues to deteriorate and the old equipment keeps getting older. Is Congress concerned? Of course not. At the moment, the priority for a majority of the members is trying to figure out how to take adequate health care away from 22 million Americans and convince the rest of us that they’ve done a good thing.