Sleepers: Costing More, Getting Less.
When I travel, I fly to the west coast and take one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains to my mainland destination. I have the time. I can afford it. I like the slower pace and, yes, there’s the scenery. Most particularly, however, I enjoy the experience of meeting some of my fellow passengers over a nice meal in the relaxed atmosphere of the dining car.
An overnight ride in an Amtrak sleeping car is not simply transportation; it’s a travel experience. Or at least it should be. The trouble is, in its relentless cost-cutting, Amtrak has eliminated the little “perks” that have made sleeping car travel a special experience: the welcome-aboard toiletry packs, the wine tastings, the Parlour car on the Coast Starlight, and the trade-down of full-service dining cars for microwaved meals in Café Cars on the Lake Shore Limited and the Cardinal and the City of New Orleans and the Silver Star.
In ten days I’m leaving here to attend the Rail Passengers Association’s annual Spring meeting in Washington, DC. From Seattle I’m taking the Empire Builder to Chicago, where I’ll connect with the Capitol Limited for the ride to Washington. Three months ago, I paid almost $1100 for a roomette on both trains. Yesterday I learned that Amtrak may be taking the dining car off the Capitol Limited, too.
This morning I checked the American Airlines website. I could have purchased an economy seat from Seattle to Washington, DC, for $306. In fact, I could have flown first class for $746.
I wonder if Richard Anderson, Amtrak’s new president and CEO, knows that he’s on the way to losing at least some of my business. I wonder if he cares.
After reading these descriptions of train travel on the Lake Shore limited and others my concerns. I have not traveled by American trains in many years and while and was looking forward to the trip all the way to LA round trip from NYNY. I can only hope this does not turn out to be a big disappointment with my new wife which is from Germany, Her first trip on American Trains. Not only money wise it’s going to hurt my American pride.
I’m sure you will both enjoy the trip. Those of us who have been traveling on the long-distance trains for years are upset with the new Amtrak president because he has systematically done away with many of the little extras to which we old timers had become accustomed. But you both will enjoy the scenery and meeting other travelers in the lounge car. It’s still very much a worthwhile experience.
Thanks for the encouragement, The last LD train I took was with a steam engine from Dallas to NYNY for oversees deployment. Even as a service member it was a great trip and I enjoyed ever minute. This upcoming trip is on my bucket list so we wanted it to be special.
I remember the last days of the Southern Pacific’s Sunset Limited. It was the year before the birth of Amtrak and things had sunk to an all time low. SP ran an engine, an automat car and one filthy coach which had a pool of urine in the linoleum corridor. I doubt we will ever sink that low again, but the promise of quality long distance passenger trains is slipping away under Amtrak’s new business model.
My last trip on the Empire Builder was on equipment that featured a broken chair and a bathroom door that refused to close. The food and service were fine, but overall the equipment was very tired.
However, we did arrive on time!
It appears that long haul is in serious jeopardy and those who pay the price will be the small communities that are still connected by rail.
I also ride Amtrak long distance trains. I will be riding the Sunset Limited for the second time this summer. However, the public is partly to blame for the demise of the 1st class amenities starting in the late 1950’s. Southern Pacific like many other railroads spent millions buying modern passenger train equipment in the 1950’s. And how did the public travelling respond? They decided to desert the trains and instead buy airline tickets and new cars. So we can’t put all the blame on the railroads for the reduction in service and amnenities.
Wait a minute! You mean we’re all paying for the sins of our fathers?? Sorry, but I believe this is a case of some poor marketing decisions caused at least in part because nderson has brought an airline mentality to his new job.
Why not Uber to your station? We have a similar problem here in San Antonio
I cannot help at this point but to think that Amtrak is really dead set on trying to undermine LD passenger rail at this point, by cutting anything they can get away with, raising fares, and favoring Northeast Corridor services above and beyond anything else. No capital for new LD equipment, discussions about cutting LD trains into shorter segments, stripping special perks like the Pacific Parlor car, and making the sleepers more of a “camping on a train” experience than ever before. Dining cars provide less and less fresh meals, more tray pack, smaller crews trying to do the same, and with higher prices all around. The random elimination of PV moves, which does not impact me immediately, does shut down opportunities for many Live Steam mainline excursions, charter trips, and other things which I would like to experience in the future.
I have a trip coming up in two weeks to Chicago from Fort Worth. On the way up, I’m taking the Eagle. Parking in FTW is pathetic, so I’m parking at the airport, and using a bus / commuter rail option to get to the station. So I’ll be committed for at least two hours (plus wait time at station) before I even get on the train. Let’s hope it is running on time, and that it isn’t suddenly diverted as the Texas Eagle has been several times this year. I will have one dinner to look forward to, breakfast, maybe lunch, and then arrive in Chicago in the afternoon, timekeeping allowing. I will be riding equipment which went into service when I was in college as a freshman (I’m in my mid-50’s now) and although I love riding trains, there’s nothing new there.
On my return, I couldn’t take that much time off, so I’ll be flying American. My flight is a direct connection to DFW, on a relatively new 777, on which I am flying premium economy. I may(?) potentially qualify for a first class upgrade based on miles.
Cost wise, my Amtrak Journey is costing $100 more than my AA journey. Riding Amtrak is more inconvenient in almost all practical aspects than flying. The only tipping factor is that I enjoy the train experience, which justifies the cost, delays, time, inconvenience, etc.
Now, with what I am seeing coming out of Anderson’s Amtrak, I am really viewing my upcoming trip as probably my last Amtrak trip in the foreseeable future. I really don’t want to ride dirty trains, old equipment, with disgruntled employees, which is where we are quickly headed with this administration. How long till we decide putting vending machines with “really good” vending meals and clean microwaves is more cost effective than crewing a diner? Maybe we can split the Eagle into two or more segments, and make the states pay for it? That would free up funds for the NE Corridor.
I am of a persuasion that Amtrak’s future really hinges on splitting the company into three segments. One, which would own and manage the Northeast Corridor and other Amtrak owned rail track, stations, and infrastructure. Two would be a Northeast Corridor service provider, which would own all high speed trains in the NE Corridor, and related / contiguous services. Three would be the LD / remainder of America service, operating under Amtrak. Each company would own their own service centers (Bear to NE Ops, others to Amtrak US), and Reservation systems would be owned by each entity with a requirement to maintain linkage between the two. No accounting relationships between either operating entity, and the NE Rail Operations group would be required to assign charges to each user (including commuter agencies) on clearly publically calculated and stated cost driven amounts.
If this happened, what I bet would happen in short order is that LD service would look much better, NE Corridor trains would turn into a money pit, and we could see some real competition and improvement on rail in this country.
This whole subject has our heads spinning and no doubt many others as well. One of the things I’m trying to sort out is what action do we as individual Amtrak passengers and / or as RPA members, need to take? We’ve been responding when it comes to communicating with our Congressional delegation, and recently we have responded to NARP’s request that we communicate with the White House. Now, we’re dealing with another whole situation, apparent enemies in Amtrak itself!
My feeling is that Mr. Richard Anderson needs to be hearing some very direct and pointed feedback from both individuals and RPA. Many of us are rail passengers because we despise air travel for various reasons, but most of us would concur on the downgrades they have put in place. It sure seems to me that Mr. Anderson wants to run Amtrak like an airline. He also appears to be rather clueless on why passengers choose trains. Consider for example all that Mike has spoken of. Does Anderson even have a clue that most of Amtrak passengers could have opted for air travel? Does he have any idea why? The man seems clueless! Another thing that mystifies me is whether Charles (Wick) Moorman REALLY did endorse this guy? As time goes by he apperars to be a polar opposite!
This is why I say Amtrak needs to be hearing from its passengers. As Mike said they have been trying to do anything they can get away with. Well they need to start hearing from US!! We would value direction on what and just how our efforts will be most effective. With whom specifically should we communicate?
With the mention of vending machines and microwaves, I bet Anderson doesn’t have a clue that Southern Pacific resorted to this methodology on the Sunset Limited back around 1969-1970 before they were ordered by ICC to restore the dining car (but of course they were given the “carrot” of reducing service to 3x per week which has remained ever since).
The last time I rode the Lake Shore Limited, the Amfleet II sit-down microwaved meals were desperate. Does anyone remember that when Amtrak dropped the diner that they promised that they would restore it when the new diners are delivered? Long-distance trains need full service diners, sleepers and a continuation of checked baggage service. I think all of us have some point in mind beyond which we will treat Amtrak the way they are treating us. It’s time attention is given to the trains we have right now and to make sure that HSR does not get all the attention.
Hopefully these matters will receive the utmost attention at the annual spring meeting of RPA in Washington DC!