Can We Believe Amtrak?
The Amtrak brain trust seems to be so spectacularly wrong so much of the time, we find ourselves asking again and again, “What the hell are they thinking?”
Yesterday I began working out travel arrangements to attend RPA’s annual Fall meetings in Miami this October. The final leg of my rail itinerary will include one of the two Florida trains, either the Silver Meteor (photo below) or the Silver Star, from Alexandria, Virginia, down to Miami.
Both trains originate in New York City and terminate in Miami. The Meteor has a full-service dining car with the cost of meals included in the fares paid by sleeping car passengers. There is no dining car on the Silver Star Star and all passengers, from both coach and sleepers, purchase their meals from a Cafe/Lounge car where the menu is much more limited.
I really enjoy the full-on dining car experience, so I would normally choose the Meteor, but—whoa!—on my travel day, the Washington-to-Miami fare for a roomette on the Silver Star is $322, but the fare for an identical roomette on the Meteor is a whopping $737.
Holy Signature Steak, Batman! I will have had dinner before boarding, so that’s an additional $415 for one breakfast and one lunch in the Meteor’s dining car! I finally decided that the cost difference just couldn’t be justified and I reluctantly booked the Silver Star.
Meantime, I couldn’t get over the huge cost differential and, once again, I found myself asking, “What the hell are they thinking?”. Suddenly a thought struck me: Is it possible that Amtrak could be tampering with ridership numbers by inducing people to choose the Silver Star by overpricing the Meteor?
If, in the not so distant future, the Silver Meteor loses its dining car, I will bet that Amtrak’s justification will be that there was a diner on the Meteor, but the ridership was very disappointing and they have concluded that passengers preferred the contemporary dining option and lower fares offered by the Silver Star.
The fact is—and this is the result of several recent incidents—we can no longer believe everything Amtrak tells us. And that’s a damn shame.