In Defense of the Dining Car.
Let’s face it: Whoever is responsible for the food service on the Lake Shore Limited and the Capitol Limited started with a bad decision and then has compounded that fundamental mistake by trying to walk it part way back. They just made things worse.
The original mistake was ending the traditional full service dining car on those two very popular trains. Instead, sleeping car passengers were told they could pre-order cold boxed “contemporary” meals that would be delivered to their accommodations. There were, of course, no discernible reductions in sleeping car fares.
Those of us who have traveled in sleeping cars on either or both of those trains raised hell. I’m sure Amtrak’s brain trust expected that the objections would come from a bunch of foamers grumbling amongst ourselves for a while, but would all blow over.
Wrong again. In fact, the response was more heated than they expected. And louder. And it’s lasted longer. In fact, it’s still going on. What’s more, it’s not going to go away.
And now, mistakenly thinking it would solve their problem, Amtrak has announced a hot meal option for sleeping car passengers on both of those trains: “slow-braised beef short rib in red wine and beer sauce.” Well, it may be hot, but it still comes in a box and it’s still delivered to your roomette.
Those responsible for this fiasco still don’t realize that they may have gotten away with eliminating the complimentary morning paper and the little welcome aboard bottles of champagne and the souvenir coffee mugs, but most of us have drawn a line in the sand when it comes to the dining car. A boxed meal eaten alone in my roomette? No … never! I’ll fly instead.
Anyone but Delta.
If you ever get a chance to going on a train trip in a Dome Car, do it. We went on a similar trip across the US from Chicago to California and it was spectacular. Private Chef with incredible food, private sleeping quarters, and the scenery was incredible. Like nothing you have ever seen before.
Ah, yes … I have had the wondrous experience of riding in the Park car always at the rear of VIA Rail’s train #1 and #2 between Vancouver and Toronto. There is a dome on that car and, almost as important, a lounge with an attendant down below. Only problem: they won’t fix you a Bloody Mary until 10:00 in the morning.
Hey Jim, I corresponded with you around March or so regarding our upcoming trip to D.C. on the California Zephyr and Capitol Limited. We just got home tonight after an 8 day adventure out East. The trip to Chicago was wonderful. I took your advice and we stayed in Chicago a night rather than risk a late arrival and missed connection ( the train was only an hr late :) but we enjoyed a night in the Windy City eating deep dish pizza and going to the zoo before leaving on the train to D.C. We loved the dining car on the Zephyr, it was one of the highlights of the trip ( scenery as well ) we met and visited with people from the UK, Australia, a large group of Amish folks headed back to Indiana and people from Iowa, California, Nebraska and Florida. My wife traded business tips with one couple who are going to start sending material back and forth. What a marvelous experience! We ate all our meals in the dining car and spent most our trip in the observation car taking in the scenery and visiting. The Capitol limited has discontinued its dining car service. Only sleeper car passengers are allowed to eat the “Boxed meals” coach passengers have to purchase food from the cafe in the lower part of the observation car. You can choose to eat your boxed meal in the dining car but you have to go get it from the dining car attendant on duty. Your sleeper car attendant will bring your boxed meal to your room but we chose to eat in the dining car although the seating is not with other passengers unless you wanted to. We were very disappointed with the discontinuation of the hot meals served like on the Zephyr, it’s part of the experience! I wish they would reconsider and reinstate it. The boxed meals were ok ( I enjoyed the beef salad and my wife kept the jars the cheesecake came in ) but trying to fit the boxes in a round trash recepticle was difficult. They ran out of certain salads for the dinner service. I didn’t mind the bunk in our roomette and slept quite well except for my nightly sojournes to the bathroom in my shorts and flip flops. The scenery climbing into the Rockies was splendid. We’ll go again for sure. Thanks for all the helpful tips. Our experience will appear in my next column in our local paper that I write for. I’ll send you a copy?
A friend of mine who rode the Lake Shore several weeks ago reported that the attendant in his sleeper told the passengers they would have to go to the diner to get their meals — even if they wanted to eat in their room. Interestingly, most of the passengers chose to eat in the diner and visit with other passengers. The attendant in the diner hands you a big box. The problem is the trash. The attendant set up several large paper trash bags in the diner for passengers to dispose of their boxes (a la McDonald’s). My friend reported breakfast was terrible; lunch (the penne pasta) was just OK.
Thanks for the report. I’m surprised to hear that they were all directed to the dining car; not surprised that most of the passengers preferred that.
Jim, well put. No, it’s not going away. I plan on writing another round of snail mail letters to my two senators and congressman next week specifying my criticisms of the situation with the Dining Cars and to the cavalier attitude the current powers have displayed regarding trains and scheduling. No time for complacency!