An Experiment Worth Trying.
Amtrak’s train, the Adirondack, is a great ride. It runs daily between New York’s Penn Station and Gare Centrale in Montreal. And because today’s topic is food, I cannot resist noting that a fabulous bakery is located right there in the station. Bienvenue!
The trip takes about 11 hours and if you’re looking for a great train ride—a day trip that takes you through wonderful, scenic countryside and ends up in the second largest French-speaking city in the world—you have found it! Any time of year is wonderful, but in the Fall, at the height of the colors? Well, It can’t be topped.
Of course people get hungry after four or five hours and, as noted, it is an 11-hour ride and, wonderful scenery or not, one would think Amtrak could arrange for better food and better service. But no, it’s like everything else: cut corners to cut costs. The fact is, this train could use a full-on dining car.
As it is, one person trying to serve all those people over nearly a 12-hour ride results in scenes like the photo above. Imagine how nice it would be to have an actual dining car on that train, fully staffed, so you could go into the dinner sit at a table, and order a slice of apple pie and a cup of coffee. Then come back three hours later and order a sandwich and a Molson’s Canadian.
Would it work? Would food service on that train break even or come close to it? Can’t say. Would it make those 11 hours more pleasant? Absolutely. Would the resulting word-of-mouth result in increased ridership? I would bet on it.
Would the current Amtrak management undertake such a move . . . if only to prove us wrong?
Ah … that could be a temptation those fellas would be unable to resist!
I remember a part of Jim’s book about thr “old days” when private companies did all the passenger trains. It seems they let all service slide–espically the food–in an attempt to drive down ridership until they could get out of the passenger business. This was what caused Amtrak to be formed. Looks like history is repeating. But what is left?
In the State of NSW, Australia, on day running trains, there is a menu at each seat. The cafeteria attendants come through the cars and take orders but no money. Then an announcement is made (perhaps an hour later) that dinners are ready and passengers go to the cafeteria car and collect their heated meals on cardboard trays plus any beverages and pay, very little queueing, then return to their seats to eat. Not as nice as dining cars but quite efficient.
Sounds efficient and workable. Key phrase, however, is: “not as nice as a dining car.” And that’s still the big problem for most Americans who are accustomed to a full-on dining car.
I don’t disagree with you, but one issue there would be with this is the fact that the train is jointly operated by Amtrak and VIA. I’ve taken both the Adirondack and the Maple Leaf. I believe on the Adirondack, the lounge car was closed north of the border. On the Maple Leaf it was restocked at Niagara Falls and served the standard VIA menu. An American dining car would probably have to be sealed in Canada. Improved dining options would definitely help, though.
Yes, I’ve taken both trains, too, and some accommodation would have to be made to deal with the border crossing. It’s awkward now, with the Amtrak attendant having to shut down and pack up the entire snack bar inventory before reaching the Canadian border. Then the VIA attendant boards the train and has to unpack and restock with all his/her stuff. Surely, there’s a better way lurking out there somewhere in the shadows. If we can crack the atom . . . *sigh*
Your photo of the line for dining service spawned an idea that would work at least in my mind.
Since Amtrak is doing its damnedest to do away with dining car service and its associated workers, anyway, it would seem that a cafeteria style food alternative would work in that situation. Since Amtrak has gone to a pre-packaged food program I envision a cafeteria line where customers choose from pre-heated items and pay at the end like any other cafeteria. At least it would keep the lines moving.
Since Amtrak is determined to destroy the LD runs in any case, perhaps a cafeteria-style dining experience could at least provide enough sustenance to mollify the riders in their state of discontent until they reach their destination.
I certainly agree that there’s a way to make this happen. I guess the bottom line question is whether or not Amtrak’s top management is really serious about improving the food service. Personally, I think they are looking for whatever is the lowest level of service they can provide without causing a loss of ridership.