Anderson Doesn’t Get It.
I have traveled by train a lot. Certainly not as much as many commuters, but my trips on Amtrak and VIA Rail in Canada have been for long-distance miles and they’ve piled up over the years. I made a rough estimate recently and came up with a figure of at least 300,000 miles. I’m sure that a disproportionate number of those miles were on the Coast Starlight.
It’s certainly one of Amtrak’s more scenic routes. Leaving Seattle, the southbound train runs along Puget Sound for many miles, passes through part of the Cascade Range and past Mount Rainier heading into Oregon. The next day the train runs the length of California’s Central Valley, source of much of the fresh produce we all enjoy. And, as the day ends, it follows the California coastline with spectacular views of the beaches much of the way into L. A.
But it wasn’t the just the scenery that kept me coming back to ride on the Coast Starlight. It was the Pacific Parlour Car.
Originally built in the 1950s for the Santa Fe Railroad, only five of these luxurious bi-level lounge cars survived and, among all of Amtrak’s long-distance trains, only the Coast Starlight had one as part of the consist.
One section of the parlour car featured eight overstuffed swiveling armchairs, ideal for enjoying the passing scenery. Toward the middle of the car was a lounge area (photo above) where passengers could sit and chat and where mid-afternoon wine tastings were held. In another section of the car were several booths where passengers could choose to take a lunch or dinner meal instead of in the dining car. And, at the forward end of the car, there was a bar staffed by an attendant who was more than willing to start your day with a passable Bloody Mary.
Relaxing on that train, in those elegant surroundings, while passing through constantly changing scenery . . . well, that’s what train travel is all about. But Richard Anderson, who became Amtrak’s president after heading Northwest and Delta Airlines, looked at the computer printouts for the Pacific Parlour Cars and said, “Those cars cost too much for repair and maintenance. Get rid of them.”
And today, as far as I know, the five Pacific Parlour Cars are sitting in Amtrak’s primary repair and maintenance shops in Beech Grove, Indiana. Nobody but Amtrak passengers wants them. And we don’t count.
Hi, My solution is to take Business class where dining cars go into hiding. We load up at a deli and have plenty of fruit. I actually sleep OK in Business Class and it is well hidden by management. The only problem is fat folks who come out of First Class to use our lavs. I will do this when the diner goes on the Silver Meteor. We went coach, ate in the diner and had a great time. I have 30 years experience dealing with Airline management. It wasn’t fun. I take Amtrak to see the countryside I flew over all that time and. I love riding on trains.
I’m normally not on Anderson’s side but the answer here would be to get new Pacific Parlour cars up and running. If we had a competently run Amtrak, we’d have people going out and aggressively finding new concepts for a Pacific Parlour replacement. At some point, rail fans have to be aggressors and aggressively ask for new goodies. Unfortunately I’m losing confidence in Amtrak being able to be turned around. As it is constituted now, it is nothing more than a political piñata. Maybe BNSF would be interested in reentry of the passenger business for the western long distance routes.
Yes! What Anderson and his people don’t understand is when it reaches the point that all we’re getting from Amtrak is transportation, we’ll fly. But imagine if every long-distance Amtrak consist included a modern version of a parlor car reserved for sleeping car passengers, with a comfortable lounge area, an attendant to serve drinks, and an alternative
menu to the dining car– salads, sandwiches, etc. Ah, dream on . . .
We could only wish for something like that. One thing I’m pretty sure of these days is that Congressional members must be getting a lot more mail than usual about Amtrak, primarily because of all that has been taking place since Richard Anderson became sole CEO. The place needs a complete re-org especially when it is a fact they pick and choose among legislative directives what they want to do and what they don’t.