One Step Back. Then Another.

I like people in general and I do believe that the main reason I have enjoyed travel on Amtrak so much is the interaction with other passengers. Traditionally, most of that interaction occurs in the dining car. 

I’ve had some truly memorable encounters in Amtrak dining cars. Here are just two examples that struck me at the time as being unusual or special. But after two decades of travel all over Amtrak’s long-distance system, I can honestly say that encounters like this are almost inevitable. 

— On the Lake Shore Limited, I had dinner with a man who had spent the previous two weeks in Austria, repairing and restoring the ancient pipe organ in Vienna’s magnificent cathedral. He mentioned casually that he was one of only five or six people in the entire world qualified to work on one of those magnificent instruments.

—At breakfast on the Southwest Chief seven or eight years ago, we found ourselves seated across from a history professor from Yale. His specialty was America’s Western Migration and he knew a great deal about the homesteaders and their running conflicts with ranchers. It was a fascinating conversation, especially since we had just stopped in Dodge City, Kansas, and were running alongside the original Santa Fe trail.

A succession of Amtrak management teams have been so fixated on achieving ”break even” on their food service, they have gradually done away with most of what has brought passengers onto the train and into the dining car in the first place. 

Instead, on overnight trains running east of the Mississippi, meals for sleeping car passengers are now prepared off site, put aboard the train in cardboard boxes and delivered to the individual passengers’ accommodations. Any interaction is left to the initiative of the individual passengers.

And they have the nerve to call it “contemporary dining”.