Where Good Ideas Go to Die.

Before Hurricane Katrina wrecked much of the railroad infrastructure east of New Orleans in 2005, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited was a three night, trans-continental train from Los Angeles, California, to Orlando, Florida.  About 20 years ago, the Management Team overseeing that train—they were based in New Orleans—conducted an interesting, even radical, experiment. I wish I had more details, but here’s the gist: the Sunset’s dining car was going to be open and serving around the clock . . . 24-hours a day!

That meant no more assigned seating times . . . no more having to decide between dinner at 5:30 or dinner at 8:00 because the dining car staff person started taking reservations at the opposite end of the train.

Imagine what the 24-hour schedule meant for sleeping car passengers: 

—If you slept in and wanted breakfast at 10:00 in the morning, the dining car would be open and you’d be served.

—if you just weren’t sleepy and felt like a piece of pie and a cup of coffee at 10:00 at night, the dining car would be open and you’d be served.

The passengers’ response during the trial period was predictable: people traveling in the sleepers loved it. And so did coach passengers because they could leave their seats and get a bite to eat, day or night.

Equally important, the Amtrak employees working the trial system liked it because the work load was spread out over literally the entire day and that meant less stress during traditional meal times. There was another plus, too: because passengers made more visits to the dining car for meals and snacks, tips to the dining car employees increased significantly. 

OK, so what happened?  

The 24-hour concept, we must assume, went into Amtrak HQ for analysis . . . and has never been heard from since.

The consultant who proposed and over-saw the Sunset Limited experiment believes it was a case of upper-level Amtrak executives rejecting a good idea because it wasn’t their idea.

Whatever the reason, when I’m heading east on the Empire Builder next month, and it’s cold and dark outside, I’ll surely wish I could wander back to the dining car for a piece of pie and a cup of coffee.