Thinking Outside the Cardboard Box.
Amtrak has taken the last remaining dining cars off the five or six long-distance trains operating west of Chicago. All of the long-distance trains, operating everywhere in the country, are now serving “contemporary dining” meals to sleeping car passengers.
Contrary to the suspicions of many RPA members, this move is not a plot fomented by a devious Amtrak management to eliminate the traditional dining cars from the entire Amtrak system once and for all. This assurance comes from Jim Mathews, president and CEO of Rail Passengers Association. Jim had a face-to-face meeting on this exact topic with the Amtrak vice president who has the ultimate authority for their long-distance food service.
There will come a time—not too far off, we hope—when the full-service dining cars will be back in service on the long-haul trains. But in what could well be quite a different economy, Amtrak will not only have to restore its relationship with former passengers, it will need to attract new ones as well. To do that, and to succeed, Amtrak must be bold.
* What if Amtrak should reverse the penny-pinching course it’s been on for the past two decades?
* What if they restored full-service, traditional dining cars to the overnight eastern trains whose passengers have been subjected to pre-packaged meals served in cardboard boxes?
* What if Amtrak were to actually add dining cars to other eastern trains with routes the extend over at least two normal meal times?
Yes, the menus would have to be adapted . . . simplified even. The food doesn’t have to be elaborate, it just has to taste good and the presentation needs to be attractive.That’s because—and the Amtrak decision-makers must know this—it’s the traditional dining car experience that transforms a journey to a memorable experience.
For some 20 years, Amtrak passengers have become so accustomed to getting less; imagine how delighted they’ll be to find they’re getting more!
This is crummy news, Jim. We’re contemplating a trip in September on the Coast Starlight from Seattle to LA and back. We’re not sure it’s actually going to happen, given the virus thing. And if the dining options amount to corn dogs from 7-11, that’s a deal breaker. I hope Jim is right about this being a temporary move.
PS- Sorry you had to ditch your April trip; the Red Sox were supposed to have been here two weeks ago. I recently accepted a part-time job in the Mariners ticket office. Haven’t been able to sell any tickets yet!
This really pisses me off because I am taking a close friend on a trip on the California Zephyr from Denver to Reno in June to introduce her to the fun of rail travel. I did not pay a premium rate for that experience to have Amtrak turn it into a 7-Eleven dining experience. It all might fall apart because of the coronavirus pandemic before the June trip, but if we get to go, I want it to be a true first-class ride.
I understand why Amtrak is taking this step at this time, but I agree with you that the dining car experience is one of the main reasons why many of us find such pleasure in the long-distance rail experience. If this is the lady’s first Amtrak experience, the ride through those canyons will delight her and as far as the dining car experience is concerned she won’t know what she’s missing. Here’s an idea for you: Get ahold of a good catering firm in Grand Junction and have them meet the train with a nice dinner-for-two and a really good bottle of nicely chilled champagne. You owe me, big guy!