Report: Seven Trains in Sixteen Days.

This has been a strange journey. It started out wonderfully with a family gathering—well, a partial one, anyway—at a favorite restaurant in Seattle. Name? Assaggio and it’s on 4th Avenue. (Ask for Mauro—he’s the owner/boss/master chef—and tell him I sent you.)

The ride from Seattle to Minneapolis was notable if for no other reason than the realization that ordinary working folks are still paying a price for the will-it-ever-be-gone pandemic.

Stay or Go? That Was the Question.

Shortly after COVID first appeared and whole blocs of passengers stopped traveling, Amtrak made a fundamental error. They urged many employees to take early retirement and they furloughed others. Then, when Americans began to travel again and it was OK to come back to work, many of Amtrak’s long-term employees had found other jobs or just decided to-hell-with-it and retired.

Net result? My car attendant on the Empire Builder was responsible for one-and-a-half cars. With Superliner equipment, that could mean as many as 65 berths, not to mention several additional lavatories! It was the same when I got to the eastern overnight trains. Furthermore, the employees who stayed with the railroad are now getting fewer days off between trips. Those extra days off had always been one of the important “perks” that go with an Amtrak job.

And then there’s the food!

Dining cars on the long distance train operating west of Chicago aren’t fully back to pre-COVID days, but they’re getting there. Once you get past the “signature steak”, the menus have some variety and the food is again being prepared on board. However, every long-distance train offers the exact same menu. In the pre-pandemic days, there was some variety. It may have been a different sauce on the pasta, but at least it wasn’t the exact same food every night.

And what about the Eastern trains that run overnight? Well, we had a choice of six pre-frozen meals. I rode the Silver Star twice and had one trip on the Crescent and by the time I got to New Orleans, I was eating only the rolls and butter and a bite or two from some of the desserts. Maybe I picked at the main course. Maybe.

As a sleeping car passenger, I had the option of going to the dining car, picking up my meal—I had given my order to the car attendant—and eating in one of the tables there in the diner. Or my car attendant would bring the meal to me in the roomette.

Finally, toward the end of the trip, at meal time, I would decline the pre-prepared food set aside for those of us in the sleepers, and go directly to the lounge car and purchase the packaged snacks and a beer.

To be fair, there were passengers who appeared to eat all or most of their meals. I suspect, however, they were just a lot hungrier than I was.

(More observations and a concluding report in a couple days.)