Amenities Being Eliminated from Long Distance Routes

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rickycourtney

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Over on Trainorders someone has posted an image of Food & Beverage/Operations Support Notice FSN 14-02. It outlines several amenities that are being eliminated from long distance services. The list is pretty grim folks.

Here's a verbatim of what it says:

Employees: All

Food Service Car/Type: Diner, Lounge, Cafè, Pacific Parlour Car, Diner Lite


Region: All


Train Specific: All Long Distance trains except the Auto Train


Issue Date: February 4, 2014

(EDIT: I'm leaving off the contact information, it's too hard to read.)




Background:

A number of amenity items are being eliminated and removed from long distance services.

Advisory:

The following amenity items are being eliminated and removed from long distance services. Effective dates are posted next to the items and the commissaries will stop boarding these items on these dates. Ending dates were set based on the calculated depletion of existing inventories.

  • Wine & Cheese Receptions - Effective March 31, 2014Empire Builder
  • Coast Starlight
  • Lake Shore Ltd.

[*]Complimentary 187ml Champagne & Non-Alcoholic Cider - Effective March 31, 2014
[*]Aseptic Cranberry Juice will no longer be offered in the Sleeping Car - Effective February 8, 2014
  • Orange and Apple will continue to be offered
  • Dining car will continue to offer Cranberry Juice

[*]Complimentary Newspapers - Effective Date TBA. Research is underway regarding existing contracts in place with current vendors
[*]Amenity Kits - Effective May 31, 2014
  • Empire Builder
  • Coast Starlight

[*]Flowers and Vases on Dining Car Tables - Effective February 15, 2014
[*]Astor Chocolate Squares - Effective March 31, 2014
  • Empire Builder
  • Coast Starlight

Thank you for your cooperation.​
This Food Service Notice is fulfilled on April 1, 2014.
 
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Aaron

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  • Wine & Cheese Receptions - Effective March 31, 2014
Well, I don't drink, so no big loss to me personally (Yes, I know... "First they came for the wine and cheese, and I did not speak out, because I don't drink.") Still, has anyone ever connected the dots to see whether wine sales in the dining car or lounge were increased on the trains that did the receptions? I would think they could possibly break even on these, but again, I don't drink, so I don't know what it takes to get people to buy more wine.

  • Amenity Kits - Effective May 31, 2014
I'm still waiting for the kits promised me on either of my last two Starlight trips, so there's no apparent change for me.

  • Flowers and Vases on Dining Car Tables - Effective February 15, 2014
I think the table is too cluttered as it is.

  • Astor Chocolate Squares - Effective March 31, 2014
Again, never seen them myself.

While I mourn any example of decline by degrees, these changes all seem minor, in my opinion. I like a good old fashioned newspaper from a city I'm visiting, but I'll have to get one myself from now on. And instead of pouring my own cranberry juice, I'll wait a couple of hours and get it with a meal. The other amenities have been so inconsistent that they're worth cutting in my opinion just for the sake of increased consistency. Customer satisfaction could very well increase if passengers are always getting what they're promised instead of the current crapshoot. In my office we're fond of the phrase "under promise and over deliver". It's an easy recipe for customer satisfaction. With Amtrak, it's too often "over promise and under deliver". At this point, I'd just settle for "under promise and deliver the exact level of service promised".

These cuts are clearly a gesture toward Mica and his ilk, and while they won't really affect passengers all that much, I fear their insignificance means they won't save that much either.
 
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Anderson

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On the one hand, it's a shame to see the wine tasting go away on the Starlight. It's also a shame to see it go away on the LSL; I wish that could have held on until they could redo the schedule. On the other hand, the cranberry juice likely didn't get consumed much, making it a bit of a waste, and the newspapers really are a holdover to another era. I don't think I've looked at a paper more than a half-dozen times in the last few years when I wasn't on a train.
 
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chrsjrcj

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Clearly this should put Amtrak on the track to profitability, and rein in the country's $500 bn budget deficit.

/sarc
 

benjibear

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The only thing of any significance for me was the newspaper. I did read the paper while traveling. It was a USA today and it was good to have that newspaper. Now if they were to get wi-fi on ld trains, this would be a completly mute point for me.

Nothing on the list is that significant. In the entire scheme of things, these things probably have minimum value, but it looks like a good faith effort to the public and our elected officials that Amtrak is cutting waste.
 

Ziv

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Too bad about the wine tastings. That was a nice touch.

Newspapers are ok, but I would rather have wi-fi. The absence of both is a bit of a negative.
 

RalphCT

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I've experienced and seen all of these services on board the Empire Builder. They are all part of the first class level of service that these trains have provided. Loss of these amenities will have an impact. It's all the little things that make LD train travel enjoyable.

A Montanan who enjoys train travel.
 

Michael061282

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The wine tasting is a loss for those who drink wine. I don't (but have ZERO problem with those who do, unless they over do it), so no loss for me. Honestly though I thought Amtrak were "pushing" the wine & cheese a little too much, but I'm (very admittedly) a bit sensitive, having had more a couple of family member suffer from Cirrhosis. I probably wouldn't have been so sensitive though if they had of offered something for those of us who choose not to drink but c'est la vie. I never saw nor received any chocolates and lately the only newspapers I've had are USATodays, sometimes those are day old (and I don't mean the weekend versions). It is a bummer to see the sleepers lose a lot of amenities though
 
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Railroad Bill

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I agree that it will have no effect on my desire to travel on Amtrak, but it is an indication that more cuts may be in the offing as pressure is applied in the Congress to make Amtrak a "profitable" venture.

Food quality is still quite good in my opinion and I would hope that those in charge do not cut in those areas of service. I would agree with Aaron that consistency in service is more important than promising things that are not delivered. Amtrak employees can sell train travel as much as these amenities. Those are areas where quality control needs the most work. Keep the many excellent employees and weed out the undesirable lot who create a bad impression among travelers.
 

CHamilton

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Amtrak riders: this is important, whether you use these amenities or not.

If the (probably ridiculously small) amount saved by eliminating these amenities were being redirected to improving frequencies and reliability, I'd be all for it. But of course, Amtrak won't get any more money for adding more trains. No, they'll just get their budget cut again, all to give brownie points to certain politicians who love to micromanage Amtrak while throwing money at other huge budget items (defense, highways, pick your poison...).

I'm sorry, but I'm fuming about this. We've seen such cuts before, and they never improve train service. Which is what I assume you want if you're reading this board. It's time to call your representatives, and tell them to stop f***ing with Amtrak, and start paying attention to where the money pits really are.

Get on the phone to DC NOW!!
 

Michael061282

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and yeah, this will have no bearing on me riding in a sleeper. None at all. It's the only way I'll travel overnight. Honestly I'd be just as happy if they brought back slumbercoach class, where you got bed but hd to pay for meals etc. Mostly... I just want the bed at night.
 

rrdude

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It IS the little things that make it kind of feel like 1st class. This is a very, very, bad sign. Many "casual" travelers actually talk about the little perks they get. Otherwise, what do you have? A flat bed, and a meal or two at a bland table (sans flowers).

Been through this once before, and it really sucked....

As an LSA, I bought/brought my own carnations on several occasions. (They didn't remove the bud vases from the dining car itself)

I got written up (didn't care) and got letters from customers praising what I'd did. One TM actually removed the bud vases and carnations that I had put out, (and paid for) and put them in the reefer. When he saw me putting them back on the table, he threatened to fire me, right in front of customers having a meal! I simply responded by saying something like, "Well then, I'll just have to find a new job..."

Got called in for a "talk" by our union rep, Bert, but he was unofficially behind me too. (He had been Pullman-trained)

Thie elimination of these amenities is mostly a "signal" to some stoopid politico, that Amtrak is "doing everything possible to cut costs....."

I still talk about the "little things" that ViaRail provided me on my Ocean trip.

Do ya get the idea that this stoopid move pisses me off? lol

Sooooo, from now on, let's ALL add to our list of "Things to bring when traveling Amtrak" a small bud vase, and either a real or fake carnation.......
 

Anderson

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I'd say that any focus should be on the wine and cheese receptions. Like I noted, the cranberry juice was likely going to waste in a lot of cases. The newspapers were a throwback that I never quite "got", while the chocolate squares were provided erratically at best (I occasionally wound up with them on the Silvers, for example, but not necessarily on the Starlight).

I'll also say it: Amtrak got such crappy champagne that I know I'd opt for the cider. Not to be too blunt, but dropping that almost seems more like "We couldn't do it right, so better not to do it than to do it badly." The wine and cheese is an obvious thing, however, and that is a shame, especially since the charge could easily have been linked to a portion of the sleeper fare.

The amenity kit is the other one with a discernible impact on a trip, especially on a two-night run such as the Builder.
 
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CHamilton

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Anderson, the timing of this couldn't be worse. As your analysis shows, the long distance trains are hurting, mostly due to factors beyond Amtrak's control. So what do they do? Make the on-board experience less attractive! As I said, if the money saved could be plowed into doing something about the EB's OTP, I'd be all for it, but that's not what will happen.
 

Shortline

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I guess you can put me in the "no big loss" camp. I never bothered with the wine and cheese (bring my own), don't enjoy the USA today, especially when I can download any paper in the US on a tablet, never even knew they HAD cranberry juice in sleepers (only ever saw orange and apple) could care less about a small piece of chocolate, never really even noticed the flowers, and find that "champagne" on the EB to be undrinkable. The amenities kit was nice, but with it only offered on a few trains anyway...probably best to have and set a standard expectation.

In my view, cheap wine, hack newspapers, and drug store chocolates didn't exactly say "First Class" anyway....but, some do like those little things, I get that, but I just can't see any of this as a big deal. frankly, I'm just glad this is all we're losing this go round.
 
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CHamilton

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I just can't see any of this as a big deal. frankly, I'm just glad this is all we're losing this go round.
I agree on some of the specifics, but you're right on the last point: this is a slippery slope, and more cuts will be coming if we don't stop them now. Plus, the core problem is that Amtrak is forced to pay more attention to its overlords on Capitol Hill than to its fare-paying, train-riding customers. And that issue won't go away until Amtrak has a funding mechanism that isn't dependent on the vagaries of who's the loudest voice in Congress during a particular session.
 

rrdude

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Shortline, I too am in general agreement with many of your points, (Wine, newspaper, however I differ on the flower....) but "we", those who post on this board, and ride Amtrak a lot, need to think how this will shake out in the "real world".

It's mostly about perceptions (at many different level, budget is one of them) Granted the wine ain't great, USA Today sux, and the amenity bag is nothing to write home about, except that people do write home about it. "People" being the traveling public, not railfans.

It's like going to a fancy restaurant, and the food sucks, but your server was so far off-the-hook fantastic, that you RAVE about the place.

Amtrak doesn't have much to show for first class now, in fact I'd be in the camp that they don't offer anything close to first class, except on the Acela. Sure you get a bed, you get a meal. If that's all it's gonna be, then bring back the section cars, with open berths.

It cost so little to provide the perception of first class, that if you are gonna charge the prices that Amtrak does, then provide SOMEthing other than a flat bed and a very-average meal.

Would you care if they ditched the Club Acelas? Went to complete airline-style food? Removed ALL lounge cars, (hey, they are NON-revenue).

Amtrak has already been forced to the lowest of low when it comes to the dining car now, I guess removing the fresh flowers is the next logical step.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not asking for "cruise-style" amenities, and the crews, God-Bless-Them, turn out some pretty impressive meals from time-to-tine, given with what they have to work with. But it seems to me it's a "race to the bottom:" when it comes to service with Amtrak.

Makes me want to support farming the food service out to the highest bidder, and let those companies improve it. (with a clause of course to cover any deficit)
 

CoachSlumber

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It's bad enough that the Lake Shore leaves at a ridiculously late hour, with no dinner service. Now they cut the only evening amenity? Oh well, I stopped taking the LSL some time ago.
 

CHamilton

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A discussion on this topic on the Facebook EB page has some interesting ideas on how Amtrak could really save money.


  • They could buy a lot of flowers for the price of a dog catch crew.


  • Exactly. If eliminating these amenities would improve the EB's reliability, I'd be all for it, but that's not where the tiny savings will go. We need to tell Congress, and the state legislators in OR, WA, ID, ND, MN, WI and IL, to give us a train that gets there on time, or give up and bring back the North Coast Hiawatha and the Pioneer instead.



  • Seriously. What is the "cost" per hour of service delay both in hard and soft dollars?



  • I've been wondering that, and haven't seen any numbers. But it's got to be substantial, between crew costs, refunds, bustitutions, overtime for station personnel, and so on.



  • I recently had a chat with an official at Union Station, Chicago. He said that it costs about $10,000 per day for delays to the EB.


  • I wouldn't be shocked if it cost that much or more.. Cost of flying/cab ride for the crew to replace expired crews... Well, the bus for on time catch is done, and hotel stays as well.
 

SubwayNut

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I assume this means the demise of the Pacific Parlour Cars next... I can understand the illumination on the Empire Builder, it was clearly something that meant an extremely long day for the staff on that middle day who were serving 3 meals to a very crowded train already.
 

Ispolkom

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Isn't the most important line in the notice this:

This Food Service Notice is fulfilled on April 1, 2014.
Until I hear something official, I'm taking this to be an April Fools Joke.
 

yarrow

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these changes are typical administrative bs. wonder what was supplied to eat and drink to the amtrak braintrust at their meetings and retreats to come up with these brilliant ideas? yes, these amenities were inconsistent and i always wondered why the weren't system wide for the ld trains but they enhanced the experience for our friends and family. gave people something to talk about besides late trains, unhearable announcements, unadjustable climate control in accomodations and absent sleeping car attendants. i would certainly prophesy that the ppcs will be next to go
 

KC Ghost Rider

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For me this news is rather sad. I enter into a contract with Amtrak with a purchase of a ticket. On the date of that purchase certain amenities were promoted and promised that were above the promise to get me from point A to point B. An example was the LSL wine and cheese reception; it was supposedly offered to sleeper accommodation passengers because not dinner service was available. Now they take it away without compensation. I believe I paid for it.

However, as a whole I never have seen the chocolates, amenity kits, cranberry juice in the sleepers I have traveled in. I like the idea of the news paper, but only glance at it, so no big lose there either. Perhaps my biggest fear is they will cancel sleeper Class and with it the diner. The two biggest reason I prefer the train to begin with.
 

Anderson

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I will say there's a single major *** factor here: Amtrak has posted an operating PROFIT for the first three months of FY14. Let that sink in. Yes, it's a result of a bunch of factors coming together (including payment timing), but ticket revenue is up almost $40m year-over-year. For the full year, Amtrak is expecting to show a hair under $150m in additional revenue and an improvement in net operations of almost $75m including depreciation and about $115m once you exclude depreciation.

Or, not to put too fine a point on it, why is Amtrak cutting this when (A) funding was just reauthorized at a sustainable level and (B) they just had what might have been the best quarter in their history?
 
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