Amtrak Cafe service, vending machines etc. discussion

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Amtrak25

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Levy did not specifically call out LD trains, but that is his modus operendi - ignore realities and facts they do not fit his model, or have a "let 'em eat cake" mentality. You cannot have a civil discussion with him.

A few years ago, he proposed the LIRR end all rush hour main line express service between Hicksville and Jamaica, make all trains local, and all trains be MU's, regardless of the fact that some stations do not require service every 6 minutes, and to take the fat out of the schedules to save time.

What to do with the diesel trains from Port Jefferson and the South Shore ? Bob-tail them all at Hicksville, Huntington, and Babylon, and place all their passengers on MU's. Aside from the extra transfer adding to trips times and requiring an expanded MU fleet that does not exist, chaos would ensue at these stations with multiple terminating diesel trains in a brief timeframe with no place to put them except to send them back on single track branches that have limited passing sidings. That can only be done off peak with hourly or less service.

Did I say earlier he is unteachable and cannot engage in a civil discussion ?
 
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MARC Rider

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The Levy article is a bit disingenuous. Every instance of an Amtrak cafe car is also lounge space, often the only lounge space on the train. Likewise, at least for now before Venture introduction, many cafe cars double as business class (extra revenue).

I could see a case to eliminate cafe cars on regional trains (though I wouldn't do it, and it's interesting to learn that the cars turn a small profit). However, for long distance trains, Levy is making a crucial erroneous assumption: that long distance train riders are as knowledgable about rail travel as he is.

Imagine a CHI-ALB customer boarding the Lake Shore Limited and learning there is no food available on the train for purchase, and they brought no food with them. What is the train crew going to do, starve them?
To be fair to Mr. Levy, I think he was just talking about café cars on regional trains, not food service on long distance trains. I don't think he sees long-distance trains (especially 500 mile plus routes) as a major component of the public transportation system, and he's probably right about that.

As a regular rider from a station (Baltimore) that has limited food options, I can certainly handle the stuff Dunkin Donuts in the station dishes out (bagel and cream cheese, Boston Creme donut and coffee, mmmm!) as food source for trips to New York, and there's really no need for food on board for the 40 minute (or is it now 45 minute) trip to Washington. Of course, if one is going to Boston or down to somewhere in Virginia, that's another matter. Actually, come to think of it, it might be more cost-effective for Amtrak to entice some of the major convenience store chains (Royal Farms, Wawa, etc.) to set up shop in the stations, rather than offering full café service on board. I certainly don't enjoy standing in line at the café car when I could be comfy in my seat looking out the window enjoying a nice Wawa hoagie that I bought at the station. They could morph the café cars into bar cars on trains running the appropriate times and generate revenue selling booze and snacks, which seems to be what I see most passengers on the Northeast Regional buying in the café cars, anyway.

As far as the café cars on the Northeast Regional go, they may earn back the expense of operating them and even generate a small surplus, but I think that Mr. Levy's point was that the space could yield more revenue (and transport more people) if it was a revenue car with a full complement of seats. Of course, given that the Northeast Regional café cars are all table seating and it seems that the table seating is popular with some riders who aren't ordering much from the café, perhaps Amtrak could generate some additional revenue by selling table seating, which might blunt some of Mr. Levy's argument.
 

Crowbar_k

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Of course, given that the Northeast Regional café cars are all table seating and it seems that the table seating is popular with some riders who aren't ordering much from the café, perhaps Amtrak could generate some additional revenue by selling table seating, which might blunt some of Mr. Levy's argument.

Oh heck no. I can't stand when people who aren't eating anything just hang out in the cafe car, especially when I'm traveling with a group and we all want to eat together. Now, full disclosure, I mostly ride on the regional trains out of Chicago where only half of the cafe car has table seating (other half is business class). About the Levy article, I never said I agree with 100% of what he said, and I was completely unaware of his more, ummmm, uniformed takes. I have definitely used the cafe cars on longer trips when I get hungry. However, I usually take early morning trips and every time I get breakfast from the McDonald's at Union Station because the cafe car options for breakfast in particular (at least on the Midwest trains) are atrocious.

Also, that WAWA idea is brilliant. Though I will concede that the food options on the Northeast trains are better than the options on the Midwest trains, at least from my memory.

On a side note, in the Netherlands, it is common for train stations to have Automats since Dutch trains don't have food service.
 
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Amtrak25

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As far as the café cars on the Northeast Regional go, they may earn back the expense of operating them and even generate a small surplus, but I think that Mr. Levy's point was that the space could yield more revenue (and transport more people) if it was a revenue car with a full complement of seats. Of course, given that the Northeast Regional café cars are all table seating and it seems that the table seating is popular with some riders who aren't ordering much from the café, perhaps Amtrak could generate some additional revenue by selling table seating, which might blunt some of Mr. Levy's argument.

I don't see any need for Amtrak to sell table seating, which would get them a huge amount of backlash, just to blunt arguments of an irrelevant, ignorant Mr. Levy. Some people do camp out on tables with their devices, the equivalent of Lounge Lizards on LD trains, a behavior that should be discouraged by some signage and announcements as simply a discourteous public behavior as would be sitting on the throne on the train for a half hour while catching up on their reading like they were at home.

Trains could yield more revenue be lengthening their consist by another coach. NEC trains were often 12, 14, or 16 cars through the 1980's. Now we think 9 cars makes for a huge train. Mr. Levy is simply trying to attract attention, which he is obviously succeeding at by his small base of readers, but no one should take him seriously about anything.
 
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mlanoue

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Long live the cafe car.

But, out of curiosity--what exactly are the vending machines like on the trains that have them, or will have them? Are they just full of things like candy bars and chips? I have seen some machines with more robust options out there, but they usually require a microwave onsite.
 

GDRRiley

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Long live the cafe car.

But, out of curiosity--what exactly are the vending machines like on the trains that have them, or will have them? Are they just full of things like candy bars and chips? I have seen some machines with more robust options out there, but they usually require a microwave onsite.
we aren't sure at this time what the vending machines will have. I believe there is space for 3 in each of the 2 cars.
 

rickycourtney

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Unlike Amtrak, the California JPAs are forced to "show their work" ;) -- here's what the San Joaquins business plan has to say about café cars...

Each San Joaquins train has a café car which offers food and beverage service throughout most of the end-to-end trip. SJJPA and CCJPA share the Oakland Amtrak Commissary where product is warehoused and ordered to be loaded onto the trainsets. Due to the co-location of the commissary, SJJPA and CJJPA share in the responsibility of providing oversight and direction for the café car program which is generally consistent across trainsets for both corridors.

Onboard food service is available on all bi-level trains providing a limited menu of snacks, drinks, and small meals. Due to the removal of Horizon Diners which served the Comet Cars from the equipment pool and lack of food service cars for the initial operations of the Siemens Venture Cars, SJJPA launched a new more substantial, locally sourced Snack Box. The New Snack Box will provide a more robust snack for passengers and provide an opportunity to promote California grown products. The new snack box will continue to be provided free of charge. SJJPA is also considering giving away the snack boxes on the longer distance Thruway Bus routes.

As a part of the Siemens Venture Car project, SJJPA is reevaluating food service delivery and procuring a vending solution to be installed in 14 cars. To maintain customer satisfaction by providing a similar product mix to the concurrent attended service (which will continue to operate on the current fleet), SJJPA envisions the vending solution to provide the following product mix: coffee, water, soda, snacks, fresh sandwiches, and salads. The intention is for the vending solution to provide a seamless customer experience in relation to the modern aesthetic and environment of the new Siemens cars. The vending solution should feel like a natural extension of the overall travel experience onboard the train.

SJJPA will continue to evaluate the food and beverage service to provide high quality options in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. Topics being evaluated include: menu; inventory and storage; increasing the capacity and usefulness of the space in the cars; patron flow; signage and information; securing and accounting for stock and materials; restocking logistics; and hours of operation.

SJJPA has reduced the number of items on the menu to ease loading, reduce cost, provide a simpler customer experience, open storage space for limited-time specialty items, and make it easier to promote items on the menu. In addition to these efforts, SJJPA is considering café car changes to underperforming trainsets including the removal of the café car. While evaluating changes to the current partnership with Amtrak to increase the cost recovery of the café, SJJPA is evaluating the use of a third-party vendor to provide this service. Third-party vendors are utilized on other Amtrak operated corridors with significant success in cost recovery efforts with the added benefits of simplified operations and reporting of performance.

SJJPA is actively increasing the sale of and promotional opportunities for products grown or produced in the San Joaquins Corridor. The San Joaquins offers a very unique opportunity to highlight and promote food and beverage products from the San Joaquins Corridor and can help market the service and the corridor. SJJPA is continuing to work with Amtrak and CCJPA to explore providing more locally-sourced food and beverage products in the most cost-effective way on an ongoing basis. Current local offerings include: craft beer, coffee, hot dogs, and San Joaquin Valley nuts.
 

west point

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I understand that in Japan there is availability of high quality food to take on the train at many stations, something less common here in the US.
IMO that is because the station passenger density gets enough traffic so the heavier used stations can have quality food. What about japan stations having jusst 3 or 4 trains a day?

IMO even if a food service car does not make a profit it allows for more repeat passengers. With no food many more never agains. good food for everyone means more revenue passengers will return for another trip instead of never agains.

Somehow Amtrak or someone needs to calculate how many passengers are on a train because of getting food, Maybe The only way possible is to have an independent person survey passenger who are eating. Then if no food would not be on train.

I suspect that Amtrak does not & will not have enough equipment if decent food was available. Too bad someoe could find out about Brightline now and when service to MCO begins.
 

jis

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I suspect that Amtrak does not & will not have enough equipment if decent food was available. Too bad someoe could find out about Brightline now and when service to MCO begins.
Amtrak does not have enough equipment even with lousy or non existent food service, to meet basic transportation demands. That is why introduction of the Venture cars sooner rather than later is important.
 
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I suspect that Amtrak does not & will not have enough equipment if decent food was available. Too bad someoe could find out about Brightline now and when service to MCO begins.
Brightline just has cart service. When I tried it a few years ago, the only "real food" was a charcuterie tray (cheese & deli meats); I don't know whether that's still available. Everything else was packaged snacks.
 

John Webb

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Here's what I sent to the SJJPA this morning. I urge others to speak out as well. (I am a member of the SJJPA Rail Committee - a purely advisory body)


Hi SJJPA folks,

I see from reading in the news media that SJJPA has opted to discontinue cafe car service on the newly manaufacted San Joaquin trains. I hope that checked baggage service is not also going away.

In a prior meeting I raised objections to this plan and was told that the issue was being reconsidered. Looks like that did not happen.

This is a huge mistake and I hope, but I do not anticipate, that it will be speedily reversed.

Do I need to point out that you are turning the San Joaquin trains from a comfortable and enjoyable experience into a mere bus on rails?

Instead of providing passengers with the potential of an alternative place to eat and meet friends in a cafe car while on a 6 hour journey, you are now disencouraging them from leaving their seats in crowded coaches. More and more these trains are going resemble Greyhound buses.

If passengers are going to be provided with poor quality amenitites maybe they should save their money and ride the bus and experience the same poor service for less money.

Driving passengers away from rail by lowering the quality of service is nothing new. Southern Pacific did exactly this on the San Joaquin Daylight prior to Amtrak by replacing dining car service with vending machines. That did not go over well with the public.

This poor decsion will meet a similar fate, I am sure.

You can be sure I will be making more noise about this.

John Webb
Member, SJJPA Rail Committee
 

GDRRiley

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Here's what I sent to the SJJPA this morning. I urge others to speak out as well. (I am a member of the SJJPA Rail Committee - a purely advisory body)
--snip--
I understand why they cut cafe service it was underused, there is still food and drinks on the train. Even on dozens of 6+ hour rides on the Surfliner I never went to the cafe for more than a drink or a candy bar.

it is still far better than being on a bus more space the ability to walk around and better ride quality.
 
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I haven't been in Trenton since before Covid, but thought they had a DD and pizza place, which is too clumsy to bring on the train. Alexandria and Charlottesvile I am sure have something near the station, but every place else, you're chopped liver.

I can't think of anything in Bridgeport or New London, which rolls up their sidewalks on Sundays, or maybe Levy thinks everyone there is taking a cross-Sound ferry and chowed down in their snack bars, or that a newsbutcher rolls his cart down the aisle during the stop in NYPS like they did on the LIRR until the 1960's.

The pizza place in Trenton closed. So there’s just Dunkin’ Donuts, Auntie Annie’s, and McDonald’s. But there’s no real reason to eat there—it’s just a station that people have to use sometimes to either start a trip from or pass through to get somewhere else.

I was in PHL recently but used the lounge and didn’t get a chance to go down and see what was open now—that would be an important station to have food available.
 

John Webb

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SJJPA forgets that many, if not most of it's passengers ride a bus before or after a San Joaquin. Imagine 6 hour bus ride from where I live in Humboldt County to Martinez then getting on a train for another 6 or so hour ride to Bakersfield. Then a 2+ hour ride to LA Union Station. In that entire time SJJPA expects it's passengers to sit in one seat the whole way. Think again SJJPA.
 

allanorn

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SJJPA forgets that many, if not most of it's passengers ride a bus before or after a San Joaquin. Imagine 6 hour bus ride from where I live in Humboldt County to Martinez then getting on a train for another 6 or so hour ride to Bakersfield. Then a 2+ hour ride to LA Union Station. In that entire time SJJPA expects it's passengers to sit in one seat the whole way. Think again SJJPA.

That's precisely what I've been seeing on a PDX-SAN itinerary. I don't know why Amtrak won't guarantee a connection from the CS to the last Surfliner of the night these days, but Arrow wants to route me this November either a) via a 90-minute bus from SAC to Stockton, then a four-hour SJ ride, then a two-to-three-hour bus; or b) six-hour bus ride from EMY to SLO and the last Surfliner of the day. Considering that EMY-LAX is faster via Bakersfield than the Coast Starlight, and now you run the risk of not getting any food for eight hours or potentially more unless you pack it yourself.

A small cafe car (even 1/2 car with standing-room only would work) is essential for longer-distance trains, and I think the San Joaquins qualifies as that.
 

GDRRiley

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That's precisely what I've been seeing on a PDX-SAN itinerary. I don't know why Amtrak won't guarantee a connection from the CS to the last Surfliner of the night these days, but Arrow wants to route me this November either a) via a 90-minute bus from SAC to Stockton, then a four-hour SJ ride, then a two-to-three-hour bus; or b) six-hour bus ride from EMY to SLO and the last Surfliner of the day. Considering that EMY-LAX is faster via Bakersfield than the Coast Starlight, and now you run the risk of not getting any food for eight hours or potentially more unless you pack it yourself.

A small cafe car (even 1/2 car with standing-room only would work) is essential for longer-distance trains, and I think the San Joaquins qualifies as that.
amtrak won't because the CS is so often delayed even if the state owned tracks and dispatches from sac to LA I could see why they'd avoid guaranteeing that connection.
By the time the last of the cars are rolled out in mid 2024 its full 6 hour run will be near the end. truncated with CAHSR
 

VAtrainfan

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And what are the people who travel on the numerous Virginia trains supposed to do once they get to Virginia?
Or starting in Virginia. When I travel from Norfolk to Philly, I have to stop somewhere on the way to the Norfolk station to get breakfast because there's no stops longer than a couple minutes until WAS. And there's usually not enough time at the WAS stop because they're running late already so they just switch the engine and skedaddle. I always end up getting lunch in the Cafe Car.
 

Rambling Robert

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I was surprised to find a decent sandwich in the Spokane Amtrak waiting room vending machine as well as ice cream. Other snacks and cold drinks too. My layover was 2AM - 7AM in the waiting room that had security detail 24/7. An older couple arrived at 6:30AM with a dozen Krispy Kreme glazed donuts for anyone.

The PDX station has a quaint newspaper store with a tiny kitchen - what a wonderful polish sausage, oversized bun and perfect
fries. About 2PM I boarded the CS and was offered lunch - haha. Of about 140 hours on that tri I was in sleeper for 40. My food strategy was to eat in the dining car, PDX and CHI. I snacked in the CHi Metropolitan Lounge but didn’t eat much on board. I would easily pay $40-$50 for dinner in the dining car/if in Coach.

My upcoming xcountry LD trip got rebooked and I took advantage of the recent flash sale. Because of the SALE I decided not to fly back but loop the USA - DE - NEC - Crescent - SSL - TE - SWC - Capitol - NEC - DE. The trip is roughly 200 hours all in Coach. I don’t have a food strategy yet. Three nights in NOLA and several nights terra ferma in the SW.

I’m hoping to either use AGR points or cash to buy a day pass for the Metropolitan Lounge at NYP. Is it either???Also I’ve been told it opens 7AM Weekends/5AM weekdays. I arrive 2AM.
 
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