Amtrak Cafe service, vending machines etc. discussion

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Joined
Aug 30, 2021
Messages
12
Location
Rancho Mirage, CA
I used to take an Amtrak thruway bus from the Palm Springs Airport to Bakersfield (a six hour ride). I would board the SJ and travel to either Richmond, where I would transfer to BART, or to the end-of-the-line at Jack London Square in Oakland (about a 5 1/2 hour ride). After racing to get my favorite single seat at the end of one of the cars (single seat, but two tray tables), getting settled, getting ticket scanned, I would race to the café car to get my lunch. Yes, that was one of the highlights of my nearly 12 hour trip. On the thruway bus, once in a while if it was early at a stop, you might be able to run and get a sandwich at a nearby shop. However, I never enjoyed eating on the bus; maybe having a snack or drink that I brought with me. Unless I'm on a LD train in a sleeper where meals are included, I've always looked forward to the café car. I certainly hope they reconsider. Vending machines, YUK. Fail-safe machines? HAH!!
 

The Quaking Widow

Train Attendant
Joined
Sep 30, 2022
Messages
28
Location
Live in Toledo
On my very recent trip to/from Toledo — San Antonio, the meals on the Texas Eagle were pitiful, the “Flexible Dining Menu” a terrible joke. They looked like they had once been pretty decent, but the freezing and micro-waving processes had destroyed both texture and taste. By the last few meals, I was through with the terrible food. However, the last lunch before arriving in Chicago at 1:30, was served around 11:30, and it wasn’t the usual fare. Everyone was offered a choice of sandwiches, and my ham and cheese sandwich on a pretzel bun was pretty tasty and decent. Where did that come from?

BTW, the ”pudding” offered for desert turns out to be mass-produced (as are all the deserts), and contains a sugar alcohol like sorbitol or mannitol for the sweetener. Doesn’t Amtrak know that many people are allergic to this substance? Thank goodness I looked after noticing the “sugar free” line on the package.

The food court at CHI is fairly decent. I got sausage sandwich at the rib place which sold a variety of foods. And the Sbarro pizza place looked inviting.
 

MccfamschoolMom

OBS Chief
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Feb 28, 2020
Messages
536
Location
Dwight, IL
The food court at CHI is fairly decent. I got sausage sandwich at the rib place which sold a variety of foods. And the Sbarro pizza place looked inviting.
When my husband and I head up to Chicago next year to ride the California Zephyr, we plan on taking an early run of the Lincoln Service train from our hometown to Chicago, so we'll have plenty of time to eat lunch from the CHI food court (and munch on snacks in the Metropolitan Lounge) before boarding the CZ.
 

Sidney

OBS Chief
Joined
Jul 12, 2020
Messages
927
On my very recent trip to/from Toledo — San Antonio, the meals on the Texas Eagle were pitiful, the “Flexible Dining Menu” a terrible joke. They looked like they had once been pretty decent, but the freezing and micro-waving processes had destroyed both texture and taste. By the last few meals, I was through with the terrible food. However, the last lunch before arriving in Chicago at 1:30, was served around 11:30, and it wasn’t the usual fare. Everyone was offered a choice of sandwiches, and my ham and cheese sandwich on a pretzel bun was pretty tasty and decent. Where did that come from?

BTW, the ”pudding” offered for desert turns out to be mass-produced (as are all the deserts), and contains a sugar alcohol like sorbitol or mannitol for the sweetener. Doesn’t Amtrak know that many people are allergic to this substance? Thank goodness I looked after noticing the “sugar free” line on the package.

The food court at CHI is fairly decent. I got sausage sandwich at the rib place which sold a variety of foods. And the Sbarro pizza place looked inviting.
With the almost unanimous disdain for flex food,why doesn't Amtrak let sleeper passangers have a choice with the cafe car?Why is this simple solution not available?
 

Rambling Robert

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
May 30, 2021
Messages
261
Location
Boston
Thanks for the info. On the Penn Side I think there’s a Dunkin Donuts that’s open 24/7. After a long wait (2-7AM Sunday) I hope to buy ($50) or use 1500 AGR points for a Metropolitan Lounge Day pass. The lounge is an Amtrak flagship that I’d like to see.
 

Amtrak25

Lead Service Attendant
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Dec 7, 2021
Messages
491
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New Jersey
With the almost unanimous disdain for flex food,why doesn't Amtrak let sleeper passangers have a choice with the cafe car?Why is this simple solution not available?

That would be tantamount to Amtrak admitting that Flex dining sucks and are still up to Southern Pacific antics as set forth by Richard Anderson.
 
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railiner

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With the almost unanimous disdain for flex food,why doesn't Amtrak let sleeper passangers have a choice with the cafe car?Why is this simple solution not available?
I would guess that it would make inventory control and accounting "too complicated"...not sure...🤷‍♂️
 

Amtrak25

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New Jersey
Pittsburgh had nothing but junk food vending machines, but takeout menus scattered all over the place for deliveries. That was in the day before there was such thing as DoorDash or UberEats, so I don't know what it is like now. The amount of transferring refugees between the Capitol Ltd and Pennsylvanian has diminished as well, Amtrak succeeding at killing the old Broadway Ltd market so it can't come back.

About 10 years ago, I found a staffed cafe in the nicer (believe it or not) Greyhound depot across the street open at 6am. But they soon thereafter closed down too.

With both Amtrak and Greyhound in death spiral, private sector food service cannot make a go of it. Even a pizza place, which survived Covid better than most other type of restaurants, could not make a go of it in Trenton, NJ, a busy place for NJT, Amtrak, and a local bus hib.
 
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MARC Rider

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5,216
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Baltimore. MD
The lack of food available at the Dallas station was a real problem for some of us heading back from the Gathering in 2019. The Northbound Eagle was very late, and by the time it got in, the dining car was closed. There was nowhere to eat without leaving the station, but we didn't want to do that because we weren't sure when the train was coming in and didn't want to get stranded. I understand that some stations might not have a market for an eatery if there's only one train a day in each direction, but Dallas does have commuter rail and light rail, so it's not exactly a deserted place.
 

tricia

Conductor
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Aug 23, 2011
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1,430
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Spring Creek, NC
As long as Amtrak's long-distance timekeeping is so unreliable, expecting decent food service for Amtrak passengers to be reliably provided by private vendors in or near Amtrak stations is foolish. Amtrak needs to up the quality and availability of food on its trains ESPECIALLY since passengers can't reliably plan for trains' actual arrival and departure times. An amply stocked cafe car with better choices for meals (not just snacks) is absolutely essential for this.
 

McLeansvilleAppFan

Service Attendant
Joined
Jul 29, 2019
Messages
161
Location
Greensboro, NC
They appear to do fine on the Piedmonts. Seems to be just a matter of getting used to something. ;)
I would much prefer a person and have more options than the vending machines, though I do appreciate the free water. A three hour trip seems to be just long enough to need something and yet short enough that one can get by with nothing more than what one carries on. It works but not what I want.
 

BCL

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Nov 16, 2012
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San Francisco Bay Area
On San Joaquin right now, but no cafe car...
But there is one table that’s set up with enough snack packs for everyone and those teeny tiny 8 oz bottles of water. The announcement made is that they substitute for the lack of a cafe car. I guess no beer though.

The box is kind of interesting. I would think that California covers the Central Valley, but I guess they want to highlight it. The contents include El Sabroso salsa chips (from LA-based Snak-King), Blue Diamond almonds (most definitely), a KIND bar (not from California), and Sweet Serenity chocolate chip cookies (from some company called a Biscomerica in Rialto, California).

37B112D0-6D11-478E-AFD5-4EE78087BFFC.jpeg
 
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GDRRiley

Lead Service Attendant
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Sep 16, 2022
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295
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SF bay/LA
there are not any single level cafe cars because the the state returned them all to amtrak
they are short 1 bi level set lacks them because its made from extra coaches
 

BCL

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4,281
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San Francisco Bay Area
in both the states own or lease all the cars and locos and contract amtrak to run the service and maintain them.
California are governed not by a state board but more locally with Joint power authorities. JPA area a collection of county and sometimes city DOTs that have very few staff and are mostly just a way to unify the planning process.

Amtrak Cascades is a multi-state operation but I think Washington and Oregon own the equipment. I’m not sure what it was with service to BC, but it doesn’t sound much different than other negotiated services outside a certain boundary, like transbay service from AC Transit.

Still, all of these operations were discussing get integrated into the Amtrak system with ticketing and everything. When Amtrak was contracted to operate Caltrain, they didn’t wear standard Amtrak uniforms and I’m not sure if there was combination ticketing in addition to Caltrain machines and Clipper cards. But if anyone wants to buy a ticket for these corridor services, it has to be through Amtrak.
 

GDRRiley

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Sep 16, 2022
Messages
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SF bay/LA
Amtrak Cascades is a multi-state operation but I think Washington and Oregon own the equipment. I’m not sure what it was with service to BC, but it doesn’t sound much different than other negotiated services outside a certain boundary, like transbay service from AC Transit.
It was a 3 way spilit with amtrak owning some as well.
Still, all of these operations were discussing get integrated into the Amtrak system with ticketing and everything. When Amtrak was contracted to operate Caltrain, they didn’t wear standard Amtrak uniforms and I’m not sure if there was combination ticketing in addition to Caltrain machines and Clipper cards. But if anyone wants to buy a ticket for these corridor services, it has to be through Amtrak.
Thats because amtrak was operating not using their brand to run the service
the state has talked about leaving amtrak ticketing for lower prices and eventially making it so contractors bid to operator. Not my perfered method I'd rather the state just setup a railroad and have both pax and freight crews as UP and BSNF have 0 interests in local freight
 

Rambling Robert

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Joined
May 30, 2021
Messages
261
Location
Boston
My trip that ended Tuesday after 186 hours in Coach I found the new cafe (.I really do think Amtrak should spell it Caffrè Car) food options were very good but I definitely miss traditional dining in the dining car.

Opposite the Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago was a lone vending machine located near a massive column. It’s got healthy foods but most of all, for me , delicious iced collffee.
95B1DFC5-534B-4903-A0E2-D2AC6BF10AD9.jpeg
 

Widfara

Train Attendant
AU Supporting Member
Joined
Aug 6, 2022
Messages
53
Location
Cedar Creek, Texas
On my very recent trip to/from Toledo — San Antonio, the meals on the Texas Eagle were pitiful, the “Flexible Dining Menu” a terrible joke. They looked like they had once been pretty decent, but the freezing and micro-waving processes had destroyed both texture and taste. By the last few meals, I was through with the terrible food. However, the last lunch before arriving in Chicago at 1:30, was served around 11:30, and it wasn’t the usual fare. Everyone was offered a choice of sandwiches, and my ham and cheese sandwich on a pretzel bun was pretty tasty and decent. Where did that come from?

BTW, the ”pudding” offered for desert turns out to be mass-produced (as are all the deserts), and contains a sugar alcohol like sorbitol or mannitol for the sweetener. Doesn’t Amtrak know that many people are allergic to this substance? Thank goodness I looked after noticing the “sugar free” line on the package.

The food court at CHI is fairly decent. I got sausage sandwich at the rib place which sold a variety of foods. And the Sbarro pizza place looked inviting.
My recent experience on the Cardinal with the various dog-foody-looking entrees (which we were required to consume in our cells) led me to try something I hadn't had before, on the Crescent, the Salmon entree. Very good, looked like human food, and tasted good so I had it for lunch and dinner. Still had to eat in the house, but I had a bedroom for this leg.
 

TheCrescent

OBS Chief
Joined
Jun 24, 2020
Messages
528
Wouldn’t Amtrak probably have higher sales in cafe cars if customers were allowed to sit at cafe car tables?

When I walk into a cafe car, and all of the tables are taken up by crew members, and I get yelled at if I try to sit at one, of course I buy less.

Other transportation companies don’t let crew sit in passenger lounges (at least while in uniform). It is surprising that Amtrak just lets this continue.
 
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