Amtrak dining service

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zephyr17

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I don’t disagree with the consistency thing and as I said Amtrak’s most common issue is definitely that of consistency.
Which is my primary point in my comparisons with VIA. The differences in the official offerings in their respective soft products is slim to none. The difference lies in the attitude and efficiency of how those similar products are provided.
 

jis

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I see no reason at all that Amtrak would be unable to implement the Train Service Manager position to bring consistency and quality to OBS. They are on all VIA trains, including Corridor services, not just the Canadian.
Amtrak used to have an Onboard Service Supervisor until about 2001/2002. Then, from what I have heard, the "Union" members did not like to be managed on board by a management person and they wanted a Union person. An argument ensued, which finally led to removal of the Onboard Supervisor, and everyone, except the poor Customer was happy I suppose. That is where it stands at present. Apparently someone has to come up with a way of doing it that is acceptable to the relevant Unions on this one and most appear to feel their time is better spent elsewhere. As usual, the Customer suffers. :(
 

zephyr17

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Amtrak used to have an Onboard Service Supervisor until about 2001/2002. Then, from what I have heard, the "Union" members did not like to be managed on board by a management person and they wanted a Union person. An argument ensued, which finally led to removal of the Onboard Supervisor, and everyone, except the poor Customer was happy I suppose. That is where it stands at present. Apparently someone has to come up with a way of doing it that is acceptable to the relevant Unions on this one and most appear to feel their time is better spent elsewhere. As usual, the Customer suffers. :(
Well, VIA is fully unionized and they managed it.

I remember the Chief OBS position and it did make a difference, IMHO.

All is subject to labor contract negotiations. There is nothing that inherently forbids management personnel onboard trains. If Amtrak wanted to do it, they'd need to press for it, hard, during the next round of contract talks. There'd have to be a specification of duties and responsibilities (like the manager being forbidden from providing services themselves), but it can be done. IF Amtrak executive management decided it was a priority.
 

jis

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Well, VIA is fully unionized and they managed it.

I remember the Chief OBS position and it did make a difference, IMHO.

All is subject to labor contract negotiations. There is nothing that inherently forbids management personnel onboard trains. If Amtrak wanted to do it, they'd need to press for it, hard, during the next round of contract talks. There'd have to be a specification of duties and responsibilities (like the manager being forbidden from providing services themselves), but it can be done. IF Amtrak executive management decided it was a priority.
Oh I do agree with you. I was just mentioning the history since all here may not be aware of it.
 
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Well, VIA is fully unionized and they managed it.

I remember the Chief OBS position and it did make a difference, IMHO.

All is subject to labor contract negotiations. There is nothing that inherently forbids management personnel onboard trains. If Amtrak wanted to do it, they'd need to press for it, hard, during the next round of contract talks. There'd have to be a specification of duties and responsibilities (like the manager being forbidden from providing services themselves), but it can be done. IF Amtrak executive management decided it was a priority.
Interestingly the auto train still has a Chief on occasion. Are their contracts different?

As far as the VIA comparisons I tend to be a little sensitive to those for the reasons I mentioned. I’m sure as you mentioned there are areas where Amtrak could take some lessons from their methods as far as OBS quality - but again for the reasons I mentioned I’m hesitant to really point to the Canadian or ocean as models we should really be striving for. We shouldn’t forget that when we were all angry over tri weekly service and western flexible dining on the western trains VIA completely suspended service 100% on both routes for several months and I recall a number of concerns in people that were observing VIA whether either route would ever return to service. Don’t want Amtrak to get too many ideas from VIA on how to operate.
 
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jis

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Interestingly the auto train still has a Chief on occasion. Are their contracts different?
Yes. The Auto Train contracts are completely separate from the rest of Amtrak. It came in with a lot of stuff grandfathered from Auto Train operations as part of the deal, and those have remained as is. Auto Trains staff are multi-functional also by contract and able to cross lines of craft. It would be ideal if Amtrak could apply the same rules to rest of Amtrak, but they can't because the Unions are adamently opposed.
 

zephyr17

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Your "...can have...", of course, leaves room for the (perhaps remote) possibility of no impact or negative impact on OBS consistency.
Well, it's Amtrak. There's always the possibility if they implement it, the new Train Service Managers just go along to get along. Especially since Amtrak upper management had been wholly uninterested in the quality and consistency of onboard service for years if not decades.

It really would take making customer service a priority by all levels of management and Board, with the concomitant focus and attention. If they just stuck them out there without support, always a possibility at Amtrak, they'd fail.
 

pennyk

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MODERATOR NOTE: several posts related to VIA dining service were moved to a new thread in the VIA Rail forum.


Please post any comments relating to VIA dining service in that thread and please keep comments in this thread on the topic of Amtrak dining service.

Thank you for your cooperation, understanding and participation.
 

railiner

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Amtrak used to have an Onboard Service Supervisor until about 2001/2002. Then, from what I have heard, the "Union" members did not like to be managed on board by a management person and they wanted a Union person. An argument ensued, which finally led to removal of the Onboard Supervisor, and everyone, except the poor Customer was happy I suppose. That is where it stands at present. Apparently someone has to come up with a way of doing it that is acceptable to the relevant Unions on this one and most appear to feel their time is better spent elsewhere. As usual, the Customer suffers. :(
If you are referring to the position titled: “Chief - On Board Services”, which indeed supervised on board service personnel on long distance trains, but was subordinate to the Conductor and Assistant Conductors; that was a so-called “partially exempted” union position, represented by the ARASA—American Railway and Airway Supervisors Association,division of TCU, now part of IAM.

The “Chief” rode trains such as the CZ the entire way with the crew, and reported to that train’s “Train Manager”, at the home crew base of the train…in this case, Chicago. The Train Manager, which was a full management position, spent about half the time at the base, and the other half on the train, or maybe turn around halfway, to monitor the Chief’s performance.
“ Partially exempted”, in contract terms, meant management could selectively fill the position based on merit, without regard to seniority. Chief’s were usually chosen from the best train or service attendants by management.
 

railiner

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Prior to Amtrak, principal trains had Pullman Conductor’s to supervise Sleeping Car Porter’s; and Dining Car Stewards, in charge of cooks, waiters, bar and lounge attendants, etc. Some trains had a Passenger Service Agent in charge of chair car attendants. All of these were subordinate to the train conductor…
 

crescent-zephyr

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I remember the Chief OBS position and it did make a difference, IMHO.
Yes and no. Dining car service could still be bad, but at least you had a manager to talk to.

As a kid I still remember my mom being scolded for only wanting a salad and baked potato for dinner on the empire builder. But the chief of on board services was able to help resolve the issue after the fact and offered that we could eat from the cafe car for free if we didn’t want to have the same rude service.

So yes, it was good to have the chief of on board services, but that didn’t fix the service issues in the dining car.
 

TheCrescent

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Airlines don’t have a “head of onboard customer-facing staff” on planes, at least in the US on domestic flights, yet airlines seem to provide much more consistent customer service than Amtrak does.

I know that plenty of people don’t like airlines. But airlines don’t have the range of service quality that Amtrak has onboard.

As long as Amtrak gets its annual subsidy year after year, it’ll never improve its customer service. If only there were a way of making Amtrak subject to a free market, while ensuring that rail service would continue, that would be ideal.
 
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I know that plenty of people don’t like airlines. But airlines don’t have the range of service quality that Amtrak has onboard.
Airlines don’t have the range of service that Amtrak has onboard. It's pretty hard to screw up tossing a bag of pretzels, pouring a drink, and collecting trash 20 minutes before the end of a flight. Even so, some flight attendants are more friendly and helpful than others.

As for 1st or business class, I've never flown in them, but from watching the occasional Jeb Brooks or Paul Lucas video, there seems to be a lot of variability in the level of service among cabin crews.
 
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Onboard the coast starlight SB today.

No dining car meals for coach passengers today, but the nice attendant in the dining car said it’ll ‘officially’ open for the whole train starting around February 8th. Stay tuned…
Sounds about right. Larry Chestler answered a written Q/A question about coach access in the Q/A for the board meeting that was held in St. Louis that I just read a little bit ago. He stated that coach would be able to access the dining car in February on the six western trains.
 

crescent-zephyr

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As for 1st or business class, I've never flown in them, but from watching the occasional Jeb Brooks or Paul Lucas video, there seems to be a lot of variability in the level of service among cabin crews.
I regularly fly domestic first class and the service is much more consistent than Amtrak.

What you claim is “hard to screw up” is more than any coach attendants on Amtrak do.
 

trimetbusfan

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On another note, this train is very empty. It was originally canceled from EMY-LAX but then was ‘uncanceled’ just a few days before departure.

Since dinner is for sleepers only (and there are very few onboard) for this trip there are no resverstions needed for dinner!
 

fdaley

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Tie the subsidy to ticket sales. Leverage the consumer's dollar.
That is an interesting idea. I don't think I would want to see Amtrak punished when economic downturns and other factors beyond their control drive down ridership. But I would like to see some positive incentive for actually transporting more passengers, rather than simply maximizing revenue from the pool of people who are riding the LD trains' historically small consists. That might encourage them to get more of their sidelined cars into service -- and to provide better food and on-board services to help attract and retain more riders.
 

ehbowen

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That is an interesting idea. I don't think I would want to see Amtrak punished when economic downturns and other factors beyond their control drive down ridership. But I would like to see some positive incentive for actually transporting more passengers, rather than simply maximizing revenue from the pool of people who are riding the LD trains' historically small consists. That might encourage them to get more of their sidelined cars into service -- and to provide better food and on-board services to help attract and retain more riders.
Not necessarily all of the subsidy. I'd suggest making an amount essentially equal to the current subsidy available for number of seats provided, occupied or not, plus an additional incentive subsidy tied to revenue ticket sales.

Edit To Add: To tie this back to topic, I'd put a differential in the subsidy to incentivise on-board food service, and specifically restaurant quality food service provided on board.
 
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