Auto Train Coach Food Being Removed 1/14/2020?

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FormerOBS

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I will only say that the Auto Train Onboard Service Crew members --- especially the long-term veterans --- are very unhappy that they will be expected to deliver such a diluted level of service. They frequently tell me I should be glad to be retired, Not only will this be a degrading of service, but it is also likely to create other practical problems related to generation of excessive trash and a reduction of staff. If the train is extremely late, there seems to be no way to provide emergency food supplies because the elimination of the coach diner means the likely elimination of storage space for those supplies. As long as the train runs over CSX, and auto drivers continue to get smacked by trains, and the Southeast continues to experience hurricanes, there will be occasional delays. Please don't blame the crews. None of this was their idea.
 

FormerOBS

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Certain people in the organization seem to believe space will not be an issue. There are those who predict that cramming all of the coach passengers into that small space will create an issue. Of course, food storage isn't a problem if minimal food is provided for coach passengers. The Company seems to expect that coach passengers will buy all of their food for the trip from vans parked outside the station. I'm curious to see just where these food trucks will park. I really don't want to be there to see long lines of passengers queued up for service in a January snowstorm in Lorton, or in a summer rainstorm in Sanford. If the train is significantly late, will the food service car have sufficient supplies to sell lunches to the coach passengers? This is certainly a factor on a train that relies on CSX dispatching and serves a hurricane-prone region. And don't forget the motorists who think they can beat the train to the crossing. The new regimen seems to rely on the notion that nothing will ever go wrong to disrupt a rigid schedule.

Amtrak has little or no control over food brought in from outside now, and will have even less control under this scheme. FDA regulations prohibit the use of Amtrak microwave ovens for heating food brought from outside, and this is bound to be a bone of contention. I can only imagine the amount of trash that will be generated. Currently, trash from dinner service is collected in the diner and put off the train at Florence, SC by one of the attendants. Under the new scheme, trash will instead accumulate in each of the coaches. Projected staff cuts of approximately 20-25% could mean there is nobody but the conductor to remove that trash. Asking a conductor to assume routine trash collection duties is something like a hospital expecting the chief surgeon to mop the floor. Ain't likely to happen. I'm concerned about multi-legged unticketed "passengers".

As an Auto Train veteran, I sincerely hope my misgivings are unfounded. For years, our good reputation depended on our ability to provide good service, even under difficult circumstances. This was possible because our experience taught us to be prepared to handle unexpected problems. I fear that the new "plan" doesn't allow for this. I want to be wrong.
 

Philly Amtrak Fan

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One of the problems is that the tax payers who will be subsidizing that new express Amtrak train, will complain loudly to their congressional representatives if their town is bypassed.

Its like many high speed train proposals. Yea, it is high speed until it has to stop every 5 miles.
As opposed to having to pay for LD trains that don't even go for trains anywhere near where you live as is the case now? What's the difference?
 

Cho Cho Charlie

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As opposed to having to pay for LD trains that don't even go for trains anywhere near where you live as is the case now? What's the difference?
For the most part, these LD trains you are talking about aren't new service. Same-oh, same-oh, doesn't get the focus of attention as much as something that is brand new.

A good example is that Allentown PA (the 3rd largest city in the commonwealth) now has official Amtrak service. True, its just a bus, but that how service is achieved isn't as important as it being achieved.
 

Anderson

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One of the problems is that the tax payers who will be subsidizing that new express Amtrak train, will complain loudly to their congressional representatives if their town is bypassed.

Its like many high speed train proposals. Yea, it is high speed until it has to stop every 5 miles.
Having raised the prospect of this sort of thing, in general, a few times in the past:
(1) There's a historical precedent for something like this in the form of the Orange Blossom Special and the Florida Special. In those cases, the model was mostly to run close-to-express from about Richmond to Florida (Florence was still a stop for the Florida Special because of a crew change, but the 1941 Orange Blossom Special omitted all intermediate stops from the timetable). The issue is that you only dropped about 30-60 minutes from the end-to-end run (24-25 hours became 23-24 hours) depending on the direction, etc. and in doing so you give up a slug of intermediate traffic. Bear in mind that on the current timetable, you only have a stop something like every 50+ miles between WAS and JAX.
(2) Even presuming that most traffic will consolidate within reason within Florida (e.g. Winter Park/Kissimmee to Orlando), you still have a rather good chunk of traffic that scatters among the various stations. Miami accounts for less than 1/3 of the South Florida traffic, and I don't think folks will "consolidate" from WPB to MIA (that's a messy two-hour drive involving overshooting on the train).

Edit: So, for a bottom line, I'm just not sure that such a train is viable. You'd probably get 80-90% of the timetable benefits from improving MAS on portions of the tracks from 79 to 90 or 110 and/or improving slow chunks to get the relevant MAS up closer to 79 (e.g. Baltimore, parts of Jacksonville). And you don't quite have the mass of ridership that you had in the 1950s.
 

bretton88

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As far as coach passengers go, they are getting a cut in their fares, so they won't be paying for that degraded service. What I'm curious about is the sleeper diner service. From what I've heard it won't be contemporary dining, so I wonder if Amtrak is going to trial something more upscale here. It is one of the easier trains to pilot something "experiential" as Anderson likes to refer to it.
 

Devil's Advocate

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As far as coach passengers go, they are getting a cut in their fares, so they won't be paying for that degraded service. What I'm curious about is the sleeper diner service. From what I've heard it won't be contemporary dining, so I wonder if Amtrak is going to trial something more upscale here. It is one of the easier trains to pilot something "experiential" as Anderson likes to refer to it.
Based on the wording it sounds as though discounts are likely to be offered in limited fashion leaving the majority of coach passengers with reduced service at the same fares.
 
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mmatarella

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The oversized vehicle charge is a return to how it was a few years back. I used to choose between bringing my SUV or my MINI based on if I really needed the bigger vehicle.
 

PVD

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It depends on what they classify as an SUV. Lots of parking lots in NYC have an oversized surcharge, but the dimensions keep smaller SUV like a RAV-4 or my Escape paying the car rate. The shorter length minivans are ok, but the long ones or any 3 row suv get whacked.
 
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Seaboard92

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Having raised the prospect of this sort of thing, in general, a few times in the past:
(1) There's a historical precedent for something like this in the form of the Orange Blossom Special and the Florida Special. In those cases, the model was mostly to run close-to-express from about Richmond to Florida (Florence was still a stop for the Florida Special because of a crew change, but the 1941 Orange Blossom Special omitted all intermediate stops from the timetable). The issue is that you only dropped about 30-60 minutes from the end-to-end run (24-25 hours became 23-24 hours) depending on the direction, etc. and in doing so you give up a slug of intermediate traffic. Bear in mind that on the current timetable, you only have a stop something like every 50+ miles between WAS and JAX.
(2) Even presuming that most traffic will consolidate within reason within Florida (e.g. Winter Park/Kissimmee to Orlando), you still have a rather good chunk of traffic that scatters among the various stations. Miami accounts for less than 1/3 of the South Florida traffic, and I don't think folks will "consolidate" from WPB to MIA (that's a messy two-hour drive involving overshooting on the train).

Edit: So, for a bottom line, I'm just not sure that such a train is viable. You'd probably get 80-90% of the timetable benefits from improving MAS on portions of the tracks from 79 to 90 or 110 and/or improving slow chunks to get the relevant MAS up closer to 79 (e.g. Baltimore, parts of Jacksonville). And you don't quite have the mass of ridership that you had in the 1950s.
The Orange Blossom Special ran on the Seaboard Airline via Raleigh, and Columbia. It did stop for passengers at its crew changes. The Atlantic Coastline via Florence, Charleston operated the Florida Special on the route. It actually lasted longer than the Orange Blossom.
 

bretton88

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Based on the wording it sounds as though discounts are likely to be offered in limited fashion leaving the majority of coach passengers with reduced service at the same fares.
The share fares are pretty permanent and now apply to the Auto Train. That's a pretty good discount. Most Auto Train passengers don't travel solo so most wouldn't be paying full price.
 

AmtrakWPK

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You'd think, that Amtrak would allow passengers including ones without cars, to ride the Auto Train! Too bad, that isn't the case.
So we have identified a new need - a rideshare network for non-driving people that want to sign on as additional passengers with drivers that are going to travel on Auto Train but who will have empty space in their vehicle. They will have to do that prior to reservations being made, I think, because I believe all pax have to be included in the reservation, but it should be doable, and it should be attractive to the driver since it would lower their overall cost. For pax riding in coach, that should work. Is it possible for a large pax count in one vehicle (like a three-row minivan) to do partly sleeper and partiy coach? I've not traveled on A-T so I don't know.
 

OBS

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So we have identified a new need - a rideshare network for non-driving people that want to sign on as additional passengers with drivers that are going to travel on Auto Train but who will have empty space in their vehicle. They will have to do that prior to reservations being made, I think, because I believe all pax have to be included in the reservation, but it should be doable, and it should be attractive to the driver since it would lower their overall cost. For pax riding in coach, that should work. Is it possible for a large pax count in one vehicle (like a three-row minivan) to do partly sleeper and partiy coach? I've not traveled on A-T so I don't know.
Yes
 

lordsigma

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What's the latest news on dinner service on the Autotrain?

Thanks!
Nothing is changed yet. Eventually coach dining will be replaced with an “expanded cafe menu”. Sleeper dining will still be a full service dining car and will receive a complimentary glass of wine.
 

pennyk

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So we have identified a new need - a rideshare network for non-driving people that want to sign on as additional passengers with drivers that are going to travel on Auto Train but who will have empty space in their vehicle. They will have to do that prior to reservations being made, I think, because I believe all pax have to be included in the reservation, but it should be doable, and it should be attractive to the driver since it would lower their overall cost. For pax riding in coach, that should work. Is it possible for a large pax count in one vehicle (like a three-row minivan) to do partly sleeper and partiy coach? I've not traveled on A-T so I don't know.
The last time I traveled on the Auto Train was a few years back and without my car. However, I knew a friend would be traveling with his car and I linked my resesrvation to his. His reservation was made before mine. I was a passenger in my friend's car to Lorton and from Sanford.
If one does not have a car and links their reservation to someone with a car who they do not know, there may be issues getting to and from the Auto Train stations and checking in at the same time as the car owner.
 

lordsigma

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Auto train has a new POS system in the lounge and dining cars with new card readers. They supposedly went in in August. Have never seen this style on any other Amtrak trains.
 

neroden

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It appears that Amtrak management's goal is to drive away coach passengers, since that's pretty much the only thing which will result from this change. This, of course, will be bad for Amtrak's bottom line. But I suppose the fanatics who hate anything which is referred to as "long distance" just can't stand that the Auto Train is profitable, and have to sabotage it to make it unprofitable.
 

lordsigma

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I’m not so sure this train is on the target list for train offs. They probably think they can get the train into the black through this cut and Other changes. If the cut is accompanied by a lowering of the bucket prices that may make up for people that leave over this change. The auto train is a very unique service that has a lot of utility in transporting your car on a very common trip for a lot of folks. The removal of free coach dining while annoying for those passengers does not remove that utility value. If the fares are low people will still use it.
 

Anderson

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I’m not so sure this train is on the target list for train offs. They probably think they can get the train into the black through this cut and Other changes. If the cut is accompanied by a lowering of the bucket prices that may make up for people that leave over this change. The auto train is a very unique service that has a lot of utility in transporting your car on a very common trip for a lot of folks. The removal of free coach dining while annoying for those passengers does not remove that utility value. If the fares are low people will still use it.
Given that everyone is on for a 16-ish hour trip (probably closer to 17-18 hours once you account for loading/disembarking time), I think it probably does matter. Now, I suspect that the real damage comes not from the meal not being included but from it not being available. That's a primary complaint across the board here: Amtrak is, in fact, by their own numbers turning away over a third of their dining car customers (the number tended to hover around 40% of all diner meals) from the replacement option.

And I'm not going to lie: If this had been the policy when I first took Amtrak over a decade ago, that probably would have been my first and last overnight trip (and it might well have soured me on Amtrak sufficient to generally drive my business away). Granted, that was on the Silvers and not the Auto Train, but the point still stands

As to the "eventually", I'm still waiting on points-and-cash reservations with AGR. "Eventually" improvements have become something that I will believe when I see.
 

lordsigma

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Given that everyone is on for a 16-ish hour trip (probably closer to 17-18 hours once you account for loading/disembarking time), I think it probably does matter. Now, I suspect that the real damage comes not from the meal not being included but from it not being available. That's a primary complaint across the board here: Amtrak is, in fact, by their own numbers turning away over a third of their dining car customers (the number tended to hover around 40% of all diner meals) from the replacement option.

And I'm not going to lie: If this had been the policy when I first took Amtrak over a decade ago, that probably would have been my first and last overnight trip (and it might well have soured me on Amtrak sufficient to generally drive my business away). Granted, that was on the Silvers and not the Auto Train, but the point still stands

As to the "eventually", I'm still waiting on points-and-cash reservations with AGR. "Eventually" improvements have become something that I will believe when I see.
Im not saying it doesn’t matter. If they don’t offer anything other than what is in the current cafe menu then I agree 100%. But they are saying it will be an “expanded” menu. If they offer more substantial meals for purchase, combined with generally cheaper coach tickets, then I think it may not be as much of an issue ridership wise.
 

neroden

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Given that everyone is on for a 16-ish hour trip (probably closer to 17-18 hours once you account for loading/disembarking time), I think it probably does matter. Now, I suspect that the real damage comes not from the meal not being included but from it not being available.
Bingo.

That's a primary complaint across the board here: Amtrak is, in fact, by their own numbers turning away over a third of their dining car customers (the number tended to hover around 40% of all diner meals) from the replacement option.
This is why I think it's deliberate sabotage. It's combined with fare cuts and discounts, of all things. Cut costs by an insignificant amount, cut revenue by a much larger amount, then they can claim with a straight face that the train is "losing money" (which they could not honestly claim previously). If there's a saboteur in the Senior Executive Vice President's Office at Amtrak who hates the long distance trains, he would be apoplectic about the undeniable fact that the Eastern long distance trains are highly profitable. So deliberate attempts to lose more money would be his scheme, along the lines of Penn Central or Southern Pacific, of trying to convince Congress to let them get rid of the trains.

I've got a Gathering to go to, but there's a letter I ought to write to Richard Anderson and Amtrak's Board; I believe someone in the Amtrak executive office is actively and deliberately trying to cut ridership, cut revenue, and increase losses, which is contrary to Amtrak's mission as given by Congress. That person is also making Richard Anderson look like a fool. That person needs to be fired for cause pronto.
 

Anderson

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This is why I think it's deliberate sabotage. It's combined with fare cuts and discounts, of all things. Cut costs by an insignificant amount, cut revenue by a much larger amount, then they can claim with a straight face that the train is "losing money" (which they could not honestly claim previously). If there's a saboteur in the Senior Executive Vice President's Office at Amtrak who hates the long distance trains, he would be apoplectic about the undeniable fact that the Eastern long distance trains are highly profitable. So deliberate attempts to lose more money would be his scheme, along the lines of Penn Central or Southern Pacific, of trying to convince Congress to let them get rid of the trains.

I've got a Gathering to go to, but there's a letter I ought to write to Richard Anderson and Amtrak's Board; I believe someone in the Amtrak executive office is actively and deliberately trying to cut ridership, cut revenue, and increase losses, which is contrary to Amtrak's mission as given by Congress. That person is also making Richard Anderson look like a fool. That person needs to be fired for cause pronto.
I've heard an unsubstantiated rumor that Anderson is getting very sick of looking like a fool in front of Congress. I will say that regardless of what complaints people may have about Jim Mathews, Jim has warned Anderson at every step of this mess what was going to happen and Jim has been right close to 100% of the time. Anderson's folks officially advising him on Capitol Hill, on the other hand, are batting close to 0.000. I seriously have to wonder why there hasn't been a bit of high-profile turnover at this point.

Of course, given Congress's history as of late (even with some of the contradictory mandates that have slipped in there) I do wonder whether a ridership nosedive that correlates to closely to a service cut like this (and cleanly correlates along the fiscal year, too) I think there's a good chance of severe blowback and something coming just short of legislation barring Amtrak from using any federal funds to "contemplate" the withdrawal of any LD services.
 

erierail

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Bingo.



This is why I think it's deliberate sabotage. It's combined with fare cuts and discounts, of all things. Cut costs by an insignificant amount, cut revenue by a much larger amount, then they can claim with a straight face that the train is "losing money" (which they could not honestly claim previously). If there's a saboteur in the Senior Executive Vice President's Office at Amtrak who hates the long distance trains, he would be apoplectic about the undeniable fact that the Eastern long distance trains are highly profitable. So deliberate attempts to lose more money would be his scheme, along the lines of Penn Central or Southern Pacific, of trying to convince Congress to let them get rid of the trains.

I've got a Gathering to go to, but there's a letter I ought to write to Richard Anderson and Amtrak's Board; I believe someone in the Amtrak executive office is actively and deliberately trying to cut ridership, cut revenue, and increase losses, which is contrary to Amtrak's mission as given by Congress. That person is also making Richard Anderson look like a fool. That person needs to be fired for cause pronto.
 

erierail

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First of all the railroads never went in front of Congress to remove trains. Railroads went before the state agency that the individual railroad operated its train through to get a train discontinued. It was President Richard Nixon's administration that create the national railroad passenger corporation to let railroads buy into the company in return for discontinuing thier passenger operations. The hope was that amtrak would fail and the burden of even operating a skeleton long distance passenger system would disappear.

In defense of the Penn Central, it had been losing millions of dollar on its passenger services and even more on unsubsidized commuter operations that they were required by law to operate.

Neither the New York Central nor the Pennsylvania RR would have considered a merger, if both were not on thier financial knees hoping a merger would save them both.

But we do owe both carriers some thanks for forwarding the passenger train into the future. The PRR work closely with the FRA and the us department of transportation to develope the metroliners and form the basis of the north east corridor. The orginal cars were delivered and tested in prr colors. They also soldiered the losses for its participation in forwarding the Florida trains and southern railway trains from nyc penn to was. The NYC cut a deal with the state of New York to drop most of its names silver fleet trains in return for maintaining a few long distance trains out of nyc grand central west. The new England states limited and many others died, but the NYC- alb- buf- Ngf trains survived and the empire service corridor was created. The penn central continued to operate trains from grand central station to Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago. Along with many of the prr trains out of nyp. It ran trains to Toronto and Montreal till the end came may 1, 1971.

With that said, I do agree amtrak is trying to kill its last signature long distance passenger in the the east, the auto train, hopefully something Congress will address, though I doubt..

It might be doing it southern Pacific style, but not Penn central style. The sp was not dead broke in comparison to the quickly failing pc, which could ill afford but ran many decent trains to the end.
 
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