COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic: Amtrak Food Service Discussion

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,497
At least breakfast resembles what I would actually eat. Cheerios, yogurt, fruit. It shouldn’t be considered a full breakfast but it’s way better than frozen dinners that I would never eat under other circumstances.
 

20th Century Rider

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
358
Most of understand the reasoning behind the food changes due to complications of the pandemic... and the accompanying decline in ridership. The concern is that these food service and frequency cutbacks will become permanent and that this will become the new Amtrak.

Pre pandemic there had been a lot of discussion nationally regarding updating of the rail system with high speed... in dense population areas... Florida, California, Northeast, Midwest, etc. It is hoped this will continue, and that national leadership will support it!
 

Manny T

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jun 7, 2015
Messages
478
If national leadership for upgrading Amtrak is wanted, doesn't that mean Joe Biden? I understand he was nicknamed Amtrak Joe and that he clocked in some 8,200 roundtrips on Amtrak during his government tenure. Not sure what other national candidate can offer that resume.
 

20th Century Rider

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
358
If national leadership for upgrading Amtrak is wanted, doesn't that mean Joe Biden? I understand he was nicknamed Amtrak Joe and that he clocked in some 8,200 roundtrips on Amtrak during his government tenure. Not sure what other national candidate can offer that resume.
The present incumbent national leader wants to slice Amtrak funding by half. But most think that 'Amtrak Joe' would most likely be Pro-Amtrak... although nothing is for certain. We can only hope for a full restoration of Amtrak post pandemic, although LD is really taking a hit. Wish we could crawl into the Amtrak part of Joe's mind. He definitely is an 'Amtrak kind of a guy.' Hmmm... so much to wonder about; safe to say next year at this time we will have gone through some big changes.
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
1,946
The present incumbent national leader wants to slice Amtrak funding by half. But most think that 'Amtrak Joe' would most likely be Pro-Amtrak... although nothing is for certain. We can only hope for a full restoration of Amtrak post pandemic, although LD is really taking a hit. Wish we could crawl into the Amtrak part of Joe's mind. He definitely is an 'Amtrak kind of a guy.' Hmmm... so much to wonder about; safe to say next year at this time we will have gone through some big changes.
If we have a new President in January, I suspect that there will be a lot of issues with a higher priority than the details of Amtrak service. In any event, the President doesn't really have all that much authority over Amtrak. As you pointed out, the current President wanted to cut Amtrak funding by half, but that went nowhere with Congress. And that was a Congress hostile to government spending and of the same political party as the President.

That said, Mr. Biden and his political party are, indeed, more supportive of funding for rail transit than the other side of the aisle. Furthermore, they're more likely to be concerned about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other emissions of air pollutants. Thus, they will tend to be more sympathetic to funding passenger rail and public transit as a tool to help get people out of their cars. But this means that they will probably want to focus on improving and expanding short-haul corridor service that has the most potential to significantly reduce the automobile vehicle miles driven. Long-haul service is secondary, but everybody agrees that it should be supported to provide mobility alternatives for rural areas, especially those not served by other forms of public transportation. This also provides the national political support for all passenger rail.

However, most passengers, even on long distance trains only travel relatively short distances. Thus, catering to passengers traveling the really long distances is probably the lowest priority for funding. There are still good reasons to do so: There's a small, but significant percentage of the population who can't or won't fly or drive, often for medical reasons. In addition, the premium services catering to long-distance passengers (sleeper and business class) have a revenue yield per mile that's almost twice that of coach. Thus, the gravy pulled in by the customers of the premium service helps cross-subsidize the long-distance service for coach passengers. This, by the way, is a good reason for Amtrak not to outsource the premium services, as if they are outsourced, the private operator would be getting that gravy, not Amtrak.

In summary, any new administration, especially if there's a change in control of the Senate, will be more friendly to funding passenger rail than we've seen in a long time, but don't expect any miracles with respect for improvements in service on the long-distance routes. What I'd like to see is policymakers and political leaders start taking passenger rail seriously as a viable transportation mode for the masses across the country, like it is in the Northeast.
 

Steve4031

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Aug 27, 2002
Messages
5,695
BTW, some on this forum have disagreed with the idea of supporting private enterprise to partner with Amtrak and step in to compete with each other for a better solution for the same amount of $$$. What do you think???

So if Amtrak would open up its meal service program to competing vendors do you think this may bring an improved solution for food service during the pandemic? I mean, in terms of quality, presentation, content, taste, and putting a smile on that face after a really satisfying delicious meal???
[/QUOTE]

At this point I’m so disgusted I’m willing to try anything. There is a lack of efficiency in how Amtrak management gets things done. The first thing that needs to happen is that some sort of process needs to occur where mid to low level managers are empowered to make decisions and also be held accountable for poor performance. If the food isn’t getting positive reviews from the passengers and the employees are not providing adequate service then the manager needs to feel the heat. And heat must be passed onto employees who are not doing there job.

The food on the Canadian is better than Amtrak, though there are a few things I dislike about their service model. The brunch model for serving a later breakfast is not my favorite part. I’m usually ravenous by the time brunch occurs. I don’t know how much via loses on the Canadian food service.

The German dining Cars on some of their ICE trains is pretty good. And the diner is open for the duration of the train’s 8 hour run.

I liked some of the meals on Acela. So imho I think it’s possible that better food service is possible. The problem is getting congress to change from a cost cutting model to a balance of quality and economic efficiency.
 

Ferroequinologist

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
57
I rode the TE/SL on the 17th from LA to AUS, meals were definitely able to be ordered through the attendant and either picked up or delivered to your room. If it helps, every other table in the diner has been closed, so even if you eat there alone (no more community seating) I believe you will feel safe as I did.
`
You seem to have answered a question I had: is there any problem getting the attendant to serve you in your compartment or is there resistance?
 

Ferroequinologist

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
57
I think the issue is far bigger than Amtrak's meager food offerings, at least in the era of Covid-19. I suspect all travel will encounter the same prepackaged, tasteless, processed food we now enjoy on Amtrak. We just returned from a road trip and spent two nights on the road staying at our usual moderately priced Marriott Fairfield hotels. Normally their 'free' breakfasts are pretty good with an assortment of fresh fruit, sausage or bacon, and omelets. Now everything was wrapped in cellophane and there were no hot offerings. So, while Amtrak food is a disaster, at least there is a plausible reason for it as long as we have Covid-19. I am sure Amtrak bean counters are relieved that the timing of the virus has had the unintended effect of providing some cover for flexible dining.

I guess the only reason 'real food' exits on Auto Train is they have made a commitment to try and retain this lucrative market and with at least twice the number of sleepers as other trains it isn't practical to try and serve all passengers from a glorified cafe car and walk through 3 or 4 sleepers to the room. And certainly many paying the premium to haul their auto wouldn't be satisfied with a flexible dining box.

But of course this begs the questions, as other have noted regarding fare sales, if they can do it on A-T why not all trains.
They don't do it because the goal has been to cut out dining cars. Now they have an excuse. Next step: reduce to 3 x a week and when passenger loads drop use that as an excuse to eliminate the service.
 

20th Century Rider

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
358
When we discuss on board dining service, there is another example of a railroad that uses catered service and offers a full menu for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. The service is right in the USA, The Alaska Railroad. Most of their summer services start this week, between July 1st and 3rd.

That's pretty impressive considering things are more expensive in Alaska. Why can't Amtrak do the same???
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,497
That's pretty impressive considering things are more expensive in Alaska. Why can't Amtrak do the same???
What things are more expensive in Alaska? More expensive compared to where?

And Amtrak is fully capable of having a great dining car menu, they’ve had good options in the past few years.

It’s all about the current Amtrak management.
 

PVD

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Messages
4,497
Cost of living in Alaska is higher than the national average by quite a bit. It costs a lot to bring goods there, transportation costs are high. Most of the touristy high end stuff is seasonal, food service is an attraction, contributing to the overall desirability of the trip. Certainly not the same as what Amtrak has to provide. AR is an essential government service for freight movement in the state.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,497
Cost of living in Alaska is higher than the national average by quite a bit. It costs a lot to bring goods there, transportation costs are high. Most of the touristy high end stuff is seasonal, food service is an attraction, contributing to the overall desirability of the trip. Certainly not the same as what Amtrak has to provide. AR is an essential government service for freight movement in the state.
Alaska is not in the top 5 most expensive states to live in though.

AR moving freight has nothing to do with them serving reindeer sausage for breakfast.
 

20th Century Rider

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
358
What things are more expensive in Alaska? More expensive compared to where?

And Amtrak is fully capable of having a great dining car menu, they’ve had good options in the past few years.

It’s all about the current Amtrak management.
True food prices vary by location... and most reliable comparative sources show a higher cost of living in Alaska. But you are right on when it comes to the issue.

We're actually both saying the same thing... "Amtrak is fully capable of having a great dining car menu, they’ve had good options in the past few years. It’s all about the current Amtrak management."

I agree with you 100% and I think most of us feel the same way.

Screen Shot 2020-06-29 at 9.44.10 AM.png
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,497
True food prices vary by location... and most reliable comparative sources show a higher cost of living in Alaska. But you are right on when it comes to the issue.

We're actually both saying the same thing... "Amtrak is fully capable of having a great dining car menu, they’ve had good options in the past few years. It’s all about the current Amtrak management."

I agree with you 100% and I think most of us feel the same way.

View attachment 17881
It’s really a shame, there’s no reason the chef can’t still be on the train preparing the meals even if the menu had to be modified and you still had to eat in your room because of the virus.
 

20th Century Rider

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
358
It’s really a shame, there’s no reason the chef can’t still be on the train preparing the meals even if the menu had to be modified and you still had to eat in your room because of the virus.
Agreed! Let's all hope a vaccine will be found soon so things can get back to normal. And there's also hope that a new administration will be more favorable to Amtrak support.
 

20th Century Rider

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
358
Budget cuts for Amtrak... the Washington Post reports... "Trump’s proposed 2021 budget delivered to Congress on Monday includes reductions in funding to the United States’ busiest rail corridor, the Northeast, to $325 million from $700 million. Funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains would decrease to $611 million from $1.3 billion under the plan, which intends to phase out aid for long-distance service."

There's probably been much discussion on that here but I haven't been able to find the strand. With sincerest respect for all points of view, I'm stymied as to the reason for cuts to the NE rail corridor... and extremely disappointed in the push for phasing out aid completely for LD service... while attempting to get billions appropriated for 'the Wall.' ???

But, we are a country of elected representation. Personal list of priorities:

1 - wear a mask
2 - social distance
3 - vote
 

Ferroequinologist

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
57
The current "flexible" menu is a downgrade of the downgrade. When they first dropped dining cars on trains east of Chicago they had a good cheese / cold meat plate. That's gone. They offer the same menu for lunch and dinner. I don't eat the same things for both meals. There isn't even a sandwich offered for lunch - but you can pay extra for one in the cafe car! Take a look at the current offerings. My doctor has me on a low sodium, basically sugar free diet. These items are almost certainly very high in sodium and very unhealthy:

Red wine braised beef: contains polenta (yuck) and mushrooms.
Enchiladas: described as the "healthy" option.
Chicken Marsala: includes broccoli and carrots.
Shrimp in Lobster sauce: The only fish option contains shellfish that a lot of people can't eat.
Pasta and Meatballs

I called Amtrak and they said NO special menus. At least on the airlines they offer plain chicken, beef or pasta - dishes that most people can eat plus they offer Kosher, Halal options etc.

This junk food - full of salt, fat and (in the case of breakfast) sugar is what passengers have to eat for THREE days coast-to-coast. This after paying massive fares. It's nothing less than insensitivity to the well being of passengers, if not an abuse of passenger rights.
 

20th Century Rider

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
358
The current "flexible" menu is a downgrade of the downgrade. When they first dropped dining cars on trains east of Chicago they had a good cheese / cold meat plate. That's gone. They offer the same menu for lunch and dinner. I don't eat the same things for both meals. There isn't even a sandwich offered for lunch - but you can pay extra for one in the cafe car! Take a look at the current offerings. My doctor has me on a low sodium, basically sugar free diet. These items are almost certainly very high in sodium and very unhealthy:

Red wine braised beef: contains polenta (yuck) and mushrooms.
Enchiladas: described as the "healthy" option.
Chicken Marsala: includes broccoli and carrots.
Shrimp in Lobster sauce: The only fish option contains shellfish that a lot of people can't eat.
Pasta and Meatballs

I called Amtrak and they said NO special menus. At least on the airlines they offer plain chicken, beef or pasta - dishes that most people can eat plus they offer Kosher, Halal options etc.

This junk food - full of salt, fat and (in the case of breakfast) sugar is what passengers have to eat for THREE days coast-to-coast. This after paying massive fares. It's nothing less than insensitivity to the well being of passengers, if not an abuse of passenger rights.
Yes! I know what exactly what you are saying... the food service consistently deteriorates from bad to worse! I am putting together a food review for the 'Wine Braised Beef with Polenta" - the fatty pieces of meat swimming around in watery gravy that the polenta is dissolving into. [Choke!] A disgraceful disrespect to the sleeping car passenger who has paid so much to get so little. So unsatisfying, so bland, and so boring.

But do be aware, the present administration wants to cut out all LD service and is further slicing the budget by 50%... and by discouraging the customer, the declining numbers will justify the oblivion. Please... whatever you do... vote! ... because with a new administration this all could change!!!
 

Bob Dylan

Conductor
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
19,765
Yes! I know what exactly what you are saying... the food service consistently deteriorates from bad to worse! I am putting together a food review for the 'Wine Braised Beef with Polenta" - the fatty pieces of meat swimming around in watery gravy that the polenta is dissolving into. [Choke!] A disgraceful disrespect to the sleeping car passenger who has paid so much to get so little. So unsatisfying, so bland, and so boring.

But do be aware, the present administration wants to cut out all LD service and is further slicing the budget by 50%... and by discouraging the customer, the declining numbers will justify the oblivion. Please... whatever you do... vote! ... because with a new administration this all could change!!!
Keep contacting your Reps ( they're ALL up for Election in the House) and your Senators. Several Senators from both Parties are working on this, keep the heat on!
 

Maverickstation

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 2, 2017
Messages
260

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,497
With noting that the Alaska RR also provides a full menu (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) on it's weekly AURORA Winter Train, the train also has a mid-week round trip during select months.

Yes. I’m not saying it can’t be done. Hoosier State had a dome dining car with food cooked on board. Downeaster has its own menu with higher quality cafe service. The piedmont trains offer free bottled water to all passengers.

Anything is possible if the state is willing to pay for it and make it happen.
 

Ferroequinologist

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
57
Keep contacting your Reps ( they're ALL up for Election in the House) and your Senators. Several Senators from both Parties are working on this, keep the heat on!
The problem is that when I write the staffers don't read more than a sentence. I have written about long haul and dining. I get a response back that has nothing to do with these issues. They just don't care. Several politicians have done the same. I feel that they simply do not care. We are not really represented.
 

Ferroequinologist

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
57
Yes! I know what exactly what you are saying... the food service consistently deteriorates from bad to worse! I am putting together a food review for the 'Wine Braised Beef with Polenta" - the fatty pieces of meat swimming around in watery gravy that the polenta is dissolving into. [Choke!] A disgraceful disrespect to the sleeping car passenger who has paid so much to get so little. So unsatisfying, so bland, and so boring.

But do be aware, the present administration wants to cut out all LD service and is further slicing the budget by 50%... and by discouraging the customer, the declining numbers will justify the oblivion. Please... whatever you do... vote! ... because with a new administration this all could change!!!
Could you inform me when you post the review. Will you review any other items. There are only two items on the menu that I can consider eating on a three night trip and that is one of them. This is really disturbing. By the way, I asked if there were a Kosher option and was told NO. Then I checked back and was told YES. I asked WHERE is the menu online. The agent could not find it. Has anyone tried the Kosher option? I suppose there is one choice for lunch and dinner for a three day trip! And I'll bet that of the other options they won't stock or will run out of at least one. So what do I do? pay out of pocket for the cafe car sandwiches?
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,497
Could you inform me when you post the review. Will you review any other items. There are only two items on the menu that I can consider eating on a three night trip and that is one of them. This is really disturbing. By the way, I asked if there were a Kosher option and was told NO. Then I checked back and was told YES. I asked WHERE is the menu online. The agent could not find it. Has anyone tried the Kosher option? I suppose there is one choice for lunch and dinner for a three day trip! And I'll bet that of the other options they won't stock or will run out of at least one. So what do I do? pay out of pocket for the cafe car sandwiches?
If your other option is the shrimp and sausage bowl (gluten free) I can tell you the shrimp bowl is way better than the beef. The beef is swimming in an overly salted sauce and the polenta is not recognizable as such.

The shrimp and sausage rice bowl at least resembles a cheap microwaved rice bowl. It’s not great, but it’s way better than the beef. Those are the only 2 I’ve tried so far. The new little salads are pathetic, and there is no gluten free dessert option.
 
2
Top