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

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Don't be shocked if this becomes SOP on the Chief ,and eventually ALL of the Western LD Trains, if Congress doesnt repeal the Mica Rule!
Living in New Orleans, where Covid 19 is a very serious problem (Louisiana now has over 1,000 deaths), I fully understand why Amtrak would resort to boxed meals rather than the diner: Spread of the disease from people congregating in the diner, whether passengers of crew, the huge expense of paying a large dining car staff for very few patrons, are two examples. These are difficult times and require difficult measures in order to keep any transportation running at all and to be sure as many people are as safe as they can be. Frankly, I'm not sure why people would want to be traveling right now anyway. They should stay home. That being said, I wouldn't trust Anderson any farther than I could throw him so what this means for the future is another matter.
 

Skyline

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I can’t imagine there are that many people using the trains right now where this would be a big deal. I have to imagine the vast majority of essential travelers are traveling shorter or at most one night trips. I can’t imagine anyone is traveling end to end right now. And you can get refunds basically with zero strings attached due to covid 19 on any reservation right now so if there was theoretically someone ticked off they could get a refund.

As far as I’m concerned all these changes are completely justified. The less employees needed for Amtrak to operate the essential service the better. Once the economy reopens if management played games and made it permanent on these routes I’d be the first to criticize - flex dining doesn’t cut it for a 2 night leisure trip. But for now this is totally justified and they haven’t let the employees go.
I have a friend with many years seniority in OBS who was recently assigned to the Extra Board instead of being temporarily laid off. He says this has happened to quite a few of his coworkers, and he is confused as to why they are being left in limbo like that. His view is that none of them will be called back to do actual work while on the Extra Board, as it is more of a demotion with lower pay.
 

Gary Behling

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Mar 28, 2019
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Could it be because Amtrak announced their "new flex menu" in advance and told people ahead of time what junk was being provided with that meal? Other than those who went before Amtrak announced it and/or posted the new meals on their web site, one could say that the passengers could/should have known that the change was what they were going to get. While it's true IMHO that Amtrak should have lowered their prices since the service was lowered for those on Eastern trains, he fact that it wasn't for those latter customers just indicates how low Amtrak has gone while trying to copy some of the tactics of those"less than ethical" private corporations that do similar things like announcing "new better flavor" because they substituted cheaper ingredients and kept the price the same. Welch's sparkling grape juice suddenly became "sparkling grape juice drink as they changed it to 50% sugar water instead of 100% juice" quite a few years ago as it had always been prior to that. When I wrote to complain, they replied "customers today like it better" just like "fresh choices" is "liked" more by the "younger travelers" on Amtrak.
I sure hope we'll still get Amtrak Cheesecake. I really don't much care about the other stuff
 

OBS

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I have a friend with many years seniority in OBS who was recently assigned to the Extra Board instead of being temporarily laid off. He says this has happened to quite a few of his coworkers, and he is confused as to why they are being left in limbo like that. His view is that none of them will be called back to do actual work while on the Extra Board, as it is more of a demotion with lower pay.
He would prefer to be laid off, and be paid even less as well as lose his benefits?
 

bratkinson

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I have a friend with many years seniority in OBS who was recently assigned to the Extra Board instead of being temporarily laid off. He says this has happened to quite a few of his coworkers, and he is confused as to why they are being left in limbo like that. His view is that none of them will be called back to do actual work while on the Extra Board, as it is more of a demotion with lower pay.
It's a sneaky way to prevent him/her to collect RR unemployment. I don't know about the Amtrak on board services contract, having been in TCU at CSX Intermodal, I suspect that on the extra board, there's no 'guarantee' of hours and pay like I had. Hence, unless they're working, they get zero money from Amtrak and zero from RR unemployment. It's also a means that whenever someone does call out sick, one phone call and the spot gets filled.

While on the extra board at CSX Intermodal, when there wasn't a vacation or sick time to cover, they'd schedule me to be there anyway. That gave me all the outdoor work, while the regular man sat on his butt all day at the terminal handling drivers that came inside.
 
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crescent-zephyr

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As a side note, I’m sure this is to save on food waste as well. The number of passengers is going to be so low that guessing how to stock the diners would be difficult. I wonder if they had already gone to express menus only? Would have made sense.
 

Rasputin

OBS Chief
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Jan 17, 2019
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There is a worldwide pandemic. Travel should be limited to essential travel. A little inconvenience under the circumstances is hardly unreasonable. If you want to have a Lucious Beebe experience, stay home.
My comment related to whether sleeping car passengers should be entitled to some type of a refund after paying full fare on trains which no longer operate a dining car.
 

lordsigma

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They are trying to achieve 0 furloughs and layoffs during this period. They are using the extra board to place employees affected by covid related service changes. (OBS cuts, train frequency reductions, and outright suspensions in some corridors.) I think I’d rather Be getting paid a reduced wage then have to deal with unemployment right now. On my local service I believe they abolished all conductor and engineer jobs and everyone is working off the extra board for the reduced frequencies on the line.
 

jebr

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jis

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Seems like a silly comment to make... this is an Amtrak discussion board, of course we are going to be discussing Amtrak even if we aren’t in the place to be riding it right now.
Maybe you did not understand the comment perhaps? It is quite clear that I was merely stating an observed fact that my concern was about the safety of Amtrak crew whereas his was on whether he is served dinner in the Diner and whinging about not getting a lower fare because he was getting a box meal in his room instead. What does anything have to do with this being an Amtrak discussion Board.?My comment was entirely about Amtrak. What did you think it was about?
 
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OBS

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It's a sneaky way to prevent him/her to collect RR unemployment. I don't know about the Amtrak on board services contract, having been in TCU at CSX Intermodal, I suspect that on the extra board, there's no 'guarantee' of hours and pay like I had. Hence, unless they're working, they get zero money from Amtrak and zero from RR unemployment. It's also a means that whenever someone does call out sick, one phone call and the spot gets filled.

While on the extra board at CSX Intermodal, when there wasn't a vacation or sick time to cover, they'd schedule me to be there anyway. That gave me all the outdoor work, while the regular man sat on his butt all day at the terminal handling drivers that came inside.
Actually, the OBS extra board has a guarantee of 150 hours a month unless you break your guarantee. Sure, you may have to make a trip into the crewbase on a protect position for 8 hour job. But otherwise you keep all benefits and paid for 150 hours in case you work less in the month. FWIW, most regular positions pay 180-200 hours per month.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Just curious - meals from microwaves vs. meals from convection ovens. Is the end result any different?
Are the contemporary meals microwave or convection oven? If microwave there is no hope.
Microwaves and convection ovens heat food differently but they can both be used to serve a tasty meal when a chef plans around their strengths and weaknesses. Conversely, a low quality meal won't taste much better just because you used a fancier oven to heat it.

All airline food, even first class, is all prepared on the ground and reheated in flight in convection ovens.
Supposedly there are a few airlines that prepare some meals inflight on a small number of premier intercontinental flights. I've had some really tasty meals in long haul premium cabins but to the best of my understanding the closest they came to onboard preparation was being cooked to around 60% on the ground, chilled for storage, and then finished in an on-board oven. Still had a really good flavor though.

My guess, and it is ONLY my personal guess, is that on April 1, 2021, full service dining will still not be available on all the routes that it was available on as of April 1, 2020.
I'll take that bet. Name the stakes.
The way I read it, even the loss of one route's full service dining meets his criteria. That is not a bet I'd be willing to take so long as the Mica rule remains in effect.
 
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lordsigma

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This is not about the Mica rule and its not about sabotaging trains. It's about safety (for passenger by serving something with at least contact as possible and for employee by operating essential service with the least number of employees possible) and practicality. How does it make sense to have 3 or 4 people working the dining car to serve 10 people or less for the entire route? You're also talking about a lot of food spoilage in that scenario. Amtrak's management has acknowledged more than once that what works for the single night trains doesn't necessarily work for the double overnights. Once travel bans and such are relaxed its going to be necessary to restore normal amenities to attract people back to these trains (I acknowledge this is also just one person's opinion - but whether this management likes it or not certain LD trains are not going away and if you want people to ride two night trains you need the traditional dining. When you are trying to get Amtrak to break even it doesnt make sense for trains like the Zephyr or Builder to lose even more money by gutting amenities. Single level long distance trains can work without traditional dining - two nighters I believe wont which is why I personally believe dining will return.) If this was about the Mica rule and sabotaging trains the affected staff would be on furlough - instead they are on the extra board and receiving pay.
 

Bob Dylan

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This is not about the Mica rule and its not about sabotaging trains. It's about safety (for passenger by serving something with at least contact as possible and for employee by operating essential service with the least number of employees possible) and practicality. How does it make sense to have 3 or 4 people working the dining car to serve 10 people or less for the entire route? You're also talking about a lot of food spoilage in that scenario. Amtrak's management has acknowledged more than once that what works for the single night trains doesn't necessarily work for the double overnights. Once travel bans and such are relaxed its going to be necessary to restore normal amenities to attract people back to these trains (I acknowledge this is also just one person's opinion - but whether this management likes it or not certain LD trains are not going away and if you want people to ride two night trains you need the traditional dining. When you are trying to get Amtrak to break even it doesnt make sense for trains like the Zephyr or Builder to lose even more money by gutting amenities. Single level long distance trains can work without traditional dining - two nighters I believe wont which is why I personally believe dining will return.) If this was about the Mica rule and sabotaging trains the affected staff would be on furlough - instead they are on the extra board and receiving pay.
That's because of a Union Contract and Seniority, not kind hearted Management!

There are plenty of Amtrak workers layed off, but so far were not getting any numbers, the Federal Government is trying to " Manage" the Unemployment Figures by order of the Labor Department!
 

Bob Dylan

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My understanding is there have not been any furloughs or layoffs within Amtrak during the covid 19 situation,
It's not just the OBS, lots of Support Staff, New Hires ( one of our Members from Philly included)etc have been affected, and the Chefs cant work as SCAs, Coach attendants or in the Yards etc.

Maybe someone from Amtrak knows the actual Numbers???
 

Devil's Advocate

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This is not about the Mica rule and its not about sabotaging trains. It's about safety (for passenger by serving something with at least contact as possible and for employee by operating essential service with the least number of employees possible) and practicality.
Does the Mica rule allow a force majeure exception for pandemics? Regardless of whatever role the rule may or may not play in the decision to remove service I have little doubt it will play a role in any decision to bring full dining service back again.
 

Thirdrail7

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I'll take that bet. Name the stakes.
I'd love to share your optimism but,

The way I read it, even the loss of one route's full service dining meets his criteria. That is not a bet I'd be willing to take so long as the Mica rule remains in effect.
As Devil's Advocate has pointed out, Amtrak has not been relieved of the Mica rule. Under the current guidelines, no federal funds may be used to cover F&B losses starting next FY. Did anyone see the F&B plan for the LD network that would meet these criteria?

Something like contemporary, flexible, uptempo, boxed, caged, or food truck at strategic locations may have been in the wings. The emergency situation may have just pushed certain things to the forefront with a certain amount of urgency. It is entirely too early to rule out this may be the new norm. Ridership will dictate what occurs and if the ridership isn't there, why would they return a full staff to the train to compete against their own products?

Remember, there IS at least one modified, "single food service car" Viewliner prototype car out there.

My understanding is there have not been any furloughs or layoffs within Amtrak during the covid 19 situation,
I notice there are plenty of things on this board (and others) that you don't fully understand.
 

lordsigma

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I notice there are plenty of things on this board (and others) that you don't fully understand.
You're absolutely right and it's time I accept that. I don't want to continue to be a source of misinformation, so it's time to take a break. To everyone on this board: stay safe, be well in these uncertain times and hopefully before long we will get back to a state of normality.
 
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IndyLions

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You're absolutely right and it's time I accept that. I don't want to continue to be a source of misinformation, so it's time to take a break. To everyone on this board: stay safe, be well in these uncertain times and hopefully before long we will get back to a state of normality.
Don’t go any where - it’s a message board intended for enjoyment. Everyone understands that.
 

lordsigma

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Don’t go any where - it’s a message board intended for enjoyment. Everyone understands that.
I'm sure I'll be back when the COVID crisis ends, I just want to take a break - I think it's best for all parties including myself. I don't want to draw this conversation out, I just want to leave it there. Again, stay safe and be well all.
 
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