Crescent Update, 12/2021

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JCTakoma

Train Attendant
Joined
Nov 8, 2019
Messages
24
Location
Georgetown, DC
Amtrak 19/20, aka “The Crescent”, Washington DC to Tuscaloosa (December 22, on time departure, arrive about an hour and a half late) and return (December 27, about an hour late departure, but arrived nearly on time), two passengers. The car was a Viewliner in a roomette with two bunk beds, a combo toilet/sink in the room, and shower down the hall.

Total price round trip was about $1131, or $566 apiece. Given that we also booked a rental car to our final destination in Central Mississippi, this worked out to be about the same price as an advanced-booked first-class flight, though substantially more than the cheapest “basic economy” fare on an airline.

On boarding and throughout the trip, there were regular “Amtrak policy” announcements, “next station” announcements, and “nanny” announcements. Some were humorous.

The “Amtrak policy” announcements had to do with the usual requirement for shoes when leaving one’s seat, topped with a stern “you will be kicked off the train” COVID-19 warning about masks. Coach passengers were required to wear their masks even while seated, except while “actively” eating and drinking. We did not wear our masks while in our roomette, and neither the conductor nor the sleeping car attendant seemed to mind.

The “next station” announcements were the usual, and mostly unremarkable. They were discontinued around 11pm so that passengers could sleep undisturbed, with the warning to stay in one’s assigned seat so that the conductor could find persons who might be sleeping and would need to be awakened in time to disembark at any pre-dawn stop. The announcements resumed again at 7am, including within our compartment, jolting us awake. In our experience, the sleeping car attendant turns these off in sleeping cars, affording a bit of extra luxury for sleeping car passengers, but that did not happen on this trip, in either direction.

The “nanny” announcements seemed generally addressed to a certain category of “messy” coach passenger, but we heard them in the sleeping cars anyway. One conductor asked us to treat the toilets as we would our toilets at home; I suppose those that left their home toilets a mess then felt validated in doing the same on the Crescent. Another warned that the toilets would be closed if passengers insisted on disposing of paper towels in them, as there were no cleaning personnel on board. We were very careful with our private, in-compartment toilet, preserving what is certainly a luxury afforded to long-distance sleeping-car passengers.

TO BE CONTINUED

NOTE: Photos compare Acela first class meals to Flex meals on the Crescent. Amtrak clearly has the ability to deliver fine service. The Speedbox screenshot was taken on Acela heading to New York, a top speed roughly twice what we saw on the Crescent. Crescent average is about 40, Acela average closer to 80.
 

Attachments

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JCTakoma

Train Attendant
Joined
Nov 8, 2019
Messages
24
Location
Georgetown, DC
CONTINUED:

For the southbound journey, we were notified that there was no dining car in the train; it simply wasn’t included in the “consist”. The cafe car was in service for coach passengers, while sleeping car passengers were encouraged to place cafe car orders through their attendant, in our case through an energetic and recently employed attendant named Will. He advised us that the cafe car would be crowded with coach passengers, and that service in our room, ordered through him, would be better.

Will brought us our dinner order, a flex meal. The meat entree was described by companion as “ok”. My fish was overcooked to the point that the accompanying broccoli literally melted in my mouth with nary a chew. The next day we both had “Railroad French Toast”, which was brick-hard and thin, as if a proper piece of thick-cut bread had been compressed to the highest possible density. Instead of knife and fork, we tried dipping it in tubs of syrup; the syrup was fine, but the toast itself was still hard on the molars; we ended up eating only half.

We did try to visit the dining car for breakfast, since we have in the past enjoyed sitting in that car to survey the passing scenery. The conductor had announced that the dining car was closed so that sleeping car passengers could be served, so we felt invited. When we arrived, a member of staff informed us that we could instead place our order from our compartment to our sleeping-car attendant. In the car, staff were spread out in various states of repose, obviously enjoying the absence of passengers, so there was no place for us to sit. They were apparently surprised to see us, and quickly pulled on their masks. Our sleeping-car attendent hopped up and followed us back to our roomette to take our breakfast order.

The question arises as to whether these experiences are because Amtrak is incapable of providing decent food service; of course, even the suggestion that Amtrak is incapable is completely absurd. As I type these words, I’m on the Acela from Washington to New York, in first class, having used some Select Plus upgrade coupons. My lunch is a Spanish pork stew, absolutely delicious, preceded by a quite nice Old Fashioned cocktail. The only comparison between Acela service and the Crescent is in the dessert: desserts on both trains are courtesy of an apparent contract with Sweet Street for a delicious and indulgently rich chocolate brownie on the Crescent, and for a superb 340-calorie gigantic soft sugar cookie on the Acela. Hats off to Sweet Street!

Our southbound train was on time until just before Atlanta. There we paused for a one-hour delay due to a freight train. We later chatted with a Norfolk Southern employee who told us that freight trains “never” delay Amtrak trains that are on time, since Norfolk-Southern “always” gives Amtrak trains a one-hour unobstructed window. I should acknowledge that the Norfolk-Southern employee who provided us with these “facts” was an electrical engineer of some sort, who told us he had two masters degrees (presumably in something related to electricity), and said, as his monologue proceeded to current events, that the OAN television network was “mostly neutral”. I presume he was not empowered by his employer to speak about freight/passenger conflicts, so this was merely his personal understanding.

For the northbound journey, we received an email in advance that there would be no food service whatsoever on our train, so in a panic we packed a cooler bag with ice packs and holiday leftovers. Once on board, the attendant, who was a bit matter-of-fact and apparently taking care of two cars instead of the usual one, so we actually never got to learn his name, took our dinner order, explaining the food service problem had been “fixed”. Given our recent experience on the southbound, we chose nonetheless to dine on our delicious holiday leftovers from home.

Of course, we did ask our attendant to bring us drinks and desserts. My order for a single-glass serving of Barefoot Cabernet never arrived, which to be honest was no great loss, given the meager quality of that particular brand of wine. When I later asked about the non-arrival of my wine, the attendant said they were “out of stock”. I excuse him for the oversight in informing me, given that he seemed to be responsible for two cars instead of the usual one, if only because he was quite apologetic, and because he quite quickly brought me a Stone IPA beer as a consolation prize, arguably a higher quality choice compared to the Barefoot, if a bit apples and oranges.

On the northbound, our train left New Orleans on time, according to NA Intercity Rail Tools, but we caught it at Tuscaloosa over an hour late; there was some sort of delay between Slidell and Laurel, we presume due to freight train interference, apologies to all electrical engineers with Norfolk Southern. We actually arrived in Washington, DC roughly on time, technically only 20 minutes late, which in Amtrak’s world results in a “green” on time arrival. As our car-service driver remarked with astonishment when collecting us for the ride from Union Station to our home across town, “Amtrak is never on time!”

In both directions, we noticed upgrades in bedding. The pillows, one per bed, had new liveried covers, springy with minimal loft; a second pillow for each bed would have been most welcome. The blanket was light blue, trimmed, quilted, thin but warm, and with none of the sparky static of the old dark-blue blankets, which we found all in all quite outstanding. I’m not sure if the mattress was new, but its thin foam, probably memory foam, was comfortable enough for this side-sleeper. The bed sheets were thin cotton, comfortable. I got an excellent night’s sleep.

In both directions in the early morning, companion availed himself of the shower down the hall, while I freshened up using the compartment’s sink. The provided bath and face towels plus wash cloths were quite acceptable. All facilities worked as advertised, a welcome benefit for long-distance sleeper passengers in roomettes; the passengers in the bedrooms of course have a shower within their compartments, an even greater luxury, albeit at a substantially higher price.

Our personal morning routine, while companion is in the shower, includes me hopping down from the top bunk, tossing companion’s bedding up there, raising the top bunk to its parked higher ceiling position, returning the lower bunk to its two-seat position, and rearranging our bags for the remainder of the journey ahead. We prefer not to call the sleeping car attendant to help with this process, since the attendant is usually quite busy in the mornings, entailing a delay in service. Sometimes, later in the morning or afternoon, I’ll return to the top bunk for a nap, sleeping on top of both mattresses, which is very comfortable indeed.

We took this trip on the Crescent because we’d heard that dining car service had been restored. We were sorely disappointed. We give no quarter for COVID-19 in our critique. We likely won’t travel again via long-distance train unless dining car service is truly offered, and in a first-class manner.

Clearly the food offerings in the Northeast Corridor, and from reports also on the Western trains, is substantially better. As I write this from our Acela First Class from Washingtonto New York, I feel the warm glow of my Old Fashioned cocktail, and do not regret missing out on the Crescent’s Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon.

Because my mother recently moved from West Point, Mississippi to McAllen, Texas, we are now candidates for service from Washington to San Antonio; my brother has promised to collect us from San Antonio for the three-hour drive south. Here’s our dream trip, which would entice us back to Amtrak’s long-distance train:

1. Luxury first-class service from Washington to New Orleans. This would be in a roomette or bedroom with luxury amenities such as L’Occitan lotions and fancy hand soaps, soft and absorbent towels, and plush bedding.

2. Dinner service would include superb cocktails and premium wines and beers (not “Barefoot”), with fresh-cooked food (e.g. grilled USDA Prime New York strip steaks to order) or pre-cooked foods to the highest standards, e.g. Cobb Salad with crisp lettuce, or premium stews such as boeuf bourguignon warmed in the on-board oven. These would be served communally with fellow passengers for always interesting if not always delightful conversation, plates served on white-linen table cloths, with real china and glassware, by cheerful and accommodating hosts anxious for a big tip.

3. Complementary transfer to a luxury hotel in the French Quarter, accommodation at an extra though negotiated and thus discounted fee. Negotiated complementary dinner at a premium restaurant in New Orleans, e.g. at Antoine’s. Complementary transfer back to the train station the following morning.

4. Luxury first-class service from New Orleans to San Antonio, comparable to the above. Arrival lounge service in San Antonio, including shower facilities as one might find upon international first-class arrivals at an airport in London or Paris.

5.Transfer to a regional train to Brownsville similar to the Brightline service in Florida.

Yeah, that’s ideal. Forgive me for dreaming!

Attached photos show the 130mph speed on the Acela, compared to the 70mph or slower on the Crescent; and the Acela First Class versus Crescent “Flex” meals.
 
Last edited:

me_little_me

Engineer
AU Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
4,795
You can get your dream trip on the Crescent any time you want it - lease a private car for the trip!

Other than that, you can wait until hell freezes over (with climate change, that might not take too many years) for Amtrak to provide real service.
 

John from RI

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 6, 2021
Messages
35
Location
Bloomfield NJ
CONTINUED:

For the southbound journey, we were notified that there was no dining car in the train; it simply wasn’t included in the “consist”. The cafe car was in service for coach passengers, while sleeping car passengers were encouraged to place cafe car orders through their attendant, in our case through an energetic and recently employed attendant named Will. He advised us that the cafe car would be crowded with coach passengers, and that service in our room, ordered through him, would be better.

Will brought us our dinner order, a flex meal. The meat entree was described by companion as “ok”. My fish was overcooked to the point that the accompanying broccoli literally melted in my mouth with nary a chew. The next day we both had “Railroad French Toast”, which was brick-hard and thin, as if a proper piece of thick-cut bread had been compressed to the highest possible density. Instead of knife and fork, we tried dipping it in tubs of syrup; the syrup was fine, but the toast itself was still hard on the molars; we ended up eating only half.

We did try to visit the dining car for breakfast, since we have in the past enjoyed sitting in that car to survey the passing scenery. The conductor had announced that the dining car was closed so that sleeping car passengers could be served, so we felt invited. When we arrived, a member of staff informed us that we could instead place our order from our compartment to our sleeping-car attendant. In the car, staff were spread out in various states of repose, obviously enjoying the absence of passengers, so there was no place for us to sit. They were apparently surprised to see us, and quickly pulled on their masks. Our sleeping-car attendent hopped up and followed us back to our roomette to take our breakfast order.

The question arises as to whether these experiences are because Amtrak is incapable of providing decent food service; of course, even the suggestion that Amtrak is incapable is completely absurd. As I type these words, I’m on the Acela from Washington to New York, in first class, having used some Select Plus upgrade coupons. My lunch is a Spanish pork stew, absolutely delicious, preceded by a quite nice Old Fashioned cocktail. The only comparison between Acela service and the Crescent is in the dessert: desserts on both trains are courtesy of an apparent contract with Sweet Street for a delicious and indulgently rich chocolate brownie on the Crescent, and for a superb 340-calorie gigantic soft sugar cookie on the Acela. Hats off to Sweet Street!

Our southbound train was on time until just before Atlanta. There we paused for a one-hour delay due to a freight train. We later chatted with a Norfolk Southern employee who told us that freight trains “never” delay Amtrak trains that are on time, since Norfolk-Southern “always” gives Amtrak trains a one-hour unobstructed window. I should acknowledge that the Norfolk-Southern employee who provided us with these “facts” was an electrical engineer of some sort, who told us he had two masters degrees (presumably in something related to electricity), and said, as his monologue proceeded to current events, that the OAN television network was “mostly neutral”. I presume he was not empowered by his employer to speak about freight/passenger conflicts, so this was merely his personal understanding.

For the northbound journey, we received an email in advance that there would be no food service whatsoever on our train, so in a panic we packed a cooler bag with ice packs and holiday leftovers. Once on board, the attendant, who was a bit matter-of-fact and apparently taking care of two cars instead of the usual one, so we actually never got to learn his name, took our dinner order, explaining the food service problem had been “fixed”. Given our recent experience on the southbound, we chose nonetheless to dine on our delicious holiday leftovers from home.

Of course, we did ask our attendant to bring us drinks and desserts. My order for a single-glass serving of Barefoot Cabernet never arrived, which to be honest was no great loss, given the meager quality of that particular brand of wine. When I later asked about the non-arrival of my wine, the attendant said they were “out of stock”. I excuse him for the oversight in informing me, given that he seemed to be responsible for two cars instead of the usual one, if only because he was quite apologetic, and because he quite quickly brought me a Stone IPA beer as a consolation prize, arguably a higher quality choice compared to the Barefoot, if a bit apples and oranges.

On the northbound, our train left New Orleans on time, according to NA Intercity Rail Tools, but we caught it at Tuscaloosa over an hour late; there was some sort of delay between Slidell and Laurel, we presume due to freight train interference, apologies to all electrical engineers with Norfolk Southern. We actually arrived in Washington, DC roughly on time, technically only 20 minutes late, which in Amtrak’s world results in a “green” on time arrival. As our car-service driver remarked with astonishment when collecting us for the ride from Union Station to our home across town, “Amtrak is never on time!”

In both directions, we noticed upgrades in bedding. The pillows, one per bed, had new liveried covers, springy with minimal loft; a second pillow for each bed would have been most welcome. The blanket was light blue, trimmed, quilted, thin but warm, and with none of the sparky static of the old dark-blue blankets, which we found all in all quite outstanding. I’m not sure if the mattress was new, but its thin foam, probably memory foam, was comfortable enough for this side-sleeper. The bed sheets were thin cotton, comfortable. I got an excellent night’s sleep.

In both directions in the early morning, companion availed himself of the shower down the hall, while I freshened up using the compartment’s sink. The provided bath and face towels plus wash cloths were quite acceptable. All facilities worked as advertised, a welcome benefit for long-distance sleeper passengers in roomettes; the passengers in the bedrooms of course have a shower within their compartments, an even greater luxury, albeit at a substantially higher price.

Our personal morning routine, while companion is in the shower, includes me hopping down from the top bunk, tossing companion’s bedding up there, raising the top bunk to its parked higher ceiling position, returning the lower bunk to its two-seat position, and rearranging our bags for the remainder of the journey ahead. We prefer not to call the sleeping car attendant to help with this process, since the attendant is usually quite busy in the mornings, entailing a delay in service. Sometimes, later in the morning or afternoon, I’ll return to the top bunk for a nap, sleeping on top of both mattresses, which is very comfortable indeed.

We took this trip on the Crescent because we’d heard that dining car service had been restored. We were sorely disappointed. We give no quarter for COVID-19 in our critique. We likely won’t travel again via long-distance train unless dining car service is truly offered, and in a first-class manner.

Clearly the food offerings in the Northeast Corridor, and from reports also on the Western trains, is substantially better. As I write this from our Acela First Class from Washingtonto New York, I feel the warm glow of my Old Fashioned cocktail, and do not regret missing out on the Crescent’s Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon.

Because my mother recently moved from West Point, Mississippi to McAllen, Texas, we are now candidates for service from Washington to San Antonio; my brother has promised to collect us from San Antonio for the three-hour drive south. Here’s our dream trip, which would entice us back to Amtrak’s long-distance train:

1. Luxury first-class service from Washington to New Orleans. This would be in a roomette or bedroom with luxury amenities such as L’Occitan lotions and fancy hand soaps, soft and absorbent towels, and plush bedding.

2. Dinner service would include superb cocktails and premium wines and beers (not “Barefoot”), with fresh-cooked food (e.g. grilled USDA Prime New York strip steaks to order) or pre-cooked foods to the highest standards, e.g. Cobb Salad with crisp lettuce, or premium stews such as boeuf bourguignon warmed in the on-board oven. These would be served communally with fellow passengers for always interesting if not always delightful conversation, plates served on white-linen table cloths, with real china and glassware, by cheerful and accommodating hosts anxious for a big tip.

3. Complementary transfer to a luxury hotel in the French Quarter, accommodation at an extra though negotiated and thus discounted fee. Negotiated complementary dinner at a premium restaurant in New Orleans, e.g. at Antoine’s. Complementary transfer back to the train station the following morning.

4. Luxury first-class service from New Orleans to San Antonio, comparable to the above. Arrival lounge service in San Antonio, including shower facilities as one might find upon international first-class arrivals at an airport in London or Paris.

5.Transfer to a regional train to Brownsville similar to the Brightline service in Florida.

Yeah, that’s ideal. Forgive me for dreaming!

Attached photos show the 130mph speed on the Acela, compared to the 70mph or slower on the Crescent; and the Acela First Class versus Crescent “Flex” meals.
I well remember the excellent food and service when the Southern Railroad operated the Crescent. At the same time, the Southern decided to get out of passenger service so if it were not for Amtrak we would have no train between New York and New Orleans. But I still hope Amtrak service improves.
 

Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
23,850
Location
Austin Texas
I well remember the excellent food and service when the Southern Railroad operated the Crescent. At the same time, the Southern decided to get out of passenger service so if it were not for Amtrak we would have no train between New York and New Orleans. But I still hope Amtrak service improves.
I too remember the Excellent Food and Service on the Southern Crescent ( I usually rode in a Slumber pacha since that was such a deal).

If you're ever in Taylor,Texas( home of Louie Mueller BBQ and an Amtrak Stop) check out the old Southern Diner in the middle of town that is part of a Bar/ Restaurant that is sadly Closed now due to COVID!
 

MARC Rider

Engineer
AU Supporter
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
4,046
Location
Baltimore. MD
I well remember the excellent food and service when the Southern Railroad operated the Crescent. At the same time, the Southern decided to get out of passenger service so if it were not for Amtrak we would have no train between New York and New Orleans. But I still hope Amtrak service improves.
I've ridden the Amtrak version of the Crescent several times, and the food and service were fine. But, of course, that was before flex dining and Covid. For some reason, it seems to be one of the "orphan" trains of the long-distance system, along with the Texas Eagle and the Capitol Limited. Not sure why these particular trains are being picked on. Every time I've ridden them, they seem to be well-patronized.
 
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