No cafe cars, please...

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MARC Rider

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The indomitable Alon Levy posts an article suggesting that rail operators (at least for corridor services) focus more on having decent food available at the stations rather than giving up revenue space on the train by having cafe cars (or maybe even diners).

No Cafe Cars, Please | Pedestrian Observations

Please take time to also read the comments, some of which point out that longer trips might need better food service. On the other hand, it's possible that decent food could be provided by outsourced train-side delivery, eliminating the need for on-board service staff, at least for the food. Of course, if this were to be applied to Amtrak long distance routes, they would need to do what it takes to ensure the trains operate consistently on time, or else there are going to be a lot of food delivery trucks driving all over the countryside trying to rendezvous with delayed trains.
 

Cal

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Okay, I see one big bonus of taking the train is that you can eat whenever you want by getting something from the cafe, and you don't need to go out of the way to do it. Limiting it to stations would also mean you would increase trip time, as many people will probably want to hop off and get something when they feel hungry. And in long distance routes, it would mean you could go hours without having the OPTION for food. I'm sorry, but no.

And for many Amtrak trains, we can (somewhat ishly) easily add another car to a consist. And even then, many of our trains are not full.
 

bms

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And if the train was late, what then? This sounds like someone who hasn't taken many LD trains to me.
Yes, his argument makes more sense for the TGV from Paris to Lyon, because that is more like a commuter service. You're on the train less than two hours, and it is easy to grab something at the station in Paris for sure. Has no bearing on the Northeast Corridor in the United States.
 

glensfallsse

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They took the cafe car off the Albany-to-New York trains years ago. It's not a big deal for a 2 1/2-hour trip or shorter. But anything longer than that, I want the convenience of food on the train. Aside from having to lug it around until it's time to eat, I have to arrive earlier to purchase it. No thanks.
 

Cal

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They took the cafe car off the Albany-to-New York trains years ago. It's not a big deal for a 2 1/2-hour trip or shorter. But anything longer than that, I want the convenience of food on the train. Aside from having to lug it around until it's time to eat, I have to arrive earlier to purchase it. No thanks.
Mhm. And some Northeast Regionals, Paciifc Surfliners, San Joaquin's, and Cascades are over six hours long. That's too long to go without a cafe car. And when you include the time added so people can get off and actually GET the food, it could be 7-8.

And our stations are not made for this. It would be very expensive to change something when the current system works fine.
 

MARC Rider

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Yes, his argument makes more sense for the TGV from Paris to Lyon, because that is more like a commuter service. You're on the train less than two hours, and it is easy to grab something at the station in Paris for sure. Has no bearing on the Northeast Corridor in the United States.
Actually, not so sure. I always bought something to eat in the station at Washington, and it seemed that most of my fellow travelers did, too. The folks who got stuff from the cafe car seemed like they were mostly buying booze. Now that might be a good reason to keep at least a bar car on the train, but how does the net revenue from booze compare with the revenue forgone from 72 extra seats that could be sold?

When I do buy food in the cafe car, it's mostly breakfast -- a bagel with a schmear, fruit cup, yogurt, and coffee. I could get that in the Dunkin Donuts at the station if they didn't have a cafe car.

Now, going all the way from Boston to Baltimore might be a different story, but very few passengers ride the whole way up the NEC, and we few who do probably could handle it if we got a box lunch at the station before departure along with that Dunkin Donuts breakfast.

Overnight and longer trips would indeed benefit from at least a lounge car even if food is delivered to the train instead of a dining car because who wants to have to sit at your seat for 20 -50 hours on end, but, on the other hand, many very long trips in other countries don't have that amenity, and their trains are full.
 

crescent-zephyr

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but how does the net revenue from booze compare with the revenue forgone from 72 extra seats that could be sold?
Huh? Are there any Amtrak trains that are not able to add a coach because there is a cafe car in the consist?

Edit- Most Amtrak Cafe Cars do provide revenue seating except for long distance trains. Some are split with BC and tables, but even the tables can be ticketed revenue seating on the regional trains.

Also, most regional trains are state funded and the states choose to pay extra for the cafe service so it’s not even up to Amtrak.

Also, many Shinkansen trains do offer food and beverafe sales via cart service ala Brightline.
 
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Barb Stout

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In addition to the author not putting his thinking cap on before writing this article, the weird faint font adds to my irritation about him living in la-la land.
 

Ziv

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The only way that relying on take away station vendors for food could even come close to working is to have multiple options (like the burrito lady at El Paso but add a soup vendor option or a pizza vendor) at multiple stations and that still doesn't address the problems that delayed trains would cause the vendors. But it is possible that having a couple vendors (who are using an app to see exactly how late the train may be as they prep their food) at each smoke break stop MIGHT work. Have the prices set up so that with tax they come to an even $5 or $10 and have the people line up to grab and go. Maybe.
Having a dining car makes so much more sense though.
Mhm. And some Northeast Regionals, Paciifc Surfliners, San Joaquin's, and Cascades are over six hours long. That's too long to go without a cafe car. And when you include the time added so people can get off and actually GET the food, it could be 7-8.

And our stations are not made for this. It would be very expensive to change something when the current system works fine.
 

jiml

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One of the benefits of Business Class is getting at least a drink with one's nicer seat. Obviously there is BC on the shorter Empire trains - is there a pricing differential between them and trains on the same route that do have a cafe, and therefore the ability to supply the included drink? If the availability of cafes on other similar routes was reduced, what is the future of Business Class on them? Some Euro routes that don't offer F&B service otherwise will have prepacked snack bags for BC with juice or water. Is this something to consider?

Then there's the economy of scale. If we acknowledge that some sort of F&B has to be offered on trains that traverse "the middle of nowhere" at inconvenient times, will the lack of bulk purchasing system-wide affect pricing on these routes?

A lot of questions to answer if they ever went this way...
 

sttom

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This seems very similar (at least to me) the argument of “we can cram more people into a train if the seat pitch in coach was the same as on Southwest”. How many people would be put off from riding Amtrak over another alternative of food service was eliminated on regional and state trains system wide? Food service is one of the few things that would make me choose taking the Capitol Corridor over BART to San Jose. I might not always use it, but it at least helps me justify the higher ticket price. This is one of the frankly moronic things I don’t like about “urbanists”, they don’t understand why people ride public transit and all they care about is how to cram more people onto the train or whatever and not what would make people actually choose public transit. For examples, my local bus agency could start using 60 foot buses, but I still won’t ride because the schedule sucks. I can’t plan a trip around a bus that runs every other hour. Same thing goes with the train. Why don’t these people focus on getting us more trains instead of making the ones we have worse? It’s almost like they’ve never been on a train and have only read about them. I’ve been on trains in Europe that lacked food service and it always struck me as odd just like their crappy seats. Just because we do something different in the US doesn’t make it wrong. And that is the way that some people think.
 

MARC Rider

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Then there's the economy of scale. If we acknowledge that some sort of F&B has to be offered on trains that traverse "the middle of nowhere" at inconvenient times, will the lack of bulk purchasing system-wide affect pricing on these routes?
In this article, he was talking about corridor service, not long-distance service. Actually, not only the NY-Albany Empire service trains seems to be doing fine without food service, but also the Piedmonts manage without a real cafe car, just some vending machines that only sell soda and unhealthy snacks. On the Northeast corridor, practically every station I've used has at least one food vendor, and I suspect that if there were no cafe cars on the Regionals, there would be a market for more., but you really don't need to eat on a 2-3 hour or less ride to New York, which is what the vast majority of NEC riders do. Put food and beverage in the station, run by outside vendors, and Amtrak gets rid of having to worry about providing the service and can focus on running a railroad, not being in the hospitality industry.
 

MARC Rider

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The only way that relying on take away station vendors for food could even come close to working is to have multiple options (like the burrito lady at El Paso but add a soup vendor option or a pizza vendor) at multiple stations and that still doesn't address the problems that delayed trains would cause the vendors. But it is possible that having a couple vendors (who are using an app to see exactly how late the train may be as they prep their food) at each smoke break stop MIGHT work. Have the prices set up so that with tax they come to an even $5 or $10 and have the people line up to grab and go. Maybe.
Having a dining car makes so much more sense though.
You're focusing too much on long-distance service. Corridor service has trains through the day, so a station vendor will do fine. And why are "multiple options" needed? It's not like the existing cafe cars have such a wide variety of food on offer. People ride Amtrak trains to travel somewhere, not to have some sort of culinary experience. There are private tourist railroads that can provide that sort of experience without having to rely on taxpayer money (at least not directly) to do so. Actually, even on the long distance trains, they could just have an outside vendor load up box lunches for pick-up b y the passengers, and if the the train is running late, the caterer can just drive the delivery trucks to the nearest grade crossing for a meetup with the late train at the appropriate time. We do have things like cellphones and 2-way radios nowadays, so the caterer can always be in touch with the train.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Actually, not only the NY-Albany Empire service trains seems to be doing fine without food service, but also the Piedmonts manage without a real cafe car, just some vending machines that only sell soda and unhealthy snacks
Keystones also operate without a cafe car and indeed I always stop by the little convenience store in the Lancaster station before boarding.

Piedmont trains offer complimentary bottled water and coffee in addition to the vending machines.

Since all northeast regionals use the cafe car for revenue seating, the only space you are taking up is the counter. The argument falls apart that 1 employee and that small counter space is keeping Amtrak from being able to run the northeast corridor more efficiently.
 

MARC Rider

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crescent-zephyr said:
Most Amtrak Cafe Cars do provide revenue seating

Shades of the old Penn Central "Snack Bar Coaches" offerring "hot-cold food and beverages"...:)
Some of the cafe cars are split with Business class seating at one end, but all of the cafe cars on the Northeast Regional have table seating. The cafe cars with coach seating disappeared quite a while ago. I suppose you could stuff the train and sue the table seating exclusively for paying passengers, but, to be honest, unless you need more space than the fold-down tray table at a regular seat, the table seats aren't really that comfortable. Some riders like them because they can have impromptu business conferences, except that hey might have to deal with people standing in line for service listening in to them.
 

jis

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Some of the cafe cars are split with Business class seating at one end, but all of the cafe cars on the Northeast Regional have table seating. The cafe cars with coach seating disappeared quite a while ago. I suppose you could stuff the train and sue the table seating exclusively for paying passengers, but, to be honest, unless you need more space than the fold-down tray table at a regular seat, the table seats aren't really that comfortable. Some riders like them because they can have impromptu business conferences, except that hey might have to deal with people standing in line for service listening in to them.
Each to their own I suppose. My preference while traveling on the NEC is to sit at a table in the Cafe car rather than in a Coach seat. It is just a more open and easier to work in environment for me. And I do not begrudge anyone disagreeing with me. Just do not take it away what I like because you like Coach seats more. I am glad that Amtrak is not planning to follow idiotic suggestions from every random person with a laptop. 🤪
 

20th Century Rider

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The indomitable Alon Levy posts an article suggesting that rail operators (at least for corridor services) focus more on having decent food available at the stations rather than giving up revenue space on the train by having cafe cars (or maybe even diners).

No Cafe Cars, Please | Pedestrian Observations

Please take time to also read the comments, some of which point out that longer trips might need better food service. On the other hand, it's possible that decent food could be provided by outsourced train-side delivery, eliminating the need for on-board service staff, at least for the food. Of course, if this were to be applied to Amtrak long distance routes, they would need to do what it takes to ensure the trains operate consistently on time, or else there are going to be a lot of food delivery trucks driving all over the countryside trying to rendezvous with delayed trains.
Are there any long distance trains anywhere in the world without onboard food service of some kind?

Even on trains with no dedicated food service cars there are attendants who walk through the train selling food from carts; and there is a smaller assembling space for this service taking up only part of one of the cars. This seems to be a very inexpensive and economical of providing the most basic of services.

People who want to travel light don't want to bring along coolers, thermoses, etc etc with them. And while at some point in the past there were dedicated stops at Fred Harvey restaurants along the way... those don't seem to be around any more.

Then again... in the Orient where trains are faster and almost always on time, the density of traffic encourages the profusion of bento basket vendors everywhere. Same idea in Europe where many stations have sandwiches etc. wrapped for take along. But here in America things are a little different.

Just some thoughts... wondering what ideas others have???

Here is an interesting article from the Chicago Tribune RE a food service court inside the old Fred Harvey lunch room...


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