Silver Sleepers Sold out

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Anderson

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That's a good point...even on the Regionals, the hard product of BC can vary (technically coach can as well; I was on 66/67 once back at Thanksgiving and though I got stuck in coach, BC being sold out, I was put in one of the renovated BC cars for a "normal" Regional. I've also been on a few Regionals where a cafe had the 2-1 seats (and have generally had luck asking the OBS for permission to move from the "actual" BC to the 2-1 seating).

My biggest concern is that, with a few very narrow exceptions, the hard and soft products on sleeper trains are pretty close to standard (the Auto Train is an oddball, but the Auto Train is also specifically marketed and doesn't connect with anything else). The exceptions of the Starlight (with the PPC) and the Cardinal (with a lack of a proper diner) aren't problematic...but the Starlight also gets special marketing for the PPC, really leaving the Cardinal as the stand-out...but with only a single sleeper running 3x weekly, also not a service likely to have much impact on Amtrak's brand. Making a hash of the Silver Star could cause issues for the sleeper service's branding, so to speak.

Back on the BC front, I agree that Amtrak needs to do a far better job of handling the branding there. Whether they resurrect a "Custom Class", "Club Class", or "Parlor Class" name or do something different isn't really relevant, but they really do need to work to standardize BC into one or two "products" (possibly one on the extended NEC and one elsewhere or one on short-haul trains and one on long-haul trains).

I do think this manages to (for good or ill) raise the prospect of a two-tier sleeper product (akin to VIA's distinction between "Sleeper" and "Sleeper Plus"). For what it's worth, there was a similar situation back in the late 1990s/early 2000s (for a time the Silver Palm/Palmetto, Three Rivers, and Twilight Shoreliner all ran with a sleeper but no diner), so these antics should be survivable...but it would probably do Amtrak some merit to look into a differentiation, particularly in light of the resurrection of the Twilight Shoreliner and/or the Cap-Pennsylvanian cars.
 

Anderson

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As to only running one sleeper, the issue there is that the cafe would probably be overwhelmed by the passengers from two sleepers (assuming that meals are still included...something that I expect would be retained in some fashion, even if it was some sort of "meal voucher" in the cafe). The Cardinal has run into this issue over the last year, I believe. If they ran two sleepers (or even bumped the train to three sleepers with the new equipment order) they would need the diner to deal with the food demand (though a case would probably exist for trying the "Diner-Club" idea that Amtrak floated in the PIPs...basically, run the train with only a dining car but have an "all-day menu" available outside of the main mealtimes) since a single cafe attendant can only handle but so much traffic (and I've seen some pretty impressive lines in the cafe at mealtimes in an SSL).
Do you think there's a nontrivial risk of the Meteor's diner not being able to handle a fourth sleeper, or is there sufficient capacity available?
That's sorta down to the staff. They ought to be able to handle it so long as they make absolutely sure to keep a 48-seater assigned to the Meteor (2.5 seatings on a 48-seat diner is 120 seats; 4 sleepers would max out at 120 passengers pre-conversion (assuming 2 per roomette and 2 per bedroom) or 112 post-conversion (one roomette per sleeper lost to the bathrooms). Using a slightly more realistic factor of 1.5/roomette and 2/bedroom and you get 22.5/sleeper (90 overall). If the dining staff cannot accommodate 90 passengers for dinner, the dining staff has a problem.

The question of how many coach pax they can fit in is an open one, but you should be able to fit in 20-30 all the same. Frankly it would behoove Amtrak to establish a "shall serve" policy (i.e. that as long as there is food available, the diner staff shall seat coach passengers in the diner even if they have to run late for it).
 

chrsjrcj

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The dining car on the Meteor is a tight fit as it is. I and quite a few others found ourselves waiting in the cafe car for an open spot during breakfast on my last trip. And this was with only 3 coaches (yes, I noticed more than a few passengers paying for meals).
 

OBS

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If the dining car is staffed properly, ie 2 people in kitchen, LSA and 2 waiters, there will be no problem accommodating additional passengers...
 
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I'd like to say those comments were really helpful. I'd LIKE to say that, but alas. Oh well. Nice try I guess.
 

Palmland

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OBS has got it right. It's not the number of diners, its the staff that handles large crowds. Long ago, Seaboard's all Pullman Orange Blossom Special had 12 Pullmans, two Pullman lounges, and one dining car. Its staff: Steward, chef, second, third and fourth cooks and five waiters. OI course then only the finest ingredients and everything made from scratch. Even though today's food may be packaged and nuked, you can still get faster and better service with more waiters. Faster service means more customers in the same amount of time. But of course labor is no longer inexpensive.
 

chrsjrcj

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If the dining car is staffed properly, ie 2 people in kitchen, LSA and 2 waiters, there will be no problem accommodating additional passengers...
True. Based on my experience on the Silvers lately it's been 1 Chef, 1 LSA, and 1 waiter. If the Star loses its diner, maybe the Meteor gets a larger crew.
 

Anderson

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OBS has got it right. It's not the number of diners, its the staff that handles large crowds. Long ago, Seaboard's all Pullman Orange Blossom Special had 12 Pullmans, two Pullman lounges, and one dining car. Its staff: Steward, chef, second, third and fourth cooks and five waiters. OI course then only the finest ingredients and everything made from scratch. Even though today's food may be packaged and nuked, you can still get faster and better service with more waiters. Faster service means more customers in the same amount of time. But of course labor is no longer inexpensive.
Well, and some of it is also down to crew will and skill and equipping the diner properly in the kitchen. VIA can handle up to about 10 sleeping cars on a single diner (though 10 is their absolute limit), but that's presumably with some spaces not being used in those sleepers, the diner slammed to the max, meals being included with your ticket, and negligible coach traffic to account for. The other thing to remember is that on the old trains, there were doubtless some customers who did not eat dinner in the diner at all meals (maybe they opted for the lounge for something light instead). I do recognize that the Orange Blossom Special basically operated like a version of the Auto Train in some respects, running non-stop from (IIRC) Richmond to either Savannah or Jacksonville.

I will say that, absent space/time constraints, today the diners seem to attract about 95% of sleeper passengers and 15-25% of coach passengers at most meals (a bit lower at dinner and higher at breakfast/lunch on the coach side). If there are 200 passenger in coach, I'd expect 30-50 to opt for the diner. This is roughly in keeping with what Amtrak noticed with the Lake Shore Limited's PIP (coach passengers making up about half of the traffic in the diner but skewing towards paying less). Considering that the sleeper side of the train tends to be a lot smaller in terms of passenger count, if skewing towards longer-distance passengers, than the coach side (the only train that sort-of breaks this rule is the Auto Train due to its end-to-end nature and all meals being included).

Honestly, with meals included I think the effective maximum number of sleepers that could be accommodated in a single diner would be about six unless you run a train (or at least one of the diners) as all-sleeper (at which point I'd bump this estimate to 7-8). This assumes good staffing and equipping of the diner, though, something that Amtrak may not be set up for. Mind you this is only for a single-level train...with a bilevel train the limit is a bit lower (the Auto Train seems to define the limit here pretty well...IIRC they usually have six sleepers, but two of them are the lower-capacity "Deluxe Sleepers"...so basically you're probably able to handle about 5.5 sleepers on a bilevel train with a single dining car if there's no spill-over from coach)
 

AlanB

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Well, and some of it is also down to crew will and skill and equipping the diner properly in the kitchen. VIA can handle up to about 10 sleeping cars on a single diner (though 10 is their absolute limit), but that's presumably with some spaces not being used in those sleepers, the diner slammed to the max, meals being included with your ticket, and negligible coach traffic to account for. The other thing to remember is that on the old trains, there were doubtless some customers who did not eat dinner in the diner at all meals (maybe they opted for the lounge for something light instead). I do recognize that the Orange Blossom Special basically operated like a version of the Auto Train in some respects, running non-stop from (IIRC) Richmond to either Savannah or Jacksonville.
I think that the VIA ratio is 5 to 6 sleepers to a dining car. I know my Canadian had 2 dining cars just for the sleepers and IIRC, we had something like 12 sleepers. And consider that the sleeper cars on the Canadian have a lower passenger capacity than Amtrak's Viewliner's. Not to mention that they have no crew dorm, which means that in most sleepers, at least 2 rooms (if not 3) are given over to crew. One goes to the attendant, the others to OBS crew. And coach pax are not allowed into the sleeper dining cars. So all of that does mean that they have fewer passengers to push through their dining cars.

Honestly, with meals included I think the effective maximum number of sleepers that could be accommodated in a single diner would be about six unless you run a train (or at least one of the diners) as all-sleeper (at which point I'd bump this estimate to 7-8). This assumes good staffing and equipping of the diner, though, something that Amtrak may not be set up for.
Personally I think you're pushing it with that many sleepers, unless Amtrak stops including meals. Otherwise I think 4, max 5, is the limit for a single level dining car.

Mind you this is only for a single-level train...with a bilevel train the limit is a bit lower (the Auto Train seems to define the limit here pretty well...IIRC they usually have six sleepers, but two of them are the lower-capacity "Deluxe Sleepers"...so basically you're probably able to handle about 5.5 sleepers on a bilevel train with a single dining car if there's no spill-over from coach)
But the AT used to do that with 1 dining car and half the lounge car for seating space. The kitchen could handle the load, but the seating capacity was the issue. Now I'm seeing reports that the only way that they can do it now with the loss of the sleeper lounge car is by having 4 seatings and really rushing people through the car. It used to be that they allowed for an hour & a half to feed the seating, with an half hour to reset for the next seating. Now they have to finish serving & eating within 1 hour so that they can reset the diner for the next seating. And based upon one recent report, I have to wonder if the kitchen is now able to handle the demand within the time allotted.

For a train that charges a premium and deals with so many snow birds, this plus the loss of amenities isn't sitting too well. I've seen several rumblings, including a recent one on OTOL, about people reconsidering just driving instead of the train.
 

Anderson

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You're slightly off in terms of VIA:

(1) I was on a Canadian with 10 sleepers and one diner back in February. Per the OBS, 10 sleepers is where they break to a second diner. Remember, adding a diner is a heavy "step cost" (i.e. one cannot add half a diner).

(2) I'll partly grant the point on sleeper capacity (a 10-6 sleeper would in theory have a capacity of 22), but I qualify that heavily with the fact that a Viewliner carrying 30 passengers is a rather mythical beast (hence why I assume 1.5/roomette...you'll get some couples taking a roomette because of the cost, but roomettes are going to skew towards single passengers because of the space issues). Sleeper capacity is a bit lower on VIA, yes, but a Manor is a modified 4-6-4 with one open section taken out (the shower) and therefore has a capacity of 22; a Chateau had 8 single rooms, 2 double rooms, 1 triple room, and 3 sections for a capacity of 21. So when you look at the functional capacity of a Viewliner vis-a-vis either of VIA's offerings the numbers shake out in the same ballpark.

As to the Auto Train, IIRC the setup was that the sleepers used one diner with no spillover while the coaches had the diner plus table car. The problem therein was that they simultaneously axed a lounge while adding a coach, overloading the dining car on the coach side. My understanding is that the sleeper side of things was not affected quite as badly (they lost their dedicated lounge, which didn't go over so well, and there was a loss on the menu/wine and cheese front), though there was still some damage to be had.

I will say that if the Meteor went to a 5-6 sleeping car setup I'd favor adding a dedicated sleeper lounge (which would, like the PPC, offer a slightly varied meal set...I might actually just pull the PPC menu over for it, actually) to deal with those capacity issues.
 
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Ryan

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On the one Auto Train trip we took, we were in sleepers and definitely sat in the half of the lounge car set aside for overflow. That was 2008(?).
 

jis

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You're slightly off in terms of VIA:

(1) I was on a Canadian with 10 sleepers and one diner back in February. Per the OBS, 10 sleepers is where they break to a second diner. Remember, adding a diner is a heavy "step cost" (i.e. one cannot add half a diner).
Maybe their standards have really gone downhill since the times I have been on the Canadian. But back then it was 6 max per Diner. I can only imagine the mayhem that must take place with 10 Sleepers to a Diner unless of course as you say, the Sleepers are half empty.
Also back then there were no Coach passengers in Sleeper Diners. They had their own food service car. Maybe that has also changed as part of the general downgrade of the Canadian

And finally, the OBS staff gets Sleeper space since they do not have a dorm car per se on the Canadian AFAICT.

Notwithstanding all that, I do not see more than 5 Viewliner Sleepers ever being served effectively by a single Viewliner Diner, no matter how much staff you stuff into it, unless you force significant amount of in room service or some form of buffet service.
 
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AlanB

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You're slightly off in terms of VIA:

(1) I was on a Canadian with 10 sleepers and one diner back in February. Per the OBS, 10 sleepers is where they break to a second diner. Remember, adding a diner is a heavy "step cost" (i.e. one cannot add half a diner).
That must be new.

(2) I'll partly grant the point on sleeper capacity (a 10-6 sleeper would in theory have a capacity of 22), but I qualify that heavily with the fact that a Viewliner carrying 30 passengers is a rather mythical beast (hence why I assume 1.5/roomette...you'll get some couples taking a roomette because of the cost, but roomettes are going to skew towards single passengers because of the space issues). Sleeper capacity is a bit lower on VIA, yes, but a Manor is a modified 4-6-4 with one open section taken out (the shower) and therefore has a capacity of 22; a Chateau had 8 single rooms, 2 double rooms, 1 triple room, and 3 sections for a capacity of 21. So when you look at the functional capacity of a Viewliner vis-a-vis either of VIA's offerings the numbers shake out in the same ballpark.
I've seen many roomettes with two people in them, yes, there are many singles too. And again, you forget that on the Canadian the OBS crew takes up rooms in every sleeper further reducing their capacity.

As to the Auto Train, IIRC the setup was that the sleepers used one diner with no spillover while the coaches had the diner plus table car. The problem therein was that they simultaneously axed a lounge while adding a coach, overloading the dining car on the coach side. My understanding is that the sleeper side of things was not affected quite as badly (they lost their dedicated lounge, which didn't go over so well, and there was a loss on the menu/wine and cheese front), though there was still some damage to be had.
No, prior to the downgrade in service on the AT, unless sleeper ridership was low (same with coach too), they always utilized space in the lounge car to feed people. The lounge cars were specially modified just for that purpose. Probably the only time that they didn't use the extra seating in the lounge was during the little bit of off season that they actually have, where they drop to just 5 sleepers; 2 deluxe and 3 regular.
 

Anderson

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At least when I took the AT (SB on Thanksgiving Friday 2013, for the record), there was little or no use of the lounges in the sleeper diner. Granted, all three seatings were pretty full, but there wasn't spillover.

On the Canadian that may be new, but IIRC they were hosting somewhere in the range of 100-120 passengers in the sleepers (I forget the total, but I think it was 118). As far as I can tell, this would be the equivalent of about 6-7 Viewliners (assuming no dedicated dorm) and no coach pax in the sleeper.
 

TVRM610

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I can't remember how many sleepers were on the train but when I took the Canadian about 2 years ago there was only one dining car and coach passengers were allowed to eat in it if space was available.
 

OBS

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In off season (winter months especially) there is often only one diner, thus coach passengers are served in there as well. Also sometimes in lieu of adding a second diner, they will use a skyline car for meal service to accommodate additional sleeper passengers ( and as a "diner" for coach passengers as well sometimes).
 

Bob Dylan

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When I last rode the Canadian in Feb. of 2014, thanks to a large group of railroaders that filled the sleepers, the consist was increased to 10 Sleepers with 2 Coaches, Bag Car, 2 Domes and the Park Car but only 1 Diner.

Some of the OBS, including Food Service staff, told me that this was their first duty since Christmas as they were layed off each Winter due to lower ridership resulting in shorter consists and lower staffing!

The Canadian uses a rotating reservation system ( early lunch and dinner the first day, later meals the next, etc. ) Everyone that wanted to eat in the Diner was able to and things went smoothly! ( I can't imagine not eating in the Diner for 4 Days and Nights if riding in Coach but they did have their own Dome/Food Service Car)
 

fulham

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One other discussion point...if the Star loses its diner, that means Amtrak will only need 11 low-level diners (4-Meteor, 4-Crescent, 3-LSL). That leaves 14 for backup, maintenance, etc. Should the Cardinal get one, that would add 2 or 3 more to the list, but I doubt Amtrak will put a full diner and crew on the Cardinal given that it would really increase its costs, unless they plan on having it go daily and increasing capacity. Question is, if the Star does lose its diner, what will Amtrak do with the 25 new Viewliner diners coming on-board?
 

jis

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The Star losing the Diner is an interim thing. It will get its Diner back when the new Diners come on line and the Card will get a Diner too. So there will not be any large spare pool of Diners sitting around.
 

chakk

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If Amtrak were to offer a mixed train with freight cars and a single coach, I'd make a special point to ride it. Last time I got to ride a mixed train was about 10 years ago between Alamosa and Antonito, Colorado,
 

Anderson

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If Amtrak were to offer a mixed train with freight cars and a single coach, I'd make a special point to ride it. Last time I got to ride a mixed train was about 10 years ago between Alamosa and Antonito, Colorado,
What was the story behind that?

(No, really, I'm wondering just what would have triggered such a service. The only thing that comes to mind is something like a freight operator running an excursion and needing to do some sort of freight move at the same time.)

As to the diner situation, what Jis said is about right:

-The Cardinal should get a diner since the regular addition of a second sleeper is likely to put a huge amount of stress on the cafe/diner lite operation they have.

-The situation with the Star raises some interesting questions. I think we had all assumed that the Star would be going to three sleepers with the new equipment, but it seems increasingly plausible that the Meteor will go to five instead. Based on ridership patterns (discussed at length elsewhere), I'm wondering if we won't see the Meteor and Star running five sleepers and three in the winter, with the Star dropping back to two sleepers in the summer (the extra sleepers coming from some mix of the Pennsylvanian sleeper(s), the LSL, and possibly the Cardinal...all services see a hit to sleeper ridership in the winter which is notably missing on the Silvers. At least in Amtrak's shoes I'd want to experiment with this in January/February.
 
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PRR 60

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The Star losing the Diner is an interim thing. It will get its Diner back when the new Diners come on line and the Card will get a Diner too. So there will not be any large spare pool of Diners sitting around.
I wonder. Assuming the rumors are true and this is an experiment to see how a lower cost food service affects ridership, revenue and cost, what happens if it works? What if the impact on revenue is minimal while the F&B costs go way down? If that happens, I could see this plan being implemented on the Star permanently, and maybe even extended to other trains.
Joe Boardman has committed to eliminating F&B loses in five years (maybe four now). This could be one way to get to that goal. It would not be my way, but it's a way. The number of dining cars around sitting gathering dust might not be a factor in the final decision.
 
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jis

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Maybe they can then use the Diners as lounge cars :) They'd be a damn site better lounge cars than the Amtube lounges.
 

Anderson

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Jis,

That's not as crazy as it sounds. Just because you use two dining cars doesn't mean you have to staff them both identically. Staffing and operating one as a diner and the other as a lounge (maybe +1 on the OBS side; call it a "lunch counter" car or "chuckwagon" or something like that) wouldn't be that nuts, and if you could find a way to coordinate the POS systems to cross-check who had which meal you could probably let sleeper pax pick from the two cars in the event of a slammed diner.

(Actually, if the Meteor somehow went up into the 6-sleeper range I'd probably run the diner as a seasonal "PPC-type" car; on the balance of options, until the Cardinal goes daily I'd probably trim it back to a single sleeper and cafe in the off-season...which should allow for the needed cars to do this)
 
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jis

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Thanks Anderson! I was actually thinking that somewhat seriously in spite of the smiley.
 
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