Successful intercity trains with no food service

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Way back in the 80's, NSB (Norwegian State Railways) had trolley service on many LD (and I suppose medium) distance trains, often in addition to a cafe or diner. I'm not sure if they still have that or if it is all at the cafe car now (labor is VERY expensive in Norway). They would have things like chocolate bars, sandwiches, etc. available from the trolley iirc (it has been a long time!).
 
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This is what I carried on during a trip last year:

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Lunch on the Pennsylvanian. (Yeah, I know it has a cafe car, but I packed my own, as last year the cafe car offerings were sparse.)
The Sabra Hummus costs half as much at the grocery store as it does on the train. The pretzels and Coke were courtesy of the Metropolitan Lounge in Philly.

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Lunch on the Capitol Limited the next day. I had an insulated lunchbox and a chill pack, but the chill pack melted by the time I got to Pittsburgh. Fortunately, my hotel in Pittsburgh had a fridge, so I was able to chill (but not freeze the chill pack) overnight, but I woke before 5, so this stuff was sitting until a bit after noon.

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Lunch on the Lakeshore Limited. The drink was a business class freebie, the pretzels came from the Metropolitan Lounge in Boston, but I could have bought them at the station. The corned beef sandwich came from Susan's Deli, across the street from South Station. I bought it at about 11:00 AM and held it unrefrigerated until I ate it about 1 or 1:30 PM. I didn't get sick.

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This was my breakfast on the Capitol Limited out of Pittsburgh. Too bad there aren't any Dunkin Donuts or McDonald's or anything anywhere near the Pittsburgh Amshack that's open at 4:40 AM. Note that the lounge attendant comped me a leftover salad and a dessert from unused flex meals. Apparently, there were a couple of western trains the previous day that didn't make their connections to the Capitol, so there was a light load in the sleepers. Of course, a train like the Capitol needs food service, but for those of us traveling from Pittsburgh to points east, it might be possible to do without quite well, if there was anywhere to buy food around the Pittsburgh station.
 

Eric S

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There used to be cart service on the Hiawatha some number of years ago. (Looks like it's been gone almost 10 years now.) When cart service was cut/removed, it was said that it required something like $230,000 per year in subsidies. I really wish we could get a breakdown of those costs (and revenues), though, to see if there might be other routes where such a service would come closer to breaking even.
 

joelkfla

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Brightline in FL has cart service with basic snacks and drinks, including alcohol. It's included in their Premium Service, pay per item in their Smart Service (economy). They did have a "charcuterie" tray available a couple of years ago; I think I heard that's no longer offered. Premium Service also includes a somewhat more extensive selection of snacks and drinks in the boarding lounge; I don't think there's anything to prevent grabbing a few items and bringing them on the train.

But at this point, the full length of their line is just 1 hour. We will see if they increase their offerings when Orlando service commences, which they're projecting at 3 hours end-to-end.
 

Mailliw

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Since Brightline owns and operates it's own train stations it's easy for the stations have decent food options available. That's usually not the case with Amtrak, especially outside the NEC.
 

caravanman

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I am a fan of Indian train rides, and there are many options for the hungry traveller there.
One can buy from vendors at many stations, as well as from unofficial vendors walking through the trains selling snacks.
The longer distance trains do not have a restaurant car, but a pantry car, where meals are prepared and served on a tray to your seat.

indianmeal.jpg

A typical train meal with a curry, lentil dal, lime pickle, chapattis rice and curd will cost around £1.20, $1.50

indian train2.jpg

Pantry car above, these are often run as private enterprise franchises these days.

There are also "apps" that passengers use to get food delivered at a station stop further down the line.
 
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I am a fan of Indian train rides, and there are many options for the hungry traveller there.
One can buy from vendors at many stations, as well as from unofficial vendors walking through the trains selling snacks.
The longer distance trains do not have a restaurant car, but a pantry car, where meals are prepared and served on a tray to your seat.

View attachment 28398

A typical train meal with a curry, lentil dal, lime pickle, chapattis rice and curd will cost around £1.20, $1.50

View attachment 28399

Pantry car above, these are often run as private enterprise franchises these days.

There are also "apps" that passengers use to get food delivered at a station stop further down the line.
Looks Yummy!
 

jis

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In India the general philosophy is to include a Pantry Car on trains that may not have adequate number of long enough stops frequently enough to provide an opportunity to get food from shore based facilities with some level of certainty.

Regional stopping train do not have any food service cars even though their total run may stretch out to 12 or 14 hours even, because most reasonable stations, which come frequently enough, have adequate availability of food vendors, and of course the ubiquitous Chaiwallas (Tea vendor) and Chanachurwallas (miscellaneous Fritters vendors) are everywhere. The call of "Chai! Chai Garam!" still rings in my ears! And probably does in @caravanman's too!
 

fdaley

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There are differences in what people will tolerate depending on their age, physical abilities, whether they're traveling with children and so on.

If I'm traveling alone from Albany to New York for the day, I've learned over the past 15 years where to pick up my coffee, pastry and newspaper in the morning and where I can get good take-out fare to carry aboard at New York for the trip home.

But for one of our summertime family trips from Pennsylvania to Maine, with one person in a wheelchair and enough luggage for a week's stay, the last thing I'd want is to have to plan and pack a picnic meal and have an extra cooler to schlep between stations in Boston. If the Downeaster stopped offering cafe service on the three-hour run from Boston to Freeport -- which would theoretically fall within the "people only need to eat every four hours" standard for not needing food service -- that would probably be the thing that would convince us to just drive the whole way and find food en route.
 

Cal

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It says that cafe cars should be eliminated and replaced with additional seats. But Amtrak, even in the NEC, has plenty of excess seating on trains; if I recall correctly, its load factor is about 60%.
Curious where you are getting your numbers.
 

Palmland

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On a short trip beverages are more important to me than food - coffee in the morning, a beer in the afternoon. Many years ago I was on the Hiawatha Service that had a rolling cart which was perfect for that train. But if it’s a longer trip, 4-5 hours, something more is needed. I think this is a good suggestion:

Ditch the pizza and burgers, have pre-made salads and pre-made quality sandwiches and I think people would go for it

On our road trips we’ve found the better gas/convenience stores like QT or Sheetz are a time saver and have better food than burger places.
 

TheCrescent

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Unfortunately load factor does not say anything about seat occupancy on the busiest segment of a run. We have discussed this many times but it seems to not get internalized by all somehow. 🤷‍♂️
The Crescent is certainly a train that is sold out on part of its route and has lots of extra capacity on another part. I’d assume that NY-Boston trains sell the most seats between NY and Philadelphia or Washington.

But my point is the same: getting rid of food service will result in fewer tickets sold and a lower price per ticket, which will outdo any additional numbers of tickets sold.
 

jamess

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(1) If the train trip is less than 4 hours, you don't need to provide food.

But the entire trip might be longer, with no food available at the transfer point. IE, someone night take a 90 minute bus from Oakhurst to Fresno Amtrak, board the train, ride two hours to Bakersfield, board the Amtrak bus, and ride 2 hours to LA.

Theyre "only" on the train for 2 hours - but thats where they will need the food and restrooms.
 

fdaley

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On our road trips we’ve found the better gas/convenience stores like QT or Sheetz are a time saver and have better food than burger places.

And this is what the train needs to be able to compete with -- and ideally, do better than. One of the great advantages of train travel to me has always been the ability to order food and consume it on board while in motion. By comparison, getting takeout while stopping to refuel at Sheetz might mean your car trip is at a standstill for 15-20 minutes, while a full meal at Applebee's or the like might consume 60-90 minutes. When the Lake Shore and Crescent still had real dining service, one could have a full dinner while traveling from Albany to Rochester or from Washington to Lynchburg -- a wonderfully efficient use of time for a meal that would make the comparable car trip ridiculously long.
 

caravanman

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But the entire trip might be longer, with no food available at the transfer point. IE, someone night take a 90 minute bus from Oakhurst to Fresno Amtrak, board the train, ride two hours to Bakersfield, board the Amtrak bus, and ride 2 hours to LA.
Theyre "only" on the train for 2 hours - but thats where they will need the food and restrooms.

Thankfully, there is a 7-11 convenience store within a few feet of Fresno Amtrak station... ;)
 

Joe from PA

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When we travel the 5-6 hour trip from Philadelphia to Boston, my wife and I actually look forward to the cafe car cheeseburger or Hebrew National hot dog. I'm trying to think of what we might take to eat if no on-board food? Probably a soft pretzel for her, and peanut M&Ms for me. :)
 
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jimdex

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By most reckonings, "cafe style" onboard food is often *profitable* and even covers the cost of hiring an extra staff member and tacking on an extra car. S
Can anybody point us to any published figures that would support this?
 

toddinde

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Having lived in Europe, it’s impossible to compare. Most stations have a newsstand that sells food, snacks and drinks of all kinds. Even platforms have vending machines on them. Very few US stations, except the very large ones, have any kind of take away food service while that’s nearly universal in Europe. Trying to create that in the US would be very challenging. One idea would be to provide free space to a food vendor that maintained certain standards. This might also bring traffic to the station. The trains are more important than food service, but it would be very hard not to have cafe cars on most trains.
 

cirdan

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Most British trains no longer have restaurant or cafe cars these days, but on many longer routes, especially intercity routes out of London, first class passengers are served warm or cold meals at their seats.
 

jis

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Most British trains no longer have restaurant or cafe cars these days, but on many longer routes, especially intercity routes out of London, first class passengers are served warm or cold meals at their seats.
And many have Trolley Service in Standard Class.
 

neroden

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One problem with needing to bring food onto the train for a day-long trip is that not all passengers start from home. And not all Amtrak stations are located near where one can buy take-out food.
Yes, this has been a particular pain in the neck for me when departing from Chicago or LA.

Getting the food is one thing, but getting the refrigeration materials when starting from a hotel is another. :-( Usually ends up being loose ice, which is wet and drippy.
 

neroden

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I think it's a function of trip length and food quality.

For example, the Hiawatha is a 90-minute trip. Most people can/will probably pack a snack. Though I bet people would buy a beer - still, maybe not enough of a financial case to support a cafe car.
Yeah, with food at both ends I wouldn't want or need onboard food on the Hiawatha.

The Indian Railways model seems pretty nice to me.

Boardman testified to Congress that the cafe cars on Amtrak were all profitable, so I'm not inclined to doubt him.
 
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