What Will Amtrak Look Like in 2020?

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Philly Amtrak Fan

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With all my discussions on how to "improve" Amtrak, let's get into some predictions here.

What will Amtrak look like five years from now (2020)? Will Amtrak get more money from Congress or less? Will the Viewliner II's be running? Will Amtrak have better or worse service/schedules than today (and how?) What will happen to diner car service?

You can take the optimistic view, pessimistic view, or somewhere in between.
 

Bob Dylan

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Basically it will look the same with the all of the Viewliner IIs in service, more Virginia and North Carolina Trains, the Miami Airport Station open and possibly the through Cars from the Pennsy to the Cap PGH-CHI in service!

Other than that look for mostly full Trains, higher prices and more changes to the food and beverage services and a slight improvement to the IT system and "modifications" to the AGR2.0 system.

Probably will be more state sponsored Trains contracted out to companies other than Amtrak also!( IP would be great!)
 

cirdan

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I'm not sure if the IP thing is going to be a long term success. Running excursions and land cruises with vintage equipment is one thing. Using them on a working train is another. So at some point somebody is either going to have to inject some cash for new (or reasonably new) trains on that route, or its going to die, or its going back to Amtrak. And that decision is down to politics and ultimately to whether or not that train is genuinely valued and the powers that be see value in investing in it.

The further development of Amtrak is going to depend on multiple factors, including whether congessional attention will be more friendly in future, what gas prices are going to be doing and also on whether Amtrak is going to be able to make a sufficiently good impression on first time riders that they become return riders. The whole catering thing is part of this equation, but also things such as WiFi.

In my view, pressure on Amtrak is not going to go away soon and I'd actually call it a success if the present LD network can survive unscathed until then (but my hunch is, yes, all trains will survive). Of course in the corridors I think there will be further improvements, but not that much as 5 years aren't a very long time and these things do take time to ferment and implement.
 
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jis

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I am also almost certain that most of the state funded services will have more and better service. California will certainly see more service, as will Virginia, North Carolina, Connecticut (Springfield Line). Vermont and New York might just be able to pull off the move of C&I to Montreal from the border, and get the Vermonter to Montreal going as well as the Ethan Allen to Burlington. I think midwest will continue to see service growth in spite of occasional hiccups caused by idiotic Governors or Legislature.

I am actually not so certain about Amtrak actually moving to Miami international Airport Station, but it might happen.

More speculative - Pennsylvania might be able to pull off a second Pittsburgh frequency. They do have the source of money. What they need is some significant push from rail advocates. New York might get an additional west of Albany frequency as equipment becomes available. A Gulf Coast service at least connecting NOL to Mobile and perhaps a little ways beyond might take place, though I doubt it will hit Florida yet. In Florida, with the West Palm beach connector in place for Tri-Rail north of West Palm Beach Service along the coast, and FEC/AAF seriously considering service to Jacksonville, it would be another opportune moment to work on the Amtrak down the west coast ideas. Hopefully by then baldy as Governor will be gone. The question is who will replace him though. :)

I agree with cirdan that all current LD trains are likely to survive unscathed pretty much on their present routes. I do not foresee any significant growth in LD service though. I'd be very surprised if even the through cars from Pennsy to Cap happens. OTOH, I foresee possibly a few currently unforeseen regional service that is locally funded pop out of the woodworks. Of course part of the uncertainty is whether Amtrak will be the operator or someone else.
 

Bob Dylan

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Disclaimer: posted in wrong forum but seems to fit this thread so will leave it here unless mods think.it should be moved to the non-rail forum?

So jis, in effect you are saying that the millenials and today's sheeple, having grown up in today's shrinking service environment, will accept Less for More never having known what real Service is like!

And that we more Senior citizens will be the ones complaining about future cuts, and nickel and diming as AmtraK follows the Airline model of "Round 'em up and move 'em out???
 
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Seaboard92

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Things I see that will probably happen. I see the midwest, and California trains staying healthy and probably getting expansions on the current routes. I see North Carolina adding transit in a different time slot. I don't know what time slot, but I know it's going to happen. I see a new order for diesels coming in before a new order for coaches. I also see Roanoke and maybe Bristol joining the network.
 

jis

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Disclaimer: posted in wrong forum but seems to fit this thread so will leave it here unless mods think.it should be moved to the non-rail forum?

So jis, in effect you are saying that the millenials and today's sheeple, having grown up in today's shrinking service environment, will accept Less for More never having known what real Service is like!

And that we more Senior citizens will be the ones complaining about future cuts, and nickel and diming as AmtraK follows the Airline model of "Round 'em up and move 'em out???
Yes. It has progressively happened in airlines, and my hypothesis is that rail is no different. Rail passenger service will survive if it is truly deemed to be completely necessary by a large enough group of people, not because it provides extra luxuries for a higher price.

The relentless push to reduce cost and increase load factors while holding ticket prices is a universal phenomenon. The annals of airline history (and railroad history) is strewn with outfits that tried to make a go of primarily luxury service for anyone less rich than the one percenters. Very few have survived. The poster child of such is Kingfisher Airline in India which had dreams of serving everyone like a King and went off the deep end ordering dozens of Airbus 380s and what not and then promptly imploded in slow motion over 5 years. It took so long mainly because governance of corporate law in India is weak and disorganized and riven with corruption, nepotism and favoritism. The boss of the airline Mr. Maliya had connections at high places in the ruling party apparently.
 
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cirdan

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A Gulf Coast service at least connecting NOL to Mobile and perhaps a little ways beyond might take place, though I doubt it will hit Florida yet.
I believe that something will happen on the gulf coast *eventually*, but I don't see anything by 2020 somehow. Those states don't have strong rail advocacy and even if they did and I was living there, I would be advocating for service to some of the major cities in AL and MS that presently don't have anything rather than something along the coast where there is pretty much nothing comparable and the only reason for talking about it is nostalgia for the old but shortlived Sunset.
 

Philly Amtrak Fan

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I believe that something will happen on the gulf coast *eventually*, but I don't see anything by 2020 somehow. Those states don't have strong rail advocacy and even if they did and I was living there, I would be advocating for service to some of the major cities in AL and MS that presently don't have anything rather than something along the coast where there is pretty much nothing comparable and the only reason for talking about it is nostalgia for the old but shortlived Sunset.
I think there needs to be a train connecting Florida and Texas, the two largest Southern states. I don't think nostalgia is the only factor.

I'm also not big on the "advocacy" angle (I know, it's an advocacy forum). But I feel that "if you build it, they will come". I don't think Floridians have less support for trains than other states. If they had the same trains as AL and MS, they would support them (with their wallets) as much as if not more. Like it or not, Amtrak's biggest markets by ridership are still in the most part the big cities with some exceptions like Albany. Clearly you take a large population base near other large population bases. I don't believe in "who needs the train more". Just because other transportation exists in PHL doesn't mean they don't want trains any less than those with fewer options. We can argue about the demand for LD service and yet most of us on this site probably have traveled at least overnight on Amtrak several times. You know there's a market. If Point A and Point B are huge population centers and/or large markets, I think a train between them would be supported.

Was the "old Sunset East" not popular? The last data I have from 2004 (NARPtrains2004.pdf) shows several Florida to other cities pairs.

Of SL passengers in 200 ,

4.2% traveled from ORL to NOL

3.9% traveled from ORL to LAX.

Among passengers traveling to NOL, the most popular destination was LAX (8.7%). ORL was second (3.9%), higher than both HOU (2.8%) and SAS (2.1%).

So I think there is demand for Florida to NOL/Texas/beyond. Small markets probably "need" Amtrak more and might be "louder", but the large markets with a chance speak with their wallets and I feel that should be the most important to Amtrak.
 

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cirdan

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I believe that something will happen on the gulf coast *eventually*, but I don't see anything by 2020 somehow. Those states don't have strong rail advocacy and even if they did and I was living there, I would be advocating for service to some of the major cities in AL and MS that presently don't have anything rather than something along the coast where there is pretty much nothing comparable and the only reason for talking about it is nostalgia for the old but shortlived Sunset.

I think there needs to be a train connecting Florida and Texas, the two largest Southern states. I don't think nostalgia is the only factor.

I'm also not big on the "advocacy" angle (I know, it's an advocacy forum). But I feel that "if you build it, they will come". I don't think Floridians have less support for trains than other states. If they had the same trains as AL and MS, they would support them (with their wallets) as much as if not more. Like it or not, Amtrak's biggest markets by ridership are still in the most part the big cities with some exceptions like Albany. Clearly you take a large population base near other large population bases. I don't believe in "who needs the train more". Just because other transportation exists in PHL doesn't mean they don't want trains any less than those with fewer options. We can argue about the demand for LD service and yet most of us on this site probably have traveled at least overnight on Amtrak several times. You know there's a market. If Point A and Point B are huge population centers and/or large markets, I think a train between them would be supported.

Was the "old Sunset East" not popular? The last data I have from 2004 (
NARPtrains2004.pdf) shows several Florida to other cities pairs.

Of SL passengers in 200 ,

4.2% traveled from ORL to NOL

3.9% traveled from ORL to LAX.

Among passengers traveling to NOL, the most popular destination was LAX (8.7%). ORL was second (3.9%), higher than both HOU (2.8%) and SAS (2.1%).

So I think there is demand for Florida to NOL/Texas/beyond. Small markets probably "need" Amtrak more and might be "louder", but the large markets with a chance speak with their wallets and I feel that should be the most important to Amtrak.
No objection to any of this.

But a Texas to Florida train is something Texans and Floridans need to get loud about and start demanding and financing.

It doesn't help MS and AL that people are going from Orlando to New Orleans and are maybe stepping onto the platform in Mobile to smoke a cigarette.

If you're in Montgomery and want to go to New Orleans by train, a thruway bus to Mobile is hardly going to satisfy that need.

If any rail service in those states is going to get state support (even imagining we're in the best of all possible worlds and that support magically appears on a political level overnight) that service has got to promise to do something for those states before they put money into it.

You've got to remember we're looking at states with relatively high levels of poverty here, where there are lots of people who cannot afford to driver and there is thus a huge potential in captive passengers.

I caught the Greyhound from Jackson to Shreveport some weeks ago and that bus was pretty much full, and it runs about 5 times daily. So it isn't that there isn't a demand. The guy I was sitting next to told me he worked in Texas but didn't want to move there as he had a house and a family in Mississippi so he did that commute every week. I wonder how many people there are like him?

Besides which, and this is another observation of mine, MS and AL are two states which in contrast to LA are not doing a good job of marketing themselves as tourist destinations, despite there being plenty of interesting stuff to do and see. A train could help here.
 
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Ryan

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I'm on my phone, so I can't do fancy quotes and stuff, but I think you have this backwards:

"I don't think Floridians have less support for trains than other states. If they had the same trains as AL and MS, they would support them (with their wallets) as much as if not more. "

FL has both Silvers, the Auto Train and multiple commuter rail systems. AL and MS have... the Crescent...

That aside, it isn't an accident that FL has trains and AL and MS don't. Floridians elect politicians that will support trains. AL and MS elect right wing ideological politicians that think trains are a part of a vast liberal conspiracy that must the flight at every turn.
 

jis

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Frankly sitting in Florida I see any Texas to Florida train way far down in the list of wants among those that are working on deploying passenger rail in Florida, and way below the cut line in the foreseeable future. Way ahead of that are extensions of the Miami and Orlando Commuter systems. Passenger service along the east coast - extension of Tri-Rail along FEC, AAF to Orlando and eventually to JAX and additional stations on AAF. Amtrak LD down the FEC. Commuter rail in Tampa with extensions up and down the west coast around Tampa, though more likely southward than northward. Given how tight money is I don't foresee any service along the Florida panhandle by 2020. I also do not foresee Amtrak finding the money to expand the LD network in the 2020 timeframe. So I don;t see anything happening along the Florida panhandle, unless something unexpected takes place in LA-MS-AL-FL combo or in Washington.

I am strictly sticking to the title of this thread and trying to avoid wild speculation about what might happen someday in the future or in an alternate universe.

Speaking of electing pro-rail folks, Florida has actually managed to elect both pro and anti rail Republicans as well as - oddly enough, Democrats, at various levels of government. Some are way more visible than others. There was an amazing internecine warfare within the Republicans after the Governor canceled the Orlando - Tampa HSR. Oddly enough that war immunized projects like AAF from negative interference from the Governor's office and also smoothed the path for SunRail eventually. Florida has a lot of potential for passenger rail service (afterall it is now the third most populous state in the nation), but as I mentioned, the northwest corner of it is not exactly where the action or the population is.
 

Eric S

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On the LD front, I see relatively few changes in the next few years (maybe a bit better, maybe a bit worse, depending on the overall economy and ridership levels and Amtrak's funding situation). I have a hard time guessing how things will play out in terms of food service, though. I tend to think Amtrak funding levels will not change significantly at the federal level.

Any serious expansion is likely, in my opinion, to take place on the corridor front, and be largely driven my decisions at the state level (other than directly on the NEC). I imagine incremental expansion and improvement will occur throughout the Northeast, including state-driven efforts in ME, MA, NY, PA, VT, etc. Beyond the Northeast, we know that there is new equipment (coaches, locomotives, or both) on the way for California, the Midwest, and the Northwest. I can imagine seeing a few extra frequencies on existing routes in those areas (some are already planned). I'm becoming more skeptical, though, as to whether we'll see any new routes (hopefully the two in IL, but I'm not sure anymore).

There are many station improvement projects underway now, with others in planning that way well enter the construction phase in the next few years. Some of the larger stations/cities include Charlotte, Milwaukee, Raleigh, Rochester, and Springfield MA.

So, in 2020, I anticipate we'll see new/expanded/hopefully improved stations in a number of cities. We'll see new equipment operating on many corridor trains outside the Northeast and probably a few extra frequencies operating in various corridors as well. And I think LD trains will be much the same as they are today.
 

cirdan

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Frankly sitting in Florida I see any Texas to Florida train way far down in the list of wants among those that are working on deploying passenger rail in Florida, and way below the cut line in the foreseeable future. Way ahead of that are extensions of the Miami and Orlando Commuter systems. Passenger service along the east coast - extension of Tri-Rail along FEC, AAF to Orlando and eventually to JAX and additional stations on AAF. Amtrak LD down the FEC. Commuter rail in Tampa with extensions up and down the west coast around Tampa, though more likely southward than northward. Given how tight money is I don't foresee any service along the Florida panhandle by 2020. I also do not foresee Amtrak finding the money to expand the LD network in the 2020 timeframe. So I don;t see anything happening along the Florida panhandle, unless something unexpected takes place in LA-MS-AL-FL combo or in Washington.
I don't think its very high on the Texas radar either. Any talk about passenger rail is about Texas Central right now and this is going to be the big one that will fuel the public debate for years to come. Besides that there will or may be developments in commuter and light rail in or around places like Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, but these will be discussed on a more local level. Anything beyond that is just not a priority in any meaningful interpretation of the word and won't be before 2020 unless some total miracle happens.
 
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Devil's Advocate

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Ask me again after next year's elections. Amtrak's future ranges from maintaining the status quo with some commuter expansion to heavy retraction or even defunding of the core LD network. It all depends on who is in charge. In an era when even politically neutral agencies like the Export-Import Bank are under routine attack nothing is safe.
 

cirdan

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Ask me again after next year's elections. Amtrak's future ranges from maintaining the status quo with some commuter expansion to heavy retraction or even defunding of the core LD network. It all depends on who is in charge. In an era when even politically neutral agencies like the Export-Import Bank are under routine attack nothing is safe.
To me it looks as though the Republicans are unable to unite behind a candidate who has any chance of appealing to swing voters or occupying the political middle ground, or even being taken seriously by even the right-leaning Democrats. The Sanders campaign is making a lot of hopeful noise but I think it will eventually sizzle out for the same reason. So to me right now it looks as though Hillary is going to win virtually unopposed (I don't like Hillary by the way, this is my sober prediction not wishful thinking). And the Democrats and especially middle of the road democrats will emerge strengthened and more bullish from her win.
 

Anderson

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On Iowa Pacific, I cannot help but wonder if there wouldn't be a case for them to acquire/seriously rehab equipment with RRIF support (presuming the presence of a multi-year state contract).

As to luxury services, there's still clearly a non-trivial niche in larger markets for higher-end service options (witness the NYC-LAX/SFO markets in the airline industry). The complication is that, as far as I can tell, "luxury" passengers are generally used to cross-subsidize mass market coach pax (at least, on the basis of what you pay for what you get). I basically see three problems here:
(1) The luxury market is subject to a lot more boom/bust. Most carriers can make it until whenever the next "crash" is (IIRC there were a few carriers that popped up both in the late 1990s and the mid-late 2000s) at which point price selection trumps quality.

(2) A lot of would-be carriers get loaded down with debt. This is, from what I've read, what blew up Trump Air...they got like 50% of the BOS-NYC-WAS shuttle market and sorted out their load factors decently; unfortunately, they also loaded themselves down with bad bonds and when the market soured things did not end well.

(3) Frequency often trumps comfort. Do you pick a carrier with 14x daily "cattle call" flights on a "clock" schedule or 2x daily comfortable flights? Even for equal cost, the high-frequency carrier has a decisive advantage while a "high-end" carrier is never going to be able to expand that much.

On Florida, there's another wrinkle (though the state is generally quite pro-rail, all things considered...there was a serious attempt to rebuke Scott over rejecting the HSR money that I believe fell apart on a matter of who had what authority...that was apparently an area the legislature couldn't override): The state is pretty dense by most standards and so has a bit more room to support service (even if the present routes don't do a perfect job of taking advantage of the density).
 

jis

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I heard from a reliable source that there two requests outstanding from some senior Republicans in Washington DC. One is for Amtrak to study and report on restoration of a Gulf Coast service covering Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, and the other is for coming up with a proposal to institute passenger service on what has previously been termed as the Crescent Star route. I suspect that at least the latter will probably go nowhere, and something will happen with the former only if those states come up with the money. It was mentioned in no uncertain terms that it will not be an extension of the Sunset to the east. According to several sources that will never happen again.

I also heard that an offer was made to Florida DOT to operate a intra-Florida day train using the idle Talgo sets, which FDOT turned down. They could not convince themselves that it would meet the 60% farebox recovery target that they have set for such service I suppose, and of course have their rail budget completely dedicated to SunRail and TriRail expansions for now.
 
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Eric S

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Did Michigan ever actually take possession of the Talgos? I thought they were still exiled in Indiana somewhere, waiting for Michigan (or anyone) to figure out what it wanted to do.
 

jis

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So Michigan no longer is in possession of the Talgos?
Actually they are sitting in Beech Grove in storage for Talgo for almost a year or more now. Talgo still had pending legal issues going on with Wisconsin which was resolved finally a month back or two back, clearing the way for Talgo to actually be able to do something with them. AFAIK the Michigan thing was just a proposal that had never moved beyond a proposal stage.

Meanwhile the whole Talgo deal with Michigan has gotten bogged down in various controversies. So Michigan had never completed the acquisition of them, and apparently now it is on what appears to be a permanent hold. While all this has been unfolding Amtrak has apparently been trying to find other uses for the two sets presumably with Talgo.

See: http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2015/03/20/state-transport-chief-delays-amtrak-cars-purchase/25121569/
 
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cirdan

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With all these goings on I've lost track of who now physically owns the Talgo sets.

Did Wisconsin pay for them, or is Talgo still owed money?
 

jis

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Talgo owns them. They were not allowed to do anything with them pending settlement with WI which happened recently (in August 2015). Now they can either sell or lease them as agreed upon with WI which does continue to have certain residual financial stake in them, arising out of WI's contribution to providing real estate/factory space or some such.

You can see the settlement news here.

Specifically....

Wisconsin taxpayers will end up paying $9.7 million more for two state of the art train sets — for a total of roughly $50 million — but leave the trains with their Spanish manufacturer, under the settlement of a nearly 3-year-old lawsuit.

If the manufacturer is able to sell the trains, it will return 30% of the net proceeds of the sale, up to a limit of $9.7 million, to Wisconsin.
 
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Train2104

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So jis, in effect you are saying that the millenials and today's sheeple, having grown up in today's shrinking service environment, will accept Less for More never having known what real Service is like!

And that we more Senior citizens will be the ones complaining about future cuts, and nickel and diming as AmtraK follows the Airline model of "Round 'em up and move 'em out???
As a millennial, for something like a train ride, "premium" service doesn't matter at all. All that's needed is a comfortable seat (or bed for overnights), and some sort of food service available for purchase. Dedicated sleeper/coach attendants, sit-down dining, all that's just extra, and in my view, signs of waste that exists purely because past practices are incredibly hard to change, compounded by Amtrak marketing them, and the "current" demographic demanding them. The demographic will change over the course of a few decades, marketing managers will come and go.

I can't see them surviving beyond 2025. Sooner or later Amtrak's hand will be forced, be it by Congress or by ridership drops caused by the increasingly higher fares that will be necessary to sustain such services. "Zero losses on food service" is impossible since even a cafe car loses money on an overnight route, but those numbers can certainly come way down. A crappy dining car is worse than no dining car at all, might as well cut all the overhead then and there. The "enhanced" cafe car, appropriately stocked, should work well for shorter routes with no more than 2 non-breakfast meals per one-way trip, a kitchen/lunch counter would be warranted on the longer routes - but no way when it comes to sit down dining! Let the passengers eat at their seats/berths (or in the lounge car...)

Non-daily LD's ought to be made daily. State corridor services are going to blossom. Not Iowa Pacific's outdated model, but a decently frequent corridor along the lines of the San Joaquin or Lincoln Service can and will pull growing ridership numbers. Just see Virginia for a recent example of this. Second frequencies will come to many daily corridors like the Pennsylvanian and the Adirondack, with more equipment on order.
 

jebr

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So jis, in effect you are saying that the millenials and today's sheeple, having grown up in today's shrinking service environment, will accept Less for More never having known what real Service is like!
I'm not sure Millenials (myself included) want less for more. In general, at least when I'm on transportation, I'm perfectly fine with less for less. I'll often fly Spirit on a day trip because if I work the system and buy my tickets at the airport (yes, it's cheaper to buy at the airport than online!) I can often get a round-trip fare from MSP to ORD for $32.22. Even on more expensive days it's usually around $50 round-trip. When even Greyhound charges $20+ for a one-way ticket, Amtrak charges $60+ one-way, and Southwest charges $41 on the off-peak days (if you're lucky) and $60+ on other days, I'm going to put up with the lack of amenities and a tight seat pitch for a couple hours while I fly to save that money if the schedules work out. I can spend that extra money for a good meal in Chicago, or to go to a museum, or simply save it up to take a second trip somewhere else.

Sometimes the journey is a major part of the trip, and then I may splurge, but that's not going to be an every-trip thing. I don't want to pay the extra few hundred bucks for a roomette on each trip out to the east coast, even if that includes good meals, turndown service, or something fancy. I'd rather be able to take more trips out there and ride coach, or fly a cheap airline, or take the bus.

Which brings me to the Cardinal's diner situation. I honestly think, with some modifications, that could offer insight to "moving forward" with dining service. A full sit-down meal doesn't work with that concept; there's not enough staffing to properly execute it. However, if the cafe car attendant would take the orders, prepare the beverages (and perhaps have pre-prepared side salads,) and give them to people after ordering at the counter, and the cook/waiter had to simply prepare the main entrees and deliver them tableside (or even be able to order "to go" in coach,) it could be a workable concept. In my opinion, the Cardinal food wasn't bad, and did offer a nice variety to the normal food options on Amtrak.
 
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