Will full service dining ever return to the Western trains?

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Sidney

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I read in another forum that a high level official on Amtrak said full service dining will not return. If that is the case,and I have a feeling it is,there should be other offerings like sandwiches and pizza. Isn't there a refrigerator? Also the price for sleepers should be adjusted for the huge downgrade in food service.
 

MikeM

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I would like to hope that they would choose to bring back real dining service in LD trains; I would even go so far as to hope at some point they would try to expand services to provide service to coach passengers and fully utilize the dining cars rather than treat them as a solely sleeper feature with limited coach seatings. I do know that if TV Dinners are going to be the thing going forward, I won't be traveling on anything longer than a 24 hour journey on Amtrak, and potentially not even that. The diners are a major feature of the train experience, and not having that I believe is the bridge too far to justify the extra travel time and expense. I'm not so sure with this administration that this isn't more of a feature than a bug, chasing off the most profitable segment of travelers so they can justify elimination of LD trains and trying to shift to being a service provider to state services.
 

fdaley

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If full-service dining doesn't return, I won't be riding any of those trains again. If it does return, and if we actually get the coronavirus under control, I would like to go west again. But I'd still have to figure out how to get from the Northeast to Chicago. I have already sworn off the Lake Shore, Capitol and the other eastern overnights because of the current horrible "contemporary/flexible" program. With the hassle of having to find some other way to get to Chicago, the family vacation to the West Coast would probably only happen every few years at best, rather than every year as it did for most of the past decade and a half. So yes, if the goal is to chase off the most profitable and loyal customers, it's working.
 

crescent-zephyr

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If there had been a real plan to bring full service dining back, imho, they would have gone to the express menu and kept the chef position. That would have been the easiest and most sensible thing to do if the plan wasn’t to switch to contemporary dining.
 

lordsigma

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I wouldn't be surprised if we see the dining service come back to some, but possibly not all, of the western routes. We'll just have to wait and see.
 
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fdaley

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I wouldn't be surprised if we see the dining service come back to some, but possibly not all, of the western routes. We'll just have to wait and see.
I do hope you are right, in the sense that some would be better than none.
 
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lordsigma

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I do hope you are right, in the sense that some would be better than none.
I won’t be waging any money on any particular outcome of course. I’d rather it return for my cross country trip next June but if it doesn’t I’ll still go. I still love the train and the adventure (and detest flying) regardless of food and this will be my first “crossing.”
 

NativeSon5859

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I personally don’t think they’re coming back. Would like to be proven wrong. That being said, I’ve done two, eight-night trips this summer on Amtrak. I decided I wasn’t going to let the meals be the deciding factor. I enjoy the experience of traveling in a sleeper, looking up at the stars while falling asleep, hanging out in the sightseer lounge with my music just watching the world pass. I would prefer the old way of doing things but I also know that things change regardless if we want them to or not. By all means, stay away if the meals are such a deciding factor. That’ll just mean more sleeper space for my multiple trips per year. 🙂
 

fdaley

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Well, it's true: For those who don't mind putting up with the prepackaged meals, there will be plenty of rooms available even at the last minute. Even before the pandemic, I was noticing that the Lake Shore and Crescent hardly had any dates in the December holiday period when the sleepers were sold out, whereas in past years many departures in the Christmas-New Year's week were either full or only had a couple high-bucket rooms left. And on days outside holiday periods, the lowest pricing now is almost always available. But I would be concerned that, as MikeM suggests above, this becomes a way to cast the long-haul trains as poorly used and not worth continuing -- when in fact there are plenty of us who would like to travel if a better service level were maintained.
 
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Exvalley

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My sca told me regular dining would be back after August a couple weeks ago.
That seems to be what employees are saying. I hope that they are correct, but until Amtrak makes an official announcement you never know.
 

Bob Dylan

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That seems to be what employees are saying. I hope that they are correct, but until Amtrak makes an official announcement you never know.
Dont bet your house on this! All indications are that until Congress forces Amtrak to re-instate their cuts, the plan to continue on the current path will be Full Speed ahead!😣
 

Skyline

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I wouldn't be surprised if we see the dining service come back to some, but possibly not all, of the western routes. We'll just have to wait and see.
Realistically, the "experiential" market would support a more expensive once- or twice-weekly premium service coast-to-coast, or CHI to LAX and then north to EMY or SEA. Top notch dining and lounge car service would need to be a part of that. It could be all-sleeper, or a mix of coach and sleeper. It might not have many intermediate stops.

It's all about good marketing, and delivering the goods. Can current Amtrak management be depended upon to do these?

I don't want to see other routes which exist to serve deserving populations in cities and towns along their routes downgraded for this to happen; an experiential service should indeed pay its own way (eventually) and could be a pilot for an additional route if successful.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Realistically, the "experiential" market would support a more expensive once- or twice-weekly premium service coast-to-coast, or CHI to LAX and then north to EMY or SEA. Top notch dining and lounge car service would need to be a part of that. It could be all-sleeper, or a mix of coach and sleeper. It might not have many intermediate stops.

It's all about good marketing, and delivering the goods. Can current Amtrak management be depended upon to do these?

I don't want to see other routes which exist to serve deserving populations in cities and towns along their routes downgraded for this to happen; an experiential service should indeed pay its own way (eventually) and could be a pilot for an additional route if successful.
I think the “experimental market” was just talk. If anything I think we’d see something on the coast starlight. They can bring back the Parlour Car service anytime they want with SSL’s.
 

Palmetto

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I think the “experimental market” was just talk. If anything I think we’d see something on the coast starlight. They can bring back the Parlour Car service anytime they want with SSL’s.

Are those cars even still on the property? I thought they were sold.
 

Sidney

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I have completed two cross country circle trips in the last couple of months and I have one planned for September. I am hoping full service dining will be back,but I ll go anyway. I just wish some of the cafe car food like the pizza and burgers were included as part of the flexible offerings.

I took advantage of a points sale a couple of weeks ago and saved using 22,000 points for my trip last week and my upcoming trip. I figure 16,200 points to go from Chicago to LA on the Texas Eagle is pretty good.
I
 

Willbridge

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I have completed two cross country circle trips in the last couple of months and I have one planned for September. I am hoping full service dining will be back,but I ll go anyway. I just wish some of the cafe car food like the pizza and burgers were included as part of the flexible offerings.
As people in other threads have observed, if Amtrak is really serious about making this work, they need to include lounge car food as an option for First Class passengers and either offer better food in the lounges for the Coach passengers or come up with a way of letting Coach passengers eat dining car food. Variety!

There are a lot of proven ways of dealing with this. Here are some samples. The first two segregated Coach customers from First Class, BUT offered hometown cooking with balanced meals for the Coach passengers. The Pioneer Limited overnight CHI<>MSP had a coffee shop that could be run with one person or two. The NP cafeteria car could provide freshly made deli meals with a two-person crew.

I'm not certain, but I think that travel agents could sell the Dining Club coupons and get paid commission for doing so. Today that could be sold on-line as easily as travel insurance is.

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Seaboard92

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Realistically, the "experiential" market would support a more expensive once- or twice-weekly premium service coast-to-coast, or CHI to LAX and then north to EMY or SEA. Top notch dining and lounge car service would need to be a part of that. It could be all-sleeper, or a mix of coach and sleeper. It might not have many intermediate stops.

It's all about good marketing, and delivering the goods. Can current Amtrak management be depended upon to do these?

I don't want to see other routes which exist to serve deserving populations in cities and towns along their routes downgraded for this to happen; an experiential service should indeed pay its own way (eventually) and could be a pilot for an additional route if successful.

No it wouldn't work let me give you the best case study for why it won't work.

The American European Express/ Greenbriar Limited/ American Orient Express/ Grand Luxe Express/ Greenbriar Presidential Train

I am grouping the five different trains together because they shared the same exact equipment set, and for the most part were all part of the same basic idea. Providing a luxury rail based cruise around America.

First off the American European Express (AEE) operated their cars similar to how Iowa Pacific's Pullman Rail Journey's operated theirs. They initially operated six days a week on the rear of the Capitol Limited in two five car trainsets each with three sleepers, a diner, and a lounge. However the ridership didn't metabolize for it. Granted the Capitol Limited would not have been the route I would have chosen for a service like this, rather I would have chosen the California Zephyr west of Denver, or the Coast Starlight. This operation ran from November 1989 to December 1990.

Greenbriar Limited (GL) . The theory on this train was that it would cater to tourists, and tour groups going to the Greenbriar Hotel in West Virginia and the train would run from Washington, DC to Chicago, IL. Passengers could get off and stay at the hotel for awhile before getting on one of the next departures. This train ran smooth for a few months before a grade crossing incident happened that put most of the consist on the ground. However the train stayed consistently profitable, and they were even going to try a New York-Florida train in the winter. However a trespasser strike on the NEC on the test run spooked the investors and they withdrew their support. All in all it lasted an entire year.

American Orient Express (AOE): Now this was the real deal, at times it was a massive 21-24 car consist with 13 sleepers, 2-3 crew cars, an observation, a super dome, conventional lounge cars, and a dining cars. Now this train was a true work of art everything inside was beautifully appointed and well taken care of. They ran a variety of routes across the USA with Amtrak providing the locomotives and operating crews. They ran from Washington, DC to Los Angeles on the Grand Transcontinental (WAS-RVR-CHS-SAV-NOL-KCY-ABQ-Grand Canyon-LAX), but the most popular trips were the ones that ran out of Salt Lake City, UT the National Parks of the West, or the Great Northwest. This train had a fairly long run from 1994 to 2006. I actually got to tour the train on its last voyage east back in 2005.

Grand Luxe Express (GLX): This was owned by the owner of Colorado Railcar (another failed business at this point) and concentrated mostly on the two really strong routes in the American Orient Express playbook the National Parks of the West and the Great Northwest. They also went back to their routes on the AEE by offering a few cars on the rear of regularly scheduled Amtrak moves as well. But shortly after they bought the train in 2006 the 2008 recession hit and the company went bankrupt and the cars were sold.

Greenbriar Presidential Express (GPE): This is a still born train of the same exact rolling stock that was supposed to run from Washington, DC to the Greenbriar. However this one never turned a wheel, and the host railroads are allegedly to blame for that. The cars have again been sold and are all across the country now.

I've worked two of the cars from this train.
 

crescent-zephyr

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AOE did ok financially for a while. All of these operations (Iowa Pacific included) are complex. It's not as simple as as "that operation lose money"

Seaboard (and others...) do you remember when Colorado Rail Car had the plan for "Golden Eagle Journeys" or something like that... they had a website up at one point and they were advertising the custom bi-level cars they were going to use. The rear observation car was going to be built like a bi-level gallery car so it was a multi level lounge open to the floor with a baby grand piano. Would have been amazing if if had happened.
 

fdaley

Train Attendant
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Jan 25, 2020
Messages
51
As people in other threads have observed, if Amtrak is really serious about making this work, they need to include lounge car food as an option for First Class passengers and either offer better food in the lounges for the Coach passengers or come up with a way of letting Coach passengers eat dining car food. Variety!

There are a lot of proven ways of dealing with this. Here are some samples.
Well, the El Capitan budget meal plan looks way better than anything Amtrak offers now. But if we're not going to have bacon and eggs or griddle cakes for breakfast, certainly adding the cafe menu to the list of possibilities for sleeping car passengers would be less bad than the extremely limited and often unappetizing choices in the "flexible" dining program -- choices that remain the same for every lunch and dinner on the trip. Still, I don't think the addition of the cafe menu would be enough to convince me to spend $350 a night for a roomette or almost $700 for a bedroom on the Lake Shore -- let alone to commit to a two-night trip on one of the western trains.
 
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20th Century Rider

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Jan 26, 2020
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For my take on such downgraded policies... either eliminate the dining option and bring down the sleeping car cost because the food is excluded... or include a reasonably high level of food service that adds so much to rail travel and that justifies the price. If a on reduced fare due to exclusion of food, I can certainly be creative and bring some truly exceptional gourmet food for the journey. But I absolutely refuse to accept tiny little tasteless, boring, and unhealthy food offerings as a permanent replacement for what once was such a delightful part of the trip. I am speaking strictly for myself; but don't think I'm alone. My interest will be lost in a travel product of such poor value and quality. Will use up my Amtrak points; and then... done.
 

fdaley

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Jan 25, 2020
Messages
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I absolutely refuse to accept tiny little tasteless, boring, and unhealthy food offerings as a permanent replacement for what once was such a delightful part of the trip. I am speaking strictly for myself; but don't think I'm alone. My interest will be lost in a travel product of such poor value and quality. Will use up my Amtrak points; and then... done.
This is exactly how I feel about it. There has hardly been a time in the past 35 years that I haven't had a future long-distance train trip at some level of planning, but right now I have nothing pending or even imagined. Partly it's the coronavirus, but it's also the food. I expect at some point I'll spend down my cache of AGR points on short-haul corridor runs, which to me are the only things Amtrak still does well.
 
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lordsigma

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I will say that Amtrak is not the only place that has reverted to pre packaged meals during the pandemic. My entire dining service where I work at a university is 100% pre packaged no to order or cafeteria style meals allowed for the fall semester. As I have said before I don’t think it is impossible for better meals to eventually return - the Acela first class is also getting dog food in a box currently (Possibly worse than the flex dining From the descriptions I’ve seen before people praise the short hauls too much) and Acela is the pride of the fleet. Sadly what they have done does have some public health backing - most of the guidance is advising institutional kitchens and food service to do prepackaged meals unsealed only by the diner. Unfortunately if you want a good meal right now you either have to cook it yourself or goto a restaurant. We shall see what happens when the pandemic is past us.
 
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fdaley

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Jan 25, 2020
Messages
51
I will say that Amtrak is not the only place that has reverted to pre packaged meals during the pandemic. My entire dining service where I work at a university is 100% pre packaged no to order or cafeteria style meals allowed for the fall semester. As I have said before I don’t think it is impossible for better meals to eventually return - the Acela first class is also getting dog food in a box currently (Possibly worse than the flex dining From the descriptions I’ve seen before people praise the short hauls too much) and Acela is the pride of the fleet. Sadly what they have done does have some public health backing - most of the guidance is advising institutional kitchens and food service to do prepackaged meals unsealed only by the diner. ... We shall see what happens when the pandemic is past us.
If it's only temporary because of the pandemic, I'm OK with it, so maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves here. After all, Amtrak did say at the outset of this that it would restore full-service dining on the western trains when the health emergency has passed. But because of how Amtrak has handled meal service on the eastern trains, some of us don't have a lot of confidence that management will make good on its restoration promise -- especially with the financial pressures of prolonged low ridership as the pandemic lingers or worsens in much of the country. As you say, we shall see. I am not at all keen on traveling until we see virus cases go way down nationwide. But if we beat the virus and still have no dining service, I'll keep staying home.
 
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