Will full service dining ever return to the Western trains?

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Seaboard92

Conductor
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Dec 31, 2014
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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.
I do remember seeing some of the marketing for that. The cars they were going to use were very similar to the failed Marlboro Train. And that rear observation was going to basically end up looking like a two story Milwaukee Road Skytop car. Personally I've never taken Colorado Railcar that serious because their products in my opinion totally stink. From the DMU in Portland that is so unreliable they had to buy a 1950s era RDC car to supplement it, to the "domes" that are more like a sightseer lounge than anything else.

Each of these examples should be viewed as learning opportunities should Amtrak ever decide this market has possibilities. Take what they did right, what they did wrong, and what they may have had no control over into consideration.

Amtrak has an advantage over these private corporations and investors. It should have federal dollars to draw upon in the ramp-up, and potentially a future administration and congress that could help navigate roadblocks caused by operating railroads.

It's not the right time to actually move on any expansion of service. Once Covid-19 is resolved, and the economy rebounds, it might be. For now, passenger rail advocates have a full plate just trying to maintain service at current levels. But there is no harm in discussing future projects and even giving them serious study.
I honestly don't think this is a business Amtrak should get into again. Now if someone wants to do it and charter Amtrak locomotives and crews that I think Amtrak should pursue. However they should not go into the business of just luxury travel on one or two tourist oriented routes. It would set a bad precedent that Amtrak's only usefulness is as a tourist oddity much like VIA's Canadian is turning into. Now running it as a charter for someone else I don't see the issue because a group has hired them to provide transportation which is basically what Amtrak's mission is. The only difference is they are riding in privately owned rolling stock, managed, and marketed by an outside company. Amtrak is still providing their basic service of transportation, and then it isn't tainted by the bad precedent.

In my opinion if an operator would step in and resurrect the AOE they should focus on the two best routes only. National Parks of the West (ABQ-Grand Canyon-Las Vegas-SLC-West Yellowstone-SLC, and the Great Northwest and Rockies SLC-West Yellowstone-Helena-Glacier National Park-SEA. Those seam to be the strongest markets in my opinion.

This is not just an Amtrak thing. VIA Rail offers a bag of chips and one bottle of water on all trains right now - including several trains with durations of 10 - 12 hours and one with two overnights. "Our complete meal and beverage service is suspended on all our routes.
Passengers with dietary restrictions are asked to plan accordingly." A recent reviewer of a 4 1/2 hour Air Canada flight received a granola bar, a bottle of water and a tiny dispenser of hand sanitizer in Business Class. Either of these alternatives makes Amtrak's current offerings look at least acceptable, with the ability to access a cafe car an added bonus.
Well two of those 10-12 hour trains should be a daylight train by schedule. However CN has asked VIA to run those two trains in the middle of the night due to excessive heat. I personally think thats a bad precedent to set. It also negates the use of those two routes usefulness to the communities served. Now that being said I believe and NS Via Fan can probably prove this. I want to say up until the 80s there were both day and night trains on those two rural routes in Quebec.
 

Sidney

Train Attendant
Joined
Jul 12, 2020
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When the Lake Shore and Capitol Ltd went to Flex dining almost two years ago there was no reduction in sleeper prices. Same when the remainder of the trains dropped full service dining.

I have a trip coming up in September. I used points from Chicago to LA and back and cash on the Eastern trains. I just can't justify the sleeper prices. I am taking the Lake Shore from Chicago to Utica. $340. I know that includes the rail fare,but paying that much for one overnight and that substandard breakfast is not worth it. I did opt for business class. Hopefully I can still have both seats to myself.

I've been reading posts about full service dining returning in September on the Western trains. I hope so,but I have a feeling this flexible dining isn't going away anytime soon.
 

jiml

Conductor
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Feb 27, 2019
Messages
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Well two of those 10-12 hour trains should be a daylight train by schedule. However CN has asked VIA to run those two trains in the middle of the night due to excessive heat. I personally think thats a bad precedent to set. It also negates the use of those two routes usefulness to the communities served. Now that being said I believe and NS Via Fan can probably prove this. I want to say up until the 80s there were both day and night trains on those two rural routes in Quebec.
I wasn't aware they were doing this. I do think you're correct (subject to verification from Nova Scotia) about the extra frequencies, since one originated in Quebec City rather than Montreal. I believe the tracks are still in place to permit this too.

Anyway, those and the Sudbury train are long routes to have no access to food. The Churchill train is just nuts.
 

jiml

Conductor
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Feb 27, 2019
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Do you know for a fact that the Churchill train has no food service?
From the VIA website:

VIA Rail’s Winnipeg-Churchill route will no longer be offering Sleeper Plus class, until November 1st. A modified meal service will be in place. All passengers will receive a complimentary snack and water. No other food or beverage service will be offered and passengers with food restrictions are being asked to plan accordingly.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Oct 21, 2015
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From the VIA website:

VIA Rail’s Winnipeg-Churchill route will no longer be offering Sleeper Plus class, until November 1st. A modified meal service will be in place. All passengers will receive a complimentary snack and water. No other food or beverage service will be offered and passengers with food restrictions are being asked to plan accordingly.
Yes I’m able to read a website as well.
 

jiml

Conductor
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Feb 27, 2019
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Yes I’m able to read a website as well.
Do you think they're picking up food enroute? As of last word, all VIA commissaries in the country are closed until further notice, along with all lounges. Food service on all trains recently has consisted of either a bag of chips or a granola bar (depending on time of day) and one bottle of water. No coffee, soda or food of any kind.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Do you think they're picking up food enroute? As of last word, all VIA commissaries in the country are closed until further notice, along with all lounges. Food service on all trains recently has consisted of either a bag of chips or a granola bar (depending on time of day) and one bottle of water. No coffee, soda or food of any kind.
I’m not sure what the “modified meal service” is. Could be a few different things but this is only operating as essential service correct? I’m not sure what the Canadian Government is saying but I know they have been stricter than the USA and I’m guessing people are encouraged not to travel right now?

I’ll agree that a limited menu cafe is better than a bottle of water and a granola bar that’s for sure.
 
Joined
Apr 23, 2019
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12
The website says that traditional dining is suspended "through August 31." So theoretically we have a month of traditional dining and daily service until Amtrak's presumed downward death spiral begins. Start planning your trips now!
 

me_little_me

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Jul 16, 2010
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Remember the time it took from announcement of the "flex menu" to its implementation vs the announcement of "new bedding" vs the failure to ever provide it before the pandemic. The pandemic is just giving Amtrak an excuse to see if the new meals will "fly" everywhere IMHO.
 

20th Century Rider

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Jan 26, 2020
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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.
'You took the words right out of my mouth...' When we're all saying the same thing about the collapsing service, 'that says something.' This pandemic will end... hope it's not the end of rail travel as well!
 

joelkfla

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Oct 16, 2018
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130
If they were planning to resume full food service after 8/31, I would assume it's dependent on COVID subsiding. I don't think COVID will be subsiding anytime soon.
 

Steve4031

Conductor
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I dislike these meals. But I have friends who work for Amtrak. Each of them have encouraged me to ride as long as I was healthy. A conductor on 50 thanked me for supporting Amtrak when he noticed I was select plus. He only knew this because I was asking to get off the train at Alexandria versus Union Station. I knew this request might require extra work on his part and I was humbled by his words of encouragement. It was several sentences long. Not just a rote phrase.

So I have a round trip to Portland in August on the Empire Builder. Then a ride up to Eugene to try out the Talgo train. I'll ride back on 14 to Portland, spend one night, and then catch 28 back.
 

Albi

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Aug 9, 2019
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My trip in September cost around $2,000 for train tickets, and hubby and I will be on trains for around 80 hours total. That's a lot of $$$$$ and a lot of hours to spend eating salty, overly sauced, gross looking meals.
I took a lengthy trip in May from Austin to LA (Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited), then to Chicago with the Chief and from there to Philadelphia with the Cardinal. The service was mostly subpar (with exceptions) and the flexible dining was no way near what it used to be last year in the dining car.

So I complained, and I got a voucher of $300. My 3 train rides were slightly over $1300 so I thought it was handled well.

You must complain, they must hear it everyday from frustrated, paying customers that their product and service is unacceptable for the price, then they will get their act together. Eventually. Hopefully.
 

Maverickstation

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Mar 2, 2017
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261
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.
Looking at Amtrak's past, having a couple of trains with traditional dining, and the rest with Flex Dining would not surprise me.
In 2006, when Amtrak lunched the SDS program, as in Simplified Dining Service, The Empire Builder, and The Coast Starlight offered, Enhanced Dining Service. At that point, only The Empire Builder offered Steak, and at Breakfast, Eggs Cooked As You Like Them.

Here is a rider viewpoint of the SDS Service


Ken
 

Barb Stout

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Mar 13, 2019
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I have a trip coming up in September. I used points from Chicago to LA and back and cash on the Eastern trains. I just can't justify the sleeper prices. I am taking the Lake Shore from Chicago to Utica. $340. I know that includes the rail fare,but paying that much for one overnight and that substandard breakfast is not worth it. I did opt for business class. Hopefully I can still have both seats to myself.
Does "business class" have another name on the Lakeshore Limited? I have taken that train a few times and never noticed a "business class" option.
 

fdaley

Train Attendant
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Jan 25, 2020
Messages
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Does "business class" have another name on the Lakeshore Limited? I have taken that train a few times and never noticed a "business class" option.
The business class seats are on the Boston section (trains 448/449), in one end of the lounge car. The operation has been a bit inconsistent the past couple of years, with the Boston section often canceled for track work and other issues.
 

PVD

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If you look at 48/49 you won't see BC even when it does run, since it belongs to 448/449 and it joins/leaves at Albany and does not run South towards NYP (also answers the why is there no cafe car between NYP and ALB on the LSL)
 

Maglev

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Sep 4, 2016
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The quality of food in the full-service diners was poor, while pre-cooked meals of the type served in first class on airlines can be very good. It has been many years since Amtrak has used diners to their full capabilities, for example eliminating the staff to wash dishes. The job of the chef became mostly reheating food. I doubt we ever see a return to labor-intensive dining, but think that AMtrak could do a good job with pre-cooked meals.
 
Joined
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Most of this discussion seems to assume that Amtrak first-class fares are based at least in part on the cost of serving meals. Even though Amtrak does indeed transfer some of the sleeping car revenue to the dining car account, I'm not sure that's the basis of the fare. Fares appear to be based purely on supply and demand. In other words, Amtrak charges the maximum fare it can get while still filling up the space. Presumably, if enough potential riders are turned off by the new meal service, demand and fares will fall automatically. But that -- I suspect -- is the extent of the linkage.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Oct 21, 2015
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The quality of food in the full-service diners was poor, while pre-cooked meals of the type served in first class on airlines can be very good. It has been many years since Amtrak has used diners to their full capabilities, for example eliminating the staff to wash dishes. The job of the chef became mostly reheating food. I doubt we ever see a return to labor-intensive dining, but think that AMtrak could do a good job with pre-cooked meals.
In my experiences and opinion, traditional Amtrak dining (not including Simplified Dining Years) is better than domestic first class. But domestic first class is much better than the current contemporary dining.

If by “many years” since Amtrak had staff to wash dishes on board you mean... 4 or 5 years? Sure.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Most of this discussion seems to assume that Amtrak first-class fares are based at least in part on the cost of serving meals. Even though Amtrak does indeed transfer some of the sleeping car revenue to the dining car account, I'm not sure that's the basis of the fare. Fares appear to be based purely on supply and demand. In other words, Amtrak charges the maximum fare it can get while still filling up the space.
I doubt anyone who can speak freely knows how Amtrak actually prices their sleeper fares. Statements to the contrary seem to be based on little more than anecdotal evidence specific to a given route, region, or season. I've seen enough empty sleepers priced at or near the high bucket fare to take blanket claims of supply and demand with a grain of salt. That being said nothing about Amtrak's opaque pricing structure prevents me from choosing to include meal quality when evaluating suitability for purchase.
 
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Exvalley

Service Attendant
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It's possible that Amtrak's dining car relationship with Aramark may ultimately result in better meals on western trains, but not traditional dining car meals. In other words, meals that resemble what VIA offers on the Ocean and Canadian. I could live with that as a happy medium.
 
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