AMTRAK Announces It Will No Longer Provide Hot Meal Service??

2965 views
46 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    December, 2007
  • From: Greendale, WI
  • 44 posts
Posted by saguaro on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 10:06 AM

Alan - I agree. To me the Dining Car is an essential part of the long distance train experience -- and part of the justification for paying such a lot of money for a first class ticket on Amtrak. The price of first class travel on Amtrak will have to be reduced substantially to attract people to eat cold sandwiches in their rooms. And similar things have been tried numerous times since 1971. Amtrak always has to go back to hot food or they lose a lot of riders. But perhaps that is the real strategy here if the end game is to discontinue long distance trains anyway.

  • Member since
    June, 2002
  • 13,987 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 3:01 PM

Again, the right approach would be to duplicate Acela 1st-Class (Acela Business Class?) meal service.   Not heard complaints about that.  Delivered warm and kept warm.

  • Member since
    April, 2015
  • 227 posts
Posted by Enzoamps on Thursday, April 26, 2018 5:20 AM

I have been riding the Capitol for many years.  I enjoy the dining car.  I would miss it.  But I think it is overstating the case to say it is the pivotal part of the trip.  Leaving Washington, by the time it gets to Rockville, sometimes ALL the dinner seatings are filled.  Surely no chance for anyone boarding Harpers Ferry or further west.  I don't always get a seat.  That is the same as no dining car as far as I am concerned.

In those cases, I go to the club car, where I can get a warmed up hot dog or hamburger.  On one train they had heat up dishes like shrimp and grits at that snack bar.  But clearly a minority of passengers use the actual dining car.  There is a steady stream of folks up to the club car and back having sandwiches and so on.  The club car was open late, not so the diner.

Not until Indiana will the diner open for breakfast.  For sleepers, meals are included.  Someone wondered how they tell sleepers from coach in the diner.  The sleepers sign their room number to the meal ticket.  Amtrak knows exactly how many of diner customers came from sleepers.

On the way east, CHicago passengers can use the diner for dinner, but I pick it up in Toldeo, so we have to wait until 6:30AM for breakfast, Somewhere around Pittsburgh to Connelsville.  I think a study would show more customers at the snack bar in the club car than there are dining car patrons.  In fact, I never have to make reservations for breakfast.  DInner fills up, breakfast never does.  The eastbound diner has the same limited seating as westbound, so I am sure not everyone from Chicago gets a seat either.

I surely would never go to the airlines just for want of a dining car.  The airlines don't feed me either.  Train travel is easy and comfortable, air travel is downright demeaning, uncomfortable, and no treat.

I see no reason to rub Amtrak's nose in it.  They know how appealing a nice diner meal might be, but they also know what it costs.  I seriously doubt the train would stop selling out just for closing the diner.  I would like a heated blanket and a TV on the seat back in front of me, that would be appealing too.  Not gonna see it happen.

I sometimes take the NEC trains from Washington up as far as Trenton, those trains all had snack bar cars.  I suspect they are part of that profitable percentage.  The cross country diner seems like a lot of tonnage and staff to haul around for its limited use.  I would lament it going away, but have wondered why it was still there for years.

  • Member since
    February, 2016
  • From: Texas
  • 1,031 posts
Posted by PJS1 on Thursday, April 26, 2018 8:18 AM

The scope of the IG's Report on Amtrak's Food and Beverage Services covered the NEC, short corridor, and long distance trains.  It did not include commuter trains.

Six of the short corridor routes where Amtrak provides food and beverage services were included in the study. It did not include any of the state supported routes where the state provides food and beverages.

No matter how the numbers are examined, food and beverage service on the long-distance trains are the major driver of Amtrak's food and beverage losses.  Or at least they were for the period covered by the audit.  And it is probably still the case.   

Rio Grande Valley, CFI,CFII

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • 5,913 posts
Posted by Overmod on Thursday, April 26, 2018 3:33 PM

ROBERT WILLISON
Certainly a better solution to food service can be found than the cold food option.

Yes, but how do you square it with the mandate in PRIIA: 

“Beginning on the date that is five years after the date of enactment of [PRRIA], no Federal funds may be used to cover any operating loss associated with providing food and beverage service on a route operated by Amtrak.”

In case you're wondering, that will take effect in 2020, which does not give much time to work out what all the options for different Amtrak services can and will be.

I notice that no one so far seems to have mentioned Fred Frailey's claim that much of the nominal loss in the LD dining service is the result of 'criminal' activities of various kinds.  It would seem that some of the 'first best actions' to take regarding onboard meal service would be to eliminate, or at least seriously "disincentivize", the various problems in this regard.  Whether this might also serve to get around the prohibition on any Amtrak food-service employee losing their job as a result of mandatory diner profitability remains a somewhat ominous open question.

I do agree with Dave Klepper and others that there are reasonable hot-food alternatives that can, and should, and I suspect probably will be tried.  I can understand a test program that gets around the question of microwave/convection capital costs and service delays ... but I also understand that expecting sellout demand for sleepers to continue in the absence of hot-meal service, particularly if food continues to be 'bundled' in a high overall price per day for sleeper accommodations, may hamper bottom-line profitability as 'unexpected consequences' -- have we seen the final analysis of the early experiment with the "Mica" diner changes on the Florida trains?

  • Member since
    November, 2013
  • 1,179 posts
Posted by VOLKER LANDWEHR on Thursday, April 26, 2018 4:15 PM

Overmod
Yes, but how do you square it with the mandate in PRIIA:

Just some semantics. The PRRIA of 2015 never got even through the Senate if I understood the following link correctly: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr749

But the complete text from PRRIA regarding Amtrak's food service was amended under §11207 in FAST Act (H.R. 22) which was signed by the President 12/04/2015.

As I said, semantics. The content is the same.
Regards, Volker

  • Member since
    February, 2016
  • From: Texas
  • 1,031 posts
Posted by PJS1 on Friday, April 27, 2018 9:54 PM
Digging a little deeper into the IG’s audit of Amtrak’s Food and Beverage Services, as of 2012, I found these comparative labor costs.  They are eye popping.
 
The average annual compensation package for Amtrak’s Food and Beverage Services employees in 2012 was $88,970 before any overtime.  The average annual compensation packages for the Food and Beverage Services employees on the Downeaster, Alaska Railroad, and Rocky Mountaineer were $21,600, $22,410, and $31,748.  
 
The Downeaster, Alaska Railroad, and Rocky Mountaineer outsource their food and beverage services.  The contract employees for the Downeaster and Alaska Railroad, at the time, were paid hourly rates of $7.75 to $13 without any benefits.  The contract employees for the Rocky Mountaineer were paid an average of $14.70 per hour with limited benefits. 
 
The average compensation for Amtrak’s Food and Beverage Service employees was $41.19 per hour.  It was based on the average hourly rate plus hourly benefit rate for the highest wage position (lead service attendant) and lowest wage position (service attendant).
 
All employees should have a decent benefit package as part of their employment.  But it appears that Amtrak’s benefits, plus hour wages, are unusually generous.  In any case, these numbers highlight why labor is the major cost driver for Amtrak’s long-distance Food and Beverage Services.

Rio Grande Valley, CFI,CFII

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: US
  • 14,573 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Friday, April 27, 2018 10:34 PM

PJS1
Digging a little deeper into the IG’s audit of Amtrak’s Food and Beverage Services, as of 2012, I found these comparative labor costs.  They are eye popping. 
The average annual compensation package for Amtrak’s Food and Beverage Services employees in 2012 was $88,970 before any overtime.  The average annual compensation packages for the Food and Beverage Services employees on the Downeaster, Alaska Railroad, and Rocky Mountaineer were $21,600, $22,410, and $31,748.  
 
The Downeaster, Alaska Railroad, and Rocky Mountaineer outsource their food and beverage services.  The contract employees for the Downeaster and Alaska Railroad, at the time, were paid hourly rates of $7.75 to $13 without any benefits.  The contract employees for the Rocky Mountaineer were paid an average of $14.70 per hour with limited benefits. 
 
The average compensation for Amtrak’s Food and Beverage Service employees was $41.19 per hour.  It was based on the average hourly rate plus hourly benefit rate for the highest wage position (lead service attendant) and lowest wage position (service attendant).
 
All employees should have a decent benefit package as part of their employment.  But it appears that Amtrak’s benefits, plus hour wages, are unusually generous.  In any case, these numbers highlight why labor is the major cost driver for Amtrak’s long-distance Food and Beverage Services.

Railroad craft rates progress over time.  One contract builds upon the previous contract, both monetarily and with work rules.  It isn't so much that Amtrak food service employees are over paid, its more that the other sources you mention are underpaid to the point of minimum wage.

When I was a train order operator out of Akron, OH in the late 60's my daily rate was approximately the same as a gorcery store bagger at one chain at the time.

It seems as if everyone that has a job paying them to be 'middle class' believes other jobs that pay at the middle class rate are grossly overpaid, as they feature those job functions are of much less responsibility and need than their own job functions.

         

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

  • Member since
    August, 2013
  • 3,006 posts
Posted by ACY Tom on Friday, April 27, 2018 11:19 PM

Alan Follett

 However, once, as seems all too likely, the Anderson regeime tries similar shenanigans on the California Zephyr and Coast Starlight, they'll have seen the last of me.

That's probably exactly what this administration wants.

Tom

 

  • Member since
    August, 2013
  • 3,006 posts
Posted by ACY Tom on Friday, April 27, 2018 11:39 PM

PJS1
 
 
The average annual compensation package for Amtrak’s Food and Beverage Services employees in 2012 was $88,970 before any overtime.  The average annual compensation packages for the Food and Beverage Services employees on the Downeaster, Alaska Railroad, and Rocky Mountaineer were $21,600, $22,410, and $31,748.  
 
The Downeaster, Alaska Railroad, and Rocky Mountaineer outsource their food and beverage services.  The contract employees for the Downeaster and Alaska Railroad, at the time, were paid hourly rates of $7.75 to $13 without any benefits.  The contract employees for the Rocky Mountaineer were paid an average of $14.70 per hour with limited benefits. 
 
The average compensation for Amtrak’s Food and Beverage Service employees was $41.19 per hour.  It was based on the average hourly rate plus hourly benefit rate for the highest wage position (lead service attendant) and lowest wage position (service attendant).
 
All employees should have a decent benefit package as part of their employment.  But it appears that Amtrak’s benefits, plus hour wages, are unusually generous.  In any case, these numbers highlight why labor is the major cost driver for Amtrak’s long-distance Food and Beverage Services.
 

PJS1
Digging a little deeper into the IG’s audit of Amtrak’s Food and Beverage Services, as of 2012, I found these comparative labor costs.  They are eye popping.
 
The average annual compensation package for Amtrak’s Food and Beverage Services employees in 2012 was $88,970 before any overtime.   
 
 The average compensation for Amtrak’s Food and Beverage Service employees was $41.19 per hour.  It was based on the average hourly rate plus hourly benefit rate for the highest wage position (lead service attendant) and lowest wage position (service attendant)
 

 

I don't know where those numbers come from but they are not accurate. The hourly rate for 2012 is exaggerated, although I do not recall the exact amount.  I suppose adding all insurance, railroad retirement, etc. would increase the numbers. I wonder whether the cost of amortization, maintenance, etc. of the dining car might have been added in there. It is expensive to operate a dining car, but this sounds a lot like manipulation of the numbers to achieve a political goal.

Anybody who endures the rigors of life on the railroad and settles for $7 to $13 per hour in 2018 is either an idiot, has a separate independent income, or is extremely desperate for a job. 

Tom

 

  • Member since
    June, 2009
  • From: Dallas, TX
  • 3,185 posts
Posted by CMStPnP on Saturday, April 28, 2018 7:46 AM

ACY Tom
Anybody who endures the rigors of life on the railroad and settles for $7 to $13 per hour in 2018 is either an idiot, has a separate independent income, or is extremely desperate for a job. 

A rather humorous comment since in none of the three examples are the employees spending the night on the train and in fact I believe only on the Rocky Mountaineer are mixed drinks served mixed.........might be wrong there because the serving or mixing of drinks would inflate those hourly rates quite a bit via tips.   Also, not mentioned are how much are made in tips.

Also, in none of the above three examples is the F&B management considered part of the train crew as it is outsourced.....meaning they only probably perform the narrrow food service function.

What rigors of railroad life exactly do one of those three examples experience?   Other than being stuck on a moving train during their working shift.

As for Amtrak Food and Beverage example.   Still remember the attempt they made on the Chicago to Milwaukee runs which was rather hilarious.   Pay someone full Amtrak salary and benefits for a 90 min ride to push a cart up and down the aisle of the train selling primarily Candy Bars......lol.      I think the most expensive food item on that cart was $5-6 (Oy! why not sell a more expensive full tray meal?...........which I think was the WisDOT intent)

That business model lost the State of Wisconsin approx $500,000 a year in deficit across only 3 of 7 trains in which they offered the "Food Service".    Exhibit A in how Amtrak manages food services.......also impacting the confidence in the business relationship between Amtrak and WisDOT no doubt.   Because I am sure WisDOT was shocked at how much they were burning up in money.

 

EDITED FOR CORRECTION:  Sorry, meant to state the deficit at slightly above $300,000 a year.   Was going off memory, I do not remember the exact number but I do remember it being north of $300k a year at least.

  • Member since
    February, 2016
  • From: Texas
  • 1,031 posts
Posted by PJS1 on Saturday, April 28, 2018 8:43 AM

"I don't know where those numbers come from but they are not accurate." 

The compensation information for Amtrak's employees was provided to the auditors by Amtrak's HR Department and Finance Department.    

The compensation for Amtrak's employees was based on 180 hours worked per month, which were the work rules for full-time agreement employees in 2012. 

The compensation does not include depreciation, interest, or miscellaneous expenses.  Moreover, it does not include the compensation for employees on state supported trains where the state covers the cost of the food and beverage services. 

Comparatively, according to PayScale, the median compensation for a Greyhound bus driver in 2017 was $30,908.  Adding a typical overhead burden of 30 percent would bring the median compensation package to $40,181.  The median compensation package for a flight attendant was $51,200.  

As noted by the auditors, a significant driver of Amtrak's cost is the inability to quickly scale the labor to demand.  Part of the problem, at least implied by the auditors, is a lack of imagination on the part of management.  The terms of the labor contracts are also part of the problem.  Amtrak just does not have the flexibility that the comparative rail operators have to manage their labor costs.

Rio Grande Valley, CFI,CFII

  • Member since
    February, 2016
  • From: Texas
  • 1,031 posts
Posted by PJS1 on Saturday, April 28, 2018 8:46 AM
The “no dining car” model may be working. 
 
Between FY15 and FY16 passengers on the Silver Star declined 5 percent vs. 1.9 percent for the Silver Meteor.  But sleeping car passengers on the Star increased 7.5 percent, while those on the Meteor declined 3.7 percent.
 
In FY15 the operating loss for the Star was $41.8 million compared to $33.7 million for the Meteor.  The comparative operating losses per passenger mile were 21.2 and 15.5 cents.
 
In FY16 the Star had an operating loss of $30.9 million compared to $31.9 million for the Meteor.  The comparative operating losses per passenger mile were 17 and 15.2 cents. 
 
In FY17 the Star carried 373,000 passengers compared to 341,000 for the Meteor.  In FY16 the numbers were 364,000 vs 339,000 and in FY15 it was 383,000 vs. 346,000.  The numbers have been rounded to conform to Amtrak's revised reporting methodologies. 
 
In FY17 both trains had an Adjusted Operating Loss of $31.5 million.  
 
The overall numbers for the Star appear to have improved at a slightly faster rate than the corresponding numbers for the Meteor.  Removal of the dining car from the Star, along with the reduction in sleeper prices, probably contributed to these outcomes.  Whether the trend continues remains to be seen.
 
The Star and Meteor run different routes and serve different communities, but they are the closest comparison that I can think of. 

Rio Grande Valley, CFI,CFII

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: US
  • 14,573 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, April 28, 2018 2:49 PM

PJS1
The “no dining car” model may be working. 
 
Between FY15 and FY16 passengers on the Silver Star declined 5 percent vs. 1.9 percent for the Silver Meteor.  But sleeping car passengers on the Star increased 7.5 percent, while those on the Meteor declined 3.7 percent.
 
In FY15 the operating loss for the Star was $41.8 million compared to $33.7 million for the Meteor.  The comparative operating losses per passenger mile were 21.2 and 15.5 cents.
 
In FY16 the Star had an operating loss of $30.9 million compared to $31.9 million for the Meteor.  The comparative operating losses per passenger mile were 17 and 15.2 cents. 
 
In FY17 the Star carried 373,000 passengers compared to 341,000 for the Meteor.  In FY16 the numbers were 364,000 vs 339,000 and in FY15 it was 383,000 vs. 346,000.  The numbers have been rounded to conform to Amtrak's revised reporting methodologies. 
 
In FY17 both trains had an Adjusted Operating Loss of $31.5 million.  
 
The overall numbers for the Star appear to have improved at a slightly faster rate than the corresponding numbers for the Meteor.  Removal of the dining car from the Star, along with the reduction in sleeper prices, probably contributed to these outcomes.  Whether the trend continues remains to be seen.
 
The Star and Meteor run different routes and serve different communities, but they are the closest comparison that I can think of. 

With all due respect - Amtrak can make the numbers show any position they want to present.

         

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

  • Member since
    June, 2009
  • From: Dallas, TX
  • 3,185 posts
Posted by CMStPnP on Saturday, April 28, 2018 8:20 PM

BaltACD
With all due respect - Amtrak can make the numbers show any position they want to present.

Thats true, I like their ON-TIME measurements.    It's not actual scheduled departure time they have to buffer it to be within 10-15 min of actual departure time to be considered ON-TIME.      Oy!, what happened to precision railroading?

  • Member since
    August, 2013
  • 3,006 posts
Posted by ACY Tom on Saturday, April 28, 2018 9:59 PM

To PjS1 and CMStP&P:

I had a long, detailed response amost complete when it disappeared without a trace. I'm not going to repeat that.  In the past, I have gone round and round with CMStP&P over issues like contracting, in which the Corporation relinquishes control and pays just as much money in the long run to a separate company that pays an extra layer of management and pays less money to those who do the work: The very definition of a race to the bottom.

I'm certainly not going to repeat the extensively detailed info I have provided in the past about the work schedules, hours on duty, etc. I would remind you, however, that the  people serving you breakfast in the diner are the same ones who served you dinner the previous night, and they may be doing it with only about 5 or 6 hours' sleep. Don't forget, they are not, and never have been, covered by the Hours of Service law.

If we are talking about long distance dining car service, don't cloud the issue by introducing irrelevant facts like the low wages paid on other services where the schedules, work demands, time away from home, etc. are not comparable. 

This is not the place to discuss minimum wage, but I will echo Balt's comment that said we have too many people who believe hard-working people are not entitled to a living wage, and that means one that provides a decent level of comfort and security in 2018. 

Tom 

  • Member since
    June, 2009
  • From: Dallas, TX
  • 3,185 posts
Posted by CMStPnP on Sunday, April 29, 2018 4:58 PM

ACY Tom

To PjS1 and CMStP&P:

I had a long, detailed response amost complete when it disappeared without a trace. I'm not going to repeat that.  In the past, I have gone round and round with CMStP&P over issues like contracting, in which the Corporation relinquishes control and pays just as much money in the long run to a separate company that pays an extra layer of management and pays less money to those who do the work: The very definition of a race to the bottom.

I'm certainly not going to repeat the extensively detailed info I have provided in the past about the work schedules, hours on duty, etc. I would remind you, however, that the  people serving you breakfast in the diner are the same ones who served you dinner the previous night, and they may be doing it with only about 5 or 6 hours' sleep. Don't forget, they are not, and never have been, covered by the Hours of Service law.

If we are talking about long distance dining car service, don't cloud the issue by introducing irrelevant facts like the low wages paid on other services where the schedules, work demands, time away from home, etc. are not comparable. 

This is not the place to discuss minimum wage, but I will echo Balt's comment that said we have too many people who believe hard-working people are not entitled to a living wage, and that means one that provides a decent level of comfort and security in 2018. 

Tom 

We wouldn't need minimum wage people if we had flexible work labor rules, now would we?    We have a choice there depending on if the labor union wants to cooperate.  

Unfortunately, the American LD Passenger Train has to change and evolve with the rest of the world and cannot remain in it's own shrinking time capsule if we ever want to keep the costs of running the LD network reasonable and efficient. 

 It's one reason why Amtrak eliminated the part-time bartender in the upper part of the Superliner lounge.    

Lots of efficiency to be had in the Dining Car still or for that matter sizing onboard dining car services for the load of the train as well as the time it takes for the train to run and the number of meals served.

Heck they could even get away with a box breakfest on the Capitol Limited no need for anyone to serve it, have the passengers pick it up from the baggage car.   Speaking of which I wonder if they could move some food storage from the Dining Car to the baggage car on short runs and just chuck the Dining Car all together.   For 200-300 people you do not need a lot of cold storage for tray meals or box lunches.

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy