Capitol idea - an experience

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Capitol idea - an experience
Posted by Enzoamps on Monday, November 4, 2019 3:41 PM

10/31/19 - Toledo, Capitol Limited to Rockville (Wash DC suburb), only one hour late, no big.  Left about 1AM.  About 4AM, the guy directly in front of me has a mental breakdown.  Turned to face me and chattered some gibberish, then stood and yelled at a passenger across the aisle, calling him "Shawn".  No connection between man and passenger.  Then the man jumped on top of the passenger as if to tackle him.  The passenger jumped up and ran down the aisle hollering SECURITY!!!.  I am too old to tackle anyone, so I repeatedly pressed the call button, but no sound or light, and no attendant.  The lady across was filming with her phone.  The man was gesturing wildly, hollerd "I am not a terrorist", the poor passneger could not get by him to return to seat, and was trying to keep the man at bay.  Eventually, the conductor was made aware and he came in and fairly quickly calmed things down, and managed to steer the man downstairs.   Fortunately we had just pulled into Pittsburgh, and the man was removed from the train.

Wife and I were concerned, as the man clearly needed help, perhaps someone was waiting for him, or he didn't take his meds, who knows?  But his bags and shoes were still at his seat.   An attendant walked by and I was about to point out the seat and its contents, an AMtrak policeman came up and retrieved the items.  SO at least the fellow won't wake up in Pittsburgh with no clothes or shoes.

WHile a dead call button was not cool, once aware of the situation, I thought the train staff handled it well and safely.  The man had started to accost other passengers, a couple of whom were getting beligerent in defense.  "Calm down" from the conductor seemed to work.

The return was ON TIME, and even arrived Toledo early.  And no Whackos.

Now if only I could sit in the diner for a nice meal instead of a microwave hot dog from the basement of the cafe car...   It is a big substantial Hebrew National hot dog, but still...   On the other hand, the two cafe attendants I encountered were smiling and friendly.  And my request for a couple cups of ice were produced at no charge and a smile.  (I always travel with bloody Mary ingredients in my grip.)

The Capitol is almost always sold out when I travelled at Xmas or even mid summer, but was fairly empty both ways this weekend.  There were only two coaches instead of three on #30, and it still was not full.  #29 going back had three coaches a d LOT of empty seats, though at Pittsburgh it did board a lot of people.

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Posted by JPS1 on Monday, November 4, 2019 5:15 PM

Enzoamps
 The Capitol is almost always sold out when I travelled at Xmas or even mid summer, but was fairly empty both ways this weekend.  There were only two coaches instead of three on #30, and it still was not full.  #29 going back had three coaches a d LOT of empty seats, though at Pittsburgh it did board a lot of people. 

Between 2017 and 2018 ridership on the Capitol Limited declined 5.19 percent.  Ridership on the long-distance trains declined 3.29 percent.  The drop in ridership on the Capitol has continued through the first 11 months of 2019; it is projected to decline another 4.11 percent by year end.   

With the exception of a few peak periods, two coaches probably are enough for the Capitol's diminishing ridership.  

During FY18 the Capitol Limited's On-Time-Performance at its end points averaged 30.8 percent.  Even worse was the average OTP of 28.5 percent at the intermediate stations.  The average number of minutes late per late rider in FY18 was 94 or more than 1.5 hours.  

Among the factors causing the decline in ridership on the Capitol Limited, as well as the long-distances trains, is the poor on-time performance.  People get tired of waiting for a consistently late running train and look for more reliable alternatives.

As a recent IG report made clear, consistently late trains result in a decline in ridership and revenues as well as an increase in expenses.  Amtrak has been trying to fix the problem for decades, but it does not appear to be any closer to a solution. 

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Posted by daveklepper on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 10:39 AM

Thanks for your report.   Used the Capitol many times, including the last departure from Chicago's Grand Central, up through Amtrak Superliners, and am glad to still have some contact with the train via your report.  Happy that overall the trip was successful, and am glad they are serving Hebrew National hot dogs and that you liked them.  Maybe my station restaurant scheme will be implemented some day and true 1st-class dining will return to a great train and others.  Thanks!

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 5:32 PM

The problem of late LD trains is largely outside of Amtrak's control. Fining freight lines is ineffective. 

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Posted by CMStPnP on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 5:54 PM

Enzoamps
Wife and I were concerned, as the man clearly needed help, perhaps someone was waiting for him, or he didn't take his meds, who knows?

If he was removed from the train the local police will take care of it.    

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Posted by CMStPnP on Tuesday, November 5, 2019 5:58 PM

JPS1
Amtrak has been trying to fix the problem for decades, but it does not appear to be any closer to a solution. 

They still have an open lawsuit against CN and if they win that suit they will use it to set a precedent for all.   Or so Mr. Anderson implied to Congress.   We will see if he sticks to it or the CEO changes again and another approach is taken.

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Posted by Enzoamps on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 12:16 AM

My wife has some professional knowledge of such things, and she saw signs of learned behavior in someone with mental challenges.  She felt it possible the man had someone waiting at the other end, as say a 12 year old might if flying alone.   Yes, I am sure the Amtrak police turned him over to the locals.  I think the guy is better off having landed in Pittsburgh rather than say Sandusky or Martinsburg.

Meals.  The hot dog was fine, the hamburger is not terrible, but so little choice for hot meal.  I often microwave more interesting things at home, certainly Amtrak could as well without taxing the attendant.

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Posted by CMStPnP on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 1:17 PM

Enzoamps
Meals.  The hot dog was fine, the hamburger is not terrible, but so little choice for hot meal.  I often microwave more interesting things at home, certainly Amtrak could as well without taxing the attendant.

Well, next time bring a Cell Phone that can surf the internet (smart phone).   As your train approaches the rest stop as the conductor if the platforms are open to the public.   If they are then call out for delivery for Papa Johns, PF Changs or whatever and have them deliver to the train platform at your rest stop.

Lots of IF's in the above advice but if they all align it will work.    I travel for a living and I have had Jimmy Johns deliver right to my hotel room door,  hotel lobby, someone elses house, lobby of where I work.    They will go anywhere with food.    The one restriction if you do that is you cannot usually by law consume the food in a dining facility of a private company that also serves food in that dining facility.   So Amtrak might prevent you from eating that carryout in the Cafe Car or Dining Car.   Health Department rule.

Another option is Army Surplus or Nature Store buy the DoD's MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat).........all you need is water.    They even now come with a cool water activated heating appliance.

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Posted by NKP guy on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 6:53 PM

CMStPnP
Well, next time bring a Cell Phone that can surf the internet (smart phone).   As your train approaches the rest stop as the conductor if the platforms are open to the public.   If they are then call out for delivery for Papa Johns, PF Changs or whatever and have them deliver to the train platform at your rest stop.

   In what parellel universe would this be an improvement over a traditional dining car?  As a passenger I'm supposed to know who in the next town coming up ahead would be willing to deliver food (forget a hot meal) to my train?  How often do you think those fast food places do that?  Then consider that the person bringing the meal to my train may: 1.  miss the train entirely for any number of reasons; 2.  be standing on the platform for minutes on end while my train is stopped for a red signal or something happening in the yards just outside of town.  At some point the delivery guy goes to his next stop.  Also, who would take an order for food to be delivered to a train without first having the customer pay by credit card?  What's my recourse if the delivery goes wrong and I've already paid?

   When I rode Nos. 48 & 49 two weeks ago I carried my own food and spread it out on the bare table in front of me.  I may or may not get a piece of food from the overworked attendant, who, in any event, will not bother me as he is stuck in the car's "kitchen" with a long line of disgruntled passengers stretched out before him waiting more or less patiently for their alloted cardboard box or tray of nuked pre-packaged food.  Also, no attempt is made to recycle anything: everything, no matter what, is simply dumped into the four open garbage receptacles standing only a few feet from my table; the sight and smell will take some getting used to.

   As for bringing our own MRE's or heating our own food (in our rooms, presumably, since legally this would be frowned on in the dining cars), we might replicate the recent example in Pakistan when passengers there used another method with tragic results.

   The simple fact is that I didn't see or talk to anyone on the Lake Shore in or about the dining cars who thinks the present offerings and system is anything but a big disappointment and not good value for money.

 

 

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Posted by Enzoamps on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 7:52 PM

If I could reliably order food for delivery, it might work, but on the Capitol, eastbound, you get no cell bars in the mountains, which is where the only daylight part of the trip occurs.  Places that would deliver are only open for the last couple hours of the trip.  6AM, Connelsville, and I want eggs and bacon.   My wife carries a cell, I do not, and we try to warn our family of our progress, and we can only get reception right in the towns.

Stops are VERY brief, only CUmberland has a stop of 10 minutes or so for smokers and a crew change.  Going to be hard to coordinate with Grubhub.

Westbound we board at 4:30PM, diner used to open at 5PM with every half hour a seating until 8PM.  I never was on the train it did not sell all seats, in fact many times by the time they got back to my coach, they were already sold out.  If they can fill the diner seven or eight times on a trip and still lose money, then I guess it is moot.  Then I am stuck with my hot dog.

We do bring snacks with us, but that is stuff like nuts and salty snacks.  But I like hot food.  Oh, and we bring Bloody Mary fixings too.  At least Amtrak has ice.  The problem is not starving, the problem is getting a hot meal during my hours on the train.

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, November 7, 2019 11:15 AM

Enzoamps
If I could reliably order food for delivery, it might work, but on the Capitol, eastbound, you get no cell bars in the mountains, which is where the only daylight part of the trip occurs. 

This is one of the applications for which the likely restricted-individual-bandwidth WiFi or other networking on an Amtrak train is suited.  You shouldn't be using a phone for ordering anyway - it's not safe to give your credit information over a cell link with unknown security!

If your phone has a browser, connect using that.  As I said before it should be possible for Amtrak to develop apps with 'preferred partners' in the various towns, or with some of the food delivery services, that offload Amtrak's need to involve their own service staff with this kind of ordered-in food.

We've had the discussion forward and backward about how to provide heating for both food and beverages on any kind of 'open' basis.  I continue to think that it should be possible to get someone, perhaps in the lounge car, to heat something 'free', and this gets around the various health department, competition with paid on-train food, etc. if you 'work' it carefully enough.  I still think some system of liners for a convection microwave is a workable idea ... but it might still have to be something unlocked or supervised by a car attendant or other employee.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, November 7, 2019 11:40 AM

As another poster stated, I seriously doubt if any fast food establishment or restaurant is going to offer delivery by Uber Eats or another service to "somewhere on the platform" for an Amtrak train arrival. Why? The arrival times are highly unreliable. Even if "on-time" that means within 15 minutes of the advertised.

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, November 7, 2019 3:36 PM

charlie hebdo
The arrival times are highly unreliable. Even if "on-time" that means within 15 minutes of the advertised.

As I keep saying -- Amtrak needs to expose the API they use for the 'tracker' app and make it a bit more reliable, something I'd think would already be dramatically facilitated by PTC.  Any restaurant offering the service would be following the actual progress of the actual train, prearrange availability of the Uber Eats or whatever driver without actually having him engaged to be waiting, and cook the food/coordinate the delivery for reasonable JIT arrival.  

It's not unthinkable, for at least some types of hot food, to have portable containers like those used for some pizza deliveries, capable of holding temperature for a few minutes to give a little more slack in the scheduling.  But it isn't rocket science to set this up and run it effectively in most of the communities Amtrak serves with LD trains 'enroute' at likely meal times...

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Posted by Enzoamps on Thursday, November 7, 2019 4:16 PM

I appreciate your effort, but I fear you are trying to "solve my problem" of finding food.  The "problem" is having food available on the train.  I could carry a thermos bottle of hot soup and a thermal container of beef stroganoff if I wanted, from home.  Then schlep my empties home.

As for a restaurant following the train progress on an app and coordinating where on a platform MY car will stop so I can lean out and grab my goods, well, no restaurant is going to go to all that effort for a customer or two a week.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, November 7, 2019 5:59 PM

Overmod

 

 
charlie hebdo
The arrival times are highly unreliable. Even if "on-time" that means within 15 minutes of the advertised.

 

As I keep saying -- Amtrak needs to expose the API they use for the 'tracker' app and make it a bit more reliable, something I'd think would already be dramatically facilitated by PTC.  Any restaurant offering the service would be following the actual progress of the actual train, prearrange availability of the Uber Eats or whatever driver without actually having him engaged to be waiting, and cook the food/coordinate the delivery for reasonable JIT arrival.  

It's not unthinkable, for at least some types of hot food, to have portable containers like those used for some pizza deliveries, capable of holding temperature for a few minutes to give a little more slack in the scheduling.  But it isn't rocket science to set this up and run it effectively in most of the communities Amtrak serves with LD trains 'enroute' at likely meal times...

 

Not to rain on your parade but there are too many contingencies outside the control of any restaurant, plus as Enzo points out,  too few customers. 

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, November 8, 2019 9:16 AM

All I can say is that I've run restaurants that could handle the cooking-to-order expediently (we did it all the time for phone orders reserved in advance but made to order at a call-in pick-up time, so coordinating tracking is a relative cinch) and the delivery to the train is outsourced.

Of course, the delivery is made to one door, to some member of the train crew, and anyone interested in 'checking their order' during the station dwell would go there, or to some assigned staging location (perhaps in the lounge car on one of the tables otherwise 'reserved' for crew misuse).  It would be a nice and lovely thing to have red-cap style delivery directly to your car's door ... and perhaps at some point there could be a way to arrange, for red-cap tip levels, for a contract driver to walk to multiple locations food-in-hand ... but that's a relative luxury not necessary in the basic service model.

That others can't figure out how to make it work is no indication whatsoever that those of us who think they can are somehow 'wrong'.  I don't mind being criticized for things I haven't thought 'carefully enough' about, of course, so don't stop poking the holes.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, November 8, 2019 9:42 AM

Overmod
That others can't figure out how to make it work is no indication whatsoever that those of us who think they can are somehow 'wrong'.  I don't mind being criticized for things I haven't thought 'carefully enough' about, of course, so don't stop poking the holes.

I never would have thought you ran a restaurant.  In any case, how would you deal with the current fact that Amtrak LD arrival times, even when "on-time" could be 15 minutes later than as advertised?  If this were dealing with the DB, the scheduled arrival time is quite accurate, but not here.  Here the train could be many minutes, even hours late. I suppose the pasenger could inquire with the train's conductor as to what time the CONO will now arrive in Memphis before placing the call, but can you imagine his disposition in dealing with requests from several passengers for various pickup points?

Why not simply have onboard, tasty packaged, pre-cooked dishes that can be heated in a fast convection oven?  Works very well on DB.  The dinner dishes that work are stews, casseroles and pastas.  Steaks and hamburgers? Not so much. Currywurst?  Yes!

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Posted by Enzoamps on Saturday, November 9, 2019 12:06 AM

This thread has wandered beyond my original thoughts, always room for ideas, I suppose.

I think it might be possible to organize and pull off handing Charlie a sandwich as the train comes rumbling through.  (Old Kingston Trio Song)  But it would indeed require planning, organization and coordinated effort.  I'd need to know ahead that at Connellsville, I will want such and such items, and expect the train and restaurant teams to coordinate.  But really, that is a solution looking for a problem.  I think most people will be riding along and decide "Hey, I am hungry, let's go to the club car for something hot."  And if the train is then delayed, will I still want the food an hour after intended?  WIll the restaurant be able to adjust?  DOubt it.

On the dining car or cafe, if the attendant drops my food on the floor, he can nuke another quickly enough.  If I rely on external food on the train, remaking the food either means they miss the train, or they made it way ahead and sat it under the red heat lamp.   And if the delivery guy is held up by traffic, accident on the road, weather, what then, miss the train by 30 seconds, you miss the train.  Now I don't have food.

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Posted by Deggesty on Saturday, November 9, 2019 7:48 AM

A question: why didn't Charlie's wife hand him a nickel instead of supper the first time the train came by? Then he cold have gone home and not had to ride beneath the streets of Boston forever.Smile

Now, back to the problem of eating a good meal on board Amtrak's one night or less trains.

Johnny

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Posted by Enzoamps on Saturday, November 9, 2019 3:12 PM

Charlie apparently didn't marry into money...

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Posted by Deggesty on Saturday, November 9, 2019 4:41 PM

Enzoamps

Charlie apparently didn't marry into money...

 

LaughLaugh

Johnny

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, November 9, 2019 4:58 PM

Enzoamps
And if the train is then delayed, will I still want the food an hour after intended?  WIll the restaurant be able to adjust?  Doubt it.

Can't lead you to see the water, let alone drink.  Ah, well.

Sure is nice that you have no concerns with Amtrak making hot food in its lounge cars.  Sorry you have no interest in variety.  Be interesting to see, though, how you propose they actually do what you think is so easy.

That is a valid point about 'remaking' orders, of course, and it is a concern that's addressed only by 'price adjustment' of some kind, as I also doubt there would be time for any kind of do-over, or even supplying many kinds of additional condiment or amenity to an order 'in the field' unless the driver were provided with a portable pantry of sorts.  The basic plan follows existing restaurant policy for take-out orders that can't be brought back to the restaurant in time ... whatever that policy is.  Every restaurant that does take-out has one ... or is incompetently run.

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, November 9, 2019 5:19 PM

charlie hebdo
I never would have thought you ran a restaurant.

It's a hysterical story.  Waffle House, of all outfits, wanted to expand into the New York area ... following the golden example of Krispy Kreme ... with their, shall we say, amusing operating model and menu concepts as practiced in the South.  I liked the way they handled their people before 9/11 came along, and went through the training in order to get into 'upper management' for the great raid on the North ... ah, well, we live and learn, and I got a lot of valuable experience, good and bad, out of it.

The tasty dishes in fast convection oven was the prospective operating model when the Viewliner-diner oven spec was written, and it works nicely. Some perfectly adequate 'browning' can be done using directed microwave waveguides and 'heating surfaces' of correctly formed metal (if you have seen the 'crisping sleeve' for something like Hot Pockets you have one of the technical approaches that doesn't reflect back into the waveguide or magnetron or ignite grapes with plasma).

Meanwhile, the idea of multi-cell sous-vide heating works just as well, in a limited space, and at least theoretically represents something a customer could be turned loose on to heat up items bought from an automat machine or brought aboard in a cooler.  These circulate hot water (most commonly at around 155 degrees F) and can be thought of as 'liquid convection ovens' for rapid heat transfer.  (Many forms of 'gourmet' supermarket meat-in-sauce products now come in plastic sacks that are supposed to be 'heated in simmering water for 20 minutes' for best texture and flavor; the sous vide machines can accomplish the same effective heating-through in less time, even with multiple packets staged in the flow.)

Three points I evidently haven't emphasized enough for this audience:

1) the service PRESUPPOSES AN ACCURATE TRACKING APP.  No train is going to 'suddenly stop' between the time an order goes on to be cooked and the 'scheduled' arrival time.  In the few times this might occur, I'm reasonably sure it would be close enough in to be accessible with a little additional driving ... assisted by GPS/GIS that knows the closest point of safe approach to the train.*

2) the idea is to avoid as much extra 'load' on the train crew as possible.  If you want to know where the 'next stop' that will provide your order is, refer to #1 and pull up the anticipated estimates directly from the app, with utter assurance that people preparing your order will revise the schedule to suit JIT delivery within bounds you set ... or make it right up to closing time, if you want.  Guess what... the customer gets to pick!

3) If attendants do want to do some prep and presentation, perhaps for a 'tip' or fee, they certainly can.  They could even serve it in the diner for some equivalent of a wine corkage charge.  All that's for value-added, and gives extra scope for union-member living wage that might otherwise be lost by Anderson's food-service cutting.  The 'minimum' service required by train crew is to pick it up at an arranged platform location (at each stop, or at stops where the service is made available) and stick it in some Amtrak-approved waiting area, where the customer is either waiting to receive it or will go get it when advised it's there.  Is there something difficult about this?

*Or, for the Boeotians in this audience: you sell the order cheap to someone 'as is', or give it to employees, or just scrap it and re-cook when the train indicates to the tracking app that it's moving again.  Perhaps with the ability to flag to the crew to hold the train a few minutes now that it's probably ridiculously late to the point 10 minutes additional dwell won't murder everyone's connection ... or to change the delivery point of a 'recook' to a later stop, their option.

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Posted by NKP guy on Saturday, November 9, 2019 8:05 PM

Overmod
*Or, for the Boeotians in this audience:

   True, many of us provincials are not as sophisticated as some of you Athenians; in fact, some of us are little more than helots in our own country, but we know the gods laugh at men who would buy new dining cars and then expect customers to order fast food from restaurants along the line to eat in them.  

   After the Romans conquered Greece it mattered little who was a Boeotian and who was not.

 

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, November 9, 2019 11:11 PM

NKP guy
True, many of us provincials are not as sophisticated as some of you Athenians ...

You evidently mistake my meaning, or have forgotten why Boeotians acquired fame in Attic literature.

We're talking about chronic, well-established stubbornness, not lack of some other characteristic ... certainly not intelligence per se.  Think "being from Missouri but NOT being convinced by all the facts that could be provided".

True, some Athenians might read 'bull-headed' into this, but that wasn't a sense I meant.

The gods laugh far harder at men who would buy new dining cars and then cancel all food service in them, making 'outsourced' food something to be considered in the first place.

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Posted by Miningman on Sunday, November 10, 2019 12:29 AM

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Sunday, November 10, 2019 1:07 PM

Miningman

 

Food for thought there Vince, and no pun intended!

If I remember reading correctly, all those "Genuine Fred Harvey Meals" served on the Santa Fe were sold on a "break-even" basis, turning a profit wasn't even considered.  As long as they didn't lose  money Santa Fe was happy.  A well-fed satisfied customer was sure to be a repeat customer.  For the longest time, it worked.  Maybe it worked to the end, as I understand it Santa Fe was an Amtrak holdout and was one of the last 'roads to give up passenger service.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Sunday, November 10, 2019 2:16 PM

Amtrak only needs to break even on food and beverage service on LD trains.  Not even close. 

In the Santa Fe days 50 years ago,  labor costs were much less.  If you had that level of labor cost in a good restaurant today,  I'll bet what is now a $40 meal would be double that or more. 

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Sunday, November 10, 2019 2:40 PM

Looking at it differently, on a 1971 UP City of Los Angeles dinner menu, a complete sirloin steak dinner was $5.50. According to  an inflation calculator,  that would be $34.87 now, over six times as much. For a comparable meal,  Amtrak charges only $25.00.

And I am pretty sure Amtrak labor costs are far higher than the UP dining car staff's were in 1971.

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Sunday, November 10, 2019 4:13 PM

Oh well.

Mind you, I wouldn't mind spending $35 on a meal if I got my moneys worth!  

Hey, there's a local Italian restaurant Lady Firestorm and I go to, and if we get the full-bore meal it usually costs us about $70, but let me tell you, we leave FULL!

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