Is taking a long distance Amtrak worth it in the 'post dining car' era?

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Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Monday, June 29, 2020 1:44 PM

NKP guy
NKP guy wrote the following post 28 minutes ago: daveklepper I have never enjoyed dinner more than savorinig the Rocky Mountain Trout on the D&RGW    Same here!  The single best and most memorable meal I ever had aboard any train.

I agree that the CZ & its reincarnation as the Rio Grande Zepher served a delicious Trout. I have enjoyed many a good meal on trains including some on Amtrak. For a period, they had regional menus that included Creole dishes on the City of New Orleans back in the late 70's or 80's. And on a trip on the CNO with my son, I remember requesting & receiving permission to ride in the ex SF Hilevel ElCapitan Coaches that were on the end of the train to be used North of Carbondale. We had the cars to ourselves. In the morning, came down the stairs and crossed over to the diner and enjoyed perfect RR French Toast. Also, riding the Broadway Limited and having dinner in the twin car diner during a rain storm in Indiana running alongside US Rt 30. Watching the autos kick up spray as we roll past them whie enjoying a good meal was nice. On a vacation trip when we rode the Empire Builder in '68, My son (age 7) got a little nausia from the diesel fumes in Cascade Tunnel so he and I did not have diner but later went to the Ranch Coffee Shop car where he had a BLT and declared it was the BEST he had ever had. I think an appetite had something to do with it.

On the other end of meal service, in '67, on the Monon's Throughbred train to Louisville, a news butch was serving the "food" from his cooler in the vestibule of one of the coaches and I watched as he "built" a ham sandwich from a loaf of white bread (2 slices), a smear of butter, three thin slices of ham, and one leaf of lettuce, slid it into a glassine bag and Whalla. ONE HAM SANDWICH. I don't recall where he got off but I suspect it was Crawfordsville. That was better than nothing.

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Posted by Backshop on Monday, June 29, 2020 2:15 PM

CMStPnP
 

      What about berthing of visiting Navy ships and economic impact of that?     

Which ships would those be?  The Brooklyn Navy Yard closed 50+ years ago and there haven't been any navy vessels homeported there since before then.

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, June 29, 2020 6:55 PM

NKP guy
  And I'm convinced this is an 1860's solution to the problem. 

What's wrong with an 1860s solution when every subsequent solution described in White explicitly cost more to provide than it took in in revenue -- including the 'hotel car' service that eventually morphed into Pullman 'buffets'.

And that was in an age largely of low wage or other 'people' costs ... and a surplus of immigrant or other groups willing to work hard and willingly for those low wages.

In something like a Rocky Mountaineer where the luxury can be built in without excuse, you can afford to run staffed diners with efficient commissary backup, cordon bleu chefs, attentive and memorable service.  How you even approximate that on a transportation service fraught with its own politics and lacking more than a circumstantial organizational esprit de corps is trouble enough.  How it could reliably pay its way is worse.

On the other hand, longer and longer LD trips will be intolerable without sensible  food options... which must either conform to profitability if Amtrak provided, or offer dependable service at all times, if Amtrak-coordinated.  It is difficult to imagine a 'catering' commissary model with adequate non-Amtrak business to thrive as needed, to be able to afford the food cost and prep time in the necessary range of meal options, and to act successfully in dispensing 'wasted' or unclaimed meals as 'profitably' as possible.  Perhaps some locations with Mr. Klepper's 'station restaurants' can manage that; it is quite certain to me that few if any post-1870s methods of providing food on trains will do better.

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, June 29, 2020 10:48 PM

Again, I  think my station restaurant concept can solve the problem, where the food brought to the dining cars, either eaten while still warm or refrigorated for microwave, is only a small part of a large bfoad-menue operation that includes sit-down, take-out, and possibly home and office delivery.

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, June 30, 2020 12:11 PM

daveklepper
Again, I  think my station restaurant concept can solve the problem, where the food brought to the dining cars, either eaten while still warm or refrigorated for microwave, is only a small part of a large bfoad-menue operation that includes sit-down, take-out, and possibly home and office delivery.

The station restaurant concept can only work IF the restaurant is a draw for the locals in numbers far beyond whatever Amtrak clientele gets involved in it.  Secondly will Amtrak make a 'meal stop' or will the meals be loaded on the train in bulk and then distributed by Amtrak personnel.  If there is a meal stop, will Amtrak pay the track owner additional fees for increased track occupancy?  Will there be meals to order, or 'one size fits all'?  If it is meals to order - what kind of infrastructure will be implemented to facilitate the ordering?  Who pays for the trash disposal for all the trash that is created on the trains from the 'leftovers' from the meal service?

There is much more complexity to the station restaurant concept than first meets the eye.

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, June 30, 2020 5:32 PM

It's logistically impossible in most cases to 'dwell' any LD train while the passengers get off and scarf down the equivalent of a 'Demi-poulet avec vin rouge', let alone have a leisured dining experience.  In some cases it might be possible to let passengers detrain to get their meals, or pick them up as delivered to trainside.  But that's about the extent of it.

That means a choice of menu of three basic kinds: packaged with minimal prep (for taking to rooms directly, perhaps with special heat and cold provision); items for lounge make-ready (microwave or convection reheat with no more than spot prep or quick finish cooking; attractive plating and presentation but no 'waiter' table service other than perhaps drinks); and actual sit-down prep and service, using the diners but not relying on commissary stocking, unused food, prep requirements etc.  It may be possible to pass most or all the plates, silverware, etc. off the train in sealable containers, to be 'contract-washed' at a corresponding 'station restaurant' for the opposite direction.

At least theoretically -- I have described some ways to make this workable at least in principle -- you can have some of the 'diner' attendant staff board with the food, and detrain with the dishes, to keep them out of the four-day rotation of death that would involve one food crew riding end to end.  Relatively easy, to the extent any restaurant can do it, to adjust the called staff to the actual service requirements on a particular day.

Frankly I think the analogue of an upscale version of a Holiday Inn Express free breakfast bar could easily be put in portable carts, and the food prep as easily done by one or two people in the diner as is done in the motel.  An analogue for all-you-can-eat-within-reason (as for evenings at Drury) could be similarly arranged for lunch or even dinner.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Tuesday, June 30, 2020 7:24 PM

If a better than passable meal service on longer train rides is required, simply copy the model used by Deutsche Bahn. It's not rocket science. 

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Posted by JPS1 on Wednesday, July 1, 2020 6:21 PM

charlie hebdo
 If a better than passable meal service on longer train rides is required, simply copy the model used by Deutsche Bahn. It's not rocket science. 

Other than a 2-hour unplanned stop at Frankfurt on a flight from Singapore to London, I have never been to Germany.  Maybe I should go.  My ancestors on my dad's side were from Germany, but they left there in the 1840s because of religious persecution.  They were anabaptists. 
 
What is it about the “meal model” used by Deutsche Bahn that should make me want to go there?  And eat a sit-down meal on a train?  
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Posted by daveklepper on Thursday, July 2, 2020 5:34 AM

Definitely boarded on the train:

 

Dear Mr. Anderson,

 

I am writing, first, to state the case for Amtrak and particularly long-distance passenger service,  This service is essential, absolutely essential, for that portion of the elderly and handicapped population that cannot fly and cannot endure long auto or bus trips to access the Continental United States.  Removal of those trains would limit the travel of those citizens to regions of about 120 miles  around their homes.  With respect to the overall travel industry, Amtrak’s long distance service can be compared to the hard-of-hearing systems, handicapped ramps and elevators, that get subsidized by general ticket sales to entertainment industry patrons that never use them,  But depriving grandchildren of a visit from their grandparents hurts the children as well as the grandparents.  That is probably the reason most Americans want the service to continue, as reflected in the votes of their elected representatives,

 

 

 

But these trains do more.  They provide the very best way for foreign tourists to visit and know the landscape, and even the people of the country.  In winter in parts of the Northwest, the Empire Builder train prevents the isolation of many communities.  And these trains have been useful in emergencies when planes are grounded.

 

 

 

But I believe the area where Amtrak loses the most money, food service, can be a profit center,  Imagine if every Amtrak station in large cities had a high-quality full-service restaurant, popular because of its fair prices and excellent quality, and each had a take -out and home-office-and-party delivery.  Then on-train food service would be simply a small portion of the take-out and delivery business of this restaurant chain, with the cooking done at the restaurants, and with economies of scale, would be profitable.

 

 

 

I wish to commend your idea to restore overnight sleeper service on the Northeast Corridor.  A market the old service never addressed is serving holiday, weekend, and other vacation trips to Colonial Williamsburg.

 

 

 

I must point out that even a dark, unsignalled railroad, operated only by train orders, is still safer than any public highway.  But the track segment where only one Southwest Chief operates each way each day is currently equipped with automatic block signals and automatic train-stop.  Given the safety record of this segment, adding Positive Train Control would accomplish far, far less for safety than by using such money for grade-crossing improvement or elimination..

 

 

 

Amtrak should reclaim, overhaul, and regear two AEM-7s for switcher use at Sunnyside, Queens. Overly expensive ventilation for diesels won’t be required for the air-rights development.

 

Best wishes,

 

 

 

 

 

David Lloyd (ben Yaacov Yehuda) Klepper, student of the Yeshiva, USA Army Veteran, and co-author of Worship Space Acoustics, J. Ross publishers, Fort Lauderdale 2010, jrosspub.com

 

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, July 2, 2020 3:50 PM

JPS1
What is it about the “meal model” used by Deutsche Bahn that should make me want to go there?  And eat a sit-down meal on a train?

I think there is more in the attitude DB uses and in some of the plans they have than in applicability of the exact amenities and menu choices.

There are a couple of very good pages at bahn.de that cover the recent meal program and some of the reasoning behind it -- but for some reason my mobile browsers render these detail pages only in German whether or not I select the 'English' version of the site (tab at upper right), and then Google Translate has some weird snit about scraping the page text content and rendering it as English.

Some of the DB incentives, like hiring yearly 'chef advisors' who are famous in the food community or influencers with substantial media following, are things that have in some form been tried in the States -- and some of the ways the food is served, facilities used and kept clean, and waste/trash is handled might be issues for union discussions.  The most important thing I see to be adopted here, though, is the kind of enthusiastic top-down championing that is an essential precondition for effective implementation of Six-Sigmaesque quality improvement.  DB shows it while Amtrak mouths expediency and experimental cost reduction to 'game' parts of the Congressional profitability mandate. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, July 2, 2020 6:06 PM

Overmod
 
JPS1
What is it about the “meal model” used by Deutsche Bahn that should make me want to go there?  And eat a sit-down meal on a train? 

I think there is more in the attitude DB uses and in some of the plans they have than in applicability of the exact amenities and menu choices.

There are a couple of very good pages at bahn.de that cover the recent meal program and some of the reasoning behind it -- but for some reason my mobile browsers render these detail pages only in German whether or not I select the 'English' version of the site (tab at upper right), and then Google Translate has some weird snit about scraping the page text content and rendering it as English.

Some of the DB incentives, like hiring yearly 'chef advisors' who are famous in the food community or influencers with substantial media following, are things that have in some form been tried in the States -- and some of the ways the food is served, facilities used and kept clean, and waste/trash is handled might be issues for union discussions.  The most important thing I see to be adopted here, though, is the kind of enthusiastic top-down championing that is an essential precondition for effective implementation of Six-Sigmaesque quality improvement.  DB shows it while Amtrak mouths expediency and experimental cost reduction to 'game' parts of the Congressional profitability mandate. 

We need a mandate to make Congress profitable instead of being a cost center.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, July 2, 2020 6:29 PM

Overmod

 

 
JPS1
What is it about the “meal model” used by Deutsche Bahn that should make me want to go there?  And eat a sit-down meal on a train?

 

I think there is more in the attitude DB uses and in some of the plans they have than in applicability of the exact amenities and menu choices.

 

There are a couple of very good pages at bahn.de that cover the recent meal program and some of the reasoning behind it -- but for some reason my mobile browsers render these detail pages only in German whether or not I select the 'English' version of the site (tab at upper right), and then Google Translate has some weird snit about scraping the page text content and rendering it as English.

Some of the DB incentives, like hiring yearly 'chef advisors' who are famous in the food community or influencers with substantial media following, are things that have in some form been tried in the States -- and some of the ways the food is served, facilities used and kept clean, and waste/trash is handled might be issues for union discussions.  The most important thing I see to be adopted here, though, is the kind of enthusiastic top-down championing that is an essential precondition for effective implementation of Six-Sigmaesque quality improvement.  DB shows it while Amtrak mouths expediency and experimental cost reduction to 'game' parts of the Congressional profitability mandate. 

 

I would not suggest someone should visit Germany just to sample their food services.  They are simply an adjunct to an excellent rail transportation service.  However, the food is good, menus have variety and it is affordable.  The crews are service-oriented, friendly and informative. Cleanliness is top-notch.  Pretty clearly excellence is a commitment to bottom. 

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Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Friday, July 3, 2020 12:58 AM

BaltACD
We need a mandate to make Congress profitable instead of being a cost center.

NOW you're talking! I second the idea.

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Posted by daveklepper on Friday, July 3, 2020 8:31 AM

I visited Germany several times 1960 - 1994, and have reported in detail preveously.  I was never expecting anything as marvelous as D&RGW Rocky Mountain Trout, but all train meals were good-to-excellent, service always excellent, and the trains themselves excellent.  After 1970, no trouible meeting   my "special diatary requiremenets," even easier then Amrak since no prior arrangement was required.  In Europe, only the Swiss are even better. In fact. if Germany's specialty is Orchetral Music and Bach, France Food and Frank. and Italy Opera, I'd say the great art-form of Switzerland is railroads.  Well. the scenery and its challenges make that possible. The food on their trains is great also, when available.

 

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Friday, July 10, 2020 2:55 PM

Electroliner 1935
 
BaltACD
We need a mandate to make Congress profitable instead of being a cost center.

 

NOW you're talking! I second the idea.

 

The concept that the legislature must in and of itself be profitable is frightening.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by Toronto Fan on Sunday, July 12, 2020 8:15 PM

Don't think that we'll ever see traditional dining on Amtrak again. COVID-19 just accelerated the process.

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Posted by JPS1 on Thursday, July 16, 2020 9:16 AM

Toronto Fan
 Don't think that we'll ever see traditional dining on Amtrak again. COVID-19 just accelerated the process. 

Should traditional dining on Amtrak's trains come back? 

Approximately 85 percent of Amtrak's long-distance passengers ride coach.  Would they really raise a fuss if the dining cars were scrapped in favor of an expanded menu in the lounge car?

Ideally, if it were not for the politics, the long-distance trains would be scrapped.  They don't make any economic sense.  But politics being politics, that probably won't happen.  So, one alternative could be to reconfigure the long-distance train to make it less labor intensive.

If I were in charge and could get away with it, I would scrap the baggage, sleeping and dining cars.  I would replace the sleeper with a business class car equipped with pods similar to those found on overseas flights.  A train would have one or two business class cars, an enhanced lounge car, and coach/baggage cars.  

According to Amtrak's passenger profiles, a typical sleeping car passenger is on the train for just one night; a typical coach passenger is on the train for less than 10 to 12 hours.  If people can handle an overnight flight from LAX to Sydney in a business class pod, they can handle one night in a similar arrangement on an Amtrak train.

Amtrak should be able to structure its service for what future generations are likely to want, use, and pay for.  Not what a bunch of geezers (that's me) think is required because of tradition.  

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Posted by daveklepper on Thursday, July 16, 2020 2:01 PM

In earlier threads,  have come up with comprehensive and important answers to all the comments in the previous post.   Implementation of my ideas would expand the market instead of contracting it depriving those who value the LD service the most of that service with the implumentation of your ideas.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, July 16, 2020 2:28 PM

JPS1. 

Great idea!!

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Posted by JPS1 on Thursday, July 16, 2020 2:30 PM

daveklepper
 Implementation of my ideas would expand the market instead of contracting it depriving those who value the LD service the most of that service with the implumentation of your ideas. 

Approximately ½ of 1% of intercity travelers in the U.S. use Amtrak’s long-distance trains. 
 
When they serve Amarillo, Abilene, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Lubbock, McAllen, Midland, and Odessa, which are just the significant Texas cities that have gotten along nicely without Amtrak, I’ll buy the argument that the long-distance trains should be taken seriously.
 
If any restaurateur believed that there was a reasonable opportunity to make money by opening a restaurant in a downtown station and using it as a base to provide food and beverages to Amtrak's money losing long-distance trains, they would jump on it.  They haven’t for a good reason; there is no money in it. 
 
I have flown to and from Australia 28 times.  Moreover, I lived there for more than five years.  I never met an Australian that was coming to the United States so that h/she could take a cross country trip on Amtrak.  The notion that a significant number of overseas visitors are coming here for a train ride is not supported.  
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Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, July 16, 2020 2:30 PM

daveklepper

In earlier threads,  have come up with comprehensive and important answers to all the comments in the previous post.   Implementation of my ideas would expand the market instead of contracting it depriving those who value the LD service the most of that service with the implumentation of your ideas.

 

I think Overmod gave a well-reasoned response to your idea on another thread. 

You said you were submitting this plan to Amtrak.  Any response?

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Posted by Gramp on Thursday, July 16, 2020 3:55 PM

As much as I love trains, I also think of opportunity cost. If just thinking in terms of transporting people a long distance (and/or through lightly populated regions), limited to ground transportation, a lot of money channeled to Amtrak LD could be used to offer long distance travel by highway in comfortable, luxury vehicles without stepping on a lot of private sector toes. 

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Posted by JPS1 on Thursday, July 16, 2020 6:09 PM

Gramp
....a lot of money channeled to Amtrak LD could be used to offer long distance travel by highway in comfortable, luxury vehicles without stepping on a lot of private sector toes. 

Or better yet, as shown in the link, encourage the private sector to offer luxury service where it is feasible.  Which is what Vonlane is doing in Texas. 

I don't know how they are doing financially, but they have been expanding their network.

https://www.vonlane.com/ 

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, July 16, 2020 8:28 PM

JPS1
I don't know how they are doing financially, but they have been expanding their network. https://www.vonlane.com/ 

This is about 20% of what a real "LD replacement service" would offer... and I think JPS1 is right that you can see it from there, but the answer is much closer to Pickwick Nite Coach 2.0 than putting Recaro seats in a Prevost.

Take the list of 'preferred anenities' from the previous posted list: 'pod' amenities or equivalent; different levels of food service including dedicated Klepper-style station prep... use those as your amenity baseline and then run down last fall's list of 'easy-to-implement' Delta amenities. 

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Posted by Memma on Thursday, July 16, 2020 10:15 PM

I've taken Amtrak a lot in the post dining car change era - the changes whilst disappointing on the CA Zephyr haven't changed the actual food - you just get plastic plates - it's not like on the East Coast. 

 

It's an amazing trip, I'd say do it!

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Posted by daveklepper on Friday, July 17, 2020 3:42 AM

1 I agree that the extra cost of sleeper service should be reflected in ticket prices, and the occopancy rate of many of the sleeper services idicates that should be possible.

2.  The recent huge proliferation of the number of all-night Pizzarias in most USA cities (and in Jerusalem!) indicates one 7/24 full-service restaurant should be a success, and an Amtrak station location, if not in an unsafe neighborhood, would encourage train travel.

3.  Amtrak's Trhuway bus connections do bring LDT to most of the cities listed without Amtrak service.

 

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Posted by 243129 on Friday, July 17, 2020 9:50 AM

daveklepper
2.  The recent huge proliferation of the number of all-night Pizzarias in most USA cities (and in Jerusalem!) indicates one 7/24 full-service restaurant should be a success, and an Amtrak station location, if not in a "combat zone." would encourage train travel.

What is a "combat zone"?

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Friday, July 17, 2020 9:59 AM

243129

What is a "combat zone"?

 

 
It's a derogatory euphemism used to refer to a rough neighborhood.
The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by 243129 on Friday, July 17, 2020 11:23 AM

CSSHEGEWISCH

 

 
243129

What is a "combat zone"?

 

 

 
It's a derogatory euphemism used to refer to a rough neighborhood.
 

Thanks but I was looking for Dave's explanation. He made the statement.

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Posted by Enzoamps on Friday, July 17, 2020 7:53 PM

Amtrak Throughway Buses?  Here in Lansing, MI I have to catch the Capitol in Toledo Ohio.  I can take the Amtrak bus from th Lansing depot, and depending upon the weekday it is a 4 to 5 hour trip.   I can drive to the Toledo Union Station in about an hour and 20 minutes.  The bus is not an attractive option.   Not only that, parking is free in TOledo, but the lot at the Lansing station charges.

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