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A look at Amtrak’s new cold meal service NEWSWIRE

By Bob Johnston | July 5, 2018

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“We are committed to making your dining service with us even better” says the menu perched on the seat of a westbound Lake Shore Limited roomette, departing Albany-Rensselaer, N.Y. on June 17, 2018. With that as the measuring stick, how does Amtrak’s new pre-prepared, cold-meal service measure up?

Bob Johnston
It was encouraging to see Viewliner II diner No. 68021, Raleigh, just ahead of two sleepers headed to Chicago. The car’s interior revealed not linen and silverware, or even paper tablecloths and plastic utensils, but bare tables festooned with green cloth bags. Here is one of five cold meal choices a passenger retrieved: a chilled grilled beef tenderloin salad. The meat in the tightly-wrapped plastic container was cold, tender and tasty, but was dwarfed by lots of lettuce and a few vegetables. On the plus side, a half bottle of wine was more than sufficient to offset the excess greenery.

25 thoughts on “A look at Amtrak’s new cold meal service NEWSWIRE

  1. I remember eating a sizzling steak in the double car dining unit on the Panama Limited, served on china plates, with real silverware on light pink linen tablecloths. Being OLD makes somethings worthwhile!!!

  2. Oh boy! An airplane on steel wheels! The worst of both worlds, in my opinion.

    People don’t like to eat with strangers? What in the world gave Mr Anderson that idea? I’ve ridden many thousands of miles on Amtrak’s long distance trains and my experience is that the exact opposite is true. If Mr. Anderson really believes this, it would be proof to me that he is completely clueless on how to run a passenger rail operation. Uniquely unqualified for the job is the term that comes to my mind.

  3. I used to actively work as an advocate to promote Amtrak. Nowadays a couldn’t muster the will if you held a gun to my head.

  4. Can coach passengers still get hot food items in the lounge car? If so are sleeping car passengers allowed to do the same if they pay for what the get there? Were sleeping car fares reduced to compensate for the loss of hot meals since sleeping car fares were increased significantly when meals were included in those fares and no longer optional like they had been in the early years of Amtrak?

  5. Sounds like Anderson is doing his best to put Amtrak out of business. Hearing about conditions in the eastern parts of the U.S. (from a variety of sources) makes me very thankful to be living in the western U.S.

  6. @ROGER COHEN – I genuinely think part of the problem with mass transit in this country is that the superrich, who ultimately run everything (what conservative politician is going to run against the Koch brothers? And there’s a multitude of liberal millionaires with similar views) absolutely hate the idea of sharing a vehicle with anyone else and, critically, are convinced this is how everyone else feels. So they assume nobody could possibly enjoy train travel, and lobby extensively against it. Look at the awful transit designs by Elon Musk, the guy is absolutely obsessed with little capsules for small groups of people, presumably mostly people who know one-another.

    The only time I want privacy on a train (other than in the bathroom) is sleeping – I’d like to see some form of the slumbercoach come back if overnight trains are something Amtrak is going to continue to do. Otherwise… who seriously cares?

    And yeah, I’ve been in a fully booked Amtrak diner and been sat across from couples with my wife. Sometimes those couples are chatty, and that’s nice, other times, not really. We’re eating, not planning a night of kinky hi-jinks or alternatively discussing our secret plan to rule the world.

    Passenger rail ultimately needs more people who know passenger rail. Anderson… he’s better than most of the candidates people here constantly promote, he at least ran a passenger transportation company, but I do wish the US would recognize that the type of experience needed for an Amtrak does not exist in any American, those days are long gone, the people who know how to run passenger railroads are in Europe, and that’s where the net needs to be cast.

  7. Growing up as one of three children, we would fight over who got to sit “alone” away from the family and with other people while in the dining car. We met the greatest people!

  8. I usually travel coach, but it’s been many years since Amtrak’s menu has appealed to me and my family. We used to love going to the diner and sharing a table with strangers who were always interesting people. That’s one of the wonderful things about train travel, the mixing of people from different regions, backgrounds and classes. But now they won’t even let us in the diner.

    In any case, we have developed a practice of bringing a cooler bag packed for our (usually 30 hour) journey. We miss the hot meals, but if we get desperate for one, we’ll get a pizza from the lounge car. But if the diners were back to a semblance of their former glory, we’d consider booking a sleeper as we occasionally did in years past, considering that the meals could make the extra cost worth it.

    When Richard Anderson first came on, I had high hopes. Delta, according to my daughter, is the best airline to fly, and airline safety culture is reputed to be excellent, leading me to think that would be a good thing for Amtrak. But his subsequent attempts to downgrade service and sabotage long-distance trains, if successful, can only result in the end of Amtrak as a national system.

  9. I was happy that my wife and I were able to have hot meals on the Cap. last November going to Chicago for the NARP 50 Anniversary. But now, we would have to drive in order to have hot food. Your loss Amtrak. But, I guess that’s what the head? of Amtrak wants along with that person in the White House wants. What a shame!!

  10. oh this is pathetic oh not the cold meals, mr. Anderson is pathetic, whats next a bag of peanuts at union station on the empire builder, Please, this man should have stayed in the Airline industry where he is most qualified, but most assuredly ,not in the passenger railroad industry. very sad!

  11. I’m a lifelong serious railfan who is glad that in my old age I can afford first class air fares. More than five hours on a train these days sucks big time unless one is in a private car, and that seems to be relegated to the past.

    Henry Markwart

  12. Ah………… the ubiquitous cardboard trash containers make their expected appearance in Amtrak’s new diners. Like the ones in the superliner lounges, and most other food service cars, these open “garbage cans” tower over seated patrons, and threaten to envelop little old ladies seated nearby.

  13. If I’m shelling out a small fortune for first-class service aboard a sleeper, I want a first-class meal in a diner, not some cold excuse for a hot meal in a box. Barf!!!

  14. Before we criticize Mr. Anderson too severely, let us remember that he is doing a good job as he was directed by the govt calling the shots. He is doing a fine job of reducing Amtrak to a mere skeleton of what it was and trying to drive customers away. This will be the “evidence” he needs to follow with further draconian cuts in service, amenities to justify the removal of these trains from the schedule. Then his boss will truly be happy and Mr Anderson will have delivered. Just add Amtrak to the list of government entities that are totally disfunctional and spiraling downward in their obligations to serve the American Public.

  15. Just makes me sick at my stomach. Way to homogenize the dining experience aboard a passenger train with that of the airline industry, Mr. Anderson. You’re doing a *fantastic* job of running customers off. Keep up the *outstanding* work. I’m glad I pay taxes for this. Now I feel like a real American.

  16. Robert Feidler;

    Today is was announced that Southwest Airlines is discontinuing even the peanuts on their flights. Remember, the only thing an airline exec knows and understands is cut, cut, cut the service and raise, raise, raise the prices.

  17. I agree with other comments and where did he get idea we did not like to eat with others. It was always fun to sit with someone else, find out where they were from and where they were going. Remember many fun conversations. And as a single traveler in a sleeper, it is nice to get out and interact with others in the diner or lounge. I remember only one time being shut out of a diner and it was on CN Super -Continental. We had booked the Daynighter coach which had reclining seats and lots of leg room with a rest under our legs. It cost more than regular coach but we were told we could not eat in diner. A guy had taken our reservation at Vancouver station and told us to come back when first call started. No one came thru our car so we went back to find out and that’s when we were told we could not eat there, just in the cafe car. I did write a letter to CN complaining about this and did get a letter of apology. No US railroads ever discriminated except to seat Pullman passengers from the other end before those of us coming from coach end, but it all worked out. We got to eat the same meals as they did. I got no reduction in fare riding on City of NOLA a couple of years ago when they only had sandwiches, they had already got rid of the regular diner. Eating meal out of a bag reminds me of the last time I rode in a plane in 2003 and had to pick up my food in a bag from a big box sitting by entry. So he is doing what airlines are, but that is not how it worked in railroading.

  18. My wife and I have ridden many Amtrak trains over the last 20 years, most in coach, but a couple of times in a sleeper. We both have worked continuously in hospitals over the course of the last 40 years, so we know how to interact pleasantly with strangers. There’s nothing we like more than having a quiet meal together enjoying each other’s company and the train ride. I really don’t care if the lady sitting across from us is named Gladys and is going to Memphis see her brother who’s going to have prostate surgery. I don’t give a rat’s behind if Myrtle is going to Dallas to see her granddaughter because it’s her sixth birthday. We don’t care. But we’re polite and smile and pretend we do. The important thing is that we’re getting a fairly nice, hot meal to sustain us. If I want a cold sandwich or some other kind of “gas station” food, I can go to the café car. I’m just hoping that in the 21/2 years when the next election comes around, that Ol’ Slash and Burn Anderson hasn’t completely ruined our National Passenger Railroad and used me as an excuse.

    (And yes, I’m a member of NARP….Sorry, I mean RPA)

  19. My wife and I travel the Empire Builder every 2 years or so between Everett and Essex. In both directions there is dinner on the departure and breakfast prior to arrival.
    It adds considerably to the pleasantness of the trip.

  20. I have ridden almost all of Amtrak’s routes over the past many years, always in coach, and one of the highlights has always been ‘dinner in the diner’. The food has usually been very good and I always enjoyed meeting my tablemates and having interesting conversations. and I’m a member of NARP also.

  21. I just rode the City of New Orleans in both directions from New Orleans to Chicago. The employees were terrific, the train on time and the sleeping car porter anxious about the future. He mentioned that rumors are that Anderson might have only a one year contract but who knows? Fervent prayer might be in order.

    While I have very mixed feelings about the new offerings on the Lake Shore and Cap, I can tell you that the “only” breakfast offering as shown looks far better on the Lake Share than the comparable item on the City (though it would certainly be helpful if the attendant was there to serve it. I mean really, his “break” can happen when breakfast is over). The City “breakfast bowl,” another option, was tasteless. On the City, the lunch options were a Caesar salad with no Caeser dressing option (!), and some kind of sandwich with chicken breast and cheese melted on the top with potato chips and a pickle. I opted for the sandwich which did indeed have some taste but was microwaved to death. Miicrowaved bread always gets very rubbery. I would have rather had a hot dog from the cafe section next door which tells you a lot. The prices listed for coach passengers should they care to use the diner, were ridiculous for what what was being offered, clearly not worth it. There was general grumbling about the food. I can’t even remember what I had for dinner which tells you something, but the boxed presentation on the Lake Shore looks like it might be a bit better.

    Here are my points: Has Anderson bothered to ride these trains, talk to the customers and employees and eat the food? You already know the answer. So how can he make informed decisions?

    With all the improvements in pre-packaged food preparation and presentation, is this really the best they can do? The answer clearly is, no, and hell no. The days of a full service dining car with a huge staff are probably mostly over, but really! First class, pre-packaged food on Delta (Anderson’s airline) is better than this. I have had dinners prepared off the train and served entirely cold on the Thalis in Europe that were quite impressive.

  22. I’m old enough to remember actual “meals” in a dining car from the 60s – Amtrak’s inception. Linen tableclothes, actual heavyweight flatware, a separate dish for each course, etc. I’m since disabled and thought that it’d be nice to introduce my wife (who’s never traveled by train) to how enjoyable, relaxed, and entertaining traveling by train can be. I once shared a dining table with Joan Crawford’s hairdresser/makeup person along with her caregiver on The Texas Eagle and had a great time. Even John and Jane Doe with whom I’d share a dining table had great stories to tell. My point being, we as individuals and as an entire nation, are so involved in what’s occurring on our smartphones that we’re no longer interested in anyone else’s life/history/story and only focusing on ourselves and those who match us completely. The traditional dining car allowed us to intermingle with others whose lives are different from our own. And nothing like a medium-rare ribeye while experiencing the constantly changing view through the window can ever be replicated except in a real-life, honest-to-God railroad dining car.

  23. As I prepare to write this comment, I cannot help but wonder that if enough of us speak, will our voices even matter? Will our comments and concerns be addressed, or have we finally arrived at the end of the line in regard of the customers getting what we want? As a business traveler, I have relied on Amtrak for many years to help me continue providing top-notch hospitality for people across the nation as a Director of Hospitality and Operations for several major hotel chains. I rely on Amtrak to provide me safe, efficient and comfortable experiences so that when I arrive at my next hotel, I can continue to display a relaxed and attentive demeanor to the staff and their guests. Yet with these changes to being “Contemporary” versus “Hospitable” and “Comfortable “ truly has me worried that this last venue of relaxed transportation is being poisoned in order to slowly die out. Arriving at a destination feeling human is important…especially in this society where we are constantly expanding our surroundings through travel. Are we going to lose this last vestige of humanity? We almost did back in the late 70’s..and my fear is that these changes are going to make Amtrak’s comeback story a story of “what we’re we thinking”?

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