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Amtrak permanently retiring Pacific Parlour Cars NEWSWIRE

By Malcolm Kenton | January 18, 2018

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CoastStarlight
CoastStarlight
Amtrak’s Seattle-to-Los Angeles Coast Starlight crosses a trestle at Goleta, Calif. Pacific Parlour cars used in the train’s consist will soon be removed from Amtrak service.
Bob Johnston
The Pacific Parlour Cars, which were built by Pullman-Standard for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway as hi-level lounge cars and have been a regular part of Amtrak Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight consists since the mid 1990s, will be permanently retired after Feb. 4, Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods confirmed Thursday.

Amtrak had initially planned to take the cars out-of-service for about a month for major repairs and return them to service in mid-March, but made the decision not to return them to service “due to safety concerns and the rising cost of maintenance,” according to an employee bulletin sent Tuesday. Woods attributed the decision to “an ongoing effort to modernize equipment.”

The last Pacific Parlour Car to run in revenue service will be part of the consist of Amtrak train 11 departing Seattle on Sunday morning, Feb. 4 and arriving in Los Angeles on Monday evening, Feb. 5. Its last northbound departure will be from Los Angeles on Friday morning, Feb. 2.

The Pacific Parlour Car currently offers the only lounge space and food service car that was open only to sleeping car passengers on the Amtrak system, outside of the Auto Train. It was also one of the last pieces of equipment built before Amtrak’s creation that the company still used in regular revenue service, other than the fast-disappearing Heritage dining and baggage cars. It and the baggage car have been the only non-Superliner cars in the Coast Starlight’s consist.

The Pacific Parlour Car is staffed by a dedicated attendant who serves lunch and dinner in the car by reservation, using a unique menu separate from that served in the adjacent dining car, and serves an afternoon wine and cheese tasting on both days of the Coast Starlight’s daily overnight journey. The wine and cheese tasting had initially been included in the fare for Sleeping Car passengers, but since 2015 it has cost $7 per person for wine plus an extra $5 per person for cheese, and has been open also to Business Class passengers.

“If you fly first class on an airline [you] expect a certain level of service. If that is taken away, you feel downgraded,” said Rail Passengers Association Chairman Peter LeCody. “Passengers should expect the Coast Starlight to retain some semblance of first class service because this is a train many ride primarily for the upscale experience.”

LeCody expressed a strong desire for Amtrak to replace the Pacific Parlour Cars with some type of Superliner lounge.

Amtrak has not determined whether the Pacific Parlour Car will be replaced by another dedicated lounge and food-service car for sleeping car passengers, or whether any other substitute amenity will be offered after Feb. 5.

“Customers will still continue to enjoy the spectacular views from other areas of the train, including the Dining Car and the renowned Sightseer Lounge Car,” Amtrak’s Kimberly Woods told Trains. “We will notify customers with existing reservations of the change.”

Also undetermined is whether Amtrak will attempt to sell the retired Pacific Parlour Cars or scrap them.

25 thoughts on “Amtrak permanently retiring Pacific Parlour Cars NEWSWIRE

  1. Gee, I wonder how VIA keeps that ancient Budd stuff going, after all these years and all those Canadian winters. Methinks the Amtrak bean counters are run amok again.

  2. Welcome to “Amflight” service! More fees, legroom reductions, lost bags, and fare raises to come courtesy of “Amflight”.

  3. This is unfortunate. My guess is that in their attempt to satisfy Congressional critics, Amtrak does not want to make the investment necessary to provide this unique transportation experience. I would not expect Amtrak to modify any existing equipment to provide this service.

  4. My wife and I enjoyed the Pacific Parlour cars when we had the opportunities to ride the train. Even though I do not expect to ride that train again, I am sorry to see them retired.

  5. The sad truth is that the Parlor cars will likely be replaced by another sleeper to increase capacity. And they’ll most likely be scrapped, because Amtrak has stated they won’t sell any Heritage Fleet cars to avoid any competitors starting up and threatening their monopoly.

  6. If they’re looking to save money how about eliminating the complimentary at seat meals for the Acela first class passengers?

  7. Some of my best rides have been on the Pacific Parlor Cars. Sitting back, watching scenery roll by while sipping a Moscow Mule is my idea of civilized travel. Too bad I can not post some photos here.

  8. Have taken the Coast Starlight many times and as usual they are cutting all the amenities we have come to enjoy over the years.Once again the buffoons running the company are out to take away all things good.We should have known these changes would come as soon as we got one of the costcutter airline people involved.

  9. Amtrak could enhance its credibility by providing more information about the “safety concerns and rising costs of maintenance” reported in the story. Failing that, I think customers will conclude (as my fellow commenters have) that the retirement of the Pacific Parlour Car fleet is a cost-cutting service downgrade, plain and simple. I don’t think that’s the brand identity they’d like to project…

  10. While I generally don’t care for long distance train travel, the one time I did take the Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle, it was the Pacific Parlour Car that made the trip enjoyable. While I’m not a big fan of eating in dining cars, the service and food in the Parlour Car, were quite good and the ambiance was much better than the regular diner. Just another reason to save time and money and fly now.

  11. A Posible Positive Suggestion to Preserve the “Pacific Parlour Car” service on the COAST STARLIGHT.

    I shared this idea with members of the Rail Passenger Association (NARP) yesterday.

    We all suspect that the real truth behind this decision is cost-containment/reduction. To repeat my earlier observations in this forum, this is yet another chapter in Amtrak’s long-term institutionalized pessimism. And at the end of the day we can not know for sure if lounge cars in general break-even, but I think we can be nearly certain that on a train like the COAST STARLIGHT that the main lounge car at a minimum covers all direct costs.

    In any event a way exists for Amtrak to retain the PPC service, get rid of the “ancient” Hi Level cars and enhance lounge revenues with no added staff.

    The CS has recently gained Business Class and it’s been a hit. Initially Amtrak confusingly put out that Business Class riders could use the PPC cars–but later Amtrak contracted that ok to only being allowed in the PPC during the Wine Tasting and then only on payment of a fee. So the PPC doesn’t gain much from Business Class. From my own observations on many CS trips the PPC cars are rarely filled with sleeper riders.

    Could we put forth a positive suggestion that Amtrak should replace the PPC cars with a “newer” lounge car that would serve both Business and sleeper riders? This would have the further positive of reducing pressure on the coach mid-train lounge car an d might encourage more passengers to use it.

    Amtrak has a number of cars that might meet this need. The best choice is stored Superliner Lounge Cars. This is an area where Amtrak probably already has the cars–or certainly would if a few wreck damaged cars were fixed. But more resources are also at hand that could be used.

    Three Superliner One diners were converted to First Class Lounge Cars for the Auto Train, but have been stored for at least the past two years. Four cars are needed for 11/14, but if these 3 very nice stored lounge cars went into the CS pool, only 2 traditional Superliner lounge cars would fill out the need for 4 cars and a spare. I prefer the Superliner lounge cars period, but this could address any claimed car shortage. The Auto Train First Class conversions were very classy, as NARP Board and Counci members all saw at the Jacksonville meeting a few years ago, when the Council members attending were allowed to ride in such a car from Sanford back to JAX on the AUTO TRAIN.

    The third option would be to use as needed “Cross Country Cafe” Superliner diner-lounge cars. On some trips these cars appear on the CAP and/or the TEXAS EAGLE, but in general they are stored. In any event Amtrak can replace them with surplus full Superliner diners from its reserves. The Cross Country Cafe diner-lounge cars are already “blessed” with both lounge and table seating and without much modification their kitchen/servery areas could accommodate the food trays used for the attendant to plate the PPC meals. Once again the big windows and higher seating capacity of the existing Superliner lounges are the best bet of all, but these cars aren’t bad for this purpose either.

    This plan allows Amtrak to save face on their (probably specious) claim of safety issues on the Hi Level Lounge/PPC cars. No heavy cap budget would be needed to come up with (even a mix) of four cars and a spare (or two) and the increased capacity by sharing full access with Business Class should radically improve the bottom line.

    We need an unambiguous commitment from Amtrak to do something like this. And NARP/RPA really does need to get out in front of this. We were overly passive on the AUTO TRAIN downgrades. The STARLIGHT is too special to accept this disgraceful downgrade without a fight. And count on the media to hit Amtrak back on this terrible penny-pinching mistake.

    Carl Fowler
    President (Retired)
    Rail Travel Center Tours/Rail Travel Adventures

  12. More “de-contenting,” to the detriment of Sleeper passengers. The PPC (or its substitute, whether that be Sightseer Lounge or CCC) was a big draw for my wife and I. We were planning a third CS trip, but will re-think this without the dedicated lounge car. The staff should at least be given authority to keep passengers from using the SSL as their personal bedroom, sleeping on the floor or camped out on the couches.

  13. I rather wonder about the mandatory age for retirement, seeing as how a stainless steel car might last longer than the bridges they roll over. Rebuilding is usually cheaper than buying new; but there seems to be a move afoot to go single-level, proritising ease of access over train capacity and cost of platform reconstruction.

  14. I see this as part of a pattern and the ongoing effort to standardize service at a rather low level. Since its inception, Amtrak has had a problem with trains that offered a higher level of service. At the beginning, the former Super Chief differed in many positive respects from its counterparts in the Amtrak system, and over time each of those superior features was dropped until the Santa Fe refused to allow Amtrak to refer to the train by its historic name. This reluctance to support a train whose service standards are higher than average coupled with the apparent inability to recognize what really motivates people to ride a train makes it hard to be optimistic for the future of American rail travel. The real test here, in my view, is whether Amtrak replaces the Pacific Parlour Car with an equivalent car for sleeping car passengers or whether is just drops the service altogether. The result will tell the true story.

  15. When I read this, my reaction was ohhhh-noooo! I understand that it becomes more and more difficult and expensive to maintain older equipment, but if Amtrak is simply going to insert a Superliner Lounge in place of a Pacific Parlor car, they must do more than simply offer afternoon wine tastings and special food menus. There is no comparison between the comfort of a Santa Fe Hi Level and a Superliner. They’re going to have to replace the spartan vinyl and plastic interior seats and side walls, with upholstered furniture, wall coverings and special carpeting, add an upstairs bar, and improve the lighting. In other words, create a new first class car. Otherwise, they can watch their first class business dwindle away.

  16. Darn it! I’d been promising myself for years to travel on the Starlight in a roomette, even if it wasn’t overnight, just to sample the Parlour Car. It must have been nice, and it lasted for far longer than anything similar that Amtrak offered. Let’s remember than Amtrak has promoted that train as its “Land Cruise” with amenities and posh treatment. Well, for the first class passengers the Parlour Car was the key to getting cruise ship-style treatment. Now that is gone. The result is just another Amtrak long-haul train. Read it and weep.

  17. I suggest all interested refer to my article published today in RailPAC that includes a unique interview with Amtrak’s former Rosenwald, who I referred to as “the architect of the Pacific Parlour Car.”

    This is but the beginning of Amtrak’s mission to turn away from the LD routes and focus on its own NEC, and the few over-priced state-supported corridors. Despite being ignored and financially starved over the years, the LD routes continued to out perform Amtrak’s pet NEC; yet, we are in an echo chamber of Amtrak not acknowledging those facts over its own NEC.

    The Parlour was a terrific example of what could be possible by an agency that had no concept pf customer experience. It was as if Aeroflot had discovered the secret of first class!

    This can only be regarded as the opening shot agains the LD trains. More to come–see RailPAC.

  18. I’m glad I had the opportunity to go First-Class on the Starlight in September ’16, as part of my last long-distance trip before I retired from Amtrak. The Pacific Parlour Car was THE highlight of the rail portion of my travels. Like so many others, I’m very sorry to see it go; it is a class of service Amtrak will never replicate.

  19. Amtrak service is becoming about as exciting as a piece of cardboard and that is the way the so called leaders at Amtrak want it. Not as bad as Southern Pacific using vending machines to run service down, but Amtrak and its decision making outside of its NEC is heading that way.

  20. Saw the “Columbia Valley” and the “Napa Valley” today latched on the rear of the Southwest Chief via the remote camera at LaPlata, Mo., heading east to an uncertain future. I’m afraid their fate will be the scrap yard because the folks at Wilmington are fearful they might end up being utilized by a potential competitor. Hope I’m wrong. I’ve never been tempted to bid on a potential future private rail car, but one of these units might be the exception…

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