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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Amtrak ‘unbundles’ meals from ‘Silver Star’ sleeping car accommodations NEWSWIRE

Amtrak ‘unbundles’ meals from ‘Silver Star’ sleeping car accommodations NEWSWIRE

By | April 13, 2015

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The northbound ‘Silver Star’ pauses for passengers at Tampa in January 2015.
Brian Schmidt
WASHINGTON – Amtrak will now sell sleeping car accommodations on its Silver Star between New York and Miami without included dining car meals. Traditionally, Amtrak has bundled the cost of dining car meals into its charge for the sleeping car.

Under this pilot program, these costs will be “unbundled” to allow passengers to travel at a lower cost between the northeast, mid-Atlantic and Florida. The trial program runs from July 1 to Jan. 31, 2016, on Nos. 91 and 92.

Additionally, all food service will be provided in a café/lounge car instead of a full dining car.

“Customers have been clear they want more options,” says Mark Murphy, Amtrak senior vice president and general manager responsible for the long-distance trains nationally. “From this summer through early next year, passengers will be able to opt for different service levels between our two daily trains to Orlando and Miami.

“We are excited to be able to offer our customers real choice and value,” Murphy adds. “And now this route allows you to choose between two services – sleeping cars with a traditional dining car and sleeping cars where you can choose your own meal options.”

Fare reductions during this trial on the Silver Star schedule are between 25 and 28 percent for bedrooms and roomettes. For example, the charge is about $140 lower for a bedroom and $65 lower for a roomette than previously between New York City and Miami.

25 thoughts on “Amtrak ‘unbundles’ meals from ‘Silver Star’ sleeping car accommodations NEWSWIRE

  1. The café/lounge food on Amtrak I have experienced leave a LOT to be desired. How is this an option when riders have no choice? Unbundle dining car the food if you want but don't force all to the café.

  2. I rode coach on the Meteor about a year ago. I ate in the dining car on the way down but on the way back there was a food truck on the platform at Orlando. My meal from the food truck tasted better and was not as expensive.

  3. This does not bode well for the future of what used to be called First-Class Service! Over the last few years much has changed. Different menus every few weeks: gone; appetizers and excellent desserts: gone; fresh flowers: gone; the morning newspaper: gone. If the dining car goes, so does the opportunity to meet amazing table-mates. We are common folks, but have enjoyed meals with a former CEO of AIG, a TV writer and actor, a cold-war espionage agent in Berlin, and many other wonderful and interesting people. Farewell, any semblance of luxury travel by rail in the USA.

  4. Interesting experiment. With new Viewliner baggage cars and no heritage diner, this is now a true 125 mph long distance train. How about also extending the Star to Boston? Open up the New England to Florida market, offer through checked baggage service for the first time, and maybe even generate more seat revenue by selling "shorts" along the corridor.

  5. Good Idea
    Usually I traveled by my self, on Amtrak, and was always a bit unhappy to pay for a secound persons food. Also for me 3 big meals is too much.
    What I worry about is, that most likely, if Amtrak is going to introduce that on all of it´s overnight trains, the reduced prices will creap up to it´s former level within a year or two…….

  6. So no more dining car? The lounge is not a comfortable place to eat a full meal. Whats the point of building the new Viewliner II Diners?

  7. What does Mr. Murphy mean when he says "now this route allows you to choose between two services"? Does he not realize that the Meteor and the Star are two different routes? Or is he referring to the choice between coach and the new "tastes lousy, more filling" sleeper lite/cafe service on the Star? You've lost me on this one, Amtrak.

  8. @Richard Hessler: We should demand that our members of Congress, which some act like they are members of a country club, show line items of their perks, including the cost to taxpayers to run their congressional dining rooms. Let's see if we get that transparency in making them foot the entire bill of their meals, and cease subsidization.

  9. Part of the joy of a long-distance train trip IS the opportunity for sit-down meals in the dining car, even when I have ridden in coach. This move will make the Silver Star more like a glorified NEC train. If I have opportunity to take the train to Florida again, even as a pass rider I know which train I will NOT take …

  10. Remember what Pogo said–"we have met the enemy and it is us." Rather than making a determined stand, with the support of the DOT/FRA, to educate a conflicted Congress seduced by Gucci loafer lobbyists working against the public interest, Amtrak has gone through so many kowtowing motions of refining its food & beverage experience, it has succeeded in drilling to the bottom to achieve complete deterioration; satisfying nobody.

    Cutting to the chase, the LD route menus are universally the same monotonous cardboard cooked without flavor and seasoning; served with no panache. Going to the diner is a requirement of the moment, rather than an experience. Diner crews are overpaid and over-benefited, with no tangible training in meal service, let alone up-selling to increase revenues–or tips. On the second full day of a western LD train, there is no respect for the passenger seeking a later, leisurely breakfast, as was common pre-1971. On the day of arrival, passengers are subjugated to a cursory "Express Meal" soon after breakfast, to fulfill the demands of Amtrak HQ to ensure the diner crew has the sufficient 4-5 hours time to count and re-pack items to be re-inventoried.

    Superliner and LD lounge/cafes are mere rolling 7-11s, minus any meaningful inventory of a bar, let alone the ability to mix cocktails. Perhaps the best use of such feature cars is their use for "shorts." Corridor cafes are poor cousin remnants of the original Penn Central snack bar coach, offering a typical stock-out inventory that would not be acceptable by the Red Cross at GITMO.

    Rather than surrendering to the menu planners and dog walkers in Congress, why can't Amtrak look a this pathetic situation as a potential opportunity. Although I would prefer to serve Mica's constituents from an SP automat vending car, what if Amtrak elected to re-invent itself:

    1) Unlike VIA Rail which counts its passenger load on "The Canadian" primarily as a cruise service between Vancouver-Jasper-Toronto availing itself to a fare including meals, Amtrak should acknowledge that its LD route passengers are on/off throughout the route. Give Amtrak one more shot at getting it right on its own, or, outsource to an experienced caterer:
    a) Cease bundling meals into first class; revamp and upgrade menus; obtain experienced cooks.
    1) fresh meals should be cooked with talent.
    2) toasters should be returned to the galley; to drill into the bulkhead to prevent theft.
    b) Revise salary/benefits of diner crew to operate as in a restaurant–work for tips; re-train to be proficient in service; know and care how to up-sell for revenues and tips.
    c) Expand hours of meal service for convenience of passengers vs. crew and Amtrak inventory requirements.
    d) Learn how to benchmark to successful examples:
    1) American Airlines today inquires of Business and First passengers of their menu selection well in advance of flight to reduce waste and cost; the goal is to satisfy the customer.
    2) The old Berghoff's in Chicago required waiters to purchase all food and drinks to eliminate losses.
    e) Operate real bar cars with staff trained as bartenders-working for tips.
    f) Amtrak must create the proforma to secure the funds to re-configure diners/cafes for "roll on/roll off" carts as employed on the Acelas for inventory control.

    After 44 years, reacting to all the threats in Congress by converting the "Silver Star" to a cafe operation is a sad reflection on how we are backing up at full speed regarding any attempt to provide a meaningful passenger rail service. As somebody once said, "either lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way." How appropriate that is today re Amtrak and its F&B operation.

  11. Sorry folks but Congress has mandated that food service costs on Amtrak have to be fully accounted for openly as a line item. The only way to do that is to uncouple that cost from the cost of a room or coach fare. If you have any other questions please contact your Representatives and ask them why they are nit picking the system to death. That is all.

  12. M E Singer,

    Thank you, very well said.
    Sure would be nice if they would put the Diner & Cafe cars back to back and LEASE them to a private, (independent) company to run & staff.

  13. I have been a long time Amtrak passenger as well as an airline customer. I have ridden passenger trains in the US (virtually all of Amtrak’s present routes), Canada, western and central Europe, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. While I have generally been satisfied with Amtrak’s service, I have witnessed the severe degradation of airline service over my lifetime. In fact, I confine my domestic air travel to Virgin Air, Jet Blue, and Southwest to the extent possible.

    I understand and sympathize with Amtrak’s plight about eliminating its food service deficit. I would never have agreed to do that. Rather I would have spent more time educating Congress. Part of your problem is that Amtrak provides an insufficient level of service in the Red States and too much in the Northeast (I’m from New York originally) so its Red State political constituency is very weak.

    That said, my solution would be to eliminate free food for sleeping car passengers and in favor of discount coupons possibly reflecting the cost of the accommodation. I would explain on the coupon the rationale for this change. Then I would upgrade the lounge car food offerings to include a wider variety of salads and some healthy pre-prepared hot meals along the lines of what stores like Whole Foods, Harris Teeter (a North Carolina based supermarket chain with very high quality product), and Trader Joes. It may be necessary to reconfigure lounge cars providing more than a bar service. My impression is that they lack sufficient storage capacity. And it may be necessary to have two attendants. As to the dining car equipped trains, the more heavily used routes such as NY-Florida, NY-Chicago,the NY-Atlanta portion of the Crescent, the three major Chicago-West Coast trains, and the Starlight would get back cooked to order food served on china plates and even some sort of first class lounge space. People paying a few hundred dollars per ticket expect as much. I don’t want Amtrak to be a Spirit Airlines on wheels. I will fly.

    Amtrak needs to be a little more imaginative. As you may recall, the food downgrade of the 1980’s was a failure and it took Graham Claytor and Tom Downs to reverse that.

  14. I've been imploring that Amtrak simply offer more hours and more flexibility with the food service.

    On the Alaska Railroad (granted, a daytime one operation for the passenger trains–no overnight passenger trains; also, food service provided by a caterer), one can start a meal before the train even leaves the originating station, and food service ends only shortly before arrival at the final destination. The dining car is generally open the entire trip…

  15. I don't mind that meals are no longer included in the fare. I sometimes don't feel like eating another big meal and I very much dislike paying for a second person's meal when I am the only one traveling but, the dinig car should be kept for those who want it. I predict that this experiment will be a failure.

  16. Wanna bet that this "experiment" is permanent and starts popping up elsewhere on LD trains? Methinks Amtrak has seen what the airlines have done and decided to follow suit. It's a lousy idea to remove the dining cars (and our prolonged opportunities to chat with "Strangers on a Train") and have to put up with those damn cafe/lounge carriages! Where the food is perfectly lousy, expensive, not good for you, and the person selling it can have a dour face and attitude. Tampa is my favorite city but I'll take a Greyhound before I resort to these modifications!

  17. I just attempted to book a FL. to Was trip in August this summer and there is a disclaimer on train 98 as well as 92 that the dining car will be removed and that sleeping car pax may purchase food in the lounge. OK fine, I'll fly Southwest for about 1/3 of the price. And after this "experiment" I'll bet that new dining car order gets cancelled. I rode the Pennsylvanian last winter and the lounge attendant was totally incompetent, or could have cared less that the line was more than 12 people waiting at all times. Think Amtrak is going to add another lounge attendant to the Florida trains? Get real.

  18. I have not ridden Amtrak of late and therefore have not recently tried an Amtrak dining car. But with all the negative stuff written of late aout Amtrak food, I was starting to worry about what I would eat on a planned Minneapolis – Chicago – Texas – LA – Portland – Minneapolis trip. However, I ran into a non railfan person who had just made their first Amtrak Minneapolis – Whitefish, MT trip, not for train riding but for skiing. This person indicated Trains 7 – 8 dining car food was wonderful. I wonder, therefore, if we in the rail fan community are a bit too fussy. After all, the food is supposed to be good food but not 5 star restaurant food. And it tempting for those of us who have been around a bit to compare Amtrak food with the wonderful food on VIA Rail's Canadian. So I am asking, is Amtrak dining car food really as bad as made out to be or are we expecting too much from a subsidized operation. Or is the food reasonably good? I am wondering.

    By the way, I want full service dining cars to continue and am willing to pay the price to have such. Eating from an Amcafe on the above mentioned trip would get old in a hurry. The western LD trains already have a choice: the snack bar or full service dining car. That should continue.

  19. If the sleepers nearly always run at or near capacity, there is NO reason to unbundle food service and reduce the room charges. The fact that they run at capacity means that people accept the fact that meals are available, even in the event that they do not eat the meals. Unbundling will therefore reduce dining car revenues and increase dining car losses. If there is concern over current dining car losses, I suggest that AMTRAK increase that portion of the bundled costs allocated to the dining car services.

    These seems to be a systematic attempt by AMTRAK to degrade first class service, and this effort is one of them.

  20. I have to make two trips from Tampa to NC and back this year for family weddings. I intend to go coach both times. The first time, will be less than a month before this pilot project "experiment" starts. The other trip will be in October. However, I recall a similar experience a few years ago while Amtrak was running a Horizon fleet dinette on the Lake Shore to substitute for full dining service, and it had yet to be desired by the passengers, including myself. Are these lounge cafe's going to resemble those on the Cardinal, or is this another rebuild of the last of heritage diners, which I believe would be a waste of money. It was mandated by Congress, and I'm not looking forward to have the (John) Mica microburgers and his scheme to micromanage Amtrak to death.

  21. The problem with the SILVER STAR food "experiment" is the cafe-lounge menu being offered, which contains only sandwiches and snacks for both lunch and dinner and at breakfast only the "AmMcMuffin" and packaged sweet rolls/donuts. No plated meals, no quality salads, nothing fresh–and this on a potentially 31 hour run.

    No "experiment" needs be completed to determine that sleeping car riders at least won't like this! They may intially think, "Great deal–lower room charges", but the bloom will fade fast from the rose when they go into an Amfleet II Cafe-lounge with most tables occupied by computer users and/or drinkers–served by only one attendant and discover the menu offers nothing even remotely good for a New York-Miami trip encompassing two lunches, a breakfast and a dinner.

    If this was meant as a fair "test", a menu and service model similar to the diner-light service on the CARDINAL would have been offered. There at least passengers can get a ecent plated meal based on the ACELA "First Class" model. As it stands this travesty on the SILVER STAR should ultimately devastate sleeper business on 91&92, and Amtrak has to know this going in!

    Are we doomed to replay the 1960s? This recalls the SP "economy" moves in the late 1960s, when the SUNSET LIMITED lost both diner and lounge car service from New Orleans to El Paso in favor of only the vending machine only "Automat" car. Shock, the sleepers also ended up gone.

    The SP then tried to pull the emasculated SUNSET off. The irony was that this ultimate SP outrage backfired. The ICC ultimately not only turned down the SP train-off request, but ordered a diner-lounge car and sleepers back on the train (and on all other long-distance services over 12 hours nationwide), resulting in the railroad outcry that helped to start the move to establish Amtrak (also very much supported/enhanced by the more understandable carrier outrage/desperation over the impact of lost mail/express revenue on passenger service with the 1967-68 switch to all air/truck mail service).

    It was good to hear from the just-completed April NARP meeting in Washington that Amtrak's Joe McHugh still claims Amtrak will proceed to take delivery of the VIEWLINER II sleepers and diners, because I am beginning to wonder about this. When will Amtrak announce a new/clear delivery date for the VIEWLINER II cars actually intended to carry and serve people, as opposed to baggatge? The fact that months after their delivery by CAF to Amtrak the two prototype diner/sleeper cars remain stored, and that two years after the scheduled delivery date for the full order we still have no idea when the remaining 24 diners, 24 sleepers, and the 15 crew-dorm baggage cars might be delivered, raises very real questions about whether Amtrak still has the intention to complete this order.

    Gossip blames "supply-line" problems at the builder, CAF, for the long-delays, yet the prototypes were delivered, so what really is CAF's responsibility?

    If the "no diner" SILVER STAR "works" why would Amtrak need a new fleet of dining cars? After all it can then say "didn't 91 & 92 prove a cafe-lounge/snack service was enough". And if the revised SILVER STAR's sleeper revenue collapses, but coach revenue on the train holds up–why bother to take delivery of new sleepers either?

    Amtrak has been remarkably silent about the status of the VIEWLINER II order and at best amazingly passive in view of it's late completion–unless of course the Boardman Amtrak is quite satisfied with the process. At best Amtrak has so far avoided paying for cars it may no longer want. At worst this could be a slow-walk intended to justify a car-order cancellation, blaming the builder and "changed circumstances". I hope not and will be thrilled if these turn out to be completely unfounded fears, but something clearly is wrong in this car-procurement process.

    Boardman promised Congressman Mica no food-service losses in five years (from a year past). This is almost certainly impossible if Amtrak provides any sort of decent food-service and the fact that Amtrak did not have the courage to make this point is deeply disturbing. We know from history what happens when service is dramatically downgraded on long-distance trains (1960s–SP. Frisco, Southern, Rock Island, Katy, etc). Patronage collapses and then the carrier "reluctantly" seeks a train-off. Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it!

    Do we as Amtrak riders really believe a national network could survive with only microwaved sandwiches as lunch and dinner and muffin sandwiches lor sweet rolls as breakfast on trains like the SILVER STAR or even more importantly on the CZ or the EMPIRE BUILDER? The inevitable outcome of such a process is the loss of the true national network and a series of disconnected corridors subject to state support only. No Amtrak without a true national network could ever win a vote in Congress.

    So there is more to worry about in the SILVER STAR case than just what food to carry aboard to avoid the cafe-lounge menu. This "experiment" had better fail, because if Amtrak thinks it was a success the survival of train travel nationally is in profound jeapardy. On any run with an overnight schedule decent food service is an essential.

    Carl Fowler

  22. This isn't "real value" as Amtrak erroneously claims.
    Riding in a train for more than 24 hours, and Amtrak thinks passengers wish to eat JUNK FOOD offered in their crummy lounge cars?
    Wait in long lines only to find an impatient & overworked attendant who soon announces he's "out" of supplies?

    Amtrak could've decreased sleeping car rates & made all passengers, coach and sleeper, pay for their dining car meals, but instead, reverted to the old Southern Pacific-style 1960s TRAIN SERVICE !!!

    This will do nothing but drive passengers from taking the train.

  23. Nothing worse than giving riders another reason to bring their own food…often leaving messes at the seats or stinking up the coach…and now sleepers.

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