News & Reviews News Wire Coach passengers now can buy meals in Silver Star and Silver Meteor dining cars

Coach passengers now can buy meals in Silver Star and Silver Meteor dining cars

By Bob Johnston | March 4, 2024

New York-Florida trains join Western Superliner long-distance routes in restoring diner option

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Amtrak dining car with one person dining at one table
It’s 8:37 p,m. on the Silver Star’s dining car on September 26, 2023. Sleeping car passengers boarding at Orlando received a suggestion to eat in their rooms after the train departed one hour late. Bob Johnston

WASHINGTON — Amtrak’s New York-Miami trains will begin offering “traditional dining” to “a limited number of coach customers” starting today (Monday, March 4), according to spokeswoman Kimberly Woods.

The company dropped meal-in-a-bowl “flexible dining” last March on the Silver Star and last June on the Silver Meteor [see “Amtrak returns ‘traditional dining’ …,” Trains News Wire, June 27, 2023]. The March debut was billed as a “pilot” to determine whether the chef and lead service attendant would be overwhelmed by the extra preparation and serving protocols that would be required.

Breakfast on table of Amtrak dining car
French toast is attractively served on the morning of Sept. 27, 2023. At the time, only sleeping car passengers — whose meals are included in the ticket price — were allowed to eat in the Viewliner diner. Bob Johnston

Coach passengers were also allowed to purchase breakfasts at $20, lunches at $25, and dinners at $45 aboard Superliner-equipped western long-distance trains offering freshly-prepared meals since last March, but it has taken until now for Amtrak management to begin generating extra revenue on the Silver trains’ dining cars.

News Wire has yet to receive a response to inquiries whether that pricing will remain constant or how the “limited number” is determined.

Riding the Star in June and September northbound from Orlando, the dining car staff was anything but overwhelmed. On the September trip, the lead service attendant suggested to people coming to the diner after boarding at Orlando that they have meals brought to their rooms, “because it is after the 8 p.m. seating.” (This was about 8:20 p.m.; the train was running an hour late.)

At the time, there was only one table occupied. This obviously made it difficult for the sleeping car attendants to prepare beds for use; and a couple boarding at Winter Park, the first stop after Orlando, came into the diner and were seated because their room had already been converted.

The chicken entree was tasty and the service was fast if not necessarily cordial. The entrée arrived in 5 minutes; I asked for a glass of water and was brought a plastic bottle. I asked for a glass, and was corrected by the service attendant, “You mean a cup.”

“Flexible” meals are still being served to sleeping car passengers only on the Lake Shore Limited’s Viewliner diner. The single-level Cardinal and Crescent, trains whose trips involve four or more meal periods, only have café cars. The Crescent and Meteor served both coach and sleeping car passengers in their Viewliner dining cars until October 2019, so it would not seem difficult to restore a diner on the New York-New Orleans train to serve all passengers.

11 thoughts on “Coach passengers now can buy meals in Silver Star and Silver Meteor dining cars

  1. I’ve never understood why a paying customer would be turned away from a dining car. With the exception of running out of food that is. Of course there was that time in April, 2000, when I boarded the Southwest Chief at LAX, in a sleeper. ess than an hour later, in the diner, I was told that the baked potatoes were “sold out”. Clearly, what actually happened was that the food was loaded on the train late, and there wasn’t sufficient time to bake them. The excuse reminded me of something out of Monty Python. For what it’s worth, I had a different side (mashed, pasta, I forget) and a really good steak and good company as we rolled through Riverside. But still.

    At the time I was friends with someone involved in management of the food service out of LAX. I relayed the story and he asked me, point blank what day I traveled so he could report it to higher ups.

  2. Amtrak needs to decide either go “all-in” or get “all-out” of full service dining cars. Amtrak included 25 dining cars in the Viewliner 2 car order. The cars are paid for, they should be fully utilized on every LD train, meaning all passengers can purchase a meal, or the dining cars should be sold to VIA Rail and other operators interested in providing full meals on the train.

  3. Why does it seem like everything Amtrak management does gives the appearance that they are trying to survive in spite of of giving customer service that stems from starting with a good idea, over-thinking it, over or under managing it, implementing it at a snails pace, all with the result that id half as good as it could have been (or should have been)
    Sadly, Amtrak gives out significant bonuses for this unproductive behavior. (From the example prices quoted in this article, we know exactly where the money is coming from. The only question is for how much longer.

  4. We seem to be going backward ( not just seating ).
    Pre David Gunn all the trains had the Amtrak logo on the side but each train operated differently. Passengers never knew what to expect when they boarded an Amtrak train. A let down in expectations.
    We seem to have re-archived that idea .

  5. What a clever idea, let your customers purchase a freshly-prepared meal in a full diner with a full, modern kitchen.

  6. When riding in Business Class on the Coast Starlight in 2019 I used the $45 option to eat my last dinner in the dining car, and it was worth it, but I wouldn’t do it all the time. Before 2020, ALL passengers on the Crescent could eat in the dining car, so why not now? At the very least, traditional dining should be returned to the Crescent for sleeping-car passengers.

    1. Yes, based upon the description of Mr. Johnston’s trip experience on the ‘Silver Star’, it sounds like some of Amtrak’s diner-car personnel need to be sent to “Charm School.” I haven’t ridden an Amtrak long-distance train in many years, this experience described above doesn’t exactly inspire me to want to ride an Amtrak L.D. train again anytime soon.

      $45 for a “dinner-in the diner?” Hope that “chicken-entrée” was truly gourmet fare at that price …?

  7. The ony solution is as on airplanes: pre-ordered, prepackaged meals delivered to the seats, either extra cost or built into the fare of a higher-class ticket.

    So it can be on Amtrak. No meals would be available for people purchasing tickets after the train is being made ready to leave the terminal of origin. This isn’t 1975 any more. Most travelers have access to a computer or a smart phone and can (and do) buy their tickets in advance.

  8. Doing anything common sense for Amtrak seems difficult. And no, there aren’t any “railroad” people left to run it. They need hoteliers to run the service side of things and operations oriented folks (from the freight side) plus a commitment from Class 1’s to run things on time.
    None of which is going to happen.

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