Diner Service

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Fellow Railroaders, I would like to discuss a realistic approach to turning our Passenger Train service from a cost effective-bare bones, government sub-standard, last means mode of transportation to a stand alone, peoples service, adventure with class, flavor and a view. I believe that or society represents the best railroad passenger service in the US until Amtrak second only to AT&SF. I address these thoughts to you with the hope of establishing a new mind set for rail travel. As with any goverment agency a class distiction is an off color approach. Train travel has always had a class like it or not. Most rail travel these days usually have no option except coach or sleeper. As you may recall ACL/SAL/SCL had on its main trains coach, coach lounge, Slumber coach, diner, lounge (general), bedroom sleepers, and roometts with first class lounge service. While this is too much to replace overnite, the point is, it gave a choice of service that made rail travel successful in this regin. Making Amtrak less dependant on the goverment while retaining or improving service is the goal. Food service was a big topic serveral years ago. The tax payer can't pay the dinner bill for Amtrak Passengers. Service was cut way back, it took years to reinstate a respectable meal that in no way makes one look forward to the food venture "Dinner in the Dinner". I suggest selling the food service on Amtrak to a private service, while Amtrak retains owner of the cars and outside maintainance, the inside furnishings and meal service be established by a firm with consideration of type patrons on a peticular route making service a priority for the success of the contractor. If this works, the sleeping cars could do likwise, a hotel chain own the insides of the sleepers and rooms would be conformed to suit the patrons much like the days of the Florida Special/ Orange Blossom Special with a first class lounge returning. This allows for a class of travel at the riders expence, while others still ride in the goverment cars with access to the general pubic lounge. While even the lounge service could also be privatized. The dream of boarding a Florida Silver Service Train in New York, your porter a employee of Holiday Inn Rail division handles your bags as you sit in the Silver Inn Lounge with beverage and lite meal service tends your needs. In route your porter gets your meal time in the diner for dinner and breakfast. At 6PM you traverse the sleepers to the Diner dividing the coach and second class. You enter a comfortable and well decorated diner operated by Red Lobster rail division. The car has a Sunny Florida atmosphere with the special seafood as well as landlubers menue. After dinner you deside to go back one more car to the general public lounge for a little nite life in the Ruby Tuesday Lounge car. Not long you deside to return to your sleeper where your porter has turned down your bed. Coffee or OJ is always available and free with a pastry in your first class lounge if you deside to just wind down along with a few video TV's and writing tables. Your breakfast may be a free continental style in your room, or a full service in the diner. I feel better service will make for more demand, this is what people want, not just take what we give you. With Amtrak being in the operation of the trains and services being contracted to suit demand the cost of operation would be closer to no more goverment funding, except tax and insurance provisions, a smaller price than bigger highways and airports. I'm using Holiday Inn, Red Lobster, & Ruby Tuesday for the purpose of being nationaly known. Anybody want to run the passenger stations? I feel one more thing is that if a town wants a train to stop there it should own and run its stations on lines with few trains. Thank you, Rodney Butcher

-- Rodney Butcher (EMD 3 Budd@aol.com), June 24, 2001


Your suggestion has been brought up numerous times before and actually been tried in Europe-but the reality of economics makes it unachievable. The restaurant chains you mentioned make money by utilizing cheap labor selling standardized, low quality "food",all made to a standard formula, with standard portions, and in my view, having no redeeming value. Their margins are small, but volume makes up for the small margin. On a typical day, several thousand patrons may use a typical "fast food" place. On an Amtrak train-the patronage pool is much smaller and since a good proportion of the customers are very low income with little free cash, the number of patrons who will actually use the food service is even smaller. Costs however, are greater, since the help would have to be paid higher, union scale wages, costs of preparation would be greater since the space available is smaller and not optimally laid out. McDonald's tried to run ssome Swiss food caars for a period, and failed abysmally.

Dining cars rarely if ever covered their costs, let alone made a profit. That equation hasn't changed in over 100 years and unfortunately, will not change today. My years of riding pre-Amtrak trains resulted in some memorable meals. They also were tempered with the fact that the meals were expensive and that many more passsengers brought their own food. I knew that the $7.95 steak dinner in 1964 would have cost me about $4.00 in a quality, mid range restaurant and that the railroad probably lost about $2.00 serving that meal.

The amenities you mention provided by hotel chains are considered the cost of doing business-and would be dropped in an instant if necessary by tough economic times.

-- Michael W. Savchak (Savchak @MNR.org), June 26, 2001.

You CAN do it, but you CAN'T do it. There's the American Orient Experss, or you can rent a private car, pay Amtrak to haul it, let your customers eat your food and sleep in your beds. Amtrak already contracts out for its food as a cost cutting measure that allowed the corporation to eliminate its commessaries and associated expenses. What you eat in the diner is delivered trainside by Marriott and prepared onboard. Now, as far as taking over Amtrak's dining and sleeping car service, you'd have to pay Amtrak more than they're charging for those services presently (and losing money doing so.) Your suggestion is a nice concept, but if I may, let me tell you about a deadhead trip on the pre-Florida Palmetto where a passenger was complaining about the lack of a "good ol' dining car, like they used to have when I was a kid". (The Palmetto had only a snack bar and tables.) When I told the Rocky Mount-bound passenger that there was a later train with not only a full service diner, but sleeping car service as well, her ears perked up. "How much does a meal cost in the diner?", she asked. When I told her that it would be about $10, she suddenly lost her appetite. When I told her that a roomette cost about $100, she replied, "That's highway robbery". I responded, "No, that's what it cost". You cater to the people who use your service. What you describe is fine for a tourist railroad, a charter operation, or a railfan special, but not in practicality.

-- doug riddell (railroaddoug@erols.com), June 25, 2001.

A PUBIC lounge! An unforeseen consequence of privatization?

-- Jim Roquemore (roque@camden.net), June 24, 2001.

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