Dining choices Lake Shore and Capital Limited

Old Apr 20, 18, 6:53 am
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Dining choices Lake Shore and Capital Limited

From an Amtrak Press Release

Amtrak will offer contemporary, fresh dining choices for sleeping car customers onboard its Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited trains, starting June 1. On-board meal preparation will be replaced with a small variety of quality, fresh and ready-to-serve boxed meals. The service model for both routes will include an onboard food & beverage staff of two (2) LSAs using two (2) food service cars, one (1) LSA in each car.

In the initial phase of the presentation, which is subject to refinement as we move forward, sleeping car customers can continue to be served in their Bedrooms or Roomettes or use a private area aboard these trains when they choose from the following entrees, as examples:

Lunch & Dinner: Chilled beef tenderloin, Vegan wrap, Chicken Caesar salad, Turkey club
Breakfast: Assorted breakfast breads with butter, cream cheese and strawberry jam; Greek yogurt and sliced seasonal fresh fruit plate

This change will contribute to improved financial performance and more contemporary service delivery on these overnight routes between the East Coast and Chicago at an estimated annual savings of $3.4M across both routes, some of which will be reinvested in the product.

Program Details:
During the summer on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited,

The Capitol Limited will operate with 2 coach cars, 1 baggage coach, 2 sleepers, 1 sleeper lounge, 1 sightseer café/lounge (Superliner I or II), 1 transition dorm, & 1 baggage car.

The Lake Shore Limited will operate with 6 coaches, 2 baggage cars, 3 sleepers, 1 sleeper lounge (new CAF car) and 1 café/lounge car (Amfleet I split club). The café/lounge includes 18 business class seats and the standard Amfleet Café module and 24 booth seats.
After boarding, sleeper attendants will ask passengers to select a preferred time for in room dining. Reservations will continue to be available in frequent intervals consistent with today’s standards
Sleeper car passengers who do not wish to dine in their room will have the option to dine at available seating in the sleeper lounge. Sleeper passengers will have exclusive access to tables in sleeper lounge. Seating will be on a first come basis and there will be no at-table dining service.

Last edited by BobH; Apr 20, 18 at 8:23 am
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Old Apr 20, 18, 7:03 am
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Originally Posted by BobH View Post
From an Amtrak Press Release
Neat.
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Old Apr 20, 18, 8:09 am
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They're killing the Dining cars on the Chicago-Washington/New York/Boston runs (Capitol Limited/Lake Shore Limited)

https://media.amtrak.com/2018/04/new...amtrak-routes/
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Old Apr 20, 18, 11:39 am
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Initially, I was sad to hear about this, but thinking about it, the boxed meals on the Empire Builder out of PDX are actually some of the tastiest meals I've ever had on Amtrak, so this might potentially be less bad than it could be--presuming they go with a good vendor (which I'm not optimistic they'll actually do)...

If they want to save money on dining car staff but still provide good, hot meals, they should really move to a cafe-style service where you order at the counter and then take it to a table to eat. They do this successfully on some long-distance trains I've taken in Australia (where I had one of the best hamburgers of my life on the Queenslander to Cairns) and it's fine. I don't need full white-tablecloth service on a train from a surly, unionized, un-fireable service attendant with bad service that makes the meal stretch out into an hour and a half experience when I could order at the counter, pick it up in 5-10 minutes, and eat it at my own pace.

They can do that and still cook things fresh to order but cut the staff in half or less (and maybe limit sleeper costs by giving a dollar-amount voucher per meal, like $15 for breakfast and lunch and $25 for dinner, which would actually cost Amtrak half that in ingredients and time).

Last edited by jackal; Apr 20, 18 at 11:46 am
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Old Apr 20, 18, 11:41 am
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Originally Posted by hi55us View Post
They're killing the Dining cars on the Chicago-Washington/New York/Boston runs (Capitol Limited/Lake Shore Limited)

https://media.amtrak.com/2018/04/new...amtrak-routes/
Nope, its sticking around as a lounge for sleeping car passengers only. They are just not cooking in it.
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Old Apr 20, 18, 11:44 am
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Originally Posted by jackal View Post
Initially, I was sad to hear about this, but thinking about it, the boxed meals on the Empire Builder out of PDX are actually some of the tastiest meals I've ever had on Amtrak, so this might potentially be less bad than it could be--presuming they go with a good vendor (which I'm not optimistic they'll actually do)...
Also being added:
  • amenity kits
  • unlimited softdrinks
  • sleeper lounge aka the dining car
  • one free beer, wine or cocktail
I've had the boxed meal on the Empire Builder as well and I thought it was really good!
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Old Apr 23, 18, 7:25 am
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Originally Posted by seat38a View Post
Nope, its sticking around as a lounge for sleeping car passengers only. They are just not cooking in it.
So it's no longer a dining car... it's a lounge car serving cold meals.

I'm not optimistic. I think it would have been wiser for Amtrak to start charging sleeper passengers for meals and convert the dining car from a cost center into a profit center.
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Old Apr 23, 18, 8:45 pm
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Originally Posted by hi55us View Post
I think it would have been wiser for Amtrak to start charging sleeper passengers for meals and convert the dining car from a cost center into a profit center.
The reason that meals are included for sleeper passengers is that years ago when sleeper pax had to pay for their meals just like coach pax, use of the dining cars was declining severely. So Amtrak jacked up the sleeping car fares and included meals in the dining car in an effort to save the diners and justify their continued existence. So I'm not so sure that starting to charge sleeper pax for their meals today would convert the diner into a profit center. Seems more likely that we'd go back to the original problem of not having enough business in the dining car. Especially since so many passengers have been trained over the past several years to expect free meals in the diner.
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Old May 1, 18, 12:31 pm
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Originally Posted by AlanB View Post
The reason that meals are included for sleeper passengers is that years ago when sleeper pax had to pay for their meals just like coach pax, use of the dining cars was declining severely. So Amtrak jacked up the sleeping car fares and included meals in the dining car in an effort to save the diners and justify their continued existence. So I'm not so sure that starting to charge sleeper pax for their meals today would convert the diner into a profit center. Seems more likely that we'd go back to the original problem of not having enough business in the dining car. Especially since so many passengers have been trained over the past several years to expect free meals in the diner.
The reality is dining cars are a huge reason Amtrak's long distance lines lose money. The logistics of serving food on trains make things extremely expensive, and its impossible to recover those costs.

NARP types always said the diner is a loss leader for the sleepers, which would be fine if sleepers were priced higher and made a big profit, but they aren't and don't.

The future of Amtrak is airline style food and cafe cars.
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Old May 2, 18, 7:12 am
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Originally Posted by dilanesp View Post
NARP types always said the diner is a loss leader for the sleepers, which would be fine if sleepers were priced higher and made a big profit, but they aren't and don't.
Just to be clear, NARP did a study several years ago that showed that sleeper pax actually covered all of their above the rails cost. That doesn't include the dining car of course. But the sleepers are covering their operating costs and in fact actually help to slightly reduce the operating subsidy per passenger mile for all passengers on the trains. And prices on sleepers has gone up far more than inflation has gone up since then.
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Old May 2, 18, 9:37 am
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Originally Posted by AlanB View Post
Just to be clear, NARP did a study several years ago that showed that sleeper pax actually covered all of their above the rails cost. That doesn't include the dining car of course. But the sleepers are covering their operating costs and in fact actually help to slightly reduce the operating subsidy per passenger mile for all passengers on the trains. And prices on sleepers has gone up far more than inflation has gone up since then.
The NARP is not a trustworthy organization.

There is plenty of evidence that long distance sleepers are tremendously unprofitable, at least when coupled with free meals in a traditional diner. Now granted it is circumstantial, but it exists. The evidence includes how railroads cut costs in the 1960's, Via Rail Canada's price points, and Amtrak's own actions in what they are trying to cut.

What NARP wants to do is use Hollywood style accounting. They want to misallocate overhead so it gets charged to Acela rather than long distance trains, and use a "passenger mile" measure which favors long distance routes.

Amtrak operates in the real world. In the real world, long distance food and beverage is a huge drain because it involves both ridiculously high logistical costs and high labor costs. And sleepers lose more than coach because the fares don't cover the higher lsbor costs of sleeping car attendants and the additional space.

So as I said, the future is that if we want long distance trains, they can't follow the traditional model. This is a step forward.

Last edited by dilanesp; May 2, 18 at 9:45 am
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Old May 2, 18, 10:09 am
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Originally Posted by dilanesp View Post
There is plenty of evidence that long distance sleepers are tremendously unprofitable, at least when coupled with free meals in a traditional diner.
AlanB, whom you quoted, said, "That doesn't include the dining car of course." And even you said the evidence is circumstantial.

Originally Posted by dilanesp View Post
What NARP wants to do is use Hollywood style accounting. They want to misallocate overhead so it gets charged to Acela rather than long distance trains, and use a "passenger mile" measure which favors long distance routes.
AlanB, whom you quoted, said, "above the rails cost." Am I misunderstanding what that means?

I'm not sure how one uses a passenger mile measure that favors long distance routes. Feel free to educate me, but note that your assertion that "NARP is not a trustworthy organization" is not evidence.
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Old May 2, 18, 11:50 am
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Originally Posted by serpens View Post
AlanB, whom you quoted, said, "above the rails cost." Am I misunderstanding what that means?
I started a post trying to analyze the "above-the-rails" (i.e. marginal?) cost of an extra Superliner sleeper, but it started taking too much time. Interesting thought experiment, though. A couple of interesting takeaways I uncovered:

-A P42 weighs about 133 tons. A Superliner coach weighs 75 tons and a Superliner sleeper weighs 80 tons. Adding a Superliner sleeper to a 10-car consist with 2 engines would increase the fuel usage by probably 7% or so (an 11th car on a 10-car consist would add 7.8% of weight to the train, but some portion of the train's total drag is due to air resistance at the head end) and progressively less per additional car as the consist gets larger. Some interesting reading/discussion on Amtrak's fuel usage is at Number Crunching Amtrak Energy Use - Trains Magazine - Trains News Wire, Railroad News, Railroad Industry News, Web Cams, and Forms.
-A Superliner sleeper holds almost half as many people as a coach car (44 vs 96, not accounting for specialty car configurations like the Coach+Baggage cars). That's actually better than I initially assumed (I was thinking it was like 1/4 to 1/3 as many without having stopped to think about it). Worth noting is that sleeper revenue doesn't scale linearly downward with occupancy reduction: if every room is full but only has 1 occupant, the revenue collected is quite a bit higher than 50%, since a large chunk of each fare is the accommodation charge.

Given the sleeper fares I've seen and with some very quick back-of-the-napkin math on costs, it certainly seems well within the realm of feasibility to me that NARP is correct that sleepers more than cover their marginal cost, to the point where they start to help decrease the fixed costs of operating the train. In other words, if the sleepers were to disappear, then the cost per coach passenger would go up.
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Old May 3, 18, 3:32 am
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Sleepers on some routes are likely more profitable than others. For example, sleeper fares between NY and Atlanta are generally higher than NY-Chicago.

Cold dinner, at the sleeper prices charged on the Crescent, is totally unappealing so I hope that this cold meal “option” doesn’t spread to more trains.
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Old May 3, 18, 3:49 pm
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Originally Posted by jackal View Post
I started a post trying to analyze the "above-the-rails" (i.e. marginal?) cost of an extra Superliner sleeper, but it started taking too much time. Interesting thought experiment, though. A couple of interesting takeaways I uncovered:

-A P42 weighs about 133 tons. A Superliner coach weighs 75 tons and a Superliner sleeper weighs 80 tons. Adding a Superliner sleeper to a 10-car consist with 2 engines would increase the fuel usage by probably 7% or so (an 11th car on a 10-car consist would add 7.8% of weight to the train, but some portion of the train's total drag is due to air resistance at the head end) and progressively less per additional car as the consist gets larger. Some interesting reading/discussion on Amtrak's fuel usage is at Number Crunching Amtrak Energy Use - Trains Magazine - Trains News Wire, Railroad News, Railroad Industry News, Web Cams, and Forms.
-A Superliner sleeper holds almost half as many people as a coach car (44 vs 96, not accounting for specialty car configurations like the Coach+Baggage cars). That's actually better than I initially assumed (I was thinking it was like 1/4 to 1/3 as many without having stopped to think about it). Worth noting is that sleeper revenue doesn't scale linearly downward with occupancy reduction: if every room is full but only has 1 occupant, the revenue collected is quite a bit higher than 50%, since a large chunk of each fare is the accommodation charge.

Given the sleeper fares I've seen and with some very quick back-of-the-napkin math on costs, it certainly seems well within the realm of feasibility to me that NARP is correct that sleepers more than cover their marginal cost, to the point where they start to help decrease the fixed costs of operating the train. In other words, if the sleepers were to disappear, then the cost per coach passenger would go up.
Here's a simple question about NARP. If they did a study and it in fact honestly revealed that Amtrak needed to cancel a long distance train, would they ever release it?

I think we all know the answer is "no". That's why Antrak is in the train business and NARP is in the backseat driving business.
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