Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby gokeefe » Thu May 12, 2016 12:04 pm

This is the kind of problem that Amtrak is clearly attempting to address through the addition of seasonal capacity on their long distance trains. I think they hate losing business on the Florida trains more than almost anything else. Their market share of the Florida travel market should be much higher than it is and with more rolling stock they have essentially unlimited growth prospects in their premium service lines.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Arlington » Fri Nov 04, 2016 9:40 pm

So in the preliminary full year report:
https://www.amtrak.com/ccurl/515/889/Am ... udited.pdf

We see that the Silver Starvation is
+ 7.5% in Sleeper ridership (vs FY 2015, which included 3 months of no diner)
- 11/9% in Sleeper revenue (about $965k less, from $8m down to $7.1m)
And costs reductions were $13.9m (vs reductions of $2.8m on the Meteor).

So call it that the Diner was costing about $10m/yr at a time when total Sleeper revenues had been $8m.
Of the $26.8m in financial improvements that were netted on the LDs for FY2016, $10.8m (40% of all improvement) came from the Silver Star's performance.

I can't see any scenario where it would make sense to put the diner back on the Star: There's only about a $1m in revenue upside for returning diner service (restoring higher fares that "go with" diner service will scare off Star riders) which means that the Viewdiners would have to have operating costs 1/10th those of the Heritage Diners' $10m in order for it to be a "win" to put diners back on.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby electricron » Fri Nov 04, 2016 10:54 pm

What does $10 million reduction mean? Can that number be real?
The Silver trains use 4 train sets to provide the service. Assuming all 4 are in service every day, that's 4 food service cars in service 365 days per year, or 1460 food service car-days per year. That means Amtrak saved $6,850 per car day using Amfleet cafe cars vs Heritage diner cars. How is that even possible?
The only operational savings between the car types is two or so less personnel in the car. At even a generous salary of $40 an hour each, that's a savings of $80 an hour for both, and just $960 over a 12 hour work day. So there must be a savings of over $5,000 on food costs per car day. Is there $5,000 of food on the car for each day?

Could some of the saving be maintenance related? Wouldn't new diners have less daily maintenance costs?
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Rockingham Racer » Sat Nov 05, 2016 6:59 am

The only scenario / philosophy that will bring a diner back to this train is convenience to the passengers. And we all know what the chances of that are right now! Might change in the future though.

Diners have never made money, and never will. So logically, all diners from all trains should be removed under the current philosophy.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby mtuandrew » Sat Nov 05, 2016 9:15 am

electricron wrote:So there must be a savings of over $5,000 on food costs per car day. Is there $5,000 of food on the car for each day?

Could some of the saving be maintenance related? Wouldn't new diners have less daily maintenance costs?

There probably is close to $5k/day of food and beverage, flatware, and consumables, though obviously not all is consumed.
Rockingham Racer wrote:Diners have never made money, and never will. So logically, all diners from all trains should be removed under the current philosophy.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby electricron » Sat Nov 05, 2016 10:35 am

mtuandrew wrote:
electricron wrote:So there must be a savings of over $5,000 on food costs per car day. Is there $5,000 of food on the car for each day?

There probably is close to $5k/day of food and beverage, flatware, and consumables, though obviously not all is consumed.


The question I should have asked is there $5,000 more food and supplies on a diner car than on a cafe car?
Or even better, can a cafe car feed as many passengers the same amount of food as a diner car?

I'm just having a hard time seeing how a cafe car saves over $6,000 every day over a diner car.

Let's look at it again from the demand side. Each Viewliner sleeping car can have a maximum of 30 passengers, 2 per each of the 15 rooms and roomettes, The Silver Star runs with 2 sleeping cars per train, so a diner car on it will have to serve 3 meals to 60 passengers every day. That's 180 meals, at let's say $20 per meal, that's only sums up to $3,600. With 3 sleeping cars per train, the diner would have to serve 240 meals, and that sums up to $4,800. $20 per meal is a generous average of breakfast, lunch, and dinner costs.

So, basically Amtrak is taking credit for all the diner car costs of providing food and services, and not taking credit of the losses created in the cafe car in the numbers they post publicly.
Last edited by electricron on Sat Nov 05, 2016 10:49 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Sat Nov 05, 2016 10:46 am

I hope in this election year, the Moderators will grant some leeway.

I think much has been made of Food and Beverage losses, without much "bottom line" impact. I further wonder if the conversion of 17 380XX Diners to the 370XX Diner Lounge's that was brought about by one Simplied Dining (Diner Lite in fanese) initiative or the other. Those conversions cost about $1M a pop, and definitely have offset any savings those cars have generated.

There are so many issues out there, such as inability/unwillingness to hold contractors accountable for unreasonable production delays (think CAF and even the Nippon Shayro bi-levels) that result in real economic loss. Maybe some of the grandstanding by one Member of Congress regarding F&B can come to an end. After all. for once in his career. Rep. Mica (R-FL7) is in a competitive race.

I'd like to think that the costs incurred to put decent chow on the table in place of the vile Shot Ribs I had on Auto Train last January, would be mighty cheap "logrolling" for the "Congocritters". I'd like to think that letters saying "Congressman, I want to tell you about the great food I had aboard Amtrak......" rather than the opposite, are easier for the staffers to handle.

Hopefully, things will change in.the new Administration and Congress by digging for the real $$$$, in.place of the chump change that can be turned into headlines.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby gokeefe » Sat Nov 05, 2016 10:54 am

electricron wrote:What does $10 million reduction mean? Can that number be real?
The Silver trains use 4 train sets to provide the service. Assuming all 4 are in service every day, that's 4 food service cars in service 365 days per year, or 1460 food service car-days per year. That means Amtrak saved $6,850 per car day using Amfleet cafe cars vs Heritage diner cars. How is that even possible?
The only operational savings between the car types is two or so less personnel in the car. At even a generous salary of $40 an hour each, that's a savings of $80 an hour for both, and just $960 over a 12 hour work day. So there must be a savings of over $5,000 on food costs per car day. Is there $5,000 of food on the car for each day?

Could some of the saving be maintenance related? Wouldn't new diners have less daily maintenance costs?


Yes I think that number is in fact "real". Some of the savings is definitely maintenance related and as some members have repeatedly confirmed that Heritage diners are exceptionally difficult to maintain due to the lack of fleet uniformity in car system configurations. The hourly wage figures sound about right given the fact that employees are all covered members of collective bargaining units under the Railway Labor Act with earned pensions, benefits and retirement. All of these things have a cash cost to Amtrak that makes for extraordinary fiscal impact on the bottomline.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby David Benton » Sat Nov 05, 2016 2:46 pm

You could possibly double the labor costs. If, as I once read , the crews have equal time off to compensate for been on the train for the round trip. So you need to work out train hours and double it for each staff member. plus hotel etc .
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby SouthernRailway » Sat Nov 05, 2016 3:47 pm

$10 million savings is Amtrak's made-up number: the same "accounting" that somehow creates profits for the Northeast Corridor. Under GAAP, Amtrak's numbers would look a lot different.

Even if were a "real" accounting number, it's not relevant from now on because Heritage diners were a lot more expensive to run than the new, lower-maintenance Viewliner IIs will be.

I'd also be curious to see what the loss would be if Amtrak increased technology and marketing like airlines do in order to reduce labor costs and increase revenues: letting customers order their meals in advance (on American Airlines, I can book my entree in advance online), letting customers prepay for their meals, allowing ordering via mobile phone, etc.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Arlington » Sat Nov 05, 2016 4:02 pm

SouthernRailway wrote:$10 million savings is Amtrak's made-up number: the same "accounting" that somehow creates profits for the Northeast Corridor. Under GAAP, Amtrak's numbers would look a lot different.
GAAP or not, Amtrak is managed from the numbers it reports in its monthly performance reports (and Congress accepts it), so I might allow a 20% accounting-choices & management-self-delusion variance, but that's not the big problem for the diner, it is that customers voted that a diner-free Star was only worth 15% lower sleeper revenues, dropping from $8m to $7m.

How wrong can the $10m savings number be? Is it 2x overstated? 5x? The problem is still that it'd have to be 10x overstated if you wanted to contend that the diner was somehow only a $1m item that had been paying for itself, since going "Starvation" only resulted in that net loss of $1m in revenue-
SouthernRailway wrote:I'd also be curious to see what the loss would be if Amtrak increased technology and marketing like airlines do in order to reduce labor costs and increase revenues: letting customers order their meals in advance (on American Airlines, I can book my entree in advance online), letting customers prepay for their meals, allowing ordering via mobile phone, etc.

Isn't the big airline innovation commissary/off-board prep?

David Benton wrote:You could possibly double the labor costs. If, as I once read , the crews have equal time off to compensate for been on the train for the round trip. So you need to work out train hours and double it for each staff member. plus hotel etc .

SouthernRailway wrote:Even if were a "real" accounting number, it's not relevant from now on because Heritage diners were a lot more expensive to run than the new, lower-maintenance Viewliner IIs will be.

The first problem is that the lower you want to say the "real" costs of the Heritage diners were (say, $5m instead of $10m), the lower the "real" net savings of switching to a VII is going to be (if we all agree that VIIs halve every cost, they only save 50% of whatever we agree is the "real" cost of a Heritage diner. I accept Amtrak's number of $10m and if 50% savings are out there, then that's $5m to be saved. But if we're persuaded that the "real" GAAP cost of a Heritage was, say, $5m, then the real GAAP savings of VIIs being 50% less is only $2.5m) This is a classic case of the lower costs on diners turn out to be, the lower the benefit of switching to a "half cost" diner turn out.

How wrong could be be if we swagged the costs of a diner at

1/3 labor (& ben & comp time),
1/3 food (procurement, supply chain, shrinkage, spoilage, and garbage/diposal/cleanup),
1/6 utils & HEP
1/6 haulage & maintenance

You can squeeze these each a little on a VII, but you're not going to get anywhere close to paying for diner-restoration with just $1m in increased fares (we can that going back to the Star's old higher-fare lower-occupancy model would put revenues back to "where they were")
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby bdawe » Sat Nov 05, 2016 5:18 pm

Rockingham Racer wrote:The only scenario / philosophy that will bring a diner back to this train is convenience to the passengers. And we all know what the chances of that are right now! Might change in the future though.

Diners have never made money, and never will. So logically, all diners from all trains should be removed under the current philosophy.


Well, if diners overall contribute to Amtrak's core mission of providing passenger service then they should stay, but I think that Arlington has made a fairly persuasive case that in the case of the Star they aren't really doing that.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Rockingham Racer » Sat Nov 05, 2016 6:49 pm

I like eating in a dining car doing 80 MPH. I don't want them to go. I was just being a devil's advocate with my comment.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby jp1822 » Mon Nov 07, 2016 10:43 pm

As Mr. Norman mentioned the 37XXX Cross Country Café cars - as they were eventually coined per say - were created in order to put forth what was intended to be a "simplified dining program," what did Amtrak and the passengers really get? Refurbished Superliner I Diners. The Simplified Dining program was even supposed to include taking away the Superliner Sightseer Lounge car - either storing them to save costs or creating it also into a dual purpose car of diner and lounge. All kinds of wild things were thrown around. But truth be told, the program failed, and what were we left with - 17 of the 37XXX Cross Country Café cars. The lounge section doesn't get used - perhaps if they had created a mini Sightseer Lounge here (wrap around windows etc.) it would have been MUCH better. And maybe half of the Cross Country Café cars get used?

4 - Texas Eagle
3 - City of New Orleans

That's 7 on a regular basis.

Occasionally three will be assigned to the Capitol Limited's consist.

So now we got 10, with seven sitting around as spares.

They often are found sitting in Chicago or LA waiting around to be substitutes - especially when the Parlor Cars crap out.

It's just too bad these former Superliner I Diners couldn't have been made into something that was useful (e.g. larger windows, wrap around windows) and had more utilization across the Superliner system. If they couldn't have been made into something more useful - just refurbish them and leave them alone. Again - there was a grandiose plain for these cars (Simplified Dining) but it never panned out. The Amfleet II Lounges - aka Amfleet Diner Lites are another blunder. How about trying a few out, seeing if it works, and then continuing on or NOT.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Hamhock » Wed Nov 09, 2016 3:52 am

Gilbert B Norman wrote:Maybe some of the grandstanding by one Member of Congress regarding F&B can come to an end. After all. for once in his career. Rep. Mica (R-FL7) is in a competitive race.

Competitive indeed. Mica has officially been defeated.
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