• Amtrak Borealis: fka Empire Builder 2nd Daily Frequency Chicago - St Paul

  • Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.
Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

Moderators: GirlOnTheTrain, mtuandrew, Tadman

  by jp1822
 
Bob Roberts wrote: Sat May 25, 2024 12:29 pm On board today. Not even to Milwaukee yet but I have a couple of observations:
  • Everyone is leaning into the 'new service' aspect of the route and it seems clear there is still a bit of uncertainty on how to do things with the OBS folks. The AC just announced that Mitchel Airport is the 'next to last stop' and after a pause said, 'for this crew'. The first AC announcement said the train was 'headed to Milwaukee', after a pause, 'and St. Paul', after another pause 'and all stations in between' There has been some confusion amongst the non rail-nerd passengers
  • Related to the above, the station staff at CUS (at least the Metropolitan Lounge Attendant have not yet developed a rhythm with the service either. The Metro lounge attendant never made a boarding announcement and I was left to find my way to gate 17 on my own (which is tricky). I had to board with 'the people' (oh the horror I said sarcastically)
  • The OBS staff seems to be a bit uptight about train crowding. Multiple announcements that the train is full[ (keep stuff off seats etc.) and there were five minutes worth of cafe car rules to follow (single file, its not an observation car, eat and leave, etc) which were attributed to the crowding. I am regularly on sold out Carolinian's,, this is a level of uptightness that is far above those days. /list]

    While it is Memorial Day weekend, and we have less than a week of data, I am getting a vibe that ridership has surprised Amtrak (at least the crew) here.

    Regardless my nit-picks, it is a beautiful day, its bee a nice ride, and I am excited to see the new (to me) St. Paul station.
I don't understand the "cafe" rules that are going on for the NON-NEC trains. Long Distance trains and especially Midwest Corridor passenger trains, it's like a contest to "get'em in, and get'em out." Eat and go! Come on Amtrak, you can do better than this for a new service being launched!!!

On the Northeast Corridor - it's HEAVILY abused to setup camp in the cafe car on Regional trains, for the WHOLE RIDE, and do work. Peak travel trains - forget it! It's a race to the cafe car booths. Most will sit there as opposed to their regular coach seat. Conductors say nothing. Forget trying to eat in the on NEC cafe trains; you are typically bringing food back to your seat and eating it there. This speaks to the fact that there's a demand for "table seating" in the Amfleet coach cars and I sure hope it will be enough on the new Airo train sets - and Avelia Liberty train sets whenever they go into service.

Long Distance trains, it's a bit similar....Yet here you also have cafe/dining space being taken up by crew, garbage cans, or random storage. Was on the Lake Shore Limited two weeks ago and three dining tables (out of 11) were occupied by either crew or a "convenient" place to store linens and condiments, even though there is a counter and space for storage of items between the galley and first booth. Let alone HALF the galley on the Lake Shore Viewliner II Diner is not even used at all cause it's just flex meals. But again, it was get'em in, and get'em out. I prefer not to inhale my food, but I felt some of the staff was practically leaning on my shoulder. And there were plenty of spaces if community seating was to be fully practiced.

The Viewliner II Diner on the Lake Shore and the Super Cross Country Cafe on the Capitol Limited were to be "sleeper/lounge" space. Listen, I get it, if they needed the space, for people looking to eat, I would gladly give up my space if I was done eating and "just lounging about." But at the same time - have the respect of getting ALL the tables used by patrons and not for storage, garbage, and onboard crew (that could have taken up residency elsewhere).

But overall, cafe cars don't seem to have uniform rules coast to coast. Heavily abused on the NEC Crew, storage, or garbage cans taking up space where passenger could "sit" and "lounge." I think people can be respectful and depart after a while.

I guess it could also lead to another question of - is the right equipment being used on the Borealis? This is a brand new service and Amtrak needs to make sure this train "works." I would think that if the current demand stays around, perhaps the Borealis needs a full cafe car and full business class car. A low density Amfleet or low density Horizon car can sub as a business class car, as was done in the past on other trains.

I also can have compassion for the fact that this is a new service and perhaps Amtrak and the passengers are all just "trying to get along." But the short and cutting "rules" may border on being "disrespectful" and unwelcoming to new passengers???? Amtrak has to maintain a good customer service and PR relations with this new service.

And sounds like the demand is certainly still there. I'm on the Empire Builder heading east in a few days, so curious to see how the traffic load is between Twin Cities and Chicago now with the Borealis service in place. The Empire Builder got SLAMMED with passengers travelling to/from Twin Cities and Chicago. It was the solo train. So the Borealis with its second frequency on this "corridor" will help to free up capacity for the longer distance travelling passenger on the Empire Builder, hopefully.

Again, hopefully just Amtrak and passengers getting used to the new service, but I sure hope all the cafe tables are being made available and don't resemble some of the cafe, diners, and cross country cafes on other routes where the onboard crew, garbage cans, and needless storage is taking up precious space.

Overall, GREAT to see that the Borealis service is popular, as it was expected to be by most I think. Amtrak needed to get this train going sooner than later while other US CONNECT routes kinda fly by the wayside (e.g. not sure what's happening down in Mobile).

Safe travels!
  by charlesriverbranch
 
Re: "is the right equipment being used on the Borealis? "

The Simply Railway guy on Youtube doesn't think so. I just saw his review of the train yesterday, and he was disappointed not to see the new Venture cars.
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
What contractual obligations, if any, such as MN did not pony up for any Venture cars, could constrain their assignment to Borealis?
  by eolesen
 
As long as IDOT and WisDOT were OK with it, and they opt to rob a set from Hiawatha service, I don't see why they couldn't use them. This is still a corridor service.
  by electricron
 
eolesen wrote: Mon May 27, 2024 4:59 pm As long as IDOT and WisDOT were OK with it, and they opt to rob a set from Hiawatha service, I don't see why they couldn't use them. This is still a corridor service.
Wisconsin bought three Venture trainsets with cabs, the only cabs in the Midwest, for the Hiawatha service. Sufficient to cover the number of trains between Milwaukee and Chicago.
The Borealis, with both eastbound and westbound trains departing the originating stations around 11 am, requires a minimum of two trainsets all by itself. Ideally, they would need three more trainsets, with one as a spare. These would also need food service cars, diners or cafes, for the Borealis service, which the existing new Hiawatha trainsets do not have.
Hence, until Wisconsin orders more Venture trainsets, the Horizons will have to do. Additionally, the padding of the coach seats in Horizon cars should be more comfortable for about the eight hours trip between St. Paul and Chicago.
  by superbad
 
I used the Borealis for the first time this past Saturday to day trip to Wisconsin Dells from Winona.

First thing first. You just get on and go. The train was topped at Winona long enough for people to get on and off. I was surprised at how many passengers that appeared to be day trippers got off at Winona.

Secondly, the train was full ,but not so full you had to share seats.. yet. I think there will be a better idea next week of ridership as schools start up summer sessions.

Anyone wondering where the two Borealis trains meet, Camp Douglas was the answer on Saturday at least.

A day trip to the Dells from Winona requires a return trip on the Empire Builder. It is to my understanding a new coach car has been added to the Seattle section of the builder which has definitely made some space ,but this builder was the emptiest ever or it seemed so. Once again a holiday weekend hard to tell but there was still a sizeable amount of people getting off at LaCrosse and Winona.

Pricing is definitely set up to make people want to use the Borealis from Chicago to Saint Paul.

I paid $30 round trip, prices each way were equal for the Borealis and Builder.

I have also noticed that the prices to use the Builder to MKE and Chicago have moderate since the new train started. ie: last I checked builder was $62 opposed to the $116 or even higher to go from Winona to Chicago. Borealis is $33-41 from Winona to Chicago.
  by Tadman
 
jp1822 wrote: Sat May 25, 2024 8:48 pm
Bob Roberts wrote: Sat May 25, 2024 12:29 pm On board today. Not even to Milwaukee yet but I have a couple of observations:
  • Everyone is leaning into the 'new service' aspect of the route and it seems clear there is still a bit of uncertainty on how to do things with the OBS folks. ...
    there were five minutes worth of cafe car rules to follow (single file, its not an observation car, eat and leave, etc) which were attributed to the crowding. I am regularly on sold out Carolinian's,, this is a level of uptightness that is far above those days. /list]
I don't understand the "cafe" rules that are going on for the NON-NEC trains. ... Conductors say nothing. Forget trying to eat in the on NEC cafe trains; you are typically bringing food back to your seat and eating it there. T...

Yet here you also have cafe/dining space being taken up by crew, garbage cans, or random storage. ... occupied by either crew or a "convenient" place to store linens and condiments, even though there is a counter and space for storage of items between the galley and first booth

But overall, cafe cars don't seem to have uniform rules coast to coast. Heavily abused on the NEC Crew, storage, or garbage cans taking up space where passenger could "sit" and "lounge." I think people can be respectful and depart after a while.
Notice a theme? This is a management problem. Not an equipment problem, not a funding problem. There is inconsistent service and the crews are left to their own devices. The crews are not told what to do, let alone monitored for idiotic things like taking up two booths or five minutes of rules.

Pick the ugliest airline to fly - Spirit, Ryanair, Frontier - you'd never see that. You have uniform levels of service and protocol for communication. No new equipment or trains or money would be required to print up some standard procedures and teach the crew to follow them.
  by markhb
 
I know on the Downeaster, one cafe booth is typically used by the conductor as his workspace. I don't recall seeing any others taken up as storage for paper products, but it's also a much shorter run than the Borealis. (Regardless of which, it seems that the Borealis is taking many cues from the Downeaster: similar trainset with the cafe/business class car, local operator for the cafe itself, etc. The biggest differences seem to be the actual length of the train, and the use of two engines rather than one engine and a cabbage.)
  by markhb
 
Bob Roberts wrote: Tue May 28, 2024 1:26 pm
markhb wrote: Tue May 28, 2024 10:49 am local operator for the cafe itself, etc. T
Nah, its a standard AmCafe staffed by an Amtrak employee (who was constantly busy and did not take a single break on the eight hour trip, to her credit)
Ah, thanks. Somewhere I had gotten the impression that it was independent. Kudos to the lady at the counter!
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
Mr. Markhb, the only Food and Beverage service contracted out is that on the Downeaster. All other, systemwide, is provided by Amtrak employees covered by Agreement.

The reason "they get away with it" on the Downeaster is because such represents a new service. The B&M had discontinued Boston-Portland service, along with any others that could be called intercity well before A-Day.

In the case of Borealis (can't we dream up another name?), there was F&B service provided by MILW employees both on A-Day Eve and for about two years into the Amtrak era.

The one case of "union busting" attempted at a sponsor's initiative was on NY-Albany where an outside contractor, Subway Restaurants with suffice to say, non-Agreement employees, was brought in. That could only be considered a disaster, and that there is no F&B available today on trains can be attributed to that misadventure.
  • 1
  • 29
  • 30
  • 31
  • 32
  • 33
  • 36