• Better food on non-LD trains - is it doable?

  • 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

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  by Railjunkie
 
jp1822 wrote: Wed Sep 15, 2021 4:04 am
The issue is two fold one Albany never has enough EXTRA locomotives or coaches to make up an extra train, or add extra cars to a train. There is a wye in Saratoga have used it ONCE in my Amtrak career, CP will tell you its OOS unless there is extra $$$ involved. The Saratoga trains ran special during racing season and I believe that may have been weekends only.
Second NY is not going to pay for the extra coaches on the Adirondack An added fun fact CN Canada charges the most $$$ of any host RR. Why this is Im not sure. There just isnt that much left on the Rouses Point Sub most if not all of the other subdivisions and industries that were once a major part of its reason for being are long since gone or are now nothing more than spurs sidings or vacant buildings.
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
Railjunkie wrote: Wed Sep 15, 2021 10:30 am An added fun fact CN Canada charges the most $$$ of any host RR. Why this is Im not sure.
Mr. Junkie, I'll bet you will find this goes back to a 1974 Congressional mandate telling Amtrak you WILL start international services. Both the B&M and CN knew they had Amtrak over the barrel - and "capitalized" on such.
  by John_Perkowski
 
Gilbert B Norman wrote: Wed Sep 15, 2021 12:27 pm
Railjunkie wrote: Wed Sep 15, 2021 10:30 am An added fun fact CN Canada charges the most $$$ of any host RR. Why this is Im not sure.
Mr. Junkie, I'll bet you will find this goes back to a 1974 Congressional mandate telling Amtrak you WILL start international services. Both the B&M and CN knew they had Amtrak over the barrel - and "capitalized" on such.
AND… CN in Canada is not subject to any term of RPSA 70.
  by STrRedWolf
 
NRGeep wrote: Wed Sep 15, 2021 9:13 am Gluten free options would be optimal for Celiac disease folks who really can not have wheat unlike fad diet gluten free people.
Agreed, there should be an option, but for now you have to signal up to Amtrak when you order your ticket "Gluten free due to celiac disease please".
  by jp1822
 
Railjunkie wrote: Wed Sep 15, 2021 10:30 am
Well, if NY is not going to pay for the extra coaches between NYP and Albany or NYP and Saratoga, then it's a dead issue.

However, I have seen extra "local" coaches added and subtracted between NYP and Albany, especially in regards to the Adirondack. There are extra tracks at Saratoga Springs station where Amtrak could drop cars heading northbound, and then the southbound train picks them up for return to Albany (as an example). But again, that relies on high density coaches being made available. There's no reason for the Adirondack to haul extra coaches all the way to Canada and across the border.....

In regards to the Ethan Allen, I will gladly stand corrected, but I think Vermont gets a credit towards its payments due for the extra passengers generated in service between NYP and Albany. So hence, running the train "express" from NYP to Albany may not work for the Rutland Vermont traveller on Friday night, but it is not a drain on the finances if they can fill with passengers travelling to the Hudson River Valley. It's a carve out I am not too familiar with, but again, the Ethan Allen would usually benefit from extra coaches NYP to Albany on Fridays particular.

NY used to run Saratoga special trains at one time - added frequencies. But that didn't last too long into the 21st century.
  by Railjunkie
 
Yes we did at one time drop and add a coach in Albany off the Adirondack, that was the local coach. Its also been done off the Maple Leaf. The Saratoga idea of adding and dropping a coach again could fly if you were willing to add 15 to 20 min to the station stop, pay the CP some extra $$$ for blocking one of there tracks for the day. Pay the road crew to replace that nice white shirt when they have to get down and dirty with the cables and hoses. Or ship a mechanical crew up from Albany, pay the CP even more $$$ for the work.

I would agree the Friday Rutland train could use another coach or two but they would have to be cut in Albany as the wye in Rutland can only handle 6 coaches and an engine. That train has always been a zoo especially when track season comes around.

The only Saratoga train that stopped there that is no longer on the schedule was an afternoon Rutland train that ran ahead of AMT68 that was circa 1998 1999. Held the job. Wednesday ALB NYP RUD deadhead back. Thursday deadhead ALB RUD then work RUD NYP ALB
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
Lest we forget, it "ain't like the old days" when The Late Messrs. Nelligan and Weaver, plus "still kicking of sorts" me, were around the New Haven. Cars were added or cut routinely with maybe five minutes station (or "dwell" in Amtrakese) time at Providence (pick up set out Pullmans), New Haven, and even Stamford (right on Tracks 3 and 4), but not no more. Of course back in those days, there was nothing electrical to address, but I defer to those, such as Mr. Junkie, with present day knowledge of adding or cutting cars at intermediate stops.
  by Arborwayfan
 
I have read "If [name of state or agency] will pay for it" several times in this thread, and in others. Is it in fact impossible to have food service break even on an Amtrak train, or any train? What kind of food service could break even? What kind of food service car, or part of a car, would be needed? What resupply methods would be needed? Does having more trains on a given route or from a given hub make it more likely that food service could break even?

I often imagine that with the right choice of food, the right hours, the right advertising on the train, the right passenger base, etc., food service could break even. But I don't know if I'm actually even close to right.

I'd be interested in hearing about either or both of these three possible definitions of break even:
1. Food (and maybe other merch) sales cover all the costs of the food and supplies, including delivery, off-train storage, on-board employees, and any similar costs.
2. Sales cover all the costs in 1, plus the operating costs of the car or part of a car in which the food service happens.
3. Sales cover all the costs in 2, plus the capital costs of the car or part of a car in which food service happens.

*part of a car: Some cafe cars currently have business class on one end. I think that at one time some had coach seats on one or both ends, and no table seating -- ie only the actual serving area wasn't revenue seating. And whatever exists now, it's certainly possible to imagine a food-service space that took up only part of car that was mostly filled with revenue seating.
  by electricron
 
Interesting question, and without all the details almost impossible to answer. Looking at the big picture, Amtrak reports losing $80 Million every year providing the food service.
https://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/03/us/p ... finds.html
Amtrak pre-pandemic reports just over 30 million paying passengers per year nationally.
This link provides far more data than other links I have found, but still leaves much of the data unreported.
https://www.amtrakoig.gov/sites/default ... 14-001.pdf
Good luck finding answers!
  by west point
 
Arborway: Yes Amtrak can get better food. It may be that there is an additional return of revenue for the better food being offered.
4, Better food will in the longer run cause more persons to ride on any train service that keeps the better service. The more persons that can be attracted as repeat passengers. That is a very non subjective measurement that is hard to quantify. We can remember how some legacy RRs with good food service attracted or at least retained repeat passengers.

The question for everyone involve from the US president down to operational management is ----
Does we want Amtrak to loose say $1B for 30M passengers / year or $1.5B for 60M passengers or $2B for 100M passengers / year. ? = Completely arbitrary numbers.

If we are correct with this assumption then IMHO more passengers system wide is important. That will give more total persons the ability to have a way to ride from their home domicile. I do not pretend to to speak for everyone who might want to travel whether it is by air, bus, train, water, or car. But there are locations that will be better served by one of those over the others. New autos sales may may become fewer as prices increase faster than salaries but we cannot really predict 5 - 10 years in the future.

Then again a big unknown is C-19. It might die out to just a mild background dieses . Or horrors a new varient way past dlta could nearly wipe out the whole planet ? That is not a prediction just the 2 bookends of C-19.
Last edited by west point on Sat Sep 18, 2021 10:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by photobug56
 
Dining car service can be expensive to maintain, especially if it's only open a fairly small part of the time. As I recall there was an experiment with round the clock dining on LD trains, which apparently did not lose money. On shorter distance trains, this might also help. While higher fare passengers might have meals included, others would be willing to pay tor nice meals when they are on the train long enough.

Cafe cars have issues. Very minimal choice of super 'cheap' food at a high price, a very long wait in line fairly often, SOME indifferent personnel, overall a lousy experience. The wait, not just in line but for your food, can take so long that it is painful. Yet I can stop of at my local bagel shop, get a fresh bagel with a good spread, or eggs, for less money and a shorter wait. Yes, I know it's easier in the bagel ship, but there's no excuse for the supermarket freezer reject products at high prices and long waits in a cafe car. Even a McD Express tends to do far better.

I wonder how many Amtrak paper pusher bosses have had the Cafe experience. Some of course would just say to get rid of it altogether, but any who actually care about passenger rail might want to improve it. BTW, the Acela cafe cars I've been in appear to have about the same amount of space as the busiest McD E I'd ever patronized. Place wasn't perfect, only the manager spoke English, but the food was edible, a lot less money, and they moved a lot of it. Maybe Amtrak needs fast food experts to figure out how to make their Cafe's work.
  by Railjunkie
 
The ability to keep hot food hot and cold food cold is something a cafe car would struggle with. Not to say it couldn't be done but your product loss per trip could be astronomical. How many people behind the counter? As a former LSA one is enough 2 you just bang into each other. How much was pre cooked and warm? No steam table or electric warming table on a cafe car wouldn't want one either. Burned myself enough pouring coffee or hot water for tea.
McDs express can charge for their products account lower wage part time employees. True they sell more product and Im going to wager a guess that the overhead isnt as bad as Amtrak. Union employees with benefits railroad retirement behind the counter plus the 3 T&E employees who make your car move. Then you have all the inspections and general upkeep of the car, again union. The price of diesel fuel keeps going up not only for Amtrak but those trucks that deliver said food snacks ect. Gotta have a commissary to store this stuff in, no such thing as just in time delivery to a moving train.
Wish the prices and quality were better. I think they would sell more. But, Ive had protect jobs were Ive gotten on and sat in the cafe with the conductors and there has been nothing but a line for an hour and it not because the person behind the counter is slow.
  by photobug56
 
Union, no at MCDE. But rent, super high. But I'm thinking that the way the Cafe works, well ,doesn't work. Most of the space in the car goes to the waiting line. And I never saw more than one person behind the counter, which just doesn't work. And as I've noted, if you are going to use frozen food and nuke it, at least get some decent frozen food. And maybe hot AIR fryers for a few things (I get that a deep fryer wouldn't work well).

The attitude I saw - we're paid by the hour, we could care less what we slop out and how long it takes. But in this discussion we've heard of Cafe car staff who do care. What makes the difference?
  by Railjunkie
 
photobug56 wrote: Sun Sep 19, 2021 1:45 am Union, no at MCDE. But rent, super high. But I'm thinking that the way the Cafe works, well ,doesn't work. Most of the space in the car goes to the waiting line. And I never saw more than one person behind the counter, which just doesn't work. And as I've noted, if you are going to use frozen food and nuke it, at least get some decent frozen food. And maybe hot AIR fryers for a few things (I get that a deep fryer wouldn't work well).

The attitude I saw - we're paid by the hour, we could care less what we slop out and how long it takes. But in this discussion we've heard of Cafe car staff who do care. What makes the difference?
What makes the difference?? Training?? Nope we all received the same training. I will bet my 20 something year old manual is very similar to today's LSA manual. Its all about the attitude of the person behind the counter. If you take the example of the LSA I spoke of with the checked paper liners, napkins and such into each carry out box he doesn't have to do it. He does it because it is an effort to make your food look more appealing. Something a little extra to make you feel special.

Now we will go to the opposite side of the spectrum. First of two examples, this person is no longer with the company. Early morning train car is set up and "open" however he was no where to be found. Why, because he was always asleep. When he was awake far more time was spent reading comic books and acting bothered when someone came to the counter than actually selling product. We later found out he was also in business for himself.

Two of the biggest rules on Amtrak don't "F" with the money!! Don't "F" with the women!! He managed to accomplish both.

Second example, I don't know whatever happened to this LSA. I was working a protect job and got on the train in UCA heading back to ALB. Took a seat with the conductors and noticed everybody that went to the cafe was coming back empty handed. Weird, so I asked the conductor whats going on who by the way is also a former LSA. He said go check it out.

There she sat at a table looking very unprofessional with fuzzy pink slippers on her feet. Yes that is correct fuzzy pink slippers. Tucked my ID into my pocket asked for a cup of coffee was told IM ON BREAK. Ok when will you re open? AFTER ALBANY. That folks is about an hour and 20 min away. Went back sat down shook my head. He look at me and said its been that way since SYR. That on good day 2hours and 30 min.

He called her boss and informed her of such. She didn't care, in that situation you could close the car. BUT the song and dance you may have to go through may not be worth it. There are no replacement LSA along the route you have what you have. So you can see its all about the quality of the person just like anywhere else...
  by photobug56
 
Having coworkers who are just out and out lazy and dishonest is frustrating. And does huge harm to the railroad. In my line of work, I had a coworker who spent his day arranging dives for his clients (nothing to do with the job) on the Andrea Doria, and his phone calls were loud and non-stop. A second coworker did long workouts in the building gym every day and came back smelling like a pig doused in 'perfume'. Bad enough to cause me asthma attacks. Funny part - they eventually got married to each other. But their time in our office was beyond frustrating to those of us actually doing real work.

At any rate, a cafe car that works well is a very good thing. The two I saw on Acela - long wait to open after departure, and very slow turn around on everything. But the person in each was, at least when I could tell, working.
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