RPA Continues to Press Amtrak About Food Service

The Rail Passengers Association continues to press Amtrak to improve its dining service on eastern long-distance trains by laying out this week its list of changes it wants to see implemented.

RPA has been expressing concern about Amtrak’s apparent plans to expand its contemporary dining service program to all long-distance trains in October although it hasn’t formally announced those changes.

Contemporary dining was introduced in June 2018 aboard the Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York/Boston) and the Capitol Limited (Chicago-Washington).

Both trains lost their full-service dining cars in favor of a limited menu of offerings prepared off the train.

RPA said it has raised with Amtrak management several issues involving contemporary dining but thus far the carrier has only addressed one of them by adding a hot dining option.

“Since last year, we’ve been meeting informally with Amtrak leaders and executives to try to work out something better,” RPA wrote this week on its blog. “It appears Amtrak is simply barreling ahead with an offering that remains flawed and potentially threatens the attractiveness of the trains without substantively addressing the shortcomings we identified.”

Among the suggestions that RPA has made are more hot meal choices; more consideration for dietary needs such as kosher requirements, vegetarian, low-sodium/healthy, and common allergies; better presentation, which would eliminate the dinner-in-a-box concept; better provisioning so that diners should not run out of food in the first few hours of an overnight journey; and allowing coach passengers to buy meals in the diner.

Amtrak has suggested to RPA that new equipment is coming that would make it easier to address these concerns.

This includes new convection ovens in place of microwave ovens that will mean that more food could be cooked simultaneously and would have a better taste.

The carrier has also told the rail advocacy group that a new food-service vendor competition was supposed to improve the food choices while helping Amtrak meet its legal mandate to break-even on food and beverage.

RPA acknowledged that Amtrak is correct in saying that many passengers, particularly those who are new to Amtrak and are younger in age, want lighter fare and the ability to eat during other than fixed mealtimes.

Some have told RPA that they believe the food being offered by the contemporary dining program tastes better than what it replaced.

That led RPA to comment on its blog that it is unlikely that there will be wide agreement on individual food items because food is too personal.

“But we can agree that tossing largely cold, processed food wrapped in plastic into a box and handing it over in a plastic bag is not exactly a welcoming message to passengers,” RPA wrote. “Nor is the lack of place settings at dining-car tables, which is designed — subtly, of course — to discourage passengers from staying in the dining car with their boxed lunch.”

RPA said it has formally asked Amtrak to answer a number of specific questions about the planning food service changes that are in the works for implementation on Oct. 1.

The group wants to know if any aspects of the planned changes are open to refinement before they are launched in October.

It also asked about plans to address shortfalls in items aboard the trains, options for passengers with special diet needs, and the status of food-service equipment upgrades that are supposed to improve the taste and appearance of dining-car food.

Looking ahead, RPA has asked Amtrak about any changes that may be in the works for dining services aboard western long-distance trains.

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One Response to “RPA Continues to Press Amtrak About Food Service”

  1. Clifford Edwards Says:

    With the coming of convection ovens, then revert back to the the previous plan: meaning no changes in personnel and bring back the dining cars on all long haul trains.

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