Posts Tagged ‘aboard Amtrak’

Farewell to Jackson

May 17, 2018

I’m standing at the rear of Amtrak train No. 58, the northbound City of New Orleans, as it leaves the station at Jackson, Mississippi.

I’ve been through this station aboard the CONO a few times, but never seen the station other than the platform.

The waiting room and ticket office are at ground level, but the tracks are elevated through downtown Jackson.

My understanding is that this is the site of the former Jackson Union Station. The Illinois Central was the last railroad to have passenger service here in the pre-Amtrak era.

There were four trains a day on April 30, 1971, the IC City of New Orleans and the Panama Limited.

The next day the train count fell to two where it has remained ever since.

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Looking For a Future

May 14, 2018

I’m aboard the penultimate run of Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian from Chicago to Philadelphia. The date is Feb. 8, 2003.

I’m holding a ticket to travel from Cleveland to Pittsburgh where I’ll lay over for a few hours and catch the last Pennsylvanian to Chicago out of Pittsburgh.

Tomorrow, the Pennsylvanian will begin to revert back to a New York-Pittsburgh train with funding from the State of Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvanian was extended to Chicago during the era when Amtrak thought it could, to borrow the words of then-President George Warrington, ascend a glide path to profitability.

Then David Gunn became president of Amtrak and decided that wasn’t going to work and he took the passenger carrier out of the business of carrying mail and express.

One of the first casualties of that policy change was the Pennsylvanian. It had been extended to Chicago west of Pittsburgh to carry head-end business.

But with that now being taken away and the Pennsylvanian having mediocre ridership on the Pittsburgh-Chicago segment it became expendable.

On this day No. 42 arrived in Alliance, Ohio, well ahead of its scheduled arrival time. I had time to get off the train and walk around to make photographs.

My favorite was this one, made from the vestibule showing the conductor looking back on the platform for boarding passengers.

I can imagine he might also be searching for his future with Amtrak.

Empty Tables

May 4, 2018

When Amtrak introduced the Cross Country Cafe concept, it was seen by some as a downgrade in food service.

The passenger carrier modified a few dining cars to remove their traditional table seating in favor of booths. Half of the car was to be a lounge, thus reprising the long-time concept of a diner lounge.

The cars were assigned to the City of New Orleans, Texas Eagle and Capitol Limited.

Shown is a Cross Country Cafe on the northbound City of New Orleans in March 2012.

The top image shows the lounge area while the bottom photograph shows the dining area.

Note the difference in tables. In my experience, which is admittedly limited, the lounge area on Nos. 58 and 59 didn’t catch on that well.

Why sit here when the train had a Sightseer Lounge in the consist?

These images were made not long after No. 58 departed from New Orleans in early afternoon. The car isn’t open and meals are not yet being served.

With the changes coming to dining service on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited on June 1, 2018, some might wish that Amtrak had retained the Cross Country Cafe concept.

Amtrak to End Full-Service Dining on Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited in Favor of Cole Meal Service

April 20, 2018

Amtrak is ending full-service dining car service on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

In a news release posted on its website, the passenger carrier said that effective June 1 it will begin offering sleeping car passengers on the two trains what it termed “contemporary and fresh dining choices.”

That means cold meals delivered to the passenger’s room or consumed at a table in a lounge car.

Trains magazine said Amtrak did not respond to question about whether hot meals would be offered on either train, but a separate service advisory indicated that café car fare will continue to be available, some of which is heated in a microwave oven.

The news release said the service is intended to replace traditional dining-car service.

Meals will be delivered to the trains just before they depart their end terminals. The cost of these meals will continue to be included in the ticket price of a sleeping car room.

Among the mean choices, the news release, said are chilled beef tenderloin, vegan wrap, chicken Caesar salad and turkey club sandwich.

Breakfast options will include assorted breakfast breads with butter, cream cheese and strawberry jam; Greek yogurt and sliced seasonal fresh fruit.

A Kosher meal will be available with advanced notice.

Passengers will receive unlimited soft beverages; a complimentary serving of beer, wine or a mixed drink; and an amenity kit.

Previously, sleeping car passengers wanting an alcoholic beverage had to pay for it.

“Our continued success depends on increasing customer satisfaction while becoming more efficient,” said Bob Dorsch, Amtrak’s vice president of its long distance service line, said in the news release.

The service advisory said that after boarding, sleeping car attendants will continue the standard procedure of asking passengers to select a preferred time for dining with reservations available in 15-minute increments.

Tables in sleeper lounge and café/lounge cars will be first come, first serve for seating and there will be no at-table dining service.

Sleeping car passengers will also be offered complimentary morning coffee, chilled water and juices, in-room meal service, turn-down service for their beds, and shower facilities.

They will be provided pre-boarding privileges and same-day access to lounges, such as Club Acela in the Northeast Corridor and the Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago.

Business class passengers on the Lake Shore Limited will be offered a la carte purchases from café/lounge menu, an alcoholic beverage and unlimited soft beverages, and a complimentary comfort kit.

Amtrak said coach passengers may purchase on a limited basis the pre-packaged meals served to sleeping car passengers. The existing café car menu will continue to be available to all passengers.

The news release also quoted Dorsch as saying, the meal service will continue to be refined and Amtrak looks forward to hearing from its customers about it.

What it all adds up to is that Amtrak is looking to cut costs by eliminating onboard kitchen staff and servers, and offering airline style meals that are provided by a catering company.

Trains magazine quoted the Rail Passengers Association as saying that the change reflects outside directives to the passenger carrier.

“It’s important to remember that this is simply an outcropping of the congressional mandate to eliminate losses on food and beverage service,” said James A. Zumwalt, director of policy research at RPA.

Zumwalt said the new meal policy “contradicts other successful models such as in the cruise industry, and proves unpopular with passengers. The mandate prevents best practices and should be removed.”

NPS Curtails Trails and Rails Program

March 22, 2018

The Trails and Rails volunteer program of the National Park Service has been canceled on five Amtrak trains and will operate on a reduced schedule on three others.

The cutbacks followed an Amtrak decision to cease offering complimentary food and overnight lodging expense payments for the volunteers.

Trains losing the programs include City of New Orleans, New Orleans-Greenwood, Mississippi; Sunset Limited, New Orleans-Beaumont, Texas; California Zephyr, Denver-Grand Junction, Colorado; Texas Eagle, Fort Worth-San Antonio, Texas; Maple Leaf , Albany/Rensselaer-Utica, New York.

An abbreviated version of the program will be offered on the Empire Builder: Seattle-Wenatchee, Washington; Crescent, Atlanta-Birmingham, Alabama; and the Southwest Chief: La Junta, Colorado-Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Unaffected by the cutbacks are Trails and Rails programs aboard the following trains: New York-Washington; (Northeast Regional); New York-Albany/Rensselaer, New York (Adirondack, Empire Service); Saratoga Springs-Westport, New York (Adirondack); Chicago-St. Louis (Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle); Chicago-Niles, Michigan. (Wolverine Service and Blue Water); Seattle-Portland, Oregon (Coast Starlight); Santa Barbara-San Jose, California. (Coast Starlight and Pacific Surfliner); Washington-Cumberland, Maryland (Capitol Limited); Los Angeles-San Diego (Pacific Surfliner); Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas. (Heartland Flyer).

Some programs operate daily between May and Labor Day, although most have specific days of operation and café car lecturers won’t be on every departure or every segment.

A listing of the dates that the programs are offered can be found at https://www.nps.gov/subjects/amtraktrailsandrails/trains.htm

Last Dinner on the Broadway Limited

February 3, 2018

It Saturday night in the dining car on Amtrak’s eastbound Broadway Limited. Despite the train having departed Chicago at 8:55 p.m., the dining car is open and serving.

At first glance, there is nothing out of the ordinary about these scenes. What is playing out has occurred countless times aboard this car, whose heritage predates the creation of Amtrak by two decades.

It was built in 1948 by Budd for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, which named it Silver Cafe.  Amtrak modernized it when it rebuilt the car in June 1980 for head-end power as part of the Heritage Fleet.

Tonight every table and nearly every seat in the Silver Cafe is taken as train No. 40 roars toward New York through Indiana on CSX tracks that once belonged to the Baltimore & Ohio.

But this trip was different because it would be the last run of the Broadway Limited.

The next day, Nos. 40 and 41 will began operating only between Pittsburgh and New York and will be renamed the Three Rivers.

The change was part of a route rationalization plan launched amid a budget cut and the cutbacks could have been more severe than they were.

These images that I made during the last dinner on the Broadway Limited were made on color print film and turned out grainy.

Nonetheless, they remind me of one of my most memorable dinners aboard Amtrak.

The entree, I believe it was trout with a mustard sauce was served with steamed carrots and a rice pilaf, and was quite tasty. The desert was chocolate cake that I recall was embellished by the server, John Long.

Despite it being a last run, the dining car crew was courteous and seemed to go out of their way to make the event something special and worth remembering.

The St. Charles Air Line

January 19, 2018

Since March 1972, Amtrak trains going to and from the Illinois Central mainline between Chicago and New Orleans have plied the St. Charles Air Line to gain access to Chicago Union Station.

At some point a train arriving or leaving Union Station must do a backup move to get into or out of the station. All of this adds to the running time and for years there has been talk of creating a more direct connection to the IC mainline and the route into Union Station.

But that has yet to come to fruition so six Amtrak trains a day use the St. Charles Air Line.

In the Illinois Central passenger train days, varnish going to and from the Iowa Division used a portion of the St. Charles Air Line.  Of course, freight trains use the Air Line, too.

Some Chicago officials and land developers would like to see the Air Line abandoned because it traverses territory that in the past decade has seen rapid grown of high-end residential housing. The former site of Central Station has been converted to a housing development.

But for the foreseeable future Amtrak and freight trains will continue to use the Air Line at all hours of the day.

I made the image above from the last car on Amtrak Train No. 393, the Illini, to Carbondale, Illinois, back in June 2010.

In a few minutes No. 393 will round the curve at South Wye Junction and gain the Mainline of Mid America. The train will accelerate as it passes beneath McCormick place and heads southward.

Those Lost Little Touches

January 18, 2018

There was a time when Amtrak offered a number of small touches for passengers holding sleeping car tickets.

Notice this display inside my room in a Viewliner sleeper on the Lake Shore Limited out of Chicago in June 2010. The car attendant has left a printed greeting with his name.

Another touch was the artificial flowers and the chocolate mint. You could also expect to get a newspaper delivered to your room in the morning and a route schedule to be there as well. Back in the day, as they say, Amtrak even provided route guides.

Now all of these things are gone, victims of cost cutting and changes in service philosophies.

Ready for You This Morning

January 5, 2018

It is morning in the dining car of the westbound Capitol Limited. The train is somewhere in Indiana as you arrive in the dining car in anticipation of having a hot breakfast.

Although the car is nearly full, there are a few seats available. You sit down and the menu is laid out for you on the table. You look it over and tell the server what you want.

In days of old, you would have written your order on a check. That was the way it was in the early days of Amtrak, but now the dining car is run much like a regular restaurant, albeit one that is moving along at nearly 80 miles per hour.

In due time your breakfast arrives and you dig in. No matter how many times you’ve done this before aboard a dining car, it never seems to get old.

Amtrak Eyes Reducing Seat Pitch in Coaches

July 13, 2017

Amtrak may take a page out of the airlines playbook and try to squeeze more passengers into its coaches.

Co-CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman said this week that Amtrak is studying the creation of a new economy class that would have less room between seats, known as seat pitch.

“We are looking at doing some creative things in terms of creating an economy class,” Moorman told the National Press Club in Washington.

For years the airlines have been reducing seat pitch in an effort to increase seating and therefore increase the amount of revenue earned per flight.

Moorman said the carrier has not decided whether to implement the idea, but acknowledged “there will be some other things that just don’t make it quite as comfortable.”

For years, Amtrak has touted how it offers more leg room than the airlines and that its trains do not have a center seat as do many jetliners.

“We compete very well with the airlines,” Moorman said, adding that travelers in the New York-Washington who take Amtrak avoid New York’s LaGuardia Airport and lengthy airport security lines.

The tighter seat proposal was revealed on the same day that Moorman began sharing the CEO post with Richard Anderson, a former Delta Air Lines head.