Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Auto Train’

Auto Train to Run Hour Later Starting May 2

April 27, 2022

Amtrak plans to change the schedule of the Auto Train on May 2.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that the Auto Train will arrive and depart its terminals in Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida, one hour later. Trains 52 and 53 will be rescheduled to depart at 5 p.m. and arrive at 9:59 a.m. at both terminals.

Check-in for all vehicle types begins at 12:30 p.m. and closes at 3 p.m. Station hour will now be 9:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. at both terminals.

The service advisory did not give a reason for the schedule change.

Amtrak Flexible Dining Menu Expands

January 22, 2022

In passenger train advocacy circles French toast has come to symbolize what is right and wrong about dining aboard Amtrak.

When it is available on the breakfast menu passenger train advocates tend to be pleased. When it is not, they are upset.

Over the years French toast has come and gone from Amtrak dining car menus.

It made a comeback in traditional dining cars on western long-distance trains last summer and is now available on the menu of eastern long distance trains, too.

It was one of a number of additions that Amtrak quietly made to its flexible dining menu last year that increased the number of hot offerings for all meals.

But not all French toast is the same. Just read the menu descriptions for it on the traditional and flexible dining menus.

That offered in traditional dining cars is described as thick-cut Texas toast with whipped cream and seasonal berries. On flexible dining menus it is merely described as thick-cut Texas toast served with Applewood smoked bacon.

What the menus don’t say is that in traditional dining cars the French toast is created on board by a chef. In flexible dining cars all food is created off the train by a catering company and heated onboard.

Some passenger train advocates are still angry about Amtrak’s downgrading of dining service aboard eastern long distance trains starting in June 2018.

It was widely viewed as a cost-cutting move and resulted in fewer choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Further ruffling the feathers of passenger train advocates has been the limiting of dining car service to sleeping car passengers on all trains. Coach passengers were left to buy whatever is available in the café car.

Be that as it may, the current flexible dining offerings are more expansive than they were when the service began in 2018.

In its early days, breakfast under the flexible dining concept was limited to one hot offering – a breakfast sandwich – and such things as snack bars and yogurt.

Aside from French toast, the flexible dining menu now includes two more hot breakfast offering.

The continental breakfast comes with a breakfast sandwich, blueberry muffin, Greek yogurt, and assorted cold cereals and oatmeal.

A three egg omelet comes with Swiss, cheddar and mozzarella cheeses and is accompanied by breakfast potatoes and chicken sausage.

What hasn’t changed is the lunch and dinner offerings are the same. You get a complimentary alcoholic beverage at dinner.

The current offerings include braised beef short ribs served with a Cabernet reduction
sauce, baby green beans, Parisienne carrots and chive mashed potatoes; vegen enchiladas with black beans, corn and cheese wrapped in corn tortillas with an ancho chili sauce and yellow rice; chicken ala rosa with fettuccine, broccoli, sundried cherry tomatoes, and Pecorino Romano cheese in a tomato vodka cream sauce; sesame glazed salmon with stir-fried vegetables and jasmine rice; and penne pasta with tomato sauce, meatballs, and Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.

The menu posted at Amtrak’s website does not list dessert items, but carries the notation “ask your server about our seasonal dessert selection.”

Flexible dining service is provided on the Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Crescent, Lake Shore Limited, Silver Star, Silver Meteor and Texas Eagle.

Amtrak gave it the “flexible” moniker because there are no set seating times and meals can be served in your sleeping car room upon request.

Meal hours are 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch, and 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for dinner.

Amtrak officials have talked about upgrading dining service on eastern long-distance trains, but have not provided any specific details or a time frame for when that might happen.

Likewise they have spoken about making dining car meals, whether traditional or flexible, available for purchase by coach passengers but have not said when that might occur.

Nor have they said what form it would take. Prior to the launch of flexible dining coach passengers had the ability to be served in full-service dining cars.

It may be that once dining car meals are made available to coach passengers it might be on a “to go” basis rather than with sit down table service.

The infrastructure bill approved by Congress last year directed Amtrak to establish a food and beverage service task force, but that has yet to get underway and it remains to be seen what recommendations will be made and how or even if they will be implemented.

For now, the only traditional dining involving meals prepared fresh aboard the train is limited to the Auto Train, Empire Builder, California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Coast Starlight.

The current Auto Train menu differs slightly from those on the other trains with full-service dining cars.  

On the Auto Train all entrées include a small salad and dinner roll rather than an appetizer as is the case with western train dining cars.

The current entrees include an 8-ounce flat iron steak with a Cabernet reduction sauce served with baby green beans, Parisian carrots and a choice of mashed potatoes or a baked potato; pan-roasted chicken breast with wild mushroom risotto, English peas, fava beans, and Parisian carrots, all smothered in a morel mushroom sauce; grilled Atlantic salmon served with ancient grains, baby green beans and Parisian carrots in a miso soy beurre blanc sauce; tortellini with pesto cream and grape tomatoes, and English peas topped with shaved Parmesan cheese.

Entrees for children include an all-beef hot dog served with kettle chips, or macaroni and cheese served with baby green beans and Parisian carrots.

Desserts include flourless Chocolate Torte, cheesecake, carrot cake, vanillia ice cream, and sugar-free Jell-O.

The Auto-Train does not offer a full breakfast. Instead, sleeping car passengers receive a continental breakfast.

The current traditional dining car breakfast menu used on western long-distance trains includes a continental breakfast of seasonal mixed berries, croissant, Greek yogurt, assorted cereals, and a choice of oatmeal or grits; French toast; three egg omelet with choice of cheddar, Swiss cheese, tomatoes, red and green peppers and onions, all served with roasted breakfast potatoes and a croissant; and scrambled eggs.

The latter comes with the same options as the omelet along with roasted breakfast potatoes and a croissant.

Diners can add to their meal bacon, pork sausage links or chicken sausage links.

At lunch the entrees include a Caesar salad with romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, and shaved parmesan cheese with the option to add a roasted chicken breast; grilled cheese sandwich with roasted turkey, bacon, provolone and cheddar cheeses on hickory-smoked onion bread; an Angus beef burger with cheddar or Swiss cheese, lettuce, and tomato, on a brioche roll; and vegan chilli served in a baked potato or in a bowl with a choice of toppings of cheddar cheese, bacon,
sour cream, and scallions.

The sandwiches come with a side of Terra chips and coleslaw.

Dinner entrees come with an appetizer and one complimentary alcoholic beverage. As is the case with flexible dining, soft drinks are complimentary throughout the trip.

The appetizers include a lobster crab cake, green chile cheese tamale, or a mixed greens salad with baby brie.

Dinner entrees and desserts are the same as those offered on the Auto Train. The traditional dining cars also make available at dinner offerings from the lunch menu.

The children’s menu includes grilled cheese (American and Swiss) with kettle chips; roasted chicken breast with green beans, carrot balls and cheesy polenta; white cheddar mac and cheese with green beans and carrots; and a all beef hot dog served with kettle chips.

Track Work Affects Florida Trains

April 6, 2021

CSX track work has resulted in service changes for the Silver Star, Silver Meteor and Virginia corridor service.

Between April 2 and May 5 operations will be affected as follows.

On Friday through Sunday, April 3-May 5, the Silver Star will operate normally between New York and Savannah, Georgia.

Train 81 will depart Savannah at 4:33 a.m., 15 minutes later than normal; Jacksonville, Florida, at 7:29 a.m., 30 minutes later than normal, and will operate this later schedule at all stations between Jacksonville and Miami.

On Thursday through Saturday, April 2-May 1, the northbound Silver Star will operate normally between Miami and Hamlet, North Carolina. Train 92 will leave Hamlet at 6:29 a.m., 15 minutes later than normal; Raleigh, North Carolina, at 9:15 a.m., 30 minutes later than normal, and will operate this later schedule at all stations between Raleigh and New York.

On Monday through Thursday, April 19-May 5, the southbound Silver Meteor will depart Savannah at 6:45 a.m., 5 minutes later than normal, Jacksonville at 9:59 a.m., 25 minutes later than normal and will operate this later schedule at all stations between Jacksonville and Miami.

On Sunday through Wednesday, April 18-May 5, the northbound Silver Meteor will depart Savannah at 7:51 p.m., 20 minutes later than normal; Charleston at 9:42 p.m., 20 minutes later than normal, and will operate this later schedule at all stations between Charleston and New York.

Amtrak Thruway bus schedules 6091, 6097, 6291, 7591/7991 and 7597/7997will be adjusted to reflect later connection times.

The Carolinian, Palmetto and Auto Trains can expect up to 30 minute delays.

CSX Track Work Disrupts Southeast Service

March 19, 2021

CSX track work has affected the operations of several Amtrak trains in the Southeast through April 25.

The southbound Silver Star will on Friday through Sunday depart Savannah, Georgia, at 4:33 a.m, 15 minutes later than normal.

Train 91 will depart Jacksonville, Florida, at 7:29 a.m, 30 minutes later than normal and depart later at all stations between Jacksonville and Miami.

On March 18, 26 and April 2, No. 91 will stop in North Carolina at Selma and Wilson and depart all stations from Raleigh to Denmark, South Carolina, six minutes later than normal, Savannah 21 minutes later than normal and all stations from Jacksonville to Miami 36 minutes later than normal.

The northbound Silver Star on Thursday through Saturday will depart Hamlet, North Carolina, at 6:29 a.m., 15 minutes later than normal.

It will depart Raleigh at 9:15 a.m., 30 minutes later than normal and depart later at all stations between Raleigh and New York.

On March 19 and 26 and April 2, No. 92 will stop at Selma and Wilson and depart Hamlet at 6:29 a.m., 15 minutes later than normal.

It will depart Raleigh at 9:15 a.m., 30 minutes later than normal, Rocky Mount 39 minutes later than normal and operate 37 minutes later at all stations from Petersburg, Virginia, to Alexandria, Virginia, and 35 minutes later than normal from Washington to New York.

The Carolinian will operate between Charlotte and Raleigh on Monday through Thursday between March 29 and April 1.

No alternative transportation is being provided between New York and Raleigh.

On March 16 through March 28 Train 79 will depart Selma at 4:58 p.m., 20 minutes later than normal and operate on that later schedule to Charlotte.

On March 16 through March 28, Train 80 will depart Rocky Mount at 11:40 a.m., five minutes later than normal, Petersburg at 1:21 p.m., 10 minutes later than normal, Richmond Staples Mill at 2:31 p.m., 20 minutes later than normal and operate on this later schedule to Washington.

The southbound Palmetto will operate operate between New York and Washington only on Mondays and Thursdays with no alternate transportation provided between Washington and Savannah.

No. 89 will operate on Saturdays between New York and Savannah, departing Florence, South Carolina, at 5:59 p.m., 15 minutes later than normal.

The northbound Palmetto will operates on Wednesdays and Fridays between Washington and New York, with no alternate transportation provided between Savannah and Washington.

No. 90 will operate between Savannah and New York on Saturdays, departing Richmond Staples Mill at 5:39 p.m., 15 minutes later than normal and operating on a later schedule to Washington.

The train will depart Washington  at its normal time of 8:30 p.m.

The southbound Silver Meteor during the period of March 15 to April 1 will depart Fayetteville, North Carolina, at 1:37 a.m., 15 minutes later than normal, Florence at 3:33 a.m., 20 minutes later than normal and Savannah at 7:10 a.m., 30 minutes later than normal. It will operate on this later schedule at all stations to Miami.

The northbound Silver Meteor during the period of March 14 through March 31 will depart Kingstree, South Carolina, at 10:21 p.m., 10 minutes later than normal, Rocky Mount at 2:29 a.m., 20 minutes later than normal and Richmond Staples Mill at 4:57 a.m., 25 minutes later than normal. It will operate on this later schedule at all stations to New York.

The Auto Train is expected to be delayed by 20 minutes in each direction.

Amtrak Daily Service Also Will Bring Some Service Enhancements

March 13, 2021

The restoration of daily operation to most of Amtrak’s long-distance trains starting in late May will also coincide with a spiffing up of some amenities aboard those trains.

Some long-distance trains are expected to see the return of traditional dining car service.

The intercity passenger carrier said new Viewliner II sleeping cars will be assigned to the Silver Meteor and Silver Star between New York and Miami.

The Auto Train sleeping cars will receive new and what Amtrak described as upgraded bedding, towels and linens. These will be provided to other long distance trains with sleeping car service during the summer.

Eastern trains assigned Amfleet II coaches will get new seating cushions, carpets, curtains and LED reading lights.

Amtrak said cars that went through a multi-year interior renovation program for Superliner and Viewliner I equipment, which includes new seating cushions, carpets and curtains, will enter revenue service this summer.

Although no date was given, new ALC-32 Siemens Charger locomotives will begin pulling long-distance trains this year.

They will replace the ubiquitous P42DC units that have been maintays since the middle 1990s.

The Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station in New York will get a new Metropolitan Lounge for sleeping car passengers.

Unspecified enhancements will be made to the Auto Train.

It also remains to be seen how Amtrak will handle the restoration of traditional dining car meals.

Roger Harris, Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief marketing and revenue officer, said the carrier needs to work through the health implications of dining car operation.

“Communal dining is probably a non-starter for now, and you can work backward through food preparation and delivery,” he said.

Harris did not say which trains would receive traditional dining service. Well before the COVID-19 pandemic began Amtrak had ended full-service dining car service on all eastern long-distance trains except the Auto Train.

Traditional dining aboard the western long distance trains ended early in the pandemic in favor of serving prepackaged meals.

“It’s important to figure this out because it involves the recall of employees for the daily service this summer, so it’s a rather intertwined process,” Harris said. “There will be some food service decisions in the coming months but there will be further developments in the next year, as we get our new team really focused on this.”

Latest Flash Sale Aims to Boost Auto Train Travel

January 14, 2021

Amtrak’s latest flash sale is focused on travel on the Auto Train.

The sale began Tuesday and extends through Jan. 22. The carrier is touting fares as low as $99 for one person in a sleeping car roomette and $149 for two in the same room.

Fares for one person in a bedroom are as low as $259 for one and $299 for two.

Coach sale fares are $59 for one and $118 for two.

Those fares do not include the cost of transporting a vehicle between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida.

Travel must be made between Jan. 15 and Feb. 25 northbound, and March 15 to May 31 southbound. Blackout dates for the latter are April 2 and 5.

The fares do not require roundtrip travel, but reservations must be made at least three days prior to departure.

The offer is available at Amtrak.com and the Amtrak app. Other terms and conditions apply including that the fares are not available on all trains at all times.

More information is available at Amtrak.com/AutoTrainSale.

Service Cuts Mean Fewer Connections

June 23, 2020

Amtrak’s plans to reduce the frequency of operation of its New York-Miami trains will mean there will be no connections to and from Florida on some days in Washington or New York.

The passenger carrier plans on July 6 to begin operating the Silver Meteor four times a week and the Silver Star three times a week.

It is the first step of a larger plan to reduce operations of all long-distance trains except the Auto Train to less than daily service on Oct. 1.

The Silver Meteor will depart New York Monday through Thursday, and Miami Sunday through Wednesday.

The Silver Star will operate Friday through Sunday southbound and Thursday through Saturday northbound.

The New York-Savannah, Georgia, Palmetto will for now continue to operate daily.

The July schedule changes will preclude connections on some days to Florida from the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, and Cardinal.

Cross-Florida travel and service to South Carolina’s state capital, Columbia, will only be possible on different days around weekends.

A Trains magazine analysis noted that during May the combined ridership of the Silver Star and Silver Meteor was 7.2 million passenger miles generating $1.4 million of revenue.

That compares to 5.2 million passenger miles and $2.4 million in revenue for all Northeast Corridor trains between Boston and Washington.

In an unrelated development, Amtrak is offering a 20 percent off sale on roomette accommodations for its Auto Train.

The sale is good through June 24 for travel through Aug. 31.

The sale does not apply to any other trains that provide sleeping car accommodations.

Amtrak to Cut Long-Distance Service Oct. 1

June 16, 2020

Amtrak told its employees on Monday that all long-distance trains except for the Auto Train will operate on less than daily schedules starting Oct. 1.

The carrier also said that service in the Northeast Corridor and state-funded corridor services will continue to operate at greatly reduced levels through during fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1.

The message indicated that Amtrak will watch unspecified performance metrics with the idea of restoring daily service as demand warrants, possibly by summer 2021.

Amtrak has not released details of the service cuts including what days that trains would operate. Nor has it released information on the service metrics that it will be monitoring.

For example, it is unclear if the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited will be scheduled to operate on the same days or different days between Chicago and Cleveland.

The memo to employees was written by Roger Harris, Amtrak’s executive vice president, chief marketing and revenue service officer.

Harris said the Silver Meteor is expected to operate four days a week between New York and Miami while the Silver Star would run tri-weekly.

The memo indicated those trains would be scheduled so that their common stations would receive daily service.

The Meteor appears to be the only long-distance train being eyed for quad-weekly service. All other long-distance trains will operate tri-weekly.

However, operations of two trains that already operate tri-weekly, the Chicago-New York Cardinal and the New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited, will be unchanged.

Amtrak has apparently dropped an idea floated by President William Flynn in a late May a letter to Congress of combining the Palmetto (New York-Savannah, Georgia), Silver Meteor and Silver Star.

The Auto Train, which operates between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida, will continue to operate daily.

The Harris memo said the service reductions are being made in an effort to save $150 million  during a time of expected low ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic recession that has depressed travel demand.

Harris also argued that Amtrak’s operating loss has been more than $500 million on long-distance services.

Those losses, though, are under Amtrak’s fully allocated costs accounting method whose accuracy has been criticized by rail passenger supporters.

When pressed for details about the service reduction plans, Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said in a prepared statement that the carrier is still in the planning stages and can’t answer most questions yet about what service will look like starting Oct. 1.

Her statement said Amtrak expects during the next fiscal year to operate 32 percent fewer frequencies on the Northeast Corridor and 24 percent fewer state-supported services.

The service cuts were blasted by Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “Chopping back to triweekly will mute any demand signal before it gets to management,” he said in a statement. “The long-distance services remain essential to the hundreds of small communities across the United States with fewer options than Philadelphia or Boston or New York.”

Mathews said Amtrak’s two worst-performing trains are the Cardinal and Sunset Limited, which operate tri-weekly, and predicted Amtrak’s plans to operate less than daily service on long distance routes will result in a dramatic decline in ridership.

“Moreover, Amtrak may be setting itself up for failure by losing operating slots on host railroads, losing employees it will need to restore service, and possibly losing the rolling stock as well,” he said.

Ross Capon, who headed the then-named National Association of Railroad Passengers recalled that Amtrak went through a similar phase in 1995 during another era of budget austerity.

“Experience from the 1990s shows that Amtrak’s plan to run the entire long-distance network less than daily will not achieve promised savings,” Capon told Trains magazine. “It also will inhibit the return of ridership Amtrak says is prerequisite for service restoration.

Capon called on Congress to grant Amtrak the additional $1.4 billion it is seeking on top of its regular appropriation for FY2021 with the proviso that long-distance trains now operating daily continue to do so.

Amtrak has reported that although ridership and revenue remain down due to the pandemic and recession, long-distance ticket revenues rose 71 percent from $6.8 million to $11.6 million, between April and May.

In the Northeast Corridor, revenue rose about 60 percent from $1.5 million to $2.4 million, and state supported trains generated less than a 50 percent increase, from $2.3 million in April to $3.5 million in May.

The Harris memo to employees opened with a statement that Amtrak remains committed to operating a national network but “we need to be smart about how we deliver our service in this market environment.”

Harris said Congress is unlikely to support Amtrak indefinitely if it continues to operate mostly empty trains.

“We need to demonstrate that we are using our resources efficiently and responsibly,” he wrote.

The memo stated Amtrak ridership is down as much as 95 percent on a year-over-year basis.

Although it continues to rise, “it is going to take a long time to return to normal.”

Harris said the demand for long distance service is down by 70 percent and Amtrak expects systemwide ridership in FY2021to be 50 percent of what it was in 2019.

As did Flynn in his May letter to Congress, Harris said Amtrak said the potential for a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall could further reduce ridership.

There Goes the Auto Train

June 10, 2020

Like all other long-distance trains, Amtrak’s Auto Train is not as long as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. But it still makes for an impressive sight with its consist of Superliners and auto carriers.

It is shown passing through Folkston, Georgia, earlier this month.

Railfans in Folkston can also see Amtrak’s Silver Meteor and Silver Star pass through here.

Photograph by Todd Dillon

 

CSX Track Work Disrupts SE Amtrak Service

May 6, 2020

CSX track work has resulted in numerous schedule changes for Amtrak trains in the Southeast.

Through May 24-25 the Silver Star will be cancelled on weekdays but will operate on its normal schedule on weekend.

The northbound Silver Star will operate Friday through Sunday and Monday through May 24 while the southbound Star will run Thursday through Saturday, and Sunday through May 25.

The Carolinian will be canceled through May 17 except on Friday through Sunday.

Effective May 18 the Carolinian will operate between Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina.

No alternative transportation is being provided between New York and Raleigh and Amtrak Thruway Buses 6079 and 6080 are cancelled.

The Palmetto will not operate on weekdays south of Washington but will run Friday through Sunday.

Nos. 89 and 90 will operate daily between New York and Washington. No alternative transportation is being provided on the day the Palmetto does not operate between Washington and Savannah, Georgia.

Amtrak Thruway Buses 6089, 6090, 6189 and 6190 are cancelled.

The Auto Train and Silver Meteor will operate as scheduled but delays of up to 45 minute may occur between Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia, Monday through Thursday.