Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Auto Train’

Menus on Full-Service Diners Changed

February 19, 2020

Amtrak has changed the menu on its full-service dining cars for the first time in nearly a year.

Although menu prices are largely unchanged the carrier has swapped out a few offerings while retaining others.

New to the menu are French Toast at breakfast in place of pancakes. At dinner, a cod entre has replaced Norwegian salmon while two vegetarian options are now available.

A baked three-cheese manicotti has replaced rigatoni and the vegan compliant selection is now a Cubana bowl. Also new at lunch and dinner are BBQ pork wings.

The full-service dining cars operate on the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle.

The new menus are dated January 2020 and Amtrak did not announce the changes.

The menu of flexible dining fare served on Eastern long-distance trains is dated November 2019 but remains unchanged from what was implemented last October.

This service is available to sleeping car passengers only aboard the Lake Shore Limited, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Crescent and Silver Meteor. It will be extended to Silver Star sleeping car passengers on May 1.

Coach passengers on those trains must buy food and drink from the cafe car.

In spring 2019 Amtrak dropped train specific images from dining car menus.

Although the dining car menu offerings had been standard for several years there had been some slight variations by route. That ended in spring 2019.

The latest change means there are now seven entrée selections at dinner.

Some tweaks also have been made to the full-service dining car lunch menu. Gone are baked chilaquiles and steamed mussles. New are BBQ pork wings.

The entrée salad at lunch has been replaced with a Caesar salad. Like the entrée salad, the Caesar salad offers the option of being served with chicken breast strips for an additional charge of $3.50.

The complete full-service dining car menu offerings and prices paid by coach passengers are as follows.

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs ($8.50), continental breakfast ($8.75), French toast ($10.50), three-egg omelet ($13.75), and Southwestern breakfast quesadillas ($13.50).

Lunch: Ceasar salad ($12.50), black bean and corn veggie burger ($12.50), Angus burger ($12.50), BBQ pork wings ($14), garden salad ($3.50).

Dinner: Land and sea combo of Black Angus flat iron steak and crab cake ($39), Amtrak signature flat iron steak ($25), garlic herb cod ($23), thyme roasted chicken breast ($18.50), BBQ pork wings ($21), baked manicotti ($18.50), Cubano bowl ($6.50).

A garden salad is available for $3.50 but comes standard with meals served to sleeping car passengers.

The manicotti is described as filled with mozzarella, Parmesean and ricotta cheeses and comes with a vegetable medley and Roma tomato sauce.

The Cubana bowl is described as black beans, quinoa, mango, onion, red and green peppers, and jalapenos.

Amtrak said the Cubana bowl is a healthy option for those seeking reduced calories, fat and sodium.

The BBQ pork wings are described as braised bone-in pork shanks in Stubs smoky BBQ sauce with red skinned garlic mashed potatoes.

The land and sea combo comes with a choice of baked or mashed potatoes. The flat iron steak comes with a baked potato, the cod entree comes with rice pilaf and the chicken selection comes with mashed potatoes. All entrees come with a vegetable or vegetable medley.

The children’s lunch and dinner menu are the same and priced at $7.50. The options are a Hebrew National all-beef hot dog or macaroni and cheese.

At dinner those both come with a vegetable medley. At lunch the hot dog comes with kettle chips while the mac and cheese comes with a roll.

The children’s breakfast menu includes a scrambled egg with roasted potatoes or grits, and a croissant ($4.25) or French Toast ($5.25)

Deserts range from $7.25 for the Amtrak seasonal desert to $2.75 for vanilla pudding. The Amtrak specialty deserts are priced at $6.50 and include a flourless chocolate torte, New York style cheesecake or a rotating selection.

The Auto Train sleeping car passenger dinner menu is a stripped-down version of what is offered in other long-distance trains full-service dining cars.

Dinner entrees include flat iron steak, garlic and herb cod, pan roasted chicken breast and baked three-cheese manicotti.

All entrees come with a vegetable medley. The steak comes with baked potato, while the cod and chicken come with rice pilaf. Each entrée is accompanied by a salad and dinner roll.

The children’s dinner is chicken tenders or macaroni and cheese, with both coming with a vegetable medley.

There is a signature desert item that rotates but otherwise the choices are New York style cheesecake, vanilla ice cream or sugar free jello. Optional toppings include chocolate syrup, fruit toppings and whipped cream.

As is the case with on long-distance trains with flexible dining, the Auto Train offers sleeping car passengers at each meal a single complimentary beverage, including alcoholic beverages.

However, the cocktail, wine and beer selections on the Auto Train are more limited than what is available on full-service or flexible dining cars.

There is no breakfast offered in the dining car to sleeping car passengers aboard the Auto Train although an earlier Amtrak news release had said passengers receive a continental breakfast before arriving at their destination in Florida or Northern Virginia.

Amtrak Previews Coming On-Board Service Changes

January 9, 2020

A service advisory posted on the Amtrak website on Wednesday formally announced the return of dining service for sleeping car passengers on the Silver Star as well as briefly described other coming changes including the inauguration of Viewliner II sleeping car service on eastern long-distance trains.

Amtrak did not give a date for when the Viewliner II sleepers will begin revenue service other than it would be “in the coming months.” Nor did it say which trains would get the new sleepers.

The announcement merely said they would be assigned to “trains on the East Coast” and would be the first addition to the Amtrak sleeping car fleet in more than 25 years.

The passenger carrier said sleeping car passengers will begin using upgraded bedding, towels and linens at an unspecified date.

This change will initially be made on the Auto Train that operates between the Washington area and Florida.

Also coming is the completion of renovations to Amfleet II coaches with new seating cushions, carpets, curtains and LED reading lights.

Since 2015 sleeping car passengers on the Silver Star have not received meals as part of their fare as is the case on all other Amtrak overnight trains with sleeper service.

The dining service being inaugurated on the Silver Star on May 1 will be the same as that provided on the Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Crescent, Lake Shore Limited and Silver Meteor.

Nos. 91 and 92 will receive a dining car reserved for the exclusive use of sleeping car passengers.

Amtrak said traditional dining service will continue to be offered on the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle and for sleeping car customers aboard the Auto Train.

Dorian Prompts Additional Service Cancellations

September 5, 2019

Amtrak continued to cancel services along the East Coast on Wednesday due to the effects of Hurricane Dorian.

In a service advisory, the carrier said that on Sept. 5 and 6 the Palmetto will operate only between New York and Richmond, Virginia, and is canceled south of Richmond.

The Palmetto will resume operating southward from Richmond on Saturday (Sept. 7). However, the northbound train on Saturday will originate in Washington.

Northeast Regional service that normally operates between Boston and Norfolk, Virginia, will be canceled Richmond and Norfolk.

Trains 94 and 95 will operate between Boston and Richmond while Trains 93 and 94 will operate only between Boston and Washington.

Two Northeast Regional trains that normally operate to Newport News, Virginia, will also have shorter routes.

Trains 125 and 174 will operate between New York and Richmond while Trains No. 66 and 67 will operate between Boston and Washington.

The Auto Train will not operate in either direction on Thursday or Friday.

The Silver Star and Silver Meteor are canceled in both directions on Thursday and northbound on Friday.

Alternative transportation is not being provided for the canceled trains.

Amtrak Cancels More Trains due to Hurricane Dorian

September 3, 2019

With hurricane Dorian bearing down on the East Coast, Amtrak has canceled more service in the Southeast.

The latest modified scheduled will be in effect from Sept. 3-5.

On Sept. 3, the southbound Palmetto will operate only from New York to Washington and is canceled south of there.

The northbound Palmetto will operate as scheduled from Savannah, Georgia, to New York.

On Sept. 4 and 5 the Palmetto will operate in both directions between New York and Richmond, Virginia.

On Sept. 3 to 5 the Silver Star, Silver Meteor and Auto Train are all canceled with no alternative transportation being provided.

Amtrak said passengers should check train status at Amtrak.com. Displaced passengers typically are accommodated on trains with similar departure times or on another day.

The carrier said in a service advisory that will waive change fee charges for those forced to change their travel plans.

 

Hurricane Prompts Florida Service Suspensions

August 30, 2019

Amtrak is suspending service in Florida starting today (Aug. 30) in advance of Hurricane Dorian, which is projected to strike the state on Sunday or Monday.

The suspensions will be in effect through Sept. 2 or 3 depending on the train and route.

Canceled between Jacksonville and Miami will be the Silver Star, Auto Train and

Silver Meteor.

A service advisory issued by Amtrak on Thursday said that service will be reinstated pending improved conditions.

The advisory projects that Nos. 91, 97, 52 and 53 will be suspended through Sept. 2 while Nos. 92 and 98 will be suspended through Sept. 3.

Alternative transportation will not be provided for the suspended trains.

Amtrak said passengers affected by the service cancellations will be accommodated on trains with similar departure times or another day.

The carrier will waive additional charges for customers looking to change their reservation during the modified schedule by calling our reservation center at 800-USA-RAIL.

Planned Dining Service Changes on Auto Train May be Predictor of Future of Amtrak’s Long-Distance Trains

July 22, 2019

The recent announcement by Amtrak of changes to on-board service aboard the Auto Train might be a blueprint for the “experiential” long-distance service that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson has alluded to in public comments.

However, the upgrades that the carrier is making for sleeping car passengers on the Auto Train stand somewhat in stark contrast with what is happening with onboard service on other eastern long-distance trains.

In a news release, Amtrak said that starting in January Auto Train sleeping car passengers will receive complimentary wine with dinner as well as better linens and towels.

The release spoke of new dinner and breakfast menus, but it is not clear if that will involve food freshly prepared onboard or prepared off the train by a catering company.

The Auto Train announcement came about the same time that news broke that Amtrak plans to extend its “contemporary dining” program to its other eastern long-distance trains.

That program began aboard the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited in June 2018 and involves serving sleeping car passengers box meals in their rooms or in the dining car.

When “contemporary dining” began, Amtrak sought to sell it as an improvement in the sense that passengers received a complimentary alcoholic beverage with their meals, would be able to eat when they wanted, and would have exclusive use of the dining car throughout their trip.

Initially, all of the sleeper class food aboard the Capitol and Lake Shore was served cold, but after a couple months one hot offering was added at dinner and breakfast.

The Auto Train announcement also referenced expanding sleeping car capacity during peak travel periods, but no such move was made for the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Nor did Amtrak upgrade the linens and towels available for use by sleeping car passengers on those trains. Aside: those improved linens and towels may not be all that much. Amtrak is not about to become a high-end hotel.

Coach passengers aboard the Auto Train will be losing their complimentary dinner. Instead, Amtrak said it will expand the café car menu of meals, snacks and beverages. It also said it will have food truck vendors at the stations in Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida, that coach passengers can patronize.

That sounds like a 21st century version of the 19th century practice of passenger trains making meal stops at designated points.

Auto train coach passengers will receive a complimentary continental breakfast. That is more than coach passengers get on any other long-distance train.

Commenting on the Auto Train changes, the Rail Passengers Association noted that these changes are in line with the desire of Amtrak management to more clearly delineate travel classes. It also might be a scheme to delineate types of trains.

The Auto Train is unique among long-distance trains in not having intermediate stations. The clientele of the Auto Train is different in many ways from that of other long-distance trains and the more well-heeled among them might be the target audience Amtrak is seeking with the experiential trains.

I’ve long thought that Anderson might have in mind duplicating the Rocky Mountaineer or even VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian, both of which attract a lot of affluent tour group travelers with disposable income to spend on experiences.

The Washington-Florida travel market has long been a strong one and is the only Amtrak long-distance market to have double daily service between endpoints even if those trains take different routes within North Carolina and South Carolina.

The implementation of “contemporary dining” on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited last year also represented a delineation between sleeper class and coach class in the sense that the latter are now limited to café car fare or bringing their own food with them aboard the train. But no food trucks.

In an analysis posted on its website last week, the RPA said Amtrak has hinted that the contemporary dining to be imposed on the Crescent and Silver Meteor, the only remaining eastern long-distance trains with full-service dining cars, will be different from that now available on the Capitol and Lake Shore. But RPA said it is not clear how or why it will be different.

“Meanwhile, problems with availability, choice and dietary restrictions have soured the perceptions of many repeat riders,” RPA wrote.

The rail passenger advocacy group acknowledged that Amtrak is trying to balance modern tastes and sensibilities within a long-distance ridership audience that includes large percentages of patrons who do not share those tastes and sensibilities.

RPA pointed out that one of its members wrote to say about “contemporary dining,” that “The food honestly is both better, tastier and more in line with how I eat when I am dieting like now and how my kids eat. Plus I like the dedicated lounge space in between meals.”

The latter comment reflects a facet of train travel that doesn’t get much attention.

If you are going to shell out the big bucks Amtrak demands for sleeper class, you want more than your own room and bed at night.

Amtrak argues that its surveys have found many passengers want less heavy meals and want to be able to eat when they choose rather that during fixed mealtimes.

Many passengers also don’t care for the community seating that has long been associated with eating in a railroad dining car. These passengers would rather not dine in the company of strangers.

Of course, RPA said, some passengers have found the food of “contemporary dining” to be terrible and even those who like the food have been put off by how it is presented.

That probably is an allusion to it coming in cardboard boxes and plastic containers, something that is being done because it is less costly and easier to manage.

In its analysis, the RPA said there are too few choices available with current “contemporary dining” fare, particularly with hot meal options.

“Members also tell us that kosher options are a problem, as are options for those with food allergies or sensitivities like gluten intolerance,” RPA wrote, “We’ve also heard from many of our members about entrees running out very early in the dining service.”

At the time that “contemporary dining” was launched, Amtrak said it would eventually allow coach passengers to purchase the meals made available to sleeper class passengers, but thus far that has not occurred.

Amtrak has said it is seeking to satisfy a Congressional mandate to cut its food and beverage deficit so the changes being made to the Auto Train and other eastern long-distance trains are being imposed with that in mind.

That means reducing the number of onboard employees involved in food and beverage service as well as trying to cut the cost of food and beverage acquisition.

The food trucks for coach passengers concept fits well into this framework because it shifts the risk onto an entrepreneur who probably is paying Amtrak a fee for the privilege of selling food trackside.

I wonder, by the way, what will happen when Amtrak begins getting complaints about food odors lingering in the air long after the food has been consumed.

Much of how Amtrak is framing these changes is akin to Michael Jackson’s fabled moonwalk in which he moves backwards while giving the illusion of moving forward.

Many railfans dislike “contemporary dining” but they are not necessarily representative of those who buy sleeper class tickets.

The sleeping customers are not necessarily looking for gourmet dining on wheels or trying to recreate the experience of traveling on the Broadway Limited, Super Chief, Twentieth Century Limited or the Capitol Limited during their heyday before Amtrak came along.

They want a good meal and friendly service that makes them feel that the hefty accommodation charge they paid was worth it.

Serving sleeper class passengers a complimentary alcoholic beverage and giving them exclusive use of a dining car turned lounge is fine, but can be negated by offering meals that too much resemble a school field trip box lunch.

RPA is correct in saying presentation is a problem here, but to get restaurant style presentation is labor intensive and reducing labor costs is one of Amtrak’s objectives.

Whatever shortcomings that “contemporary dining” may have, it could be worse.

Amtrak could borrow Southern Pacific’s playbook of providing food and beverage service from vending machines. Maybe it’s just a matter of time.

More Amtrak Full-Service Dining Expected to End

July 16, 2019

Amtrak is expected to end full-service dining on all eastern long-distance trains the Rail Passengers Association reported last week.

That means that sleeping car passengers traveling on the New York-Miami Silver Meteor and New York-New Orleans Crescent will be served the same fare that passengers receive on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

In early 2020, Amtrak will also end the practice of providing complimentary dinner to coach passengers aboard the Auto Train between Virginia and Florida.

Instead, coach passengers will be given the option of buying café car fare onboard or purchasing meals from food trucks at terminals in Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida.

An Amtrak news release said all Auto Train passengers will receive a continental breakfast before their arrival.

Sleeping car passengers will continue to be served in their own dining car with “a new menu and the addition of complementary wine to the dinner service,” the news release said.

A spokesperson told Trains magazine that menus for Auto Train sleeping car passengers are still being worked out.

The Amtrak news release said other enhancements will be made to the Auto Train’s sleeping cars including “upgraded towels and bed linens and other pleasantries in each room.”

Amtrak also said it will expand sleeping-car accommodation availability to meet demand.

It is not clear how the food service changes will affect sleeping car passengers on the Chicago-New York Cardinal.

That train has not had meals prepared on board for several years, but offers a much more expansive menu for sleeping car passengers than is available on the Lake Shore Limited or Capitol Limited.

Since June 2018 sleeping car passengers aboard the Lake Shore and Capitol have received box meals with just one offering being served hot.

One complimentary alcoholic beverage is also provided per passenger per meal.

The meals are served in dedicated cars open only to sleeping car passengers. Passengers also have the option of having the meal delivered to their room.

The range of food items available, though, is limited.

RPA said the changes to food service on eastern trains other than the Auto Train will become effective on Oct. 1, the first day of the 2020 federal budget year. The Auto Train changes take effect on Jan. 15.

Food service provided on western long-distance trains will not be affected by the changes.

The New York-Miami Silver Star has not provided meals to sleeping car passengers since July 1, 2015.

Auto Train coach passengers would no longer have separate dining and lounge/cafe cars and given that Amtrak prohibits passengers from consuming in dining and café cars any food brought board the train that means anything purchased from a food truck will need to be consumed at the passenger’s coach seat.

In its news release, Amtrak said Auto Train coach passengers would be able to buy food and beverages from a cross country café car.

The coming changes drew criticism from RPA President Jim Mathews.
“The problem isn’t the food itself, it’s the way the whole experience is handled,” he said on RPA’s website. “We understand the need to make lighter fare available to match the tastes of many modern travelers. But as it’s currently executed on the Capitol and the Lake Shore, too often food items run short, there aren’t enough hot options, and the presentation is perfunctory and off-putting.”

RPA said that the food service changes are part of a strategy to “improve the financials on these routes.”

One Menu Cover Being Used in Amtrak Dining Cars

May 9, 2019

While looking around on the Amtrak website recently I noticed that the carrier is now using the same menu cover for all of its full-service dining cars on long-distance trains.

Until recently, menu covers featured an image specific to each of those trains.

That practice, though, has been dropped. Train-specific images still are being used on menus for dining cars on the City of New Orleans and Cardinal.

Specific menus are also shown on the Amtrak website for the Auto Train, Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited but no train-special images accompany those menus.

The Auto Train has two menus, one for coach passengers and one for sleeping car passengers. If you were wondering, the entrees available in coach include flat iron steak, panko-crusted pollock, roasted chicken breast and lasagna.

The sleeping car menu on the Auto Train features beef petite tender filet, lemon pepper cod, thyme roasted chicken and mushroom bolognese lasagna.

Each menu has the same children’s menu of chicken tenders or macaroni and cheese. The desert fare is mostly the same in coach and sleeper except that sleeping car passengers are advised to ask their server about that day’s Amtrak signature dessert.

The menus for the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited are identical and there is no mention of the train names.

Amtrak has used a largely standardized dining car menu for its long-distance trains for a few years now although there were a few slight variations for some routes.

Also gone from the dining car menus are entrees created by chefs who were members of an Amtrak culinary advisory committee.

One thing that hasn’t changed are the high prices for entrees. The priciest is the land and sea combo, which features a Black Angus flat iron steak and a lump crab cake for $39.

If you just want the steak it will cost $25 if you are paying for your meal as opposed to it being included in your sleeping car room fare.

The crab cake is only available in the land and sea combo. The seafood entrees is Norwegian salmon. The chicken entree is thyme-roasted chicken breast while the pasta entree is a rigatoni pasta that is billed as being vegan compliant.

At $16.50 the rigatoni pasta is the least expensive dinner entree. As has been the practice for several years now, a side salad costs extra, although it is complimentary for sleeping car passengers.

Lunch entrees include an entree salad with chicken breast for an additional charge, black bean and corn veggie burger, Angus burger, baked chilaquiles, and steamed mussels.

Prices of the lunch entrees range from $14.50 to $12.50. At lunch and dinner there are four desert items available, including sugar free vanilla pudding, a flourless chocolate tart, New York-style cheesecake and a seasonal desert.

The breakfast fare seems rather pricey for what you get. Three pancakes cost $10.50, which doesn’t include a breakfast meat.

Scrambled eggs with roasted potatoes or grits and a croissant cost $8.50.

The continental breakfast of cereal or hot oatmeal accompanied with fresh seasonal fruit, Greek yogurt and a croissant is $8.75.

Other breakfast entrees include a made to order three-egg omelette, and cheese quesadillas with eggs and tomatillo sauce. Both of these come with a croissant and omelette also has potatoes or grits.

Breakfast meats include pork sausage, chicken sausage and bacon, but must be ordered separately. You will also pay extra for such toppings as cheese or guacamole.

Amtrak Continues to Restore Service in Southeast

September 20, 2018

Amtrak continues to restore service in areas of the Southeast that were hit by Hurricane Florence last week.

Piedmont Service between Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina, resumed operating on Thursday.

Also resuming service over all of its route on Tuesday was the Crescent.

The Carolinian was to resume operating between Raleigh and Charlotte today. Amtrak has not said when Nos. 79 and 80 will resume operating north of Raleigh to New York City.

That will hinge on how quickly host railroad CSX can repair and put back into service the A Line used by Amtrak.

The Auto Train and Silver Meteor remain suspended through Sept. 22. The Silver Star is operating only between Miami and Jacksonville, Florida, while the Palmetto is operating only between New York and Washington.

Signal Work to Affect Trains Through Richmond

April 17, 2018

Signal work being conducted this month by CSX will cause 45 to 120-minute delays for all trains arriving and departing Richmond Staples Mill station, Amtrak said in a service advisory.

Affected will be the Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Auto Train, Palmetto, Northeast Regional and Carolinian. Amtrak service will be affected on the dates shown below:

Sunday, April 22

  • Train 65 will terminate at Washington, with no alternate transportation provided between Washington and Newport News, Virginia.
  • Train 66 will originate at Washington with no alternate transportation provided between Newport News and Washington.
  • Train 79 will originate at Rocky Mount, North Carolina, with no alternate transportation provided between New York and Rocky Mount.
  • Train 80 will terminate at Rocky Mount with no alternate transportation provided between Rocky Mount and New York.
  • Trains 87 and 195 will terminate at Washington with no alternate transportation provided between Washington and Richmond, Virginia.
  • Trains 89 and 90 will operate between New York and Washington, only. Trains are cancelled between Washington and Savannah, Georgia, with no alternate transportation provided.
  • Train 96 will originate at Richmond, with no alternate transportation provided between Newport News and Richmond.
  • All other trains will operate normally.

Monday, April 23

  • Trains 86 and 174 will originate at Washington with no alternate transportation provided between Richmond and Washington.
  • All other trains will operate normally.