Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak dining cars’

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.

Analyzing Amtrak’s Revamped Dining Service

August 3, 2021

Amtrak returned full-service dining to five long-distance trains a month ago, all of them operating in the West and parts of the Midwest.

I haven’t had an opportunity to sample the revived full-service dining, but a two-part report written by Bob Johnston, the passenger correspondent for  Trains magazine was published last week on the magazine’s website and offers some insight into the service.

Johnston generally gave Amtrak high marks for its revamped dining car menus and service.

One key take away from his report is the food has improved in quality over that served in dining cars before full-service dining was removed in late spring 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that sent Amtrak ridership plummeting.

A chef working the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief gave as an example the flat iron steak which he said is “the same cut, but these (served now) have more marbling and are a lot more dense.”

Other changes have included the addition of colorful garnishes, more seasoning and multiple sauces. Vegetables served with entrees were described as fresher.

The steak still comes with a baked potato but patrons can request a creamy polenta, which the chef said compliments the Bordelaise sauce served with the steak.

Before the pandemic, dinners came with a lettuce salad but that has been replaced with a choice among three appetizers: A tossed-to-order salad of baby greens and tomatoes topped with a brie cheese; a lobster cake, or a green cheese tamale.

As before, dinners come with a desert. Unlike before, dinners now come with one complimentary alcoholic beverage.

Yet in some ways full-service dining is little changed from what it was before the pandemic. Entrée staples still include the flat iron steak, chicken breast, and salmon. There is also a tri-color cheese tortellini pasta dish.

Not everything is prepared fresh on board. The lobster cake comes precooked and frozen so the kitchen staff merely heats it onboard.

The Trains analysis, which was based on sampling meals aboard the Southwest Chief, said the changes to breakfast and lunch have been a little more subtle.

Back is French toast, which can be ordered with whipped cream. There are made-to-order omelets.

However, passengers still can’t order eggs over easy or get toast at breakfast. Both were eliminated in the 1990s.

Full-service dining is available only to sleeping class passengers. Coach passengers are confined to the snack-heavy café car.

At the time that Amtrak announced the return of full-service dining to the western trains it also said it planned to add fresh selections to café cars. Those additions have yet to be made.

And it remains unclear when or if full-service dining will return to eastern long-distance trains or the Texas Eagle.

The Trains analysis aptly noted that some passengers aboard those trains are onboard for more than four meal periods.

Amtrak has hinted that full-service dining might return to eastern long distance trains late this year or in 2022. Officials said the carrier wanted to gauge passenger response to the new menus on the western trains before looking to implement them elsewhere.

As for when or even if coach passengers will be able to dine in the diner, Amtrak has been noncommittal. Officials said they were studying that but suggested it might take the form of allowing coach passengers to buy meals on a take-out basis and/or have them delivered to their coach seat.

The Trains analysis offered a glimpse of two conundrums posing a challenge to allowing coach passengers back in the dining car. It would require additional staff in the kitchen and dining room in order to create faster table turnover.

Another factor is pricing. Before Amtrak instituted flexible dining in June 2018 on the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited, dining car menus had prices. The current dining car menus on the western trains do not show prices because the clientele already paid for their meals in their sleeping car fare.

As I’ve written in previous posts, most of those dining car prices were quite high with some entrees costing more than $20. Even breakfast was quite pricey for what you got.

The Trains analysis suggested some less labor intensive food selections would have to be added to the menu that could be sold at lower cost.

Many, if not most, coach passengers are unwilling to pay or unable to afford the prices Amtrak charged in dining cars in the past.

There will always be coach passengers willing to pay those prices to have the dining car experience. But they are not necessarily a majority of the coach clientele.

Amtrak’s food and beverage service is an evolving process that isn’t moving as fast or necessarily toward the destination that many rail passenger advocates want it to see.

The dining car experience is still not the same as it was before the pandemic or, in the case of eastern long-distance trains, since the onset of flexible dining with its limited choices.

Amtrak management has not talked about the prospect of doing what the passenger carrier did in the 1990s when dining car menus featured regional offerings associated with a region of the country the train served.

That lasted a few years then fell by the wayside as Amtrak management went to a standard dining car menu for all trains with diners.

For now, the dining car experience is available only in the West and only to those with the means to afford sleeping car fares.

Dining service is an emotional subject for some passengers and passenger train advocates, particularly those above a certain age, who wax nostalgic about all of the people they enjoyed conversing with over a meal and lament having lost that.

Some remember a time when railroads used their dining service as a marketing tool and offered meals that rivaled in quality what was served in the better hotel restaurants.

They tend to believe as an article of faith that full-service dining is critical to drawing more people aboard the train and boosting Amtrak’s revenue.

Johnston, the Trains passenger correspondent, falls into that camp. In his piece he argued that reviving full-service dining on such trains as the Lake Shore Limited, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, and City of New Orleans would give “travelers in some of the country’s top population centers more incentive to ride.”

That in turn would generate more cash for Amtrak, Johnston asserted. How much more? He didn’t say because he doesn’t know.

There is much Amtrak knows about its finances and passengers that it doesn’t share with the public, arguing that that information is proprietary.

It probably is true that the upgraded dining service has boosted the morale of Amtrak food and beverage workers as the article suggested and resulted in happier passengers.

Yet as the pandemic and the politically-motivated attacks on Amtrak food and beverage service of past years have shown, all of that can change virtually overnight and probably will.

Traditional Dining to Return to Eastern Trains

June 27, 2021

Dining aboard the Capitol Limited in route to Chicago in May 2012.

Goodbye flexible dining and hello French toast.

Amtrak announced on Tuesday its plans to return traditional dining to eastern long distance trains and allow coach passengers to buy meals in the dining car.

However, it gave no date for when those changes but indicated it would be late this year or in early 2022.

Traditional dining for sleeping car passengers is being reinstated on western long distance trains on June 23.

Amtrak officials also indicated the eastern trains likely will receive an abridged version of the menus used on western trains and that coach passengers might not necessarily be able to eat in the dining car but use a takeout service.

Those are moves Amtrak management expects to decide over the next few months.

The announcement was made on Tuesday at a press event at Chicago Union Station during which Amtrak showed off its first Siemens ALC-42 locomotives that will be used in the carrier’s national network.

The carrier also showed new interior designs for its Superliner fleet.

Robert Jordan, Amtrak’s vice president operations and customer services, said when traditional dining and coach passenger access to dining cars is implemented will depend on the reactions the carrier gets to the new dining-car menus planned for the western long-distance trains.

 “A lot of it is centered on two things,” he said. “First will be passenger reaction to the menu. “Do we need to make any adjustments? What is the most popular, and how long each of those items takes to cook, because we imagine that whatever is popular with our [sleeping-car passengers] is going to be as popular with our coaches,

“And then, once we understand that, we’ll figure out the logistics of what’s going to make sense. Is it opening up the dining room or additional tables for coach customers, or is it more of a take-out kind of menu, or is it a delivery? Those are the things we have to weigh. It is a priority for us to roll it out for coach customers, so hopefully within three or four months we can do that.”

As for the differences between menus of the eastern versus the western trains, Jordan said the former will receive “a version” of the new menu, but probably not the exact menu. 

“You’re only talking three or four meals, so I don’t know if we have to have every single menu item.”

Jordan indicated the return of traditional dining to eastern trains will likely occur late this year or early near year.

Traditional dining on Amtrak’s western trains will include the return of linen tablecloths and napkins, new flatware and glassware.

Dining car china will return in a few months once Amtrak is able to receive its order of china. Until then meals will be served on plastic plates.

Roger Harris, Amtrak’s executive vice president, chief marketing and revenue officer, said the return of traditional dining and upgraded silverware and dishes reflects an understanding that premium prices should be accompanied by premium service.

“We have so much demand that prices go up, because we’re a little bit of a supply-and-demand world,” Harris said.

“We look at it, and go, ‘wow,’ if we’re going to charge people more, we better do a better job of looking after them . . . I’s not just a tablecloth. The food product is better.”

Jordan said the fare to be served in dining cars was developed in consultation with Amtrak’s own chefs as well as those from vendors such as Cuisine Solutions and Aramark.

The menu they decided upon has a mixture of long-standing Amtrak menu items, including French Toast, Angus beef burgers, and flatiron steak and some new entrees.

 “Overall, we wanted healthy items, whole food items — fairly traditional, but we wanted to simplify it to some extent, as well,” Jordan said.

“Our previous menu had 18 items; this one has, not counting the appetizers, 12 items. So customers are not overwhelmed by the choices and it makes it easier for our chefs to prepare these.”

Traditional Dining to Return to Eastern Trains

June 16, 2021

Dining aboard the Capitol Limited en route to Chicago in May 2012.

Goodbye flexible dining and hello French toast.

Amtrak announced on Tuesday its plans to return traditional dining to eastern long distance trains and allow coach passengers to buy meals in the dining car.

However, it gave no date for when those changes but indicated it would be late this year or in early 2022.

Traditional dining for sleeping car passengers is being reinstated on western long distance trains on June 23.

Amtrak officials also indicated the eastern trains likely will receive an abridged version of the menus used on western trains and that coach passengers might not necessarily be able to eat in the dining car but use a takeout service.

Those are moves Amtrak management expects to decide over the next few months.

The announcement was made on Tuesday at a press event at Chicago Union Station during which Amtrak showed off its first Siemens ALC-42 locomotives that will be used in the carrier’s national network.

The carrier also showed new interior designs for its Superliner fleet.

Robert Jordan, Amtrak’s vice president operations and customer services, said when traditional dining and coach passenger access to dining cars is implemented will depend on the reactions the carrier gets to the new dining-car menus planned for the western long-distance trains.

 “A lot of it is centered on two things,” he said. “First will be passenger reaction to the menu. “Do we need to make any adjustments? What is the most popular, and how long each of those items takes to cook, because we imagine that whatever is popular with our [sleeping-car passengers] is going to be as popular with our coaches,

“And then, once we understand that, we’ll figure out the logistics of what’s going to make sense. Is it opening up the dining room or additional tables for coach customers, or is it more of a take-out kind of menu, or is it a delivery? Those are the things we have to weigh. It is a priority for us to roll it out for coach customers, so hopefully within three or four months we can do that.”

As for the differences between menus of the eastern versus the western trains, Jordan said the former will receive “a version” of the new menu, but probably not the exact menu. 

“You’re only talking three or four meals, so I don’t know if we have to have every single menu item.”

Jordan indicated the return of traditional dining to eastern trains will likely occur late this year or early near year.

Traditional dining on Amtrak’s western trains will include the return of linen tablecloths and napkins, new flatware and glassware.

Dining car china will return in a few months once Amtrak is able to receive its order of china. Until then meals will be served on plastic plates.

Roger Harris, Amtrak’s executive vice president, chief marketing and revenue officer, said the return of traditional dining and upgraded silverware and dishes reflects an understanding that premium prices should be accompanied by premium service.

“We have so much demand that prices go up, because we’re a little bit of a supply-and-demand world,” Harris said.

“We look at it, and go, ‘wow,’ if we’re going to charge people more, we better do a better job of looking after them . . . I’s not just a tablecloth. The food product is better.”

Jordan said the fare to be served in dining cars was developed in consultation with Amtrak’s own chefs as well as those from vendors such as Cuisine Solutions and Aramark.

The menu they decided upon has a mixture of long-standing Amtrak menu items, including French Toast, Angus beef burgers, and flatiron steak and some new entrees.

 “Overall, we wanted healthy items, whole food items — fairly traditional, but we wanted to simplify it to some extent, as well,” Jordan said.

“Our previous menu had 18 items; this one has, not counting the appetizers, 12 items. So customers are not overwhelmed by the choices and it makes it easier for our chefs to prepare these.”

Traditional Dining to Return to Most Western Long Distance Trains on June 23

June 4, 2021

French toast will come with fruit and whipped topping when traditional dining resumes late this moth. (Amtrak photo)

Amtrak this week announced the return of traditional dining-car service aboard its western long distance trains effective June 23.

The announcement played up “a redesigned menu,” new appetizers, and table service with glassware, cutlery and linen tablecloths. Ceramic dishware will be added later this year.

However, the change comes with a number of caveats.

This includes traditional dining being limited to sleeper class passengers. Coach passengers must continue to rely on café car offerings.

Another caveat is that traditional dining for now is not being reinstated on the Texas Eagle.

Texas Eagle passengers continuing beyond San Antonio will be able to take advantage of traditional dining service aboard the Sunset Limited, which operates between New Orleans and Los Angeles and carries through cars between Chicago and Los Angeles that are interchanged in San Antonio.

The Rail Passengers Association reported recently that the Eagle will for the time being continue to operate with one food service car and it won’t be a Sightseer Lounge.

Amtrak reportedly plans to assign Sightseer Lounges to the Texas Eagle at a later but unspecified date.

Trains that will have traditional dining include the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief and Sunset Limited.

The announcement said nothing about whether eastern long distance trains are being considered for reinstatement of traditional dining.

Those trains for the past two to three years have featured what Amtrak bills as “flexible dining” in which food is prepared off the train and served aboard.

The Amtrak announcement this week indicated that the traditional dining aboard the western trains will have meals prepared by an on-board chef and have table service and communal seating.

Traditional dining had been removed from western long distance trains in April 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amtrak’s announcement indicated that passengers will still be expected to wear facial masks when aboard a train except when they are eating or drinking.

Dining cars will be for the use of sleeper class passengers only. Those passengers will have the option of being served meals in their rooms.

Amtrak said is planning to revamp its café menu this summer by adding more fresh selections. The announcement did not indicate what that might include nor did it indicate when or if the passenger carrier plans to resume selling dining car meals to coach passengers.

As for the traditional dining car experience, it will feature some changes from the pre-pandemic service.

This includes offering three-course dinners that have an appetizer, main course and dessert. The breakfast and lunch menus will be similar to what has been offered in the past.

All trains will have the same menu, a practice that has been in place for the past several years. There also will be a children’s menu.

One feature of flexible dining that is being retained with the return of traditional dining is passengers receiving one complimentary alcoholic beverage.

On its website, Amtrak said passengers can make reservations for lunch and dinner.

Breakfast hours will be 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Lunch will be served between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. while dinning hours will be 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Final seatings will be at 9:30 a.m., 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. with a last call made 15 minutes before the dining period ends. Exceptions may apply based on train schedule or in the event of a delay.

As for what is on the menu, breakfast offers four selections, including a continental breakfast, French Toast, three-egg omelet, or scrambled eggs.

The omelet and scrambled eggs come with a choice of cheese, tomatoes, breakfast potatoes and a croissant. Both entrees also can come with red and green peppers and onions.

Sides include bacon and sausage, either chicken or pork.

The lunch menu features a Caesar salad, grilled cheese sandwich, angus burger and vegan chili. The grilled cheese sandwich comes with turkey and bacon. The chili is served in a baked potato or a bowl with a choice of toppings.

The two sandwiches come with a side of cole slaw and Terra chips. All lunch entrees also include a dessert from the dinner menu.

As for the dinner menu the first course is one of three appetizer, including a lobster crab cake, green chile cheese tamale or a mixed greens salad with baby brie.

Entrees include flat iron steak, pan roasted chicken breast, grilled Atlantic salmon and tortellini with pesto cream.

All entrees except the tortellini come with vegetable side dishes. The steak also comes with a choice of cheese polenta or baked potato.

Desserts include a flourless chocolate torte, Philadelphia cheesecake and carrot cake. Passengers receive unlimited soft drinks.

Lounges to Remain Absent from 2 Trains

May 24, 2021

Sightseer Lounge cars won’t be returning to two long distance trains when they resume daily operation.

The Rail Passengers Association reported on its website that it has been told by Amtrak that the absence of the popular cars from the Capitol Limited and Texas Eagle is temporary.

“While temporary, we do not yet have a defined timeline for increasing Sightseer Lounge availability, and have placed the other five Western [long distance] routes at a higher priority for deploying these popular cars,” said Larry Chestler, Amtrak’s vice president of the Long-Distance business unit. “We also are maintaining the Sightseer Lounge on the City of New Orleans due to our long-standing axle count requirements in Illinois.”

That means the Capitol Limited and Texas Eagle will will continue to operate with a single food-service car.

Chestler said Amtrak has a shortage of the lounge cars due to coronavirus contingencies. He said the cars will be restored once it’s possible to do so.

The Capitol Limited is scheduled to return to daily operation on May 31 while the Texas Eagle will resume daily operation today (May 24).

In a related development, Amtrak expects to resume full-service dining aboard Western long distance trains as early as June. Last May it switched to the contemporary dining model as a response to COVID-19 pandemic.

The passenger carrier is recalling furloughed workers and getting them qualified.

RPA said it was told that once traditional dining returns to the Western trains, Amtrak will begin work on “improvements to dining services on other [long-distance] routes, including the Eagle.”

Tags: Amtrak onboard service, Amtrak Sightseer Lounge, Amtrak’s Capitol Limited, Amtrak’s Texas Eagle, Capitol Limited, COVID-19 pandemic, dining aboard Amtrak

The Skyline is Watching

May 10, 2021

The Cleveland skyline watches over a very late westbound Lake Shore Limited as it sits in the station. Dining car Silver Restaurant was built by Budd for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy and has carried two roster numbers at Amtrak. The image was made in November 1997.

Full-Service Dining Expected Back on Amtrak Long Distance Trains

March 14, 2021

An Amtrak manager has told the Rail Passengers Association that full-service dining will return to six western long-distance trains once they resume daily operation in late May or early June.

Larry Chestler, who oversees Amtrak’s long distance trains, said the passenger carrier expects “something close to normal” this summer for sleeping car class bookings.

Chestler indicated that Amtrak wants to be able to offer a dining-car experience while tending to those who are anxious, fearful or do not desire the traditional communal dining experience that was common in dining cars before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a post on its website, RPA said Amtrak managers said the carrier is still developing plans for dining service restoration that may include “some new options targeting improved safety and improved meal quality.”

Since late last spring, Amtrak has offered its flexible dining model aboard all western long distance trains.

Initially begun in June 2018 aboard the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited, the flexible dining model involves serving prepackaged meals to sleeping car passengers in either the dining car or in their rooms.

The model, which was initially known as contemporary dining, was later expanded to all eastern long distance trains.

It meant a more limited offering of menu items and no more onboard food preparation other than heating already cooked meals.

It was a cost-cutting measure for Amtrak because it reduced dining service from three or more positions to one.

Onboard Amtrak food service workers displaced by the practice on the western trains were moved to the extra board.

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.”

Amtrak Sleeper Passengers Can Pre-Select Meals

October 1, 2020

Amtrak has begun giving sleeping car passengers the ability to choose their meals in advance of travel.

The option is now available for those riding the Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, and Lake Shore Limited.

Passengers will be sent an email informing them of the option as well as offering an opportunity to view menus before selecting their meals.

Amtrak expects the ability to pre-select meals to be extended to the Silver Star and Silver Meteor in the coming weeks.

The meals on all of those trains are prepared off the train and heated onboard in a microwave oven.

Sleeping car passengers can have their meals delivered to their rooms or eat in a dining car reserved for the use of sleeping class passengers.

Amtrak currently only prepares meals onboard the Auto Train, having suspended the practice for Western long-distance trains during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the passenger carrier has said the suspension of on-board food preparation for Western long-distance trains is temporary and a notice on the carrier’s website indicated that full-serving dining on those trains is suspended through Dec. 15.