Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Silver Meteor’

Adding Meals For Silver Star Sleeper Class Passengers Will Mean Fared Equal to Those of the Silver Meteor

January 11, 2020

Amtrak’s plans to restore dining service to sleeping car passengers on the New York-Miami Silver Star will mean that any fare differentials between that train and the Silver Meteor will largely vanish.

When Amtrak removed Heritage Fleet dining cars from the Star in early 2016 and ceased to provide sleeping car passengers on Nos. 91 and 92 it also lowered sleeper class fares on that train.

At the time Amtrak said the change was a test of demand for lower sleeping car prices without meals included. The Meteor also operates between New York and Miami although over a different route between Selma, North Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.

An analysis published on the Trains magazine website said Amtrak ensured that fares on the Star were noticeably lower than those charged for sleeper accommodations aboard the Silver Meteor, which continued to have a full-service dining car and provide meals to sleeper class passenger as part of their fare.

However, Trains said there were times when sleeper class fares on the Star were higher than the Meteor if the latter train had more available space. Chalk that up to the vagaries of Amtrak’s revenue yield management system.

The Meteor routinely operates with three Viewliner sleeping cars compared with the two assigned to the Star.

Starting May 1, a Viewliner II dining car will be assigned to each of the four equipment sets used on the Silver Star.

That car will offer Amtrak’s flexible dining service, which has a menu more limited than that available in a full-service diner.

The Silver Meteor has been operating with Viewliner II dining cars since 2017 but saw full-service dining replaced with flexible dining last October.

Amtrak had ordered 25 Viewliner II diners, but they were slow to arrive from the factory due to production problems.

On both New York-Florida trains the dining car is available only for the use of sleeper class passengers.

Coach passengers on both trains must either bring their own food aboard or purchase food and beverages from a café car.

Amtrak has spoken about enabling coach passengers to purchase the meals served to sleeper class passengers, but has not given a date for when that might begin and how it would operate.

Trains said its analysis of fares charged for sleeper class travel on the Silver Star and Silver Meteor before and after May 1 found that sleeper fares between the same destinations are always higher for the Meteor until May 1

But after that date the Meteor and Star have nearly identical fares with some variation due to varying demand on specific dates.

The flexible dining fare is also served to sleeper class passengers traveling on Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Crescent and Lake Shore Limited.

Reviews of the service have been mixed. Some have been critical of the food for its high sodium content and well as limited choices. All but one of the entrees contains garlic.

A Rail Passengers Association staffer writing on that group’s website said in her travels she has noticed that the quality of the food depends on the attention the attendant pays to heating it.

“I have had the same meal coming and going and the quality has been completely different,” wrote Carolyn Cokley. “One was heated to perfection while the other turned to rubber and left a lot to be desired.”

Cokley said in her post that some passengers may not be aware that Amtrak offers a breakfast, lunch and dinner Kosher menu that must be ordered 24 hours in advance for Acela first class and 72 hours, in advance, for overnight routes although she said it unclear if Kosher fare is available on all overnight trains or just those in the flexible dining program.

She said the advantage of the Kosher entrées is they are lower in calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, carbs and sodium compared with non-Kosher entrées on both the flexible dining and traditional menus.

Amtrak Receives Last of Viewliner Dorm-Baggage Cars

November 6, 2019

Amtrak took delivery last week of the last of the 10 Viewliner baggage-dorm cars that it ordered from CAF USA.

The carrier also received the second car of an order of 25 new Viewliner sleepers from CAF.

All of the cars were taken to Amtrak’s Hialeah, Florida, maintenance facility for acceptance inspection and testing.

Some Viewliner baggage-dorm cars have already been placed into revenue service on the New York-Miami Silver Meteor in recent weeks.

In a related development, the first Siemens passenger car that is part of an order to be used on corridor trains in the Midwest and California has been sent to Canada for cold weather testing.

Two other prototype Siemens cars have been sent to the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado, for operational testing.

Silver Meteor Operating Hour Later Today

October 7, 2019

Amtrak’s northbound Silver Meteor is operating today (Oct. 7) an hour later from Jacksonville, Florida, to New York due to track work being conducted by CSX.

Train 98 is to leave Jacksonville at 6:07 p.m, an later than the published schedule and will operate on the later schedule through to New York.

No More Dining Car to the Big Apple

October 7, 2019

An overlooked footnote to the Oct. 1 changes to Amtrak dining service aboard its eastern long-distance trains is that New York City no longer is served by a full-service dining car.

The Big Apple sees hundreds of Amtrak trains a day, many of them offering food and beverage service, but none of them now has a dining car in which meals are prepared freshly onboard.

The last dining car to arrive in New York was the Nashville, which arrived late on the afternoon of Oct. 1 aboard the inbound Crescent from New Orleans.

The Crescent and Silver Meteor were the last trains serving New York to operate with full-service dining cars.

Those trains now have the “flexible dining” that is also offered aboard the Lake Shore Limited, Capitol Limited, Cardinal and City of New Orleans.

For now full-service dining cars continue to operate on western long-distance trains.

The flexible dining service model uses food prepared off the train and reheated onboard or served cold.

Although it has a more expansive menu of offerings than the “fresh and contemporary” model implanted in June 2018 on the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited, the number of entrees available at lunch and dinner is four.

Coach passengers are unable to partake of those offerings whereas they could buy meals in full-service dining cars.

Instead, coach passengers who do not bring their own food and drink aboard must buy from the café car.

A report on the Trains magazine website noted that New York’s first dining cars began in the 1880s when the the New York & Hudson River Railroad (a New York Central subsidiary) offered then on its Chicago and St. Louis Vestibule Limited. Those cars operated between New York and Buffalo, New York; and Elkhart, Indiana, and Chicago.

Although some Amtrak trains serving New York, most notably the Acela Express, offer some fresh food to first class passengers, it is prepared off the train.

Take a Ride on the Amtrak Spin Train

September 16, 2019

Having breakfast on the Lake Shore Limited in March 2012 as Train 49 stopped in Bryan, Ohio. Note that the menu featured an image of a couple eating in the dining car while watching the scenery roll by.

In a news release posted last week, Amtrak described changes it was making to dining services aboard eastern overnight trains this way in the opening sentence: “Amtrak continues to evolve the travel experience on long-distance trains with the introduction of a new, flexible dining service for Sleeping Car customers traveling on the Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Crescent and Silver Meteor starting on Oct. 1 and the Silver Star in 2020.”

The next paragraph had a quotation from Amtrak President Richard Anderson saying this “evolution” is being done to meet the needs of today’s customers.

“Traveling on one of our trains has never been just about the destination – the journey is part of the adventure,” Anderson said.

That is the same Richard Anderson who has been trashing his company’s long distance trains by talking about how much money they lose and how they fail to meet the travel needs of those who live along their routes.

But you wouldn’t know that from reading this news release, which used variations of the word “evolution” three times.

That suggests, as the Oxford dictionary defines “evolution,” a process of gradually moving from a simple to a more complex form.

It is notable for what Amtrak is not saying in this release.

It doesn’t say the Crescent and Silver Meteor will no longer offer meals freshly prepared on board the train or that “flexible dining” will offer fewer choices at meal time.

It says nothing about the Amtrak onboard service employees who are losing their jobs.

It says nothing about how these changes are part of an aggressive cost-cutting campaign that Anderson initiated.

Some of the touted “benefits” of flexible dining cited in the news release are already being offered  and are not upgrades in the traveling experience. This includes having meals delivered to your sleeping car room.

If flexible dining service is an improvement it is only because it represents an incremental increase in the number of meal options being offered compared with the “fresh and contemporary” service model introduced last year on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Amtrak, like any other company, is seeking to portray what customers might see as a negative as actually being a positive.

So rather than speak about cost cutting and reducing labor expenses, it instead frames the changes as serving the needs of its passengers without saying what those are.

The news release follows standard public relations practice of focusing on something that is, arguably, of value to a customer while avoiding calling attention to changes that take away something else of value.

It is a standard public relations marketing strategy if you are taking something away to instead focus on something of value you are offering instead.

Therefore sleeper class passengers get one free alcoholic beverage per meal whereas they used to pay out of pocket for any drinks they ordered with lunch or dinner.

And they also get the exclusive use of the dining car as a lounge.

I would not undervalue that “benefit” because on most eastern overnight trains the lounge is an Amfleet car that doubles as the café car for coach passengers. It can get quite crowded and has limited seating.

Many railfans have complained bitterly about the loss of full-service dining on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

No longer can you order an omelet with bacon, potatoes and a croissant when traveling from, say, Cleveland or Pittsburgh to Chicago.

Gone is the end of the communal seating and in is having to make do with less variety on the menu.

Yet, even the Rail Passengers Association in writing about what has been lacking about “fresh and contemporary” has acknowledged that some of its members have applauded some aspects of it including lighter fare and being able to choose your own company while eating.

Some passengers dislike being beholden to the time shown on their meal reservation and not everyone wants to eat with strangers or is looking for a heavy meal for breakfast or dinner.

The changes that Amtrak has made in food service on its eastern overnight trains are not necessarily what the carrier says they are yet are not necessarily a nefarious plot to kill long-distance passenger trains.

It appears that way because these changes are being made at the same time that high-ranking Amtrak managers are trying to portray these trains as relics of bygone era.

The dining service changes also bear a striking resemblance to what freight railroads did in the 1960s when they downgraded service on intercity passenger trains and discontinued dozens of them.

Whatever the future may hold for overnight passenger trains, there is little to no reason to believe that full-service dining cars are going to return to the eastern long-distance trains or that those Amtrak workers who are losing their jobs are going to get them back.

The omelet you had hoped to enjoy for breakfast has been replaced by a Kind bar.

The steak and baked potato you wanted for dinner has been replaced with red wine braised beef and a side salad.

Amtrak Announces Details About ‘Flexible Dining’

September 16, 2019

Amtrak released this image of one of roasted chicken and fettuccine, one of four hot entrees that will be offered to sleeping car passengers on eastern overnight trains starting Oct. 1.

Amtrak has made official what has been discussed for weeks. Effective Oct. 1 it will remove full-service dining cars from two eastern long-distance trains and convert its eastern long-distance trains that offer sleeping car service to the same dining model it implemented in June 2018 aboard the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited.

In the process, Amtrak is rebranding the service and billing is as an improvement. Gone is the “fresh and contemporary” label. The passenger carrier is now describing its food service as “flexible dining.”

In a news release, Amtrak touted flexible dining as offering additional hot entrees at lunch and dinner.

One of the four entrees will be vegan while another will be gluten free.

For the most part, “flexible dining” will be the same as the “fresh and contemporary” model that it is replacing.

It will be offered on the Cardinal, Crescent, Silver Meteor, Lake Shore Limited, Capital Limited and City of New Orleans.

Amtrak’s news release said “flexible dining” will be launched on the Silver Star (New York-Miami) in 2020.

In a post on Friday afternnoon on its website, the Rail Passengers Association said that Amtrak also plans to provide coach passengers on eastern long-distance overnight trains the opportunity to purchase one of the entrees provided to sleeping car passengers.

However, the Amtrak news release made no mention of coach passengers being able to purchase the meals served to sleeping car passengers.

RPA did note in its post that dining service on eastern long-distance trains will continue to evolve following the Oct. 1 implementation of “flexible dining.”

The Crescent (New York-New Orleans) and Silver Meteor (New York-Miami) currently have full-service dining car service with meals freshly prepared onboard.

The Cardinal (Chicago-New York) and City of New Orleans (Chicago-New Orleans) currently have something in between with a wider number of meal options compared with the Capitol (Chicago-Washington) and Lake Shore (Chicago-New York/Boston), but with all food prepared off the train and heated onboard.

Most of the amenities that Amtrak listed in its news release for “flexible dining” have been fixtures of “fresh and contemporary” since it was launched.

This includes unlimited soft drinks and one complementary alcoholic beverage at lunch and dinner, room service provided by a sleeping car attendant, and exclusive use of a dining car as a lounge for sleeper class passengers for eating and socializing.

The flexible dining moniker apparently stems from the fact that breakfast, lunch and dinner will be available during broad serving hours with no reservation needed.

Breakfast will be available between 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., lunch will be available between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., and dinner will be available between 5 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Some changes have been made in the menu offerings. There will still be just one hot entrée available at breakfast, a sausage, egg and cheese muffin.

Also available will be oatmeal (two varieties), cold cereal (four varieties), muffins (two varieties), a breakfast bar (Kind bar), yogurt (two varieties), fruit (bananas and seasonal fruit cup), and various beverages.

On the lunch and dinner menu all entrees come with a side salad and dessert although the menu posted online does not indicate what the dessert is.

The Amtrak news release described the deserts as blondies and brownies.

The entrees include red wine braised beef served with pearl onions, carrots, mushrooms, polenta and Haricot vert; Asian noodle bowl (vegan) served with Yaki Soba noodles, carrots, edamane, red peppers, baby corn, scallions and Shittake mushrooms in a garlic-chili sauce; chicken fettuccine served with roasted chicken, broccoli, carrots, red peppers, Parmesan and Asiago cheeses in a garlic cream sauce); and Creole shrimp and Andouille sausage (gluten free) served with yellow rice, peppers, onions, and green onions in a Creole sauce). All dinners come with side salad and dessert.

The children’s meal is pasta and meatballs served with penne pasta, tomato sauce, meatballs and mozzarella cheese.

Also changing is how these meals are presented. Boxes, bags and excessive wrapping materials are being discarded in favor of small trays that will be used to serve the meals.

Amtrak said that traditional dining cars will continue to operate on western long-distance overnight trains, including the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle.

In the east, the Auto Train will continue to have traditional dining car service although Amtrak has announced plans to end providing meals other than a continental breakfast to coach passengers starting in January 2020.

Amtrak is seeking to frame “flexible dining” as part of a larger evolutionary strategy to upgrade long-distance trains in the coming months.

Other improvements that the news release said are coming include “refreshed” Amfleet II cars, which will receive new seat cushions, carpets, curtains and LED reading lights.

These changes are expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Amtrak said sleepers will receive upgraded bedding, towels and linens, starting with the Auto Train.

New Viewliner II sleeping cars will be assigned to eastern long-distance trains in the coming months as well.

In its posting, RPA hailed Amtrak’s plans, describing them as “important improvements” while acknowledging that it will not be a return to the traditional dining car experience.

RPA said restoration of dining service to the Silver Star is being made possible by “efficiencies gained from the new food-service model on Eastern trains.”

As for coach passengers being able to buy food served to sleeping car passengers, RPA said Amtrak plans to implement an order-ahead system so that passengers have the option to make selections at booking

RPA said Amtrak will offer two hot entrees at breakfast, but the menu posted on the Amtrak website showed just one. RPA suggested that the current ham-egg-cheese on a ciabatta roll breakfast sandwich will continue.

Amtrak has told RPA that it will use a combination of processes and technology to ensure that there is enough food on board for service and enough variety so that passengers’ first choice is more likely to be available.

However, Amtrak is still working on solutions for the problems of special meals, including Kosher, vegan, vegetarian, allergies and food sensitivities.

RPA cited a letter that it received from an Amtrak executive to say that menus for traditional dining cars will change in the first half of 2020.

That letter also said that new mattresses, linens, sheets, blankets and towels along with upgraded soap and amenities will be implemented during the coming year.

Amtrak continues to work to overcome mechanical issues that have prevented it from installing convection ovens on food-service cars, but hopes to have that issue resolved by the end of this year.

Intermodal Station Opens in Charleston

September 12, 2019

Charleston, South Carolina, has a new intermodal transportation facility serving Amtrak, intercity buses and public transit of the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority.

The one-story, 14,000-square-foot facility is located in North Charleston and has been in the planning stages for years.

The facility cost $14.5 million with Federal Transit Administration grants funding 80 percent of it.

Aside from serving buses and trains the facility also has meeting space and a historic display room dedicated to the Liberty Hill community, the former North Charleston railroad station built in the 1950s and rotating art displays.

The facility is located on the site of the former railroad station.

CARTA Chairman Mike Seekings said the facility is “something that is truly different to the city of North Charleston and to this region, and that is a multimodal center where people can move throughout the Lowcountry in a safe, efficient, modern manner, something that we’ve never seen before.”

Charleston is served by Amtrak’s Silver Meteor and Palmetto.

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.

 

Amtrak Takes Delivery of 2 More Viewliners

August 31, 2019

Amtrak took delivery this week of two more Viewliner II baggage-dorm cars from CAF USA this week, the Rail Passengers Association reported.

The delivery of Viewliner II sleeping cars is expected to get underway this fall.

Viewliner equipment is used on eastern long-distance trains, including the Lake Shore Limited, Cardinal, Crescent, Silver Meteor and Silver Star.

Delivery of the new equipment has been a long time coming and been delayed by production issues at CAF’s New York plant.