Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s City of New Orleans’

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.

Ceremony Marks Start of NOLA Station Project

September 10, 2019

A ceremony held recently marked the ceremonial start of platform rebuilding at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal.

The $6.643 million project will bring the boarding platforms in the terminal to ADA standards as well as expand the canopy covering the platform.

Other work will upgrade the air, water and other systems, place fences and gates to improve security, and create facilities to permit trains to be used for evacuation.

Funding for the project is split among a $3.7 million federal grant, $2 million in matching funds from the City of New Orleans and the New Orleans Building Commission, and $943,000 from Amtrak.

New Orleans is terminus of three Amtrak long-distance routes linking Chicago (City of New Orleans), Los Angeles (Sunset Limited) and New York (Crescent).

Flash Fare Sale Publicizes Return of CONO to NOLA

August 27, 2019

As a way of marking the restoration of Amtrak’s City of New Orleans to operation the full length of its route, the passenger carrier has launched a buy-one, get one fare sale.

Nos. 58 and 59 have been terminating and originating in Jackson, Mississippi, for much of the time since May when flooding closed the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in April opened the spillway to prevent Mississippi River flooding in New Orleans.

Generally, when that happens, host railroad Canadian National bans Amtrak from using the spillway.

Also disrupting the operations of the City of New Orleans was CN track work, which for a week in late July and early August had the train operating two hours later than its normal schedule, and then originating and terminating in Memphis for another week.

CN and Amtrak have a standing agreement that trains can only deadhead with employees until the aging trestle on the spillway is rebuilt when the spillway is opened.

However, CN also denied Amtrak permission to use a wye to turn the train at Hammond, Louisiana, which is 50 miles closer to New Orleans.

During the track work and spillway opening passengers rode chartered buses between Jackson and New Orleans.

As for the fare sale, tickets must be purchased by Aug. 31 and travel completed by the end of September.

Trains magazine noted that the flash sale for the City was one of the few Amtrak has held that is route specific in recent years.

Similar sales have been nationwide aside from a those limited to the Auto Train or conducted in cooperation with states that fund Amtrak corridor routes.

The focus on the City of New Orleans is an effort to attract attention to the fact the train is once again serving both endpoint cities and to address a ridership drop during the months of schedule disruptions.

Trains said that sleeping car revenue had been flat for the first half of fiscal year 2019, but dropped by 16 percent in May, 29 percent in June, and 36 percent in July compared with the corresponding months of 2018.

The represented lost revenue represented of almost $500,000 for those three months.

“We knew we had to develop a plan to counter the idea that there were only buses south of Jackson,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

The Southern Rail Commission has sought to help Amtrak publicize the fare sale by appearing in local news media reports in the South.

“It was important for us to get some earned media to publicize the sale,” Magliari said.

Amtrak awarded special recognition pins to on-board and station employees for their service during a difficult situation.

FRA Grants to Benefit Passenger Rail

August 27, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration has announced the awarding of more than $272 million in grant funding to 10 rail projects through its State of Good Repair Program.

Several of those projects will benefit passenger rail.

The Michigan Department of Transportation was awarded up to $23.3 million for a rehabilitation work on the state-owned line between Kalamazoo and Dearborn that is used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service and Blue Water trains.

The project entails rebuilding rail, crossties and track surfaces, and replacing two railroad bridges in Jackson.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation received $15.1 million to rehabilitate and upgrade an interlocking plant in Philadelphia at the junction of the Amtrak-owned Keystone Corridor and Northeast Corridor main lines.

Work will include slope stabilization and reconstruction of retaining walls, rehabilitation of an existing but underutilized track, and switch and signal reconfiguration.

Chicago commuter agency Metra will receive $17.8 million to construct a new grade-separated, double-tracked rail bridge over Milwaukee Avenue north of the Grayland Metra Station on Metra’s Milwaukee District-North Line in Chicago.

The city-owned New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal will receive $3.7 million to complete final design for upgrading station platforms and train service capabilities.

The platform modifications will bring the platforms into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, increase platform height to provide level boarding for Amtrak’s Sunset Limited and City of New Orleans, and improve the step height for boarding the Crescent.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation was awarded $41.2 million to replace and upgrade Tower I interlocking, a major rail network junction at the entrance to the Boston South Station terminal area.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation received $76.9 million for the Piedmont intercity fleet and infrastructure investments project.

The project involves the acquisition of 13 new passenger coaches for use in the Piedmont service and an expansion of the Charlotte Locomotive and Rail-car Maintenance Facility.

New Jersey Transit received $18.4 million for platform D improvements at Newark Penn Station. The project includes repairing and/or replacing Platform D slabs and joints, reconstructing platform edges, installing new tactile strips and timber rub rails, repairing the overhead canopy and upgrading lighting.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation was awarded $12.5 million for a major rehabilitation of the Amtrak station in Providence.

The Washington State Department of Transportation was awarded $37.5 million to procure three new consists for use in the Amtrak Cascades service.

The project will replace the three Washington state-owned Talgo VI trainsets: two used in current service and one damaged in the December 2017 derailment.

The loss of the damaged trainset reduced the Amtrak Cascades schedule from six to four daily round trips.

The project will enable WSDOT to meet existing and anticipated passenger demand, and allow Washington to retire its Talgo VI trainsets.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation was awarded $25.7 million to replace deteriorated, outdated passenger cab-baggage and coach cars used in the Chicago–Milwaukee Amtrak Hiawatha service with three single-level cab-coach cars and six single-level coach cars.

Amtrak Eastern Long-Distance Trains to Get ‘Contemporary Dining” Service Effective Oct. 1

August 12, 2019

An internal Amtrak memo that was posted on Train Orders.com had confirmed that all eastern long-distance trains except the Silver Star will adopt the “contemporary dining” model effective Oct. 1.

Full-service dining will be removed from the New York-New Orleans Crescent and New York-Miami Silver Meteor.

The Silver Star is an exception because it does not provide meal service to sleeping car passengers as part of their fare.

The Chicago-New York Cardinal will gain a Viewliner dining car that will serve as a sleeper class lounge car in the same manner as is done on the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited.

Although the Cardinal has not had meals prepared on board for several years, it did have a more expansive menu than the Lake Shore or Capitol Limited had after both switched to the contemporary dining model last year.

The net effect of the changes is to standardize food and beverage service on eastern long distance trains while reducing the number of on-board employees assigned to the Crescent and Silver Meteor.

The Cardinal and the Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans will not have a net loss of on-board jobs, but two of the positions will be reclassified as lead service attendants.

The Crescent will see a reduction of 16 positions while the Silver Meteor will lose 14 positions.

The Amtrak memo said onboard meal preparation will be replaced by a small variety of ready to serve meals that will be included in the sleeper class fare and delivered to the train just prior to origination.

All eastern long-distance trains will have two food service cars, one of which is reserved for the exclusive use of sleeper class passengers. The other is a café car open to all passengers.

Sleeping car attendants will, upon request, continue to deliver meals to passengers in their rooms.

Amtrak also plans to continue the practice of the sleeping car attendant asking passengers shortly after boarding their preferred dining times and giving reservations in 15-minute increments.

The lunch and dinner offerings on all trains will include Asian noodle bowl, red wine braised beef, chicken fettuccini with broccoli, and Creole shrimp and andouille. Dessert is available upon request.

Breakfast is described as a deluxe continental breakfast that includes muffins, yogurt, fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, cereal, oatmeal and breakfast sandwich.

Sleeper class passengers and business class passengers will each receive one complimentary alcoholic beverage and unlimited soft drinks.

Business class, which is available only on the Cardinal, does not include meals.

The consist of the Cardinal will be one Viewliner baggage car, three Amfleet II coaches, one Viewliner sleeper , one Viewliner sleeper-lounge,  and an Amfleet I café-lounge with 18 business class seats, Amfleet café module and 24 booth seats.

The A end of the café car pointed toward the coaches to reduce foot traffic through the business class section.

The Cardinal onboard crew will continue to be based in New York.

The City of New Orleans will have consist of Superliner equipment, including  two coaches, a baggage-coach, a Cross Country Café that will serve as the sleeper class lounge, a Sightseer lounge that will serve as the café car for the entire train and a transition sleeper.

The Crescent and Silver Meteor will have similar consists of three Amfleet II coaches, one Amfleet diner lite car that will serve as the café car, a Viewliner dining car that will serve as the sleeper class lounge and a Viewliner baggage car. The Crescent will have two sleeping cars while the Silver Meteor will have three.

The assignments mean that Amtrak will have in revenue service at any given time 13 Viewliner dining cars of the 25 that is owns.

The memo also detailed the plans for changes in Auto Train food and beverage service in January 2020.

Complimentary breakfast and dinner for coach passengers will be eliminated in favor of an expanded café car menu sold through a Cross Country Café.

The Amtrak memo said the café car will provide “a festive environment during the trip,” although it is not clear what this is supposed to mean.

Food trucks will be selling meals at the stations in Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida.

Effective Oct. 1, one coach will be replaced by a sleeping car with additional sleeping cars being assigned during peak travel periods.

Food service for sleeper class will be provided by seasonal menus with variety of entrée selections for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

There will be a selection of cocktails, beer and wine to go with coffee and soft drinks. Amtrak said that a wine service is also being introduced for sleeper class passengers aboard the Auto Train.

The changes in onboard service aboard the Auto Train will result in 25 onboard service positions being eliminated.

What An Extra 2 Hours Can Do

August 11, 2019

Amtrak’s City of New Orleans is a challenge to photograph in east central Illinois because of its schedule.

The southbound train passes through in darkness no matter the time of year and the northbound train arrives just before or at dawn.

During the summer the latter might be possible to photograph in early summer, particularly if it is running late.

For one week in late July and early August No. 58 operated two hours later than its normal schedule to accommodate track work being performed by host railroad Canadian National.

I took advantage of that to get the northbound CONO at Pesotum, Illinois, on the last day of the later schedule.

For some reason, it was operating on this day as Train 1158.

 

CONO Resumes Running to New Orleans

August 6, 2019

Operating as train 1158 for one day only, the northbound City of New Orleans passes through Pesotum, Illinois, en route to Chicago. The train at the time was 40 minutes late.

Amtrak’s City of New Orleans resumed operating between New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi, on July 30.

Nos. 58 and 59 had been originating and terminating in Jackson for several weeks due to flooding in the lower Mississippi River valley that closed the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

During that time passengers rode a chartered bus south of Jackson.

However, track work by host railroad Canadian National has Nos. 58 and 59 originating and terminating this week in Memphis, Tennessee, through Aug. 8

In a service advisory, Amtrak said alternate transportation will be provided between Memphis and Jackson, but there will be no alternate transportation to the missed station stops of Marks, Greenwood or Yazoo City in Mississippi.

Grade Crossing Crash Derails Amtrak’s Illini

July 30, 2019

A truck driver was killed and Amtrak’s southbound Illini derailed after a grade crossing collision Sunday afternoon in University Park, Illinois.

Two passengers aboard Amtrak Train 393 were taken to a hospital and treated for minor injuries.

The train was reported to be traveling at 70 mph when it struck the truck at 5 p.m.

The lead Charger locomotive and five cars derailed. The train had 300 passengers and five crew members.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the crossing gates appeared to be working at the time of the crash.

The derailment blocked the Canadian National mainline and Amtrak’s southbound City of New Orleans was canceled as was the Monday morning departure of the southbound Saluki.

The northbound City terminated in Carbondale, Illinois, on Monday and passengers were taken by bus to Chicago or their intermediate stations.

The City departed as scheduled on Monday night. Also operating as scheduled on Monday were the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini.

CONO Skeds Adjusted For CN Track Work

July 26, 2019

Track work being performed by Canadian National will affect the operation of Amtrak’s City of New Orleans between July 29 and Aug. 2.

No. 58 will depart Jackson, Mississippi, during the period at 7:44 p.m., 2 hours later than normal and operate on a later schedule to Chicago.

Connecting buses from New Orleans to Jackson will operate two hours later at all stations.

Train No. 59 will depart Chicago at at 9:05 p.m., one hour later than normal, and operate on a later schedule at all stations from Chicago to Jackson.

Connecting buses from Jackson to New Orleans will operate an hour later at all stations between Jackson and New Orleans.

Between Aug. 5 and Aug. 8, Train 58 will originate in Memphis while No. 59 will terminate in Memphis. Both trains will operate on their normal schedule.

Alternative transportation will be provided between Memphis and Jackson but there will be no alternate transportation to the missed station stops in Mississippi at Marks, Greenwood and Yazoo City.

Meeting in Jackson

July 19, 2019

Amtrak’s City of New Orleans uses tracks of Canadian National (nee Illinois Central) for most of its 934-mile trip between the Windy City and the Crescent City.

So passengers aboard Nos. 58 and 59 who are inclined to watch such things are going to see a lot of CN trains along the way.

In the image above a southbound CN train passes the station in Jackson, Mississippi, while No. 59 does its station work in March 2012.