Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited’

Just Like Sunday Mornings With Grandpa

August 18, 2019

Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited is more than four hours late as it passes through Olmsted Falls, Ohio, on a Sunday morning in mid May.

It was a sunny and pleasant Sunday morning in Olmsted Falls as I stood next to the tracks of Norfolk Southern at the former Lake Shore & Michigan Southern station that is now owned by a model railroad club, the Cuyahoga Valley & West Shore.

I was waiting for a tardy eastbound Lake Shore Limited that Amtrak predicted would arrive in Elyria at 9:12 a.m. and depart two minutes later.

If that held, that would put No. 48 through Olmsted Falls at about 9:25 a.m.

As I waited, my thoughts flashed back to Sunday mornings in the early 1960s when my grandparents on my mother’s side would come to my hometown in east central Illinois from St. Louis for a weekend visit.

On Sunday morning, grandpa would take my sister and I for a walk of about four blocks that we called “going to the trains.”

On the west side of Mattoon not far from our house was an open area that still had tracks leading to a an abandoned shop building once used by the Peoria, Decatur & Evansville, which was absorbed by the Illinois Central in the early 20th century.

The tracks leading into that long-closed shop were still in place, but rusty and covered in weeds. Cinders were plentiful in the ballast.

This area was located between the tracks of the IC – that former PD&E – and the St. Louis line of the New York Central.

We would walk across those tracks to stand near the Central tracks. Two NYC passenger trains were scheduled to pass through Mattoon during the mid to late morning hours.

The eastbound train was the Southwestern and the westbound train the Knickerbocker. They were all that was left of the Central’s service to St. Louis.

In the early 1960s, both of those trains were still quite grand with sleepers, dining cars and coaches, some of which operated through to New York and all of which operated to and from Cleveland.

Sometimes the motive power for the trains were E units still wearing NYC lightning stripes, but at others times the motive power was Geeps in the cigar band look.

I thought about those trains as I waited for Amtrak No. 48, which had lost time starting with a late departure from Chicago Union Station the night before.

But something happened between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana, where the bulk of the lost time occurred.

Amtrak equipment, like much of that used by the Central, is silver-colored stainless steel. The Central had some two-tone gray smooth sided passenger cars that were assigned to the St. Louis trains.

There are some parallels to where the Central’s passenger service was in the early 1960s and where Amtrak is today.

NYC management under the leadership of Alfred Perlman was convinced that long-distance trains had no future and throughout the 1950s the Central had aggressively discontinued as many of those trains as regulators would allow.

There might not have been any NYC passenger trains for myself, my sister and my grandpa to watch during our walks “to the trains” had the Illinois Commerce Commission allowed the Central to discontinue all service to St. Louis as it wanted to do in the late 1950s.

Amtrak management under the leadership of Richard Anderson has been signaling that it wants to transform its network into a series of short-haul corridors between urban points.

That strategy would eviscerate Amtrak’s long-distance network and probably spell the end of the Lake Shore Limited, the only daily train between Chicago and New York.

Those walks “to the trains” did not last long. By the middle 1960s my grandparents were no longer traveling from St. Louis to Mattoon to visit us.

In the meantime, the Southwestern and Knickerbocker grew shorter, shrinking to one sleeper and a couple of coaches. The dining car no longer operated west of Indianapolis.

In late 1967 the Central posted notices of its intent to discontinue its last trains to St. Louis. By then the trains only operated between St. Louis and Union City, Indiana, the NYC having used the “Ohio strategy” to discontinue them between Union City and Cleveland.

The “Ohio strategy” was a rule of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that allowed a railroad to discontinue a passenger train within the state of Ohio without PUCO approval provided it was not the last passenger train on that route.

The NYC and other railroads used that rule to devastating effect in the 1960s.

The Interstate Commerce Commission stayed the discontinuance of the remnants of the Southwestern and Knickerbocker, but after conducting an investigation concluded they were not needed for the public necessity and convenience. They made their last trips in March 1968.

By then they had shrunk to one E unit and one coach.

My grandpa died in 1982, the same year that Conrail won regulatory approval to abandon the former NYC through Mattoon. The tracks were pulled up through town in May 1983.

In the meantime, the IC razed the former shops used by the PD&E. That area where we used to walk remains an open field passed by a handful of trains of Canadian National.

No. 48 was slowly gaining back some of its lost time a minute or two at a time as it made its was east from Toledo. It departed Elyria about when Amtrak predicted it would.

The Lake Shore Limited continues to be an impressive looking train with three sleepers, six coaches, a baggage car, café car, dining car and two locomotives. But the dining car no longer serves meals freshly prepared onboard.

Just like the Central did, Amtrak is slowing chipping away at onboard service in an effort to cut costs.

As the Lake Shore flashed past, I again felt myself going back to the early 1960s and watching the Southwestern rush past also en route to New York City.

I couldn’t think of too many better ways to spend part of a Sunday morning.

Passing the Olmsted Falls depot, now the home of a model railroad club.

All the meals being served in that dining car behind the Amfleet coach were prepared off the train. The chefs were laid off or reassigned to other runs.

New York LSL Passengers Have Limited Cafe Car Service

August 12, 2019

With the restoration of the Boston section of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited coach passengers riding between New York and Albany, New York, no longer can buy food and beverages between those points.

The cafe car is part of the Boston section, which separates and combines with the New York section at the Albany-Rensselaer station.

The Boston section was suspended for six weeks earlier this year due to CSX track work.

That work was completed in mid July and the Boston section was reinstated. In the interim, passengers bound for points between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer traveled on a bus.

During the suspension of the Boston section, the cafe car, which also accommodates business class passengers, operated between New York and Chicago.

The Rail Passengers Association noted that during the Boston section suspension Amtrak assigned a full table cafe car to Nos. 48 and 49.

But now the cafe car has reverted to a split car with six tables of which at least two are often taken by the crew for their use.

RPA said it is pressing Amtrak to increase the number of tables available for use by coach passengers as well as providing food and beverage service to and from New York.

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.

2 Amtrak Trains Strike Trees

August 9, 2019

Two Amtrak trains, including the Lake Shore Limited, struck trees on Wednesday night in New York State that had been downed by thunderstorms.

Train 49 struck a tree north of Poughkeepsie, New York. There were no injuries and the locomotive suffered what officials terms cosmetic damage.

The Lake Shore resumed its journey to Chicago after a 90 minute delay.

The New York-bound Adirondack hit a tree six miles south of Rhinecliff, New York, incurring an air leak and damage to an electrical box.

After being stranded for 75 minutes, Train 68 was able to move on its own to New York.

Boston LSL Section Resumes Ahead of Schedule

August 7, 2019

In case you missed it, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited has resumed operating between Chicago and Boston.

The Boston section was suspended on May 20 due to CSX track work and reinstated on July 17.

During that time passengers were taken by bus between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

The reinstatement was made two weeks earlier than planned, Amtrak said in a statement reported by the Boston Globe.

“The temporary suspension of train service was due to scheduled trackwork by our host railroad, CSX. This project did not have onboard components,” Amtrak said.

Early Morning and a Late Lake Shore Limited

August 2, 2019

The sun is slowly climbing over Olmsted Falls, Ohio, as a very late Lake Shore Limited scoots toward Chicago.

Under normal circumstances Train No. 49 would have passed here in darkness.

The sun angle when this image was made on May 11 made photography tricky but did yield a nice reflection from the lead P42DC locomotive No. 92.

The former Lake Shore & Michigan Southern (later New York Central) depot at right is now the home of a model railroad club.

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.

Waving Goodbye in Elyria

July 21, 2019

The railroad station has long been a focal point of life in American cities and towns, but in many places the Amtrak station is little more than a bus-stop style shelter.

Elyria, Ohio, is one of those places. Its station is new, but offers minimal amenities.

The city and county have been talking for years of having Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited stop at the former New York Central passenger station in Elyria, which is now used by local transit buses.

But that project is expensive and bogged down in red tape and political conflicts. Perhaps some day it will all work out.

Shown is the Elyria station on June 26, 2019, from aboard the eastbound Lake Shore Limited, which was more than three hours late when it arrived in Elyria.

Two girls see off a friend who is boarding No. 48.

Lucky Me That I Picked the Wrong Day to Travel

July 17, 2019

Passengers get into position to board Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited in Cleveland as it arrives more than three hours late on the morning of June 26, 2019. (Photograph by Edward Ribinskas)

On the evening of June 25, 2019, Amtrak Train No. 48 departed Chicago Union Station on time at 9:30.

It would be the only time that No. 48 would arrive or depart from a station on schedule during its 959 mile journey to New York City.

What Amtrak said would be a seven hour trip to Cleveland ballooned to 10-and-a-half hours.

That wasn’t all bad, I suppose. I got to see Sandusky Bay in daylight and got some “bonus” time at no extra fare aboard a train I had not ridden since May 2014.

Yet when the Lake Shore Limited finally halted at the Cleveland station I was more than ready to get off. I had things to do and places to go and had expected to be well underway in doing them already.

Officially, No. 48 arrived in Cleveland at 9:07 a.m., 3 hours, 29 minutes late.

How does a train lose 3.5 hours? Darn if I know because the crew never told us how or why, not that I expected them to do that.

A detailed accounting of that lost time exists somewhere. Amtrak conductors keep logs of time lost en route and report that information to a superior who forwards it to Amtrak headquarters.

Amtrak aggregates that information into report cards that the carrier periodically issues to show how its host railroads are doing in keeping Amtrak trains on time.

Those reports, though, are not necessarily a complete accounting. I’ve heard Amtrak crew members agree in radio conversations with each other to not report a particular cause of delay.

I also once heard an Amtrak engineer refuse to cooperate with the conductor in explaining why No. 30 had lost time in Indiana.

Amtrak operating personnel do not have access to the communication that goes on in the dispatching offices of the host railroads.

If a dispatcher for Norfolk Southern decides to hold Amtrak at a control point to wait for two westbound freight trains to clear before switching Amtrak from Track 2 to Track 1 in order to go around a slow freight train ahead on Track 2, the Amtrak crew doesn’t know why the decision was made to hold them rather than holding one or both of the westbound freights further east until Amtrak could go around the slow eastbound freight.

Further, they don’t know whether that decision was made by the dispatcher, by the dispatcher’s supervisor or by a computer program that NS uses to dispatch its railroad. Nor do they know with certainty the logic behind the decision even if they have some idea.

In fact, the scenario outlined above happened in the darkness of northern Indiana west of South Bend during my trip.

My train was moving slowly and I got my scanner out and listened to the NS road channel for a while.

As best I could tell, most of the time that No. 48 lost on the night and morning of June 25-26 could be attributed to the host railroad.

Amtrak might see it as freight train interference while NS might call it traffic congestion.

In the days preceding my trip, Amtrak had posted a passenger advisory warning that NS track work in the Chicago area would cause delays of up to an hour because two main tracks would be out of service.

Perhaps NS freight traffic was heavier than usual on the night I was aboard No. 48 as the freight carrier was getting caught up from delays to its own trains stemming from the track work.

We can’t blame NS for two other delays due to bridges being open in Toledo and Cleveland for marine traffic.

I’ve made dozens of trips on Amtrak through Toledo over the past 25 years and it was the first time I’d ever been aboard a train delayed by the Maumee River Bridge being open.

Otherwise, nothing happened during that trip of June 25-26 that I had not experienced before between Cleveland and Chicago. Many times.

Much of the lost time was racked up between Elkhart, Indiana, and Toledo where Amtrak trains have been losing time for decades, going back into the Conrail era.

What had been 1 hour, 11 minutes late at Elkhart skyrocketed to 2 hours, 51 minutes by the time we stopped at the Bryan station.

By then it was daylight and I got my radio out again and listened to the engineer on No. 48 call a steady drum beat procession of approach signal indications from Bryan to the west side of Toledo.

We finally got around a long manifest freight in Toledo and I’m not sure if it was a case of that train having mechanical problems, being underpowered or some other reason.

Of course there was a steady stream of westbounds on Track 1, including Amtrak’s Capitol Limited.

Shortly after we moved around that manifest freight the dispatcher said we would have to wait for Amtrak 49 to depart the Toledo station, where there is just one track that Amtrak can use.

Once we got across the Maumee River we moved at a steady pace but we were even later at Sandusky than we had been at Toledo.

NS has been particularly outspoken about its disdain for Amtrak’s report cards and at one point threatened legal action if Amtrak didn’t stop issuing them.

Of course NS is upset because those report cards suggest it does a poor job of dispatching Amtrak trains.

NS management would argue that dispatching decision making takes into account a myriad of factors and seeks to strike a balance in serving the interest of freight trains and passenger trains.

NS managers would say dispatchers seek to give Amtrak preference when they can but that is not always possible because things happen.

It isn’t the railroad’s fault that someone parked a car on the tracks that was struck by a container train that subsequently derailed and blocked both main tracks as happened in early June in Swanton, Ohio.

Nor can railroads predict when equipment failures will occur or acts of nature will strike.

These things also delay the transport of the freight of NS customers.

All of this is true as far as it goes, but overlooks that managers are people who make decisions based on their beliefs, biases and prejudices as to what is most important when conflicts occur in moving trains.

It also overlooks that these beliefs, biases and prejudices are built into the overall operating plan and tend to be viewed as sacrosanct.

It starts with the reality that we the host railroad own this railroad and not Amtrak. In our view the needs of the owner are just as important if not more so than those of the tenant.

I’ve ridden enough Amtrak trains to know that there is an element of luck involved in whether you will get to your destination on time or close to on time.

Had I departed Chicago on No. 48 on June 23 I would have arrived in Cleveland the next morning 27 minutes early. Had I left Chicago the day before I actually traveled I would have arrived in Cleveland 19 minutes late.

Had I traveled the day after I actually traveled I would have arrived in Cleveland 19 minutes late.

Had I left Chicago on June 27 I would have arrived in Cleveland one hour and 13 minutes late. That’s not good, but far better than 3.5 hours late.

So of five trains that operated the week I traveled I had the good fortune – yes, I’m being sarcastic – of choosing the travel day with the really late train.

But that was the date that worked best for me that week. It just didn’t work well for keeping the train even reasonably within range of being on time.

As for my fellow passengers who remained aboard No. 48 on June 26 after I disembarked, No. 48 would lose additional time on CSX, reaching its nadir of 4 hours, 19 minutes late at Schenectady, New York.

By the time it reached the end of the line at New York’s Penn Station, the lateness had been trimmed to 3 hours, 42 minutes, about what it had been in Toledo.

Whether it’s a plane, a train, or a bus, when you take public transportation you are rolling the dice that the carrier will get you to your destination when it says it will.

You know no carrier has a 100 percent on-time record, but always hope the aberration will occur on another day and affect someone else. Some people are naive enough to think it will not happen to them.

As you are loping along at restricted speed, waiting at a control point for opposing traffic or stopped because a heavy Great Lakes freighter has priority at a water crossing, there is a feeling of injustice that someone else’s priorities are more important than yours and there is nothing you can do about it.

If you are a writer you might dash off an indignant piece saying this ought to be done or that ought to have been done.

But if you know anything at all about transportation you should know better. Lengthy delays while traveling do occur and sooner or later they will occur to you.

It’s just that they can mess up your plans and, at times, spoil or dampen an experience you had long looked forward to having.

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.”