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Is Amtrak trying to get rid of dining car service?

by on Mon November 2, 2015 • 5 Comments


If you’re a train lover, and use your Amtrak Guest Rewards points for sleeping car rooms on long distance trains, you’re probably already a little miffed that Amtrak is changing Guest Rewards in January to make some sleeping car choices a lot more expensive than before.

What used to be a flat rate for a single zone like the East Coast or West Coast is now a price that varies based on how much the room would cost to buy in cash. And that’s often more expensive than the flat 15,000 point rate for a Roomette or 25,000 point rate for a Bedroom that covers everyone who fits in the room.

Now, a FlyerTalk user is saying Amtrak is testing out trains with sleeping cars, but without a dining car, and an Amtrak press release from April confirms it.

Instead, passengers on the Silver Star can pay for food from the cafe car, which serves reheated sandwiches and pre-packaged salads. The test is limited to the Silver Star, which runs from New York to Miami, and is running until January.

Sleeping cars and dining cars go hand in hand on Amtrak because traditionally all sleeping car passengers get full, hot meals from the dining car included in the cost of their tickets.

Not opulent, but a decent Amtrak dining car meal

Not opulent, but a decent Amtrak dining car meal

But Amtrak is trying to dress this up as a way to offer lower fares for sleeping car accommodations, saying it will save about $65 for a Roomette and $140 for a large Bedroom on the trip from New York to Miami on the Silver Star.

That trip is an over 30 hour ride – starting at 11am one day, and arriving at 6pm the following day. So you’re stuck having to buy 2 lunches, a breakfast, and a dinner from the cafe.

You’re saving $16 per meal in a Roomette, or $8 per person considering two people in a Roomette get free meals on a dining car train.

And spending more than $8 on a meal in the cafe car is not hard to do when a burger, chips, and soda will set you back over $11.

The dreadful Amtrak cafe menu

The dreadful Amtrak cafe menu

The reality is this is about slashing Amtrak’s costs.

Cutting that dining car eliminates a lot of labor, and there’s no way $8, $11, or even $16 gets you a meal of the quality served in the dining car.

Amtrak picked the Silver Star because it’s a route that has a sister train that runs alongside, the Silver Meteor, so Amtrak has an easy side by side test.

But make no mistake if this stimulates sleeping car demand, you’ll see this unfortunate concept roll out on more long distance trains, further eating into the value of your Amtrak points.

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5 thoughts on Is Amtrak trying to get rid of dining car service?

  1. susan

    Please DO NOT eliminate the dining cars for the long trips (anything over 6 hours). The café food is not a substitute for the dining car and to pay for a roomette and only be served a cold meal is a huge rip-off to the traveler. The dining car is a big feature for the long haul travel.
    I hate, absolutely hate, air travel because it is so cold and impersonal, the regulations, security check points and how they constantly cut back on the passengers’ experience. Seats are getting narrower, there is less legroom and food is nothing but a bag of pretzels or a cookie if you even get that. Airline travel is the perfect example of how NOT to treat a customer. Please don’t let Amtrak go down that path.
    The money you think you’re saving by cutting back the dining car is such a small portion of lost revenue that it’s not going to make much of an (positive) impact. Instead, try focusing on how to offer service to more areas so rail travel is more readily available. I would love to travel more by rail if only more routes and connections were available. I know there is some type of shuttle service in some areas so maybe that could be expanded to more connection points. I make a one hour drive just to get to the closest Amtrak station where I live.

  2. Ryan

    If something has to change, I would much rather have to pay outright for dining car meals while in sleeper accommodations, than to not have the dining car option. Particularly for longhaul western routes. Two days with only the lounge cafe food? No thanks! The dining car menu is expensive on its own but to not even have the option would be horrible.

    1. mike

      I love dining cars but look at the super chief and california zephyr if they could do it so can amtrack get ther dining car cookbooks and cook some of their trains recipies please amtrack give it a try. The food off of name trains like the super chief was superb and amrrack you will be too. I have the cookbook from the union pacific and i have tried recepies and the food is delicous.


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