From Trains Magazine Newswire - Bob Johnston | April 14, 2020
Amtrak Goes To Pre-Packaged Meals On Western Trains; Makes Other Temporary Changes To Long-Distance Service
CHICAGO — Amtrak will introduce its pre-packaged “Flexible Dining” program on western long-distance trains beginning Friday, April 17, in response to the sharply reduced ridership resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
With the introduction of the program on trains west of Chicago and New Orleans, only the Lorton, Va.-Sanford, Fla., Auto Train will retain full dining service for sleeping-car passengers. The changes, billed as “temporary” in an operations service advisory obtained by Trains News Wire, will remain in effect until at least May 31.
The company had already established social distancing in dining cars by seating passengers in checkerboard fashion at different tables for the past month. But with few travelers on each train, and many bringing their own food, management decided to trim costs by substituting pre-packaged meals for sleeping car patrons, who will now have exclusive use of dining cars, as is the case on the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited. Coach passengers’ food options will be limited to the cafe menu in each train’s Superliner Sightseer Lounge.
Effective dates for the service adjustments are as follows:
Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle/Portland, Ore): westbound, April 20; eastbound, April 17.
California Zephyr (Chicago-Emeryville, Calif.): westbound, April 17; eastbound April 20.
Southwest Chief (Chicago-Los Angeles): westbound and eastbound, April 17.
Texas Eagle (Chicago-San Antonio, Tex.: westbound, April 17; eastbound, April 19.
Sunset Limited (New Orleans-Los Angeles): westbound, April 20; eastbound, April 17.
Coast Starlight (Seattle-Los Angeles): northbound, April 17; southbound, April 19
In changes on other routes:
— The Capitol Limited Sightseer lounge has been sidelined; coach and sleeper customers utilize the train’s Cross-Country Cafe for snack fare and pre-packaged meals, respectively.
— The Viewliner diner has been dropped from the New York-New Orleans Crescent and was not added to the New York-Washington-Chicago Cardinal. Sleeping-car passengers on those trains will get continue to get their Flexible Dining food “to go” from a single lead service attendant in the Amfleet II cafe car. This change will also take place on the New York-Miami Silver Meteor on April 17.
— The plan to begin including pre-packaged meals for sleeping car customers on the New York-Raleigh-Tampa-Miami Silver Star will begin May 1, as previously scheduled, but with all food served from the train’s cafe.
As long as the patronage downturn persists, the only train operating with a Viewliner II dining car for sleeping car passengers is the New York section of the Lake Shore Limited.
As is the case with conductors, engineers, and other operating personnel, onboard service employees affected by reduced staffing requirements will move to the extra board (at reduced pay) rather than being furloughed, according to Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.
He tells Trains News Wire that another factor driving the decision was that the meals “are designed to be portable and more easily transported back to passengers’ private room accommodations,” adding, “We will be revisiting food service options on all routes before May 31.”
Amtrak plans to formally announce the changes on its website on Wednesday, April 15, as part of the prominently-displayed “Coronavirus Update,” which will have a link to Flexible Dining menu offerings