Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby jhdeasy » Mon Jan 09, 2017 9:48 pm

Two of my friends/clients rode train 92 from central Florida to Trenton NJ a few days after Christmas. They are experienced rail travelers in the USA, Canada and Europe. They shared a Viewliner roomette. The shared a few comments on their Silver Star trip experience are:

Good sleeping car attendant.

Set bedroom temp to 75. Temp for lower berth was comfortable, but temp was cool for upper berth, requiring use of 2 blankets for upper berth.

Brought their own basket of gourmet food and beverages. Thus they were not adversely affected by the lack of a dining car.

They spent some time (but not that much time) in the cafe-lounge car to sample the atmosphere and observe.

They said they chose the Silver Star over the Silver Meteor for the more convenient FL departure and NJ arrival times, rather than lower fares.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby FatNoah » Wed Jan 11, 2017 9:53 pm

Just posting a couple observations here as I just finished booking the annual pilgrimage from Boston to Lakeland to visit the in-laws in March. Our original plan was to fly, but mini-FatNoah (aged 9) requested the overnight train. Mrs. FatNoah was also on board, so I booked the trip as train there and flight back. Despite our final destination of Lakeland, we opted for the Meteor with a pickup in Orlando (we have Orlando plans that evening). We went with the Meteor since Mrs. FatNoah (certainly no railfan or foamer) felt that the meal in the diner was the best part of the experience. Her words not mine. In any case, the fare difference was only $50 between the Star and the Meteor, so it was a no-brainer.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Arlington » Wed Nov 01, 2017 2:20 pm

Arlington wrote:Please don't raise the Star's costs & losses and cut its sleeper ridership by putting the diner back on (will take this to the Silver Starvation thread)

Why would the Silver Star need a diner? Since the diner was removed, sleeper ridership is up +13% (revenues are down only ~10% on given lower, "no diner" fares), and annual losses have been trimmed by about $6m ~$9m more than they were on the Meteor.

Using 2016 August MPR for 2015 ("the last year mostly with a diner"), and 2017 MPR(just released, BTW)
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Philly Amtrak Fan » Wed Nov 01, 2017 2:44 pm

The significant (IMO) unique markets between the SS and SM would be Tampa and Raleigh (otherwise if you want diner car service just take the Meteor. So the people who get screwed out of diner service are passengers from the Raleigh area who want to travel to Florida and passengers from the Northeast who want to travel to Florida. Passengers from the Northeast do have the option of taking a Thruway off the SM to go to Tampa getting off at Orlando (6097/6098) if they really want diner service (would they rather the diner or not have bus all the way through?)
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Wed Nov 01, 2017 3:48 pm

Mr. Arlington, what is the least of evils?

Offering full-service Dining on the Star with fare levels same as Meteor and watching the deficit go up, or having whoever peers into the Micascope and asking "why did you order all these Diners when you've shown that doing without them definitely reduces costs and doesn't affect your ridership very much?"
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Arlington » Wed Nov 01, 2017 4:09 pm

I'd say it is much worse to run them knowing that they'd lose money. Actively choosing to lose money is the Cardinal sin (see what I did there?)

First, because it isn't like running operating losses will distract anybody from (wrongly) concluding that the purchase was wasteful.

Second, they were ordered based on best available information, and that just because by early 2016 they'd concluded that diners don't work on the Star doesn't mean anyone can blame anybody for ordering them (way back when) or sticking to the order (given enough contract hassles).

Third, having a somewhat-oversized fleet ("future spares") temporarily in mothballs isn''t bad, and may simply hasten their future conversion to some sort of "new concept" diner/café/premium
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby mtuandrew » Wed Nov 01, 2017 5:22 pm

Arlington wrote:Third, having a somewhat-oversized fleet ("future spares") temporarily in mothballs isn''t bad, and may simply hasten their future conversion to some sort of "new concept" diner/café/premium

When a Cafe has been unavailable, Amtrak has sent a “Panic Box” of prepackaged snacks to be served from a standard Coach. Why not the same from a Diner? Just shut off the appliances and stock the fridge with soft & hard drinks.

Ideally I’d like to see a Grill Car menu (hamburgers, fresh salads) served in a Premium Cafe/Diner-Lite, and a V-Diner should be more than capable of that menu as well as serving bagged snacks.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Backshophoss » Wed Nov 01, 2017 9:09 pm

Since there are 2 diners still at the factory that could be modded for the "Grill /Lunch counter" concept,why not go that route for the Starvation?
This is all modular anyway, and might work much better than the current "Diner Lite" setup in the Amfleet
It would solve the current onboard storage problems that the Diner Lites and the current Starvation food service cars have.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby mtuandrew » Thu Nov 02, 2017 12:27 am

I wonder if Amtrak has such a concept, or if the only grill/lunch concept is in our heads. (And is there a counter, window, or someplace from which an OBS cafe attendant could sell snacks from a Viewliner kitchen?)
Last edited by mtuandrew on Thu Nov 02, 2017 12:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby electricron » Thu Nov 02, 2017 12:31 am

It's entirely possible that Amtrak might add a diner to the Silver Star and still keep the sleeper fares lower simply by not including the meals with the sleeper.
You know, following what the airlines have done over the past few decades, take away freebies and charge extra for every additional service - what some people will call "nickel and dime-ing" its customers.....
Note I wrote might, like in could. I didn't write they would.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Philly Amtrak Fan » Thu Nov 02, 2017 5:00 am

How about roomettes do not include meals but bedrooms do? That way people can pay for just a room without having to pay for all the meals while people can pay for the rooms and meals.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Arlington » Thu Nov 02, 2017 10:14 am

Building the meal price into the room--room or roomette--both over-prices the room (driving down ridership) and under-prices the food (driving up losses). It is an economic lobster trap where the only escape is to back out, not press forward.

The problem in the diner is rooted in the fact that
- Amtrak has to pay $25/hr for labor* (instead of the $10/hr that sets our "bought food" price expectations)
- Amtrak has a long, expensive supply chain (expensive labor, lots of spoilage) that also costs a lot without increasing food value**
- Trains can never serve any more people than have bought tickets (no foot traffic to keep things busy)**
- Everything costs more on a train: electricity, water, garbage**

This is why a "new concept" café is probably called for
- Fewer menu options (less inventory, less spoilage)
- More "airline food" (prepared in automated commissaries as packaged food) and eaten from a tray at your seat
- More revenue seating (replace dining tables with sellable seats) (as on the Downeaster)
- Only onboard labor would be to "hand it out" (not prepare, and ideally, using e-order and e-pay)

*I'm not going to say they're overpaid; more that they run a broken system that doesn't let them deliver value to match their wages
** This is the broken system
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Tadman » Sun Nov 05, 2017 6:52 pm

electricron wrote:It's entirely possible that Amtrak might add a diner to the Silver Star and still keep the sleeper fares lower simply by not including the meals with the sleeper.
You know, following what the airlines have done over the past few decades, take away freebies and charge extra for every additional service - what some people will call "nickel and dime-ing" its customers.....
Note I wrote might, like in could. I didn't write they would.


As a customer I dont disagree with this idea. Were I an accountant, the concept would worry me because then you have the specter of dragging a diner full of inventory and employees without customers. The meal-included guarantees the car is somewhat paid for.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby bostontrainguy » Sun Nov 05, 2017 8:20 pm

Arlington wrote: Building the meal price into the room--room or roomette--both over-prices the room (driving down ridership) and under-prices the food (driving up losses). It is an economic lobster trap where the only escape is to back out, not press forward.


What is the actual meal cost? If a $25 retail steak on the menu cost Amtrak commissary $12.50, does Amtrak operations (or who exactly?) pay $25 or $12.50 to Amtrak commissary/food services(?)

What if the First Class passengers get a voucher that gives them 50% off on anything purchased in the diner? Would that help the bottom line? Probably wouldn't hurt sales much.
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Re: Silver Star Downgrade and Diner Discussion

Postby Arlington » Sun Nov 05, 2017 8:47 pm

IIRC, an item costing $10 on the menu has traditionally cost $20 or even $30 to deliver. Selling more mostly just triggers those supply chain and food waste costs and never gets to the "make it up on volume" part.
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