Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby Cosakita18 » Fri Feb 02, 2018 4:00 pm

electricron wrote:but who wants to sit by drunks on a train anyways?
.


I'm always amazed by the number of people ordering Bloody Marys bright and early on the Saturday morning southbound :P

really though I bet alcohol sales are the best money maker for the cafe. Wouldn't make sense to take that away.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby gokeefe » Fri Feb 02, 2018 4:17 pm

Cowford wrote:George, even the Board docs say 46%


Ok so I was looking at the financial statement on Page 9 and misread the "Year to Date Budget" column (51%) as the cost recovery figure for the whole year.

I would agree that as stated on the FY goals that they clearly have a budget target for less than 50%. That being said there remains a lot of focus on improving revenue and I think NNEPRA is having some success in that area. I also think that 46% for them remains a worst case outcome at this point.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby bubbytrains » Fri Feb 02, 2018 5:27 pm

I really hope the cafe car is not removed. Since my wife and I discovered business class we use that exclusively now. It's so much more comfortable, roomy, and quiet, especially since we travel the entire route Brunswick-Boston. From business class I can observe goings-on in the adjacent cafe. Like any retail establishment, it has its busy times and its slow times, usually one extreme or the other. When busy, the lines are long, and the attendant is out straight. But during slow times, the attendant has time to work on stocking, clean-up, and other needed tasks. I never see them goofing off. The busy times vary a lot, depending on which train we're on, what station we are at, time of day, events, etc. One thing I've heard a few times is the train running out of food enroute, especially if there's lots of kids on board, but I really don't know how often this happens. It definitely can get cramped at the counter, but I think it offers the best overall balance of space utilization. If the cars were removed, my wife and I would still use the Downeaster. It would not be a deal-killer. But it does add substantially to our customer satisfaction level. It's one of those things that's difficult to quantify, but good businesses are usually cognizant of such things.

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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby gokeefe » Fri Feb 02, 2018 11:26 pm

Alan,

Fear not. The Downeaster Cafe is here to stay.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby Morning Zephyr » Sat Feb 03, 2018 11:15 pm

And like the Talgos in the NW, the Downeaster features local foods. More proof that management that is close at hand in a region, if allowed to think creatively, will be more responsive than the standardized junk food that is on the short-distance trains controlled by Washington DC. Someone in New York State government should make the minimal effort it would require to have the Empire Service stocked with the many excellent agricultural food products that New York produces.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby gokeefe » Sat Feb 03, 2018 11:18 pm

Morning Zephyr wrote:Someone in New York State government should make the minimal effort it would require to have the Empire Service stocked with the many excellent agricultural food products that New York produces.


Send that in email form to the New York State Farm Bureau (https://www.nyfb.org) (info@nyfb.org) and you might be surprised at what they could do with that thought. Be sure to mention the Downeaster.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby bubbytrains » Sun Feb 04, 2018 3:22 am

gokeefe wrote:Alan,

Fear not. The Downeaster Cafe is here to stay.


Good to know, thanks George.

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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby Cowford » Sun Feb 04, 2018 11:21 am

So mixed reviews on the cafe car, and the facts remain that it loses money, restricts passenger capacity, etc. If NNEPRA's goal is to continually improve the customer experience, train capacity AND save taxpayer dollars, they'd advocate removing the cafe car from one train set and trial cart service over a 6-12 month period to see how it compares.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby electricron » Sun Feb 04, 2018 12:22 pm

Cowford wrote:So mixed reviews on the cafe car, and the facts remain that it loses money, restricts passenger capacity, etc. If NNEPRA's goal is to continually improve the customer experience, train capacity AND save taxpayer dollars, they'd advocate removing the cafe car from one train set and trial cart service over a 6-12 month period to see how it compares.

I strongly disagree experimenting on just one train set. If you're going to do an experiment, do it on all the sets. It's better to have a consistent service on all the trains than have different services.

I've read many posts excited about riding the train with the Big Dome car during the fall season, and read the disappointment when they were on the wrong train. It would certainly be better if Amtrak had enough Big Domes to put on every train.

Being consistent with the services provided is just as important as being on time consistently.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby Arlington » Sun Feb 04, 2018 12:24 pm

Cowford wrote:So mixed reviews on the cafe car, and the facts remain that it loses money, restricts passenger capacity, etc. If NNEPRA's goal is to continually improve the customer experience, train capacity AND save taxpayer dollars, they'd advocate removing the cafe car from one train set and trial cart service over a 6-12 month period to see how it compares.

This. The most unhappy customer will never get surveyed, because they weren't asked about their onboard experience because they weren't onboard because there was no seat for them at 5pm out of North Station.

I would replace the cafe with an adorable food cart and an adorable beverage cart, stocked each with the most popular items from the cafe. The biggest loss, as far as customers go, is the loss of having to stand in line to get the counter, and instead sit at your seat waiting for the cart to come to you.

bubbytrains wrote:If the cars were removed, my wife and I would still use the Downeaster. It would not be a deal-killer. But it does add substantially to our customer satisfaction level. It's one of those things that's difficult to quantify, but good businesses are usually cognizant of such things.

Please note, NNEPRA, that while not having a cafe may not be a deal-killer (it isn't for Alan, above), not having a seat for somebody *is* a deal killer. No seat. No trip. No tourist multiplier. This will be particularly acute as you try to add Rockland tourists to the Friday 5pm that *is already sold out even only to BRU*

My first technique would be to raise all prices on the Rockland runs such that a trip to HHL or NH costs the same as Wells, Maine, and see if that can free up seats on the 5pm for the longer hauls. But the switch to food carts is basically what any carrier with a flexible workforce would do.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby markhb » Sun Feb 04, 2018 2:57 pm

This idea of increasing capacity by removing the cafe car seems to rely on the assumption that Amtrak would provide an additional coach car in its place. There's no evidence for or against that. What it would definitely do is weigh against the train for those of us to whom amenities are part of the mode-of-travel decision.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby Dick H » Sun Feb 04, 2018 3:09 pm

NNEPRA used to keep a spare café car at Portland. Assuming (always dangerous to assume), that they
still keep same at either Portland or Brunswick, swap that café for a coach and add it to #685 Friday's
during the summer season. Should one of the in service cafes need to be taken out of service, if it
could not be repaired at Portland or Brunswick, it would mean no café for a day or two on one
train set. By the way, the posters here advocating removal of the café cars and use of carts,
where will the supplies, refrigeration and other storage be located? The cabbages are a non
starter, as that would require modifications and at least one of the train sets often has a loco
filling in for the cabbage, as the latter have always been prone to mechanical issues pushing them
to the sideline. Currently, the cabbage #406 is running on the DE, which indicates that at least
two of the assigned and lettered DE cabbages are out for overhaul or general maintenance.

Even the scenario above could result in additional billing over the contract by Amtrak. As I noted
some time ago, it might be possible to schedule to hold on to an additional coach as part of the
rotation to SouthHampton Street for summer Friday's. Some additional cost could result. NNEPRA
has run an additional coach on a handful of trains over the years for very special Boston events, so
it can be done. Such an event could be coming up this week after the Super Bowl...
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby gokeefe » Sun Feb 04, 2018 11:40 pm

Cowford wrote:So mixed reviews on the cafe car, and the facts remain that it loses money, restricts passenger capacity, etc. If NNEPRA's goal is to continually improve the customer experience, train capacity AND save taxpayer dollars, they'd advocate removing the cafe car from one train set and trial cart service over a 6-12 month period to see how it compares.


NNEPRA gets very clear and unambiguous feedback from passengers in their surveys and outreach that the cafe car is a very positive feature of the service. It comes extremely close to covering costs and provides a level of food service far beyond what a cart could handle. Their volume has now gotten to the point where they could not keep a cart stocked for two round trips per day. The beer volume alone on a game day/night is becoming the stuff of legend.

The answer to the capacity crunch is going to come from the 6th roundtrip (and beyond). On the revenue side there is reason to believe they would lose a significant amount of BusinessClass patronage which with the accommodation charge yields significant additional revenue.
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby BandA » Mon Feb 05, 2018 1:36 am

If Amtrak added one coach to the DE, would they have add another assistant conductor? a second engine? If they removed the cafe car, could Amtrak remove an assistant conductor?

How much does Amtrak charge for each coach/cafe car? I assume maintenance is included and averaged over the fleet?
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Re: Amtrak Downeaster Discussion Thread

Postby Arlington » Mon Feb 05, 2018 9:07 am

gokeefe wrote:NNEPRA gets very clear and unambiguous feedback from passengers in their surveys and outreach that the cafe car is a very positive feature of the service.

George, it sounds like NNEPRA is only surveying people who are on board already. Sure, once you're on board, passengers love it when amenities are lavished on them. Have they had the courage not just to ask "how much do you love our Cafe" (answer: I love it a lot !!!) but to ask the real question which is a lot grittier and more informative "would you have ridden without this amenity?"

The #1 amenity is a seat at the time you wanted. The answer for seats, is, "no, I would not have ridden without a seat" (or maybe they should sell standee tickets to HHL as another way of creating seats that can go all the way to Rockland on the 5pm)

Refresh my memory: how good job of adding capacity at the Boston-northbound peak will r/t #6 do?

And how does NNEPRA survey the people who never bought a ticket because no seat was available on the 5pm? Or even know how many people get "spilled" and not recaptured when it sells out ?

Even if all you had was an additional all-coach coach, you could create a business class in half of it by blocking seats (maybe guaranteeing an empty seat next to you, if that's what you wanted) and adding drink coupons. And then in the other half, you have actual coach seats to sell and a place to park the Maine-themed-drink-cart and Maine-themed-snack-cart. And you've increased the availability of the key amenity: seats on the train (particularly the 5pm to Rockland)

But we also run into this problem because NNEPRA keeps investing train-hours in running longer and thinner (out to BRU and now Rockland) instead of making trips BON-POR faster and more frequent. Yes, as the trips get very long, the café becomes more important, but that only means they go together, not that either was wise.

It's like the rocket-builder's error:
Why is this rocket so heavy? Because it needed to hold more fuel.
Why is did it need more fuel? Because it was so heavy.
Last edited by Arlington on Mon Feb 05, 2018 9:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
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