Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby gokeefe » Mon Jan 28, 2019 10:09 pm

mtuandrew wrote:Post-WWII we had snack bars and/or grill cars as well as diners on the famous overnight streamliners, but prewar during the Pullman Co era were there multiple food options as well?


Based on other reading my impression is that these changes coincided with the decline of station amenities. The grill/snack cars were not strictly an "innovation" as they were a sign of contracting service that the railroads attempted to meet with on board improvements.

It is interesting to consider the possibility that an inability to meaningfully renovate or redevelop stations helped to spur the mid-century crisis in passenger train service.

mtuandrew wrote:Also - these premade meals Amtrak now serves in some overnight trains. Remind me again why they aren’t available for sale to coach passengers too? That’s the airline model (free for first, charge for coach) and it works well.

I don't know "Why?" but I do agree with your thought.

mtuandrew wrote:As for MSP Midway Station, you’re mostly right about that Mr. O’Keefe - save for The Dubliner Pub three or four blocks away. Perfect place to have a meal and a few before that 11pm westward departure. (For breakfast you would have needed a short cab or bus ride west to either Keys Restaurant or The Egg And I.)


Appreciate the confirmation. Pretty astonishing to consider, "How things were" ... before St. Paul Union Depot was renovated.
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby ryanov » Tue Jan 29, 2019 12:27 am

Greg Moore wrote:
ryanov wrote:It's really something how many people are available at any given moment to cheer on the loss of good jobs, union or otherwise. Don't spend that $1.50 in tax savings (that none of us will ever actually see) in one place.


Oh trust me, I'd gladly pay that $1.50 in taxes if it meant I got cafe car service back on Empire Service trains that start/end in Albany...


I almost never take those trains -- I go up to Albany once or twice a year, and it's sometimes on a through train -- and I'd be happy to pay it too (though the current options are sort of a disappointment, moreso than what they replaced).

I forget the amount of the entire Amtrak subsidy per person -- I took a quick look and didn't find any numbers I'd trust -- but it seems to me the last time I had this argument it was something under $20 per person per year. And that's for Amtrak, not just their food on a route.
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby Tadman » Tue Jan 29, 2019 11:57 am

Recently I rode the City of New Orleans to NOLA and back and the food was pretty bad. Basically you got a 7-11 entree or sandwich in a dining car (a diner-lite). At this point, why bother dragging the diner around? Clearly all of it came aboard pre-made and was microwaved. I have no idea why they don't make a small food prep station in the baggage cars or transition sleepers where sleeper meals are prepared and delivered by tray or small cart, as that's all you'd need at this point. Heck, with the savings from dropping the diner and staff, the food could be upgraded significantly.
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby mtuandrew » Tue Jan 29, 2019 1:08 pm

Wonder if that’s what they’re going for, Tad, or to move all food prep to the cafe.

Does the City of New Orleans have both a diner and a cafe-lounge (Sightseer?), or just a Cross-Country Cafe?
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby ExCon90 » Tue Jan 29, 2019 2:41 pm

mtuandrew wrote:Post-WWII we had snack bars and/or grill cars as well as diners on the famous overnight streamliners, but prewar during the Pullman Co era were there multiple food options as well?

Until the Depression, dining service was almost entirely oriented toward Pullman passengers accustomed to upscale restaurants and hotels. When the drastic decline in Pullman travel as a result of the depression, as well as the growth of the bus industry, focused the railroads' attention on the need to attract coach passengers, new trains (Challenger, Pacemaker, Trail Blazer, etc.) were introduced featuring "coffee-shop" cars offering budget meals. Many trains of the late 30's having both coaches and Pullmans had both traditional diners and budget-priced coffee shops. SP's Daylight was a good example, having a 3-unit articulated coffee shop-kitchen-diner between the coaches and parlor cars (I think that articulated unit predated 1941).
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby gokeefe » Tue Jan 29, 2019 8:44 pm

So this really points us back to where things should be.

Until the post war aberrations dining car service simply wasn't intended for everyone. It was "First Class Only".

This clip from the movie "Appointment with Danger" gives one a sense of what one could expect at the local station in the evening. Empty buildings and hardly anything else beyond polished wooden benches and clean floors.

There may have been a newspaper stand selling snacks but as the plot of the movie hints ... The U.S. Mail had a greater interest in the railroad at this time than most other travelers.
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby mtuandrew » Wed Jan 30, 2019 12:39 am

Next question, were there vendors at the larger stations that specifically packed food for coach passengers to take onto the train? Delis, markets, or the like.
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby ExCon90 » Wed Jan 30, 2019 3:07 pm

As late as 1961 I would often take the day train from North Philadelphia to Buffalo--I would have a bacon-and-egg breakfast in the station restaurant (North Philadelphia!), which would pack a few sandwiches to take out, since #571 had lost its parlor-buffet-coach by that time. I assume that any station restaurant at the time would do that, but I don't think there were many takeout facilities not run by Union News or Fred Harvey (and what was the one in New England?), or whoever had the food concession at that station.
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby gokeefe » Wed Jan 30, 2019 8:34 pm

Here's a gallery with photos of Michigan Central station. One from 1982 (right at the very end for Amtrak) clearly shows snacks and likely sandwiches for sale.

If this was feasible in the very worst of conditions it is simply unimaginable that it wouldn't work elsewhere today when things are much better.
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby Safetee » Wed Jan 30, 2019 9:46 pm

On the new haven on most of their new york non commuter trains between new york and new haven, union news used to have a guy with a large metal basket and a strong brooklyn accent going through the train announcing sandwiches, candy, drinks etc.
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby oamundsen » Thu Jan 31, 2019 7:13 am

Safetee, I remember the NYNH&H "candy butcher" well as he made his way through the coach cars when I used The Commander from Stamford to Boston...he got out at New Haven, I believe. That train flew, arriving at Back Bay around midnight leaving Stamford sometime around 9 pm. All that was in the early 1960's. I never did eat one of those sandwiches from his tray.
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby mtuandrew » Thu Jan 31, 2019 9:50 am

ExCon90 wrote:As late as 1961 I would often take the day train from North Philadelphia to Buffalo--I would have a bacon-and-egg breakfast in the station restaurant (North Philadelphia!), which would pack a few sandwiches to take out, since #571 had lost its parlor-buffet-coach by that time. I assume that any station restaurant at the time would do that, but I don't think there were many takeout facilities not run by Union News or Fred Harvey (and what was the one in New England?), or whoever had the food concession at that station.

(bolding mine)

Can you or one of your contemporaries explain a buffet car to the younger crowd? I’m picturing a cafeteria buffet with premade food in warming trays and a drink dispenser of some type, but that can’t be right. (Still trying to understand the different types of food service available in the Golden Days and how they could be made relevant today.)
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby leviramsey » Thu Jan 31, 2019 3:35 pm

Re: parlor-buffet coach

According to:

Parlor cars are the day trip version of the Pullman, being an extra-fare service for the well-to-do. As with the 12-1, this car has a drawingroom, which is actually more of a dayroom (there is no fold down berth). These drawingrooms are frequently used by groups of businessmen to hold meetings while en-route.

The main area of the car has plush reclining seats (the Varnish cars often had ottomans as well) and the traditional green fern pattern carpeting used on so many steel era Pullmans. Restroom facilities reflect the clientele: the men's being far larger than the ladies. There is no beverage or snack service on the 2416s, but similar parlor-buffet, parlor-cafe and parlor-lounge-obs types are fairly common and the Porter will bring a drink to your seat.

Parlor trains are limited to areas where there is enough demand for fast, frequent short haul day service that the railroad can segregate coach and parlor passengers into different trains. This pretty much limits their use to the East Coast, to the Chicago area and to a few isolated runs around Atlanta and in Florida. The trips these trains make are relatively short, so food service is usually limited to buffet or cafe cars, and it is rare to see any head end equipment.


So parlor class is basically analogous to Business Class now. Meanwhile wikipedia says (though this may not be North America-relevant, and it's not clear what the difference would be with a cafe car):

A buffet car is a passenger car of a train, where food and beverages can be bought at a counter and consumed.


(The picture of the Swedish car indicates that it's a self service (including microwave yourself to reheat) type of concept, but the Indian picture seems to show eating at the counter?)

Buffet-parlor car seems not unlike the half-business/half-cafe configuration Amtrak has now.
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby bostontrainguy » Thu Jan 31, 2019 3:44 pm

Apparently there are new menus out there for LD trains:

https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/proj ... u-1118.pdf
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Re: Amtrak Diner and Food Service Discussion

Postby Rockingham Racer » Thu Jan 31, 2019 4:15 pm

Parlor cars are a long way from the current business class on Amtrak, both in terms of comfort and service. Having ridden the New Haven's version on their Merchants Limited several times, today's business class is a misnomer--at least on the NEC.
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