Amtrak Empire Service (New York State)

Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

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ryanov
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Post by ryanov »

hsr_fan wrote:
drewh wrote:The train is turning more and more into a bus.
My sentiments exactly. I used the cafe car on every trip I've taken between New York and Albany.
As have I... 4 times to date. The run to Albany is longer than 2 hours, anyway, and I typically take a train right around a mealtime. Very sad if true.
|=| R. Novosielski |=|

Gilbert B Norman
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Post by Gilbert B Norman »

There is just something about this "nickel and dime stuff' that could potentially alienate the third largest 31 member congressional delegation from New York.

I can't see how Amtrak could benefit if an initiative such as Mr. Rhinecliff notes to transfer the Empire Service to another operatior moved forth. Lest we note, it is substantially an intRAstate service in the same manner as is California's.

Simply how much longer can it be expected the New York farepaying riders to continue accepting all this "chicken UNOWAT' - delays in opening the Albany station, the Turbo debacle, and now this F&B charade.

I somehow think Amtrak needs the hearty support of the New York delegation, with many Members beyond the obvious one having "household names", more than it needs whatever pocket change will be saved killing Empire Service F&B. On-board F&B certainly must be a factor why folks 'X the River' for a ride to the Big Apple (or is the dawg pound over there as well?)..

JoeG

Post by JoeG »

I certainly agree with Mr Norman's sentiments, but I think Amtrak is desperately broke and is scrounging under the couch cushions for spare change. Also, I read the Times Union article linked to in this thread, and was startled to see there were 13 Amtrak food attendant positons plus 3 Amtrak clerk positions to be eliminated, plus the 14 jobs in the Albany commissary. It seems like there are about 6 trips each way between ALB and NYP, not counting service that extends north or west of ALB.
I don't know if the commissary in Rensselaer (sp?) restocks trains from Buffalo and Montreal. If it does, this will be another degradation.
Offhand, 30 jobs for 6 daily RTs seems like a lot. Seems like food service costs more than I realized, even running a snack car...plus the cost of maintaining and hauling the car itself. Could those 30 jobs be reduced to save some food service? Would it help?

TomNelligan
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Post by TomNelligan »

The expense associated with those 14 commissary jobs has to be a big part of the reason New York-Albany food service is loosing money.

As another point of reference, the contracted "Downeaster" food service is provided by a Massachusetts catering company that has its own off-site food prep facility, whose overhead costs are presumably shared with all of the land-based business the caterer does. Thus, the overhead cost of stocking four round trips a day is kept relatively low.

Gilbert B Norman
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Post by Gilbert B Norman »

Possibly, Mr. Nelligan, I am guilty of "reading too much into" your post.

If your intent is to say, "hey, contracting out works for the DownEaster, why not the Empire Corridor?", I should submit the question "when was there last B&M Dining Car service originating at North Station?"

My guess was likely the Boston-Montreal "Allouette' - a service that died some 45 years ago. Lest we recall, the "State of Maine' had Pullman Dining Service as did the 'Montrealer".

In short, Amtrak's "brothers and sisters' never had work taken away form them with the DownEaster. They would have work taken away, in the absence of negotiations under the Act, if Amtrak were to "contract out' F&B on the Empire Service. The provisions of the Act could be exhausted, and at that time, the Employees could lawfully "walk". Would Engineers and Conductors "X an OBS line"? Always a chance they might; hey they got kids in college!!!!

But then, always a chance they might not.

At Albany, it would be a "too much to loose' situation.

If with great respect to the excellent material you submit to our Forum, Mr. Nelligan, I have honestly misread your thoughts, I will withdraw this post in a heartbeat.

TomNelligan
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Post by TomNelligan »

I fully agree, Mr. Norman, that under existing labor agreements it is highly unlikely that Amtrak would be able to simply contract out the food service concession on the Empire Service route. You are correct that the "Downeaster" represented a new service startup, not a change to an existing arrangement, and I'm aware of the realities of labor agreements.
But since cost alone is the reason Amtrak is proposing to do away with the Albany food service, I think it is worth noting that there *are* less expensive ways of doing things that might be of interest to some hypothetical future operator of the line. It looks like either way, some current Amtrak employees will unfortunately be out of a job unless the financial situation improves, and if I were one of them, I'd fight for my job too.

Last B&M diners out of North Station? Yep, it's been a while.

AmtrakFan

Post by AmtrakFan »

Rhinecliff wrote:Amtrak has threatened to discontinue food service on its local trains between NYP and ALB in the past. I am not sure if Mr. Amtrakfan is basing his report on one of Amtrak's old self-abusive threats, or whether he has discovered some new activity.
Report from amajor news source. Be sure to note this change only affects those trains terminating at Albany.
drewh wrote:
So what happens to business class customers?? Are they eliminating beverage service for them too??
They are unsure if they will provide Free Beverage Service for them either.

EastCleveland
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Post by EastCleveland »

I travel on the Empire Service trains quite often. But I don't see the loss of food service on the NYC-Albany stretch as especially tragic.

Every stop along the route (including the end-points at Penn Station and Albany-Rensselaer, where the majority of passengers either board or leave the train) has one or more food concessions either on-site or in the immediate neighborhood surrounding the station. Like a cup of coffee or some Chinese food with your Hudson River scenery? Easy. Just pick it up before you board the train.

Rhinecliff
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Post by Rhinecliff »

Evaluating the staffing implications of eliminating food service on the short-haul trains between ALB and NYP is extremely complicated. But one thing is clear: I generally do not believe Amtrak's assertion.

First, the LSA jobs frequently combine short haul runs with long-haul runs. Some LSAs have historically been based out of Sunnyside; others based out of Albany. In my experience, however, upon examining the various LSA jobs, the scheduling is quite favorable from a management perspective. In other words, LSAs typically do not spend most of their days sitting around on the payroll waiting for their runs. To the contrary, most of their working time is spent on the road. In evaluating the situation, it is also important to remember things like the extraboard, which covers mark offs and vacations.

With all of that said, it appears that about 7 round trip frequencies a day will loose their food service. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that an LSA punches in 30" prior to departure and punches out 30" after depature, this works out to about 343 hours of LSA time per week that might be able to be eliminated. I use the word "might" because it is not clear whether the elimination of these short haul frequencies will result in more "down" time for LSAs that staff the longer distance trains that will still enjoy food service.

It is possible that work rules and logistics require 13 full time jobs to cover these 343 hours. That would result in an average work week of about 26 hours of running time per LSA job, and roughly 14 hours per week of paid down time (up and above the 1 hour of padding that I already included above). My guess, however, is that Amtrak will not likely succeed in eliminating a full 13 jobs as a result of this measure.

As far as the 3 clerk positions go, I gather they are closing the Albany crew base and that the idea is to staff all trains out of the Sunnyside crew base. Nevertheless, something just sounds fishy to me about the assertion that Amtrak will be able to eliminate 3 clerk jobs (i.e. 120 hours of clerk time per week) simply by reducing LSA staffing needs by 343 per week.

As far as the 14 privately employed commisary employees go, I find it absolutely amusing to hear that it takes 14 employees to staff Gate Gourmet's commissary operation in Albany. It never took that many employees to run the commissary when Amtrak was operating the commisary with its own employees.

Finally, while reasonable minds will differ, I think food service is a much more important part of Amtrak's Empire Service transportation product than some of giving credit. The snack bars in Albany, Hudson, and Rhinecliff do not serve breakfast sandwhiches for my morning trips. While the Coffee Beanery does serve some premade sandwhiches during the lunch and dinner hours, there is nothing like that available in Hudson or Rhinecliff. Nor is there a beer stand in any of these stations that can sell carry out beer for passengers to imbibe after a long day's work. Even in NYP, where beer stands are plentiful, there will be no replacement for those who enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail to unwind at the end of a hard day.

There is nothing better than being able to complete a busy day's work and then rush to catch a train knowing that some type of food and beverage service will be available on board.

In my opinion, Amtrak is making a serious mistake. But then again, what else is new. Everytime we think we have reached rock bottom, Amtrak demonstrates that there is still further to go.

Noel Weaver
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Empire Service

Post by Noel Weaver »

I have ridden trains out of and into Albany many times at all times of the
day. I would rather see the food service come off than to see a
reduction in the number of trains operated.
Having said the above, I still think that the heaviest trains in the AM out of
Albany and in the PM out of New York probably should have the food
service remain.
A couple of years ago when I was riding the last train of the evening out of
New York, I went to the cafe car for a soda but the attendant was
relaxing in a seat and basically "dead to the world". I did not make a
case of it but went without and back to my seat and took a nap instead.
I guess if New York considers food service to be important, it will need to
put some funds to help cover the operation of the trains involved.
Noel Weaver

Railjunkie
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Post by Railjunkie »

If the commisary were to close in ALB that would not be good, as trains going through ALB use it as away to restock on items sold out on the trip. There is nothing worse than being on a busy train from NFL and selling out most of your food and beverages (speaking from past experiences) and knowing that you will be picking up more passengers.

If I remember correctly an LSA is on duty one hour before the trip so you can count your stock and get your car set up. If you were to work less than 40 hours in a week you would be paid for the hours you work and provided you did not mark off or miss a trip for the month you would be paid the difference at the end of the month. When I worked as an LSA you were not paid for your down time after you were off duty, and as an extra board employee you were held to the same proceedure as above plus you receive no overtime pay until you surpass 180 hours in a given month. How much money do you think this will save?

Gilbert B Norman
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Post by Gilbert B Norman »

I would be inclined to agree with Mr. Weaver in that the the couplet of 246and 259, the limited stop "down in the morn, back in the eve", could support Food & Beverage service.

For the return, the Beverage is a high margin item (note my avoidance of the term, high profit). Even on the going, coffee is nowadays "uh, not exactly a loss-leader'.

However the problem is that if the intent is to close the On-Board Service crew base and cease any F&B procurement activities (aparently from an airline catering concern) at Albany, how could those two trains reasonably and practicably be staffed and supplied?

Presently, the 85 mile Chi-Milw Hiawathas offer "limited beverage and snack service'; at first one might wonder 'why not same for the Empire Service?". The difference here is that save one couplet, all trains originate in Chicago, where obviously Amtrak maintains an OBS base and has and will continue to have F&B procurements so long as there is an Amtrak!!

However, in closing, one thought comes to mind. What about the Lake Shore? I was of understanding that 48-49 now only offers Dining service Chi-Albany using two Chicago based crews instead of three NY based. If there is no longer to be a base and F&B procurement at Albany, then the Lake Shore will have to be supplied again in New York. That would also mean at least one Dining Car employee on duty there as one cannot expect an EIC, employee in charge or in presentdayese "the Lead", to held accountable for supplies "in absentia'. In such an instance, it would be 'steak for life' for one unscrupulous employee or the other and "oh well, some hapless soul from Chicago who I neither know nor have to work with holding the bag'.

JoeG

Post by JoeG »

Mr Norman--
I hadn't realized that 48/49 now had no dining car NYP-ALB. I looked in the timetable, and it's true. So, how does Amtrak plan to deal with this train? Actually, since there is a commissary at Albany Airport, it seems to me that all they would need is one truck driver per shift, to bring the food to the Amtrak station from the airport commissary. So, I don't get how they need 14 commissary workers to supply the trains.
They have already degraded the service on the LSL, even before this change.
How long has the diner been terminating at Albany?

Gilbert B Norman
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Post by Gilbert B Norman »

Since the Oct 2004 TT. Mr. G

Gilbert B Norman
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Post by Gilbert B Norman »

Pardon the cynical and negative posting that follows, but "Enquiring mind wants to know"

The more this discussion develops, the more I start wondering to what extent did Amtrak give away the ranch to this Albany airline catering concern (apparently the Swiss owned, Gate Gourmet). Fourteen employees, one highway truck....to solely support their Amtrak contract???? Might not, save mainly an alcohol procurement problem, a "roach coach" industrial caterer that in the normal course of business has personnel and equipment on the ground in the downtown metropolitan area been better equipped to handle Amtrak's requirements than a concern whose sole other operations are fifteen miles out of town at the airport????

Was this some hasty deal put together in the heat of the night just so Amtrak could say to Congress and/or The Administration "look guys and gals, we're doing what you want; we're outsourcing'. Or did somehow this arrangement satisfy the basic tenet of a "good deal" - both parties realize economic gain.

Must wonder if Amtrak is looking for the Exit signs and killing all F&B at Albany is how to find them on the quick. Must wonder if Amtrak Internal Audit should "take a peek' before another outside audit agency with jurisdiction over Amtrak affairs chooses to do so.
Last edited by Gilbert B Norman on Fri May 20, 2005 8:59 am, edited 1 time in total.

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