By an Act of Congress under H.R. Bill 749 the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015, and passing Federal Code 49 USC Ch. 24321 Amtrak Food and Beverage Reform, which stipulated that Amtrak must at least break even on food and beverage service during FY2020.
Although Congress did not say how to accomplish this, AMTRAK management headed by Mr. Richard Anderson, CEO and President of Amtrak eliminated the traditional dining car service on long distance trains east of the Mississippi River, except for the Auto Train on October 01, 2019.
Those trains affected are the Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Crescent, and Silver Meteor. Traditional dining car service on two other east coast trains was cut last year.
The traditional dining service will remain for now on the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle, as well as the Auto Train between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida. Although it is the consensus of various sources that "Contemporary Dining" will be instituted nationwide, perhaps except for the Acela and the Northeast Corridor.
The reason for this move is to cut costs by eliminating the dining car staff and the traditional dining car meals and replacing it with "Contemporary Dining" and a new Enhanced Flexible Dining menu, yet still offer complimentary food and beverages to sleeping car passengers according to Amtrak.
They also unjustly put the blame on the millennials for wanting this change of menu and not being in favor of shared table seating in the diners.
Amtrak will offer this new complimentary menu, but as of this writing it is not available to coach passengers, although it is supposed to be offered to coach in 2020.
These are pre-packaged meals prepared off-site that would be heated if necessary and available to sleeping car passengers only. They arrive onboard in cellophane wrappers, plastic lids and aluminum covers, to be unwrapped and served on the accompanying reusuable trays. However, some passengers have noted that they received the meals still wrapped, emphasizing their frustration with the presentation.
Gone are the traditional meals we enjoyed as we watched the rolling countryside from our dining car table's window; the Amtrak exclusives like railroad french toast, flat iron steaks, crab cakes, desserts, etc.
We feel that if certain passengers would enjoy the new to go entree options, they should have that right. Equally so, if other passengers including myself and the supporters of this petition would rather sit in the dining car and order from the menu, a fresh cooked to order meal on plates with silverware and linen tablecloths and napkins. While some may wish to buy snacks or light food items from the Café car. All three options have their place on an overnight train or one of at least 500 miles.
It should be noted that the Contemporary Dining menu meals appear to be unhealthy. For example, the Red Wine Braised Beef is 490 calories with 250 calories from fat, 28 grams total fat of which 13 grams is saturated fat, and a whopping 2340 grams of sodium which is 102% of one's daily recommended dose based on a 2000 calorie diet. Other entrees are equally high in sugar, fats, sodium or carbohydrates.
Amtrak notes that sleeping car and coach passengers may continue to purchase snacks and food items from the Café car.
Coach passengers would be able to purchase snacks and limited food items from the Café cars for dining or provide for their own meals onboard, or until such time coach is allowed to buy the new meals, and or if traditional dining is reinstated.
At the very least, with the discontinuation of the traditional dining car service, coach passengers should be able to purchase the same flexible dining choices as the sleeping car passengers, and have the option to use the dining or lounge cars to eat, other than at their seat.
Since the institution of the Enhanced Flexible Dining menu passengers have noted that the Café cars are running out of items mid-trip leaving few choices and hungry travelers.
On October 01, 2019 a 100 year plus tradition of meals cooked onboard and served in the dining cars will end; the midwest and west coast trains are sure to follow, although Amtrak has stated not as of now.
And so will national rail travel as we know it, unless we speak up and be heard.
Photograph: National Railroad Passenger Corp. d/b/a Amtrak
Note: Results of this survey and comments will be made available to multiple decision makers in Congress including Peter A. DeFazio, Chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Sub-Committee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Rail Passenger Advocate
Started: Aug.12, 2019
Revised: Oct.14, 2019