This story comes to us from the New York Post (here). The story dives deep into a recent move Amtrak, America’s only interstate passenger railroad to date, has chosen to eliminate dining car service on three of its long distance routes. Amtrak cites millennials who don’t like to be around people when they eat, complaining that people are icky and want more privacy (perhaps choosing Amtrak isn’t the best mode of transportation for them if they wanted “privacy”). I agree, and commented on Twitter that social justice warriors are to blame, this is yet another strike from SJWs to change things because something makes them uncomfortable or are offended.
Amtrak (which has always been awesome in my opinion), even reached out to me via Twitter to my original Tweet, sharing the New York Post story (with my original Tweet):
Amtrak has a history of messing around with dining car service in order to attempt to plug holes in their budget. Under the Bush Administration in 2005 and 2006, Amtrak moved to eliminate full service cooked-on-board meals in favor of pre-cooked MRE-style meals that were barely passable as good food. Most of the time, especially on lunch hours, dining car crews would access the cafe car stock and offer a lunch menu plated formally from the cafe car (a brief bit of history: I am a former Amtrak employee from onboard services, and I have to be honest here: becoming “former” Amtrak was the WORST mistake of my life and there isn’t a day that goes by that I wish I could take that back and take to the rails again. Okay I’m done).
For the better part of this decade, Amtrak had eliminated dining car services on their New York / Miami Silver Service routes. Having one less car meant that Amtrak could also eliminate a locomotive from a consist that normally needed two locomotives, as the old Heritage-class dining cars (in service for close to a century) were no slouches and extremely heavy, even empty.
Amtrak is set to lose even more money after investing heavily with Alstom to build a new class of Viewliner II cars: baggage, sleepers and diners. The Viewliner class car had been a staple of Amtrak, revitalizing their first class sleeper car service since they were introduced in the 1990s on the Lake Shore Limited, replacing the aforementioned extremely heavy and budget-killing (not to mention aging) Heritage-class dorm/lounge, bedroom, roomette and slumbercoach cars.
These changes and cuts were due to budget, never because someone got offended or was uncomfortable. While having a history of cutting costs by eliminating cars and/or services, Amtrak was not a company known for drastic overhauls to its consist and services because a few bad apples were loud enough. If this were the case, back in 2006 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when I was riding the trains for Amtrak, the company would’ve invested money in buying track to New Orleans at the drop of a hat. Instead, our runs were 8, 10, 12, 24 hours late because of reroutes, freight prioritization on freight company-owned lines, etc.
The dining car has been a piece of Americana since the dawn of long distance railroading in the United States. For those of you who aren’t aware, before the 1960s when the railroads started dropping like flies, the railroads ruled the nation. The whole of the government was swayed by the whim of the railroads. Even in the dawn of long haul air travel (which was seen as elitist, whose Stratocruisers (United Airlines) had interiors that were built around the passenger rail car design), the train was not just the average way to go but also the premiere way to travel. In the era of trains like the Broadway Limited, the 20th Century Limited, the Super Chief and the classic Empire Builder, the train was the only way to go. When passenger rail was consolidated in 1971 by President Richard Nixon (the RailPax Act which gave birth to Amtrak), the one tradition that lasted through to the modern age of travel was the dining car.
In the 2000s, Amtrak redesigned the interior of their Heritage-class dining cars to reflect a few themes – a Florida theme and a modern theme. The experience, however, remained the same. Sitting at a table with other fellow passengers who you don’t know from a hole in the wall was half of the fun. Enjoying a hot plate of french toast while travelling at 70 miles an hour through the Upstate New York Finger Lakes region was among some of my earliest memories, and even when I worked for Amtrak, that hot plate of french toast always brought a smile to my face, no matter how tired I was from the lack of sleep I had got.
I am fully aware this doesn’t spell the end of the dining car on all Amtrak trains. The Lake Shore Limited will be the only East Coast single-level train to keep the experience alive.
Amtrak is trying their best to remain relevant to the modern generation. Pandering to social justice warriors is the last thing they should be doing. As we see with Hollywood celebrities who bend the knee, it will never be the same for this institution. I hope that Amtrak survives well into the next decade and beyond. It’s just very heartbreaking when a long standing railroading tradition falls by the wayside because a few people are so antisocial that everyone else has to suffer to accommodate them.
RIP, east coast dining cars (1920-something through 2019). You’ll be sorely missed. If you want to continue to enjoy the dining car experience, or do so for the first time, the single level trains were where the tradition started. I highly recommend booking a trip on the Lake Shore Limited, which runs between New York, Boston and Chicago via Upstate New York, Erie, PA, Cleveland and Toledo, OH.
Just another reason why I can’t wait to go home!!