Faced with the financial loss of the mail contracts and competition from the interstate highways, carriers such as the Southern Pacific systematically degraded their remaining passenger trains using tactics which included removing the diner and lounge cars. The hope was this would so upset riders that they would cease to travel by train, and the carrier could get federal permission to end service. A notorious example was the train called the Sunset Limited, which from 1968-1970 offered only vending machine food on a two-day run!
Amtrak quickly restored proper food and beverage offerings, advertising “We’re Making the Trains Worth Riding Again”. Unfortunately, Amtrak recently has begun to copy these 1960s tactics, degrading the on-board experience which it knows will discourage ridership.
Why is this occurring? Amtrak is under pressure from Congress to eliminate food service losses, but this approach is unreasonable and unnecessary. Do the cruise lines or airlines attempt to make money on food? Of course not; these costs are built into their fares. Amtrak has been doing this as well. Railroad diners never made money; they attracted business. If riders are asked to accept only microwaved burgers and pizza on a two-night/three-day EMPIRE BUILDER trip, we know ridership will implode.
…Amtrak knows what happened in the past when the railroads systematically cut back amenities. Ridership collapsed. For fiscal year 2018, Amtrak just received the largest Congressional appropriation for its National Network in history ($1.3 billion). It needs to explain to Congress that not providing quality food service on the Coast Starlight is no more an option than on a cruise ship.