Happening Now

Traditional Dining Will Return to Western Trains

March 12, 2021

by Jim Mathews, President & CEO

Unless unforeseen coronavirus problems intervene, Amtrak expects to bring back full-service dining on the six Western long-distance routes that lost it last year once those trains return to daily service.

Larry Chestler, who runs the long-distance business for Amtrak, tells us that he and his team are eying the return of sleeping-car demand at “something close to normal” once daily service resumes, so Amtrak wants to be able to offer a dining-car experience while still supporting those anxious, fearful or maybe just introverted passengers who might prefer to eat in their sleeping rooms.

Amtrak also told us they are not just working right now on developing plans for dining service restoration, but exploring “some new options targeting improved safety and improved meal quality. We are focused on continually improving our product content and service delivery for onboard dining.”

Moving to the Flexible/Contemporary dining model on those long-distance trains was strictly a coronavirus-driven response. Because that food service can be delivered by a single employee instead of a chef, a food-service specialist and an attendant to run the dining car on each of 30 trains operating each day across the Network (one in each direction for each route), it allowed Amtrak to move those other employees on to the Extra Board and off the train, where they could continue getting paid but not worry about getting sick or getting others sick.

Roger Harris, Amtrak’s Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer and Executive VP, told the Trains newswire that “we’re not quite sure yet how to work through the health implications. Communal dining is probably a non-starter for now, and you can work backward through food preparation and delivery.”

“It’s important to figure this out because it involves the recall of employees for the daily service this summer, so it’s a rather intertwined process,” Harris told Trains. “There will be some food service decisions in the coming months but there will be further developments in the next year, as we get our new team really focused on this.”