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Amtrak Quietly Ends Its Beloved Dining Car Service

By Katherine LaGrave

10.09.19

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Changes to the dining service begin this fall.

Photo by Richard Pross/Shutterstock

Changes to the dining service begin this fall.

In a bid to appeal to a new set of riders, the train company has switched up its meal selection and done away with white tablecloths on long-haul rides.

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Amtrak’s traditional dining has received a major makeover: Starting October 1, customers traveling on one-night routes on the Cardinal (New York–Chicago), City of New Orleans (Chicago–New Orleans), Crescent (New York–New Orleans), and Silver Meteor (New York–Miami) trains were offered a new, “flexible” service with ready-to-serve dishes instead of meals cooked on board—and no white linen tablecloths. Service on the Silver Star (New York–Miami) will change in 2020.

Sample prepackaged entrées include chicken fettuccine, Creole shrimp and andouille sausage, red wine–braised beef, and a vegan “Asian noodle bowl.” For breakfast, the train will have a continental-style buffet breakfast, with a selection of cold cereals, muffins, fruit, and yogurt. 

Amtrak hasn't gotten rid of its dining car on these routes altogether, but it has made changes around who’s allowed there and what it looks like: Premium riders—in bedrooms and roomettes—can have their meals delivered to their rooms or choose to sit in the dining car, which have tablecloth-free booths and are exclusive for “Sleeping Car customers to dine and socialize 24/7,” according to the company. (Passengers don’t have to make reservations for meals in the dining car.) Coach customers are able to buy meals in the Café car. 

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The reason for the move? Amtrak is looking to appeal to millennials, who care less about dining with others and more about convenience, said Peter Wilander, who oversees Amtrak’s customer experience, according to the Washington Post. (Amtrak will save around $2 million a year by focusing on preselected meals.) Amtrak’s traditional dining service is still offered on the seven remaining overnight routes: California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, Silver Star, and Texas Eagle.

Amtrak is also upgrading some of its train interiors, adding new seat cushions, carpets, curtains, and lights to coach class cabins used along the East Coast; “sleeper” cars will get new bedding, linens, and towels. Within the next few months, Amtrak will also debut new Viewliner II Sleeping cars for East Coast trains, which is the “first addition to the Amtrak sleeper fleet in more than 25 years”—welcome news, no doubt, for travelers overnighting it on the rails.

Not all changes have been as welcomed, however: a change.org petition to keep traditional dining car service had been signed by 13,850 people as of October 9. “We cannot let an icon of American railroading fade into history. After all, the Dining Car is a true part of the passenger railroad experience,” wrote one commenter. “Amtrak is not an airline so please don’t run it like one,” wrote another. 

The latter criticism is noteworthy: Amtrak’s CEO, Richard Anderson, was previously the CEO of Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines, and he has implemented a number of airline-like policies, including complex pricing options and stricter cancellation policies. Let’s just hope we don’t have to pay for bags anytime soon. 

This article originally appeared on September 23, 2019, and was updated on October 9, 2019, to reflect current information.

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