Sunday, April 19, 2009

More Thoughts About Amtrak's New Dining Car

Today’s ride on the Capitol Limited was another good experience topped off by an arrival in Washington about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. The only blemishes on the trip were the less-than-sparkling windows on my side of the sleeper and a humorless server in the dining car.

This train also had one of the newly-configured dining cars and I am really growing to dislike them. Furthermore, in a completely unscientific survey of seven people, four gave it a thumbs-down, one said he didn’t NOT like it (hardly a ringing endorsement), and the other two – a husband and wife – didn’t find it particularly comfortable, but abstained because they hadn’t traveled on Amtrak before and had no basis for comparison.

Still, “preliminary findings” indicate that most passengers don’t care for the new design, and the crews don’t like it. Perhaps the appeal to Amtrak brass is that it’s cheaper to run because – at least on these last two trips – they can operate the new diners with fewer staff and therefore at lower cost.

This photo (from shows part of the new layout. The problem is the design of the seating itself. Each alternating table is configured to seat three with one patron seated with lots of elbow room, but with back to window. (Huh? Isn't the passing scenery the whole idea??) The other two sit at the end of the long narrow table with – trust me on this – not enough space. It does not make for a comfortable meal.

The other tables are designed to seat four, but the seats are angled and, while there’s just barely enough room for each person, the seating is still a bit awkward. I took several photos this morning without any people at the tables and will post them as soon as I get home. It will, I hope, be easier to visualize what I’m talking about.

Notwithstanding all that, as usual I met a number of first-time riders in the diner, all of whom have now been turned into train travel enthusiasts.

The NARP meetings begin tomorrow. Several of my fellow council members were aboard the Capitol Limited today and I must say the mood is quite upbeat. And why not … with the anti-rail Bushies gone and Obama vocally in support of more and better and faster trains!


Mike said...

I guess these things might work OK as a cafe/club car. Just does not look like a dining car ought to look, though.

As you've mentioned, one of the great things about Amtrak travel is the chance to meet new folks, and the best place to do that is sitting across from them at the table. The four seat table that is perpendicular to the direction of travel where everyone has the same amount of space.

Print Man 2000 said...

You have to remember, these cars were designed to replace the dining car AND the lounge car combining the two into one. However, only one train, the City of New Orleans, is actually using the car this way. The Texas Eagle and the Capital Limited still have lounge cars and are using these "Diner-Lite" cars as regular dining cars. Staff wise, they have the same number of staff as a normal dining car.

Amtrak has now backed away from this combined car idea and now has too many of them and not enough normal dining cars. So until some are repaired, the CL will be stuck using these.