Sunday, November 20, 2011

About Dome Cars and Amtrak Food Service and What Not to Do About it.

Railroad passengers love observation cars! That’s certainly understandable, since a big part of the train travel experience is enjoying the passing scenery, and where better than from a rail car with oversized windows or, better yet, from a glass dome on top of the car.

The most popular place to be on one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains is in the Superliner lounge car, with its large, comfortable seats and the huge windows that extend up beyond the curve of the roofline.

Canada’s premier long-distance train is the Canadian. It’s operated by VIA Rail and runs three days a week in both directions between Toronto and Vancouver on the Pacific coast. During the busy times of the year, that train features as many as three of the classic dome cars and – trust me on this – seats up in that glass bubble are always at a premium.

Way back in it’s early days, when it was having to make do with a fleet of mismatched rail cars collected from the various private railroads, Amtrak obtained a few of those classic old cars. Alas, only one remains. But, as a rare treat, passengers traveling next week on Amtrak’s Wolverine between Detroit and Chicago may find this vintage car as part of their consist.

Again and again for the past 100 or more years, it has been proven that the more pleasant train travel is, the more people will choose to ride. Makes sense, eh? But, and this certainly should be obvious, the reverse is also true: If the train travel experience is allowed to deteriorate, a loss of ridership will inevitably follow.

Notwithstanding that which is clear to you and to me, Representative Jean Schmidt, a Republican Member of Congress from Ohio, has introduced H.R 3362 which would drastically curtail food service on Amtrak trains.

What is not clear are Ms. Schmidt’s motives. Does she simply fail to understand the obvious and inevitable consequences of this measure? Or does she understand very well that fewer riders will mean the need for higher subsidies … which, of course, would further “justify” calls from many of her Republican colleagues to shut down Amtrak’s long-distance trains altogether.

Either way, it’s a terrible idea and shame on her.

Oh, by the way, the most scenic train ride anywhere east of the Mississippi is Amtrak's Cardinal. It passes right through Jean Schmidt’s Congressional district. Go figure!

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