Amtrak caused a stir when it recently announced changes in its dining options. The traditional dining car is being removed from some long-distance trains east of the Mississippi, including the popular City of New Orleans, which runs between Chicago and New Orleans.
An Amtrak news release touts "new, flexible dining service for sleeping car customers" as it shifts away from the traditional dining car, which required reservations and a willingness to be seated with strangers. Instead, Amtrak is offering prepackaged meals that can be delivered to passenger's rooms or in a dining lounge, including Asian noodle bowl, red wine-braised beef and chicken fettuccine with broccoli. The change begins Oct. 1 on the City of New Orleans, Cardinal (connecting New York City and Chicago), Crescent (NYC and New Orleans) and Silver Meteor lines and in 2020 on the Silver Star route. (Silver service connects NYC and Miami).
The Empire Builder — the route that operates between Chicago and Portland, Ore., and Seattle with stops that include St. Paul — will continue to have a dining car, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meals are free for sleeping car passengers, and those in coach can also buy meals in the dining car. "There are no plans to change the Empire Builder dining car service at this time," Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.
The fact that some dining cars remain provides little comfort for some traditionalists. An online petition to save the dining car on all long-distance trains has been signed by nearly 7,000 people.
The move by Amtrak, which has been led since 2017 by former Delta and Northwest Airlines CEO Richard Anderson, is intended to help cut costs and appeal to customers who may not relish sharing a meal with someone they don't know.
I have always enjoyed the dining car experience, but am willing to trade steak and potatoes for an Asian noodle bowl.
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