Summer capacity constrained as Amtrak pushes 2-for-1 roomette sale

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Roomette No. 1 on Viewliner No. 62039 on the southbound 'Silver Meteor' in May 2018.
Bob Johnston
WASHINGTON – Amtrak is offering a free ride for the second passenger traveling in a roomette for trips beginning Aug. 20, but only for trips booked by the end of Tuesday. The 2-for-1 deal is valid for travel through Feb. 15, 2019, with only one blackout date: Nov. 25, the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

The problem for people who want to travel within the next two months, however, is that Amtrak’s cost-centered “right size” initiative driven by a point-to-point airline model the new management is comfortable with has reduced sleeping car capacity on two Chicago-East Coast trains compared with consists fielded in previous summers.

Both the Cardinal and Lake Shore Limited are running with one less Viewliner sleeper. The tri-weekly Cardinal, which operates with just two equipment sets, usually gets the third sleeper from the New York-Miami Silver Meteor from May through early November, [see “Viewliner vision,” July 2018], but so far that’s not happening.

The three Lake Shore consists required for daily service usually have two sleeping cars going to New York and one to Boston, but Penn Station trackwork and a drawbridge replacement project on the north end of Manhattan at Spuyten Duyvil prompted Amtrak to run only the Boston section with just two sleepers; New York-bound travelers must change at Albany-Rensselaer, N.Y., to and from Empire Corridor trains, which have been diverted to Grand Central Terminal.

The reductions were likely implemented because management decided to not run Cardinal New York-Washington – its largest patronage-generating segment – and similarly cut the Lake Shore’s New York section because there was no way to get the equipment over to Sunnyside Yard for servicing.
A single Viewliner sleeper rolls into Chicago on the 'Cardinal' on June 23, 2018.
Bob Johnston
However, a Trains News Wire analysis on June 23 of future bookings from Chicago on the Cardinal to Washington and the Lake Shore to Albany-Rensselaer suggests that consist contraction decisions are leaving money and passenger mobility on the table.

Of the 17 Cardinal departures from June 23 through July 31, sleeping car space was available on only four dates; two of those had only one roomette at the highest ($625 one-way adult) fare level. In addition, on two Saturdays (June 30 and July 7) there were no sleeping car rooms available to Washington on the Capitol Limited (the July 7 Capitol was also sold-out in coach).

Of the 39 Lake Shore departures during the same date range, 22 had no roomettes available (8 of those sold-out roomette dates did offer at least one accessible bedroom for $1,091, compared with roomette prices on available dates ranging from $304 to $575).

While two Viewliner sleepers incurred some damage in the collision of the southbound Silver Star several months ago and were sent the Amtrak’s Beech Grove (Ind.) Heavy Maintenance Facility for repairs, any continued absence would not explain the two trains’ capacity reductions.

As with every web-based promotion Amtrak has run during the last six months following last fall’s “Breaking the Travel Quo” campaign, this one effectively cuts advance purchase fares systemwide by a certain percentage for a limited amount of time. If travelers change their minds, they pay a penalty.

What’s different here, though, is that the “buy one, get one free roomette ticket sale” takes an extra length to explain one of the long distance train’s significant product differentiation features from sitting in a seat on a plane, bus, or even a train. It is the first promotion Amtrak’s new marketers have directed solely at the overnight travel segment, even though the “one size fits all” tactic still doesn’t tell people where the trains go.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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