Traditional dining cars make last runs on eastern Amtrak routes (corrected)

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A three-hour-late Amtrak train No. 20, the Crescent, arrives at New York's Penn Station on Tuesday, Oct. 1, with dining car Nashville. Monday night saw the end of meals prepared by chefs and served by waitstaff on the Crescent and three other routes in the eastern U.S.
Ralph Spielman
Sights like this — meals prepared on board, with linen, silverware, and branded plates, as seen on the Silver Meteor in August 2018 — are no longer part of Amtrak service to and from New York and most other eastern cities.
Ralph Spielman

NEW YORK — Full dining-car service has come to an end on most Amtrak routes in the eastern U.S., with Tuesday’s arrival of northbound train No. 20, the Crescent, with dining car Nashville, marking one of the final arrivals for a train offering food prepared on board.

The Crescent arrived late at New York’s Penn Station on Tuesday at 4:44 p.m. On Monday evening, the Nashville’s staff had prepared and served meals to sleeping-car and coach passengers as the train traveled north from New Orleans and Atlanta. By Tuesday morning, breakfast service had shifted to Amtrak’s “Contemporary Dining” program of pre-prepared meals, available only to sleeping-car passengers.

The Crescent, Silver Meteor, City of New Orleans, and Cardinal all made the switch to the “contemporary” program as of Oct. 1. Changes to dining service on the Lorton, Va.-Sanford, Fla. Auto Train won’t come until January 2020.

As of Tuesday, coach passengers on those four trains can only buy food in a café car. Sleeping-car passengers, whose meals are included as part of their accommodations, will receive meals heated on board that they can eat in the dining cars, staffed with an attendant assigned to the car, or in their room. [See “Analysis: ‘Evolving’ menu on tap for all Amtrak eastern overnighters,” Trains News Wire, Sept. 17, 2019.] Each meal will be served on plastic plates and accompanied by a salad and brownie.

On Auto Train, sleeping car passengers will continue to receive traditional dining car service. As of Jan. 15, 2020, coach passengers will have a dedicated café car offering meals, snacks and beverages for sale; a complimentary continental breakfast will also be available for coach passengers in that car. Food trucks at the Auto-Train endpoints of Lorton and Sanford will also be available for departing passengers.

For New York, the change marks the end of more than 120 years of passengers being served meals prepared onboard. In the 1880s, the New York & Hudson River Railroad (a New York Central subsidiary) touted the New York-Buffalo and Elkhart-Chicago dining cars on its Chicago and St. Louis Vestibule Limited.

Amtrak, which cities a congressional mandate to cut costs on meal service as one of the factors driving the changes, anticipates the moves will save $2 million annually. It declined to comment on the end of staffed dining car service in the east.

— Updated Oct. 3 at 12:30 p.m. CDT to correct that new onboard meals are not reheated and dining cars have an attendant, and details on Auto Train food service.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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