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Amtrak to cut on-board amenities

Posted by seabeachexpress on Mon Feb 10 16:21:27 2014

CHICAGO – At a meeting in late January, Amtrak’s long-distance route directors uniformly decided to drop certain first-class and dining car amenities from all overnight trains, except the Auto Train. The move, outlined in a memo issued Jan. 28, is one of the first initiatives to directly affect the on-board product under a revamped corporate structure that divides services into Northeast Corridor, state-supported, and long-distance operating units.

Although effective dates vary in accordance with vendor contract expirations, the following amenities are to be discontinued:

Cranberry juice in sleeping cars (Feb. 8)
Flowers and vases on dining car tables (Feb. 15)
Newspapers in sleeping cars (date depends upon vendor)
Wine and cheese tastings, Astor chocolate squares, and complimentary champagne or non-alcoholic cider for Coast Starlight and Empire Builder sleeping car passengers (effective March 31)
Pre-departure Lake Shore Limited wine and cheese reception at Chicago for sleeping car passengers (March 31)
Coast Starlight and Empire Builder sleeper amenity kits (May 31)

Through its nearly 43-year history, Amtrak has periodically added or dropped first class amenities to alternately grow premium ticket revenue by providing a better product or attempt to mollify Congressional micromanagers by demonstrably cutting costs. Food service downgrades in 1982 and 2002 hurt Amtrak’s ability to charge higher fares, so those knee-jerk responses to critics were subsequently reversed, but president Joe Boardman has nevertheless promised to eliminate food losses in five years.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari tells Trains News Wire, however, that the decision to cut amenities came from the route directors in Chicago, not a corporate directive from Washington, though the company “has made promises to stakeholders that we would continue to reduce costs.”

He adds, “The route directors felt these changes would have a minimal impact on passenger revenue while reducing some confusion in passengers expectations between riding the Coast Starlight or Empire Builder and other long-distance service. Like a hotel, we would still provide travel kits to passengers that need them.”

The enhanced amenity packages on the Starlight and Builder were implemented to build revenue-per-passenger. Meanwhile, the North Dakota oil boom has fueled the Empire Builder’s revenue and ridership, but chronic timekeeping issues over the past six months threaten to weaken its performance. Thus, the lack of the extra amenities and wine tasting may be just enough to discourage customers who might be asked to pay over $1,000 for a peak season bedroom.

According to Magliari, there are no plans to stop running the Coast Starlight’s aging Pacific Parlour Cars, yet the wine tastings have clearly helped drive sleeping car occupancy and pricing for rooms that might otherwise be unoccupied on the all-day trip between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Under the direction of now-retired head of customer service Brian Rosenwald, Amtrak has succeeded in building a unique product on these two trains, so it remains to be seen if heavy demand and premium revenue can be sustained in spite of the cuts.

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