John Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 22, 2008

Amtrak changes not satisfactory

Amtrak has been promoting to its riders an online survey, encouraging passengers to go to the designated web site and participate. After the trip to New Orleans and back over a real long weekend, I felt very opinionated and wanted to take the survey.

Naturally, the survey did not ask the questions for which I had answers (though some public opinion research firm will no doubt charge them big bucks for the effort).

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So here’s what I would have put for an answer if the survey had asked me the right questions:

Amtrak, your Cross Country Cafe sucks.

The idea of combining two cars — the dining car and the snack/lounge/observation car — into one — the “Cross Country Cafe” has cut deeply into the ambiance of what a train ride is all about.

 That double-decker observation car with the snack bar below gave riders a great view of the scenery, it gave groups a change to huddle up and talk. Kids played, passengers spread out met other passengers and enjoyed the ride.

The old dining car offered white table cloths, an excellent menu and table service removed from the more casual atmosphere of the observation car.

This new Cross Country Cafe is half snack/lounge area, half dining car and does neither very well. When groups of passengers gather there, train attendants have to disperse them when the area gets too crowded.

In the coach cars, when passengers regroup and try to resume conversations, other train attendants walk through reminding them not to get too loud.

Some pencil pusher’s idea of consolidation and cutback looked good on paper. On the train, it sucks.

At present, the Cross Country Cafe is only in service on the City of New Orleans. Amtrak, kill this idea before it spreads.