One of the chief delights of choosing to travel long-haul by train versus plane (apart from skipping the whole airport security thing) is the dining car. Like a moving restaurant, dining cars await passengers needing to stretch their legs and recreate something of a normal daily routine by sitting down to a proper meal. They’re among the few options for non-stressful social spaces for travelers.
But, of course, they’re also expensive. The Economist reported that maintaining dining cars on all of Amtrak’s lines cost the rail operator $834 million over a 10-year period. Even as Amtrak ridership has slowly regained ground in the past couple years (2017, according to the company, was a record year), it’s still struggling to fill seats on its trains.
So to cut costs and eliminate onboard preparations, Amtrak is scrapping the dining car on two of its lines–the Capitol Limited from D.C. to Chicago and the Lake Shore Limited from Chicago to New York–in favor of what they’re calling “contemporary and fresh dining choices,” but what might more accurately be termed “knockoff airplane food.” For lunch and dinner, customers will choose between chilled beef tenderloin, a vegan wrap, chicken Caesar salad, or turkey club sandwich, and for breakfast, they’ll get an onboard version of a sad motel buffet.
These options are rolled into the cost of a sleeping car ticket for those who shell out for one, and they’re delivered to those passengers in their “roomettes.” For everyone else, enjoy your trail mix–you’re going to need a lot of it to survive a daylong trip without a dining car.