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Amtrak Automat Food Service Car

The Amtrak Pere Marquette is the train with the Automat Food Service Car. I know the idea of having this car on the train instead of a regular Cafe Car with a live Cafe Car Attendant is controversial, but my overall impression of this car was much better than I expected.

Click here for more photos of the Automat Food Service Car.

One half of the car has 10 full size tables that are larger than those in the Superliner Dining Cars. The other side of the car has 3 similar tables. Each table can easily seat 4 full size adults or up to 6 younger children. The space between the seats and the tables is large enough to fit adults of almost any size. There are electric outlets under most of the tables that are compatible with notebook computers.

The walls are lined with windows that are quite large when compared to windows in Horizon or Amfleet Cars. Actually, I think they are quite a bit larger than even the windows in the Superliner Coach and Sleeping Cars. Although the windows can get dirty, they are relatively free of scratches and discoloration. The color scheme is that of all recently refurbished cars and the Superliner II's: most everything is medium grey with highlights of light grey and blue curtains.

The floor is made of a grey rubber like material. The walls and ceiling are carpeted in medium grey. The soft simulated leather seats are medium grey while the tables and window trims are a lighter grey. The curtains are made of the same blue material used in the Superliner II Cars and in the Superliner I Cars that have been refurbished recently. Lighting is provided by florescent lights in the center of the ceiling.

This car provides a great deal of room to eat, play games, or work comfortably. The train I took wasn't very crowded, so most of the tables were empty. My guess is that there is probably space for everyone that wants to be in this car most of the time since this train is usually short and only a small percentage of the passengers want to be in this car at any one time.

There are several vending machines in the room which dispense sandwiches, snacks, cold drinks in cans or by the cup and coffee or hot chocolate by the cup. There are two industrial strength microwave ovens for heating your purchases from the machines. There are also two sinks in the counter across from the microwaves. The couter also has plenty of ketchup, mustard, salt, pepper, and other food preparation supplies. Most of the machines will take either dollar bills or coins. There is also a machine at the very end of the car that can change either $5 or $1 bills.

I would rate the quality of this lounge car above the Amfleet and Horizon Cafe Cars and even above the Superliner Sightseer Lounge Car. The only lounge cars that I feel are superior to the layout of this car are the Pacific Parlour Cars on the Amtrak Coast Starlight and the Full-Length Dome Cars on the Amtrak San Diegans. If they had these cars on other coach trains, I'd spend my time at a table in this car instead of at my coach seat. I'm working from one of those tables right now as I write this and have my notebook computer plugged into the power outlet under the table (via a surge suppressor, of course!).

There is one drawback to this car. Unfortunately, that drawback has to do with the purpose of this car: the food service. First, the vending machines don't make a good Bloody Mary! Actually, they don't make Bloody Marys at all. They don't dispense any alcoholic beverages at all, for obvious reasons. I think that is probably the major drawback of not using a live Cafe Car Attendant.

I suppose Amtrak had a good reason for not providing a live Cafe Car Attendant. Maybe the revenue from the food service on this run didn't cover the cost of the person. I know it can't be that the journey is too short since this is almost a 4 hour trip from Chicago to Grand Rapids. That is almost twice as long as the trip from Los Angeles to San Diego and live Cafe Car Attendants are used for that run. Maybe the lack of sales is due to this being a small train with an inadequate number of passengers to make enough purchases.

Assuming for whatever reason that there was justification to automate the food service, I don't think there is any excuse to not refill the machines each time the train comes into Chicago. That was a major problem on this train. The sandwich machine was almost totally empty. Of the selections that had not run out, many of the slots in the machine contained the same items: steak sandwiches, fish sandwiches and hamburgers. The sandwich machine did have a lot of rows, but they were almost all empty.

Since I checked the machine right after we left Chicago, it obviously was not refilled in Chicago. Maybe they only refill the machines in Grand Rapids. If that is the case, then Amtrak needs to change their policy and also refill them in Chicago. This is something that would not happen with a live Cafe Car Attendant. Such an Attendant might run out of supplies enroute, but it is unlikely that he would come onboard in Chicago without bringing in new supplies! Keeping the machines stocked might not even be that big a job. The only machine that seemed to be low on supplies was the sandwich machine.

If Amtrak kept the machine stocked with a good diversity of sandwiches, it would eliminate any major complaints that I have about the Automat Food Service Car. I would love to see a car like this on every Amtrak coach train, but would not like to lose having a live Cafe Car Attendant on those trains. I'd rather see most Cafe Cars set up like this car, but with a live Cafe Car Attendant instead of machines.

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