September 30, 2021 - TRA Newswire -

While Amtrak has been slowly restoring its Western national network trains by adding cars and bringing back full-service meals on long-haul runs, it appears that the daily Texas Eagle continues to be lumped with Eastern U.S. trains that offer a lower level of service.

During the recent Rail Passengers Association online conference,  RailNation, Amtrak Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer Roger Harris said that restoring full dining service on overnight Western trains was a priority and that the rollout has been going well. Dining car restoration was completed in late June this year on all Western routes except the Texas Eagle, which still continues to offer meal-in-a-bowl cafe service to sleeping car passengers while coach class passengers must fend for themselves with a limited snack selection at a counter. The Texas Eagle operates daily between Chicago and San Antonio with four to five limited meal services enroute, more than many other trains in the Eastern half of the country.

Harris said that the intentions are "to start small and work through the issues that we inevitably will encounter by opening up the dining car to more customers.”

The Texas Eagle also continues to operate with fewer cars and no sightseer lounge car, meaning that capacity is limited many days for those that want to travel. Harris said restoration of coach and sleeping cars to long-distance trains "will take time" to return to previous consists because a significant number of employees that staffed the trains were laid off in 2021 and found work elsewhere. Employees that were responsible for maintaining the fleet were furloughed last year when equipment was put in storage and the cars were not kept rail-ready. Amtrak is now on a hiring and training spree for many positions.

Harris did acknowledge that sleeping car sales of roomettes and bedrooms have been brisk. It seems that many passengers desire the privacy from other passengers during Covid, even shunning flights on airlines for a private room on a train. Passengers trying to book accommodations online for the Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited can often find a familiar "Sold Out" designation for sleeping car rooms, as demand exceeds supply. The Texas Eagle formerly carried two full sleeping cars but now operates with just one that must also reserve rooms for overnight train crew members, cutting potential revenue even further. Harris indicated that to make sure they don't continue to put employees in passenger sleeping cars will require "working through the winter to get a lot of transition sleepers back into service.” Transition sleepers are combination cars where half of the small rooms are for employees and the other roomettes are available for sale.