Amtrak's Texas Eagle will return to daily service starting this Monday, ending temporary tri-weekly service that started last fall during the pandemic.
However, the iconic Sightseer Lounge that passengers were accustomed to seeing on the Eagle between San Antonio and Chicago will continue to be missing, as it has been for months now.
Amtrak claims that "equipment shortage in this car type" forced the railroad to "temporarily" drop the lounge car where riders could use tables and seats during long journeys, according to a report from DC-based Rail Passengers Association.
“While temporary, we do not yet have a defined timeline for increasing Sightseer Lounge availability, and have placed the other five Western LD routes at a higher priority for deploying these popular cars,” Larry Chestler, the VP in charge of the Long-Distance business unit, told Rail Passengers’ CEO, Jim Mathews. “We also are maintaining the Sightseer Lounge on the City of New Orleans due to our long-standing axle count requirements in Illinois.”
This means that between San Antonio and Chicago the Texas Eagle will only have a single food-service car, the Cross Country Cafe. When the Eagle merges on to the Sunset Limited between San Antonio and Los Angeles, it will have a Sightseer Lounge car added.
There is limited seating in the Cross Country Cafe, an idea Amtrak hatched in the early 2000's and quickly dropped expansion of the food service car concept after it was deemed awkward and not very functional by both passengers and crew. The CCC offers a sparse menu compared to other Amtrak long distance routes, allowing sleeping car passengers to sit and order entrees while coach passengers are left to fend with microwaved hamburgers and other fare while ordering at a counter.
Amtrak's Chestler emphasized that these are temporary moves driven by equipment shortages that arose due to coronavirus contingencies. While there’s no target date for restoration, the intent is to restore these cars once it’s possible -- just as Amtrak is doing with the traditional dining, which was dropped last year from Western trains in favor of the Contemporary Dining model as a response to Covid pandemic concerns and is now set to return.
However, according to a reliable source, prior to the Covid shutdown Amtrak had 44 Active Sightseer cars in the system with 34 being assigned for service. Reportedly, none have been wrecked and removed from service since then and hopefully Amtrak has kept car maintenance up to date during the shutdown. Amtrak recently received Covid stimulus funds from Congress with a condition to restore service levels on the national network trains as they were, prior to cutbacks. Failure to restore the Lounge cars on the Texas Eagle might be considered a violation of the Congressional order, according to the source.
The railroad is still working out the timing on restoring full dining on the Western trains as they work to recall and requalify crews, but the target is now June. Once traditional dining returns to the Western trains, the Eagle’s traditional dining will also be restored between San Antonio and Los Angeles. The contemporary/flexible dining will remain in place, for now, between Chicago and San Antonio, but once the traditional dining is brought back on Western trains in June Amtrak management tells Rail Passengers’ Mathews that they will begin work on “improvements to dining services on other [long-distance] routes, including the Eagle.”
"Let's hope Amtrak keeps their word on the Texas Eagle and not only restores the Sightseer Lounge but allows coach passengers to purchase entrees in the traditional dining style," Said Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "Amtrak used to collect a good amount of revenue from coach passengers that wanted to purchase a full meal until railroad Ex-President Richard Anderson, a former airline chief, downgraded service. Coach passengers were kicked out of the dining car and the sleeping car passengers were downgraded to boxed meals."
"The Texas Eagle used to carry several sleeping cars bringing in a lot of revenue per mile and had a minimum of three coach cars before it was downgraded. This train has traditionally been the red-headed Amtrak stepchild and it's time to change that. Amtrak must understand that if you offer a good product at a good price, people will ride and they sure want to eat", said LeCody.