Given where the news fits into the magnitude of events in Washington, the press-release headline “Amtrak Commits to End Food and Beverage Losses” could be translated as “Titanic’s Band Promises Fresher Music Selection on Future Cruises.”
Unless you’re Rep. John Mica.
As chairman of the House transportation committee last session, the Florida Republican convened hearings on Amtrak’s history of losses on food service, ridiculing it for not being able to make money selling $5 hamburgers on the Acela.
He capped his broadsides with a press conference outside a Washington McDonald’s as the rest of Congress was headed home for recess, bellowing at a passing train to warn passengers not to buy the hamburgers.
Theatrical as it was, the point stuck.
In announcing steps today to make food service more efficient, Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Joe Boardman pressed a point he made in person to Mica last year: If Amtrak stopped food service, people would stop riding, which would make the railroad even more reliant on government support than it is now.
Virtually all of Amtrak’s food losses are in the dining cars on long-distance trains that Congress has required the railroad to keep running. The cafe cars on other routes break even, he said.
Food and beverage revenue covers only 65 percent of Amtrak’s costs of offering the service, though the railroad said that’s up from 49 percent in 2006.
“We have made steady and consistent progress, but it is time we commit ourselves to end food and beverage losses once and for all,” Boardman said in the release. Amtrak’s plan centers on a consolidated management structure.