Amtrak’s booze trains

Nothing slips past the media these days. The Associated Press’s Devlin Barrett, under a Washington byline, wrote a story that, according to Google News, has shown up more than 150 times around the country since yesterday. This story offers two hooks which make it appealing – it’s about Amtrak and it’s about booze. Apparently, Amtrak’s partner, GrandLuxe Rail Journeys, has started a promotion where they offer up to $100 in free alcohol to passengers who choose to ride in the premium, separate cars attached to regular Amtrak trains that make up the GrandLuxe service. As the first instance of the article explains:

“GrandLuxe offers separate cars, with their own private dining and lounge sections, attached to regularly running Amtrak trains. Tickets for such trips range from $789 per person for a two-day, one night trip on the East Coast to $1,599 or higher for three days and two nights for travel to or from the West Coast.”

Clearly, if you are prepared to drop eight to sixteen hundred bucks on train travel, and you drink, you were going to be drinking anyway, so this promotion is a sort of thank you to patrons, and perhaps an enticement to riders who might have chosen to ride on Amtrak’s own sleepers and diners, instead of GrandLuxe’s.

Of course, the article goes straight to the moral police on this issue – Mothers Against Drunk Driving. A MADD spokeswoman (named Misty Moyse, really), reflexively took the bait, and commented (from the same article):

“This sounds like a lot of credit toward possible over-indulging,” said Moyse. The sales pitch seemed to be telling customers “they can certainly enjoy themselves on the train but to do so they might need to drink, which could be irresponsible.”

If you are against drunk driving, isn’t any promotion which encourages drinkers to travel by train a good thing? And her comment about “needing to drink” makes me think she is not against drunk driving, but against drinking per se. There are people who drink because they need to. There are many, many more people who drink because they enjoy it, without any need at all. To ignore that distinction is Puritanical and unproductive to the group’s core issue of drunk driving.

Stepping back a moment, Amtrak has long been criticized for permitting its sleeper and diner amenities to slip, losing the luster such things had in the days of the Broadway Limited and the Desert Wind – back when trains were trains. [For another response to this, please see this old post.] This stems from many reasons – capital shortages force the company to retain legacy equipment in service for too long, labor agreements limit the flexibility staff services with employees well matched to the clientele, corporate stupidity, &c. – and Amtrak recently decided that one way to address this was to partner with a private firm. How many times in the last 35 years has the railroad been told the answers to its woes lay in privatization? So in partnership with the management team behind Colorado Railcar, Amtrak signed a deal with GrandLuxe to add their cars to the ends of certain trains to marry the best of the two firms for the benefit of the riders. This is a worthwhile experiment, and only time will tell how well it works. How ironic it is that, the moment Amtrak makes an effort to change its business practices and its partner does something private hospitality companies do every day in America, the headline that one sees across the country is “Amtrak booze trains encourage drunken overindulgence”?

The media are far more interested in cheap shots like this than any substantive discussions about transportation policies in this country, and the people who suffer for it are all of us, marooned in communities with no alternatives to cars and with infrastructure issues, like the bridge in Minneapolis, that remind us we are not building a sustainable system to ensure the safety and productivity of this country.

No wonder so many people feel like they need a drink.

Update: I’m glad I’m not alone on this. There’s even a call for this on Metro North.

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5 thoughts on “Amtrak’s booze trains

  1. Anything that encourages people onto the trains has to be a good thing. I have very happy memories of taking Amtrak around America in the summer of 1988 and I’d be sad to see that disappear. America was made to be seen by train & if through the bottom of a whisky bottle, all the better …

  2. “Might be irresponsible”? So Mothers Against Drunk Driving has transformed itself into Various People Against Drinking Under Any Circumstances?

    Ridiculous nonsense. And for the record, GrandLuxe has NOTHING to do with Amtrak. As with many regional rail lines, Amtrak provides the locomotives that pull GrandLuxe cars. There’s no way to walk between the two sections of the train, and GrandLuxe passengers never encounter Amtrak employees except in the stations when they arrive.

  3. The GrandLuxe cars are hitched to the end of regularly scheduled Amtrak trains, so it’s very true that their patrons are kept separate from Amtrak’s patrons, I think it’s a stretch to say the two have nothing to do with one another. They are partners – no more, no less.

    In the last year, this post has seen a lot of hits – I am amazed at the publicity that comes out of the saimple pairing of the words Amtrak and booze.

  4. This is a real pity. Just last week, I traveled up to Union College for a talk, and was struck (once again) by how much more comfortable a train ride was than a plane trip. And now this. Refusing a bag search on the NYC subway is relatively painless; not so on a Amtrak trip, where one’s destination is much further away, and trains less frequent. railways

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