When The LSL Still Had A Wine and Cheese Reception

Sleeper class passengers boarding the Lake Shore Limited in Chicago were once treated to a wine and cheese reception in the dining car before No. 48 departed.

About a decade ago Amtrak used to treat sleeper class passengers boarding the Lake Shore Limited in Chicago to a wine and cheese welcome aboard reception in the dining car.

I got to experience it in 2012 and 2013 when I splurged and bought a roomette ticket for the journey from Chicago to Cleveland as I was returning home after visiting my Dad in downstate Illinois.

A sleeper wasn’t cheap, but I decided to spend the extra cash to be able to get some sleep for at least part of the seven-hour journey.

Then, as now, No. 48 was scheduled to leave Chicago at 9:30 p.m. Most of the trip would occur during the overnight hours and I find it difficult to sleep in a coach seat.

My 2012 trip occurred in early June. Prototype Viewliner dining car Indianapolis was in the consist.

It was my first and thus far only experience in a Viewliner dining car. All of my various trips aboard No. 48 or 49 back in the days when I was making those Amtrak treks between Cleveland and Chicago found a Heritage Fleet diner in the consist of the train.

Because of the late hour departing Chicago dinner was not served on No. 48.

The wine and cheese reception was a nice way to meet other passengers and my memory is that the Amtrak personnel were willing to give you a second serving of wine.

The glasses were not large so it’s unlikely that anyone became intoxicated.

It wasn’t a wine tasting event involving sampling various types of wines. There was one type of wine, a red, and that was it.

Your plate came with two types of grapes, crackers and a couple of slices of cheese.

As you can see from a photo that accompanies this post there were more grapes than cheese.

Amtrak used to do wine tastings aboard the Coast Starlight in the Pacific Parlour Car and if my memory serves me correctly it also once had wine tastings aboard the Empire Builder.

But I never rode either of those trains during that era.

In 2013 my roomette aboard the Lake Shore was in the Boston sleeper, which was toward the head end behind a baggage car.

Would the car attendant come through and invite us to make our way back through the six Amfleet II coaches and café car for the wine and cheese reception?

As the time to depart drew near nothing was said about it. Did this mean Boston sleeper passengers would be cheated out of the wine and cheese reception?

Not long after the train left Union Station the attendant came around with foil-covered plates of cheese, crackers and grapes.

He passed out small glasses and went from room to room to pour the wine.

It was nice but not quite the social event that it had been in the dining car when you could mingle with other passengers.

The wine and cheese reception aboard No. 48 in Chicago was discontinued long before Richard Anderson came onboard as Amtrak’s president.

Amtrak came under fire from members of Congress for its food and beverage deficits. Serving wine and cheese may not have been that expensive but didn’t look good during a congressional hearing when the carrier was running a deficit in food and beverage services.

Anderson has cited many times a congressional mandate to eliminate the food and beverage deficits as one reason why full-service dining cars were eliminated from the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited and have now vanished from the last eastern overnight trains to still have them, the Crescent and Silver Meteor.

The wine and cheese reception was part of an era when Amtrak sought to make the sleeper class experience something special.

Passengers once received complimentary newspapers in the morning, a small piece of chocolate at night, and coffee and juice.

At one time sleeper class passengers on the Capitol Limited received a glass mug with the train name and herald on it. I have one of those on a shelf in my office.

Amtrak might argue that it treats sleeper class passengers well, but the “perks” that Amtrak has been touting are either services that were always available, e.g., having meals served to you in your room, or something that doesn’t cost the company any money, e.g., “exclusive” use of a Viewliner diner as a lounge.

Service changes at Amtrak can be cyclical depending on who controls the White House, Congress and Amtrak management.

When I rode The Canadian of VIA Rail Canada in May 2014, I found that aside from full-service dining, sleeper class passengers were treated to wine tastings, onboard entertainment, and snacks.

If Anderson means what he says about having long-distance experiential trains we might see a return of these perks for those able to pay the hefty ticket prices.

Just for fun, I checked the prices to travel from Chicago to Cleveland on Oct. 31 in a sleeping car roomette.

The fares quoted on the Amtrak website a week before the date of travel were $228 on the Capitol Limited and $231 on the Lake Shore Limited. The least expensive coach ticket was $76 on No. 48 and $92 on No. 30.

The sleeper fares could have been higher. Back in September when I checked a roomette was $266 on the Capitol Limited and $316 on the Lake Shore Limited.  The least expensive coach ticket was $59 on both trains.

Booking two months ahead would lower the sleeper prices to $184 on No. 30 and $186 on No. 48. The coach fare was still $59 for each train.

Those latter prices seem more reasonable but it would take a lot of wine and cheese to entice me to buy a ticket at those prices.

But then again, when you’re trying to get some sleep, any sleep, in an Amfleet II coach seat your mind wanders not to wine and cheese or meals included in the sleeper class ticket price but the value of being able to lay flat for a few hours while having your own space.

Inside Viewliner dining car Indianapolis at Chicago Union Station on the eastbound Lake Shore Limited. It would be my only visit to No. 8400.

A glance inside the kitchen area of Viewliner dining car 8400 as it sat in Chicago Union Station. The bottles of wine are for the wine and cheese welcome aboard reception for sleeper class passengers.

This seat in a Viewliner roomette can be pricey, but what is the value of privacy and having a bed during the overnight hours of a train trip?

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