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(The New York Times)   Not content to lose money just selling train tickets, Amtrak manages to lose almost a billion dollars selling food. Fark: they lose 8 million a year to employee theft   (nytimes.com) divider line 92
    More: Asinine, Amtrak, Amtrak Losing, Northeast Corridor, Florida Republican  
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2515 clicks; posted to Business » on 05 Aug 2012 at 4:40 AM (2 years ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2012-08-04 11:52:25 PM
Representative Nick J. Rahall II, Democrat of West Virginia and the ranking member on the committee, said the hearing was a not-so-veiled attempt by Republicans to get rid of Amtrak food service workers, who number about 1,200.

"It's a whopper of an idea, trading good-paying jobs for cheaper hamburgers," Mr. Rahall said.


For fark's sake, it's not Amtrak's mission to just give people jobs. If it was, they could just throw money out the window at whoever passed by. It's supposed to be a passenger railroad company.

And how do you lose a billion dollars selling food on a goddamn train? It's not like you can step off and go to McDonald's if you don't like what they're offering.
 
2012-08-05 12:05:22 AM
Unless they've hiked up the prices around here in the last year or so, aren't the cheeseburgers only $5.50? I don't know about the sodas because I usually bring my own.
 
2012-08-05 12:12:55 AM
Well they need better security if someone is stealing the employees!
 
2012-08-05 12:25:24 AM
Your numbers are a bit off there, subby. $834 million might be "almost a billion" but "$4 million to $7 million annually" lost to theft is not 8 million.
 
2012-08-05 01:34:02 AM
Well, we've vilified firefighters and teachers, so minimum wage railroad workers had to be next.
 
2012-08-05 01:43:32 AM

Bladel: Well, we've vilified firefighters and teachers, so minimum wage railroad workers had to be next.


No one who works at Amtrak makes minimum wage, including the food service people.
 
2012-08-05 04:53:45 AM
Republicans, do not fark with the best way to travel between cities. It is the only civilized form of mass transit left to us.
 
2012-08-05 05:24:53 AM
Is there any business where involving the gov't doesn't fark up everything and guarantee failure ?
 
2012-08-05 05:34:47 AM
While no one condones employee theft. The amount of the losses are the least of Congress's problem. The food is probably overpaid for to start with from some corrupt private contract to some constituent's company who is no now looking to privatize the whole business.

Fake outrage is fake.
 
2012-08-05 06:24:47 AM
Why is it always that years must go by before something is done?

It has also set up a three-person loss-prevention unit

That many? Gee, that's like the IRS employing another 5 persons to investigate billions of lost revenue. And then scrapping the program to save costs.
 
2012-08-05 06:54:02 AM
Offer McDonalds (or whoever) the opportunity to modify and operate their own railroad car then charge them a small amount to pay for the fuel to haul them around (linked to profits at first). Start it as a pilot program with one prototype car as a trial run. Make it a goal for it to be cost neutral to Amtrak in the long run and let the people running the car take on the risk and hassle of running it and reap the rewards if it works out. They already have brand recognition so people will know what to expect and there shouldn't be a supply issue.

Either that or just put in vending machines and microwaves.
 
2012-08-05 07:09:27 AM

Bladel: Well, we've vilified firefighters and teachers, so minimum wage railroad workers had to be next.


You forgot postal workers.

/But then, everyone forgets postal workers.
 
2012-08-05 07:22:47 AM
The same kind of people who buy gold from guys who are willing to exchange it for "wothless" paper money, vote for politicians who say government is useless for anything - so please put them in charge of it.
No critical thinking skills whatsoever.
And we wonder why the public sefvic sector (and consequently, the middle class) is collapsing.
 
2012-08-05 07:25:01 AM

insertsnarkyusername: Republicans, do not fark with the best way to travel between cities. It is the only civilized form of mass transit left to us.


It's the best way to travel between cities if the only cities you care about are New York, Boston, Washington, and Philadelphia. And it's hard to fark with something that's already so thoroughly farked. At some point it becomes "fixing."
 
2012-08-05 07:39:36 AM
The three bits that, taken together, made me do the Jackie Chan WTF face:

"The railroad's food and beverage service has never broken even since it was required by Congress to do so in 1981."

"Seven years later, Mr. Alves said, part of the problem with the food service is that supervision of the business is split between two different Amtrak departments and carried out in an uncoordinated manner. Neither has established goals to reduce costs."

"Democrats questioned the need for the hearing, saying the railroad was dealing with the losses."

Really, Democrats? Really? No need at all?
 
2012-08-05 08:16:58 AM
Plus they don't put needles in their sandwiches like the private boot strappy airlines
 
2012-08-05 08:20:52 AM
Amtrak's problem, I think, isn't the food service. It's that it doesn't have an extensive enough network to compete against both the private auto and planes.

If you could get from (say) NYC to Orlando in about a day more, for about the same cost of a flight, in far more comfortable conditions, I bet you could get a lot more riders. Add ability to get between the coasts in a reasonable amount of time, and you'd be golden.
 
2012-08-05 08:30:06 AM

Krieghund: Your numbers are a bit off there, subby. $834 million might be "almost a billion" but "$4 million to $7 million annually" lost to theft is not 8 million.


More than a little bit off. The $834 is over 10 years but the headline leads one to believe it's per year.

Bad subby! No cookie for you.
 
2012-08-05 08:32:56 AM

Cato: The three bits that, taken together, made me do the Jackie Chan WTF face:


If you can't make money from food and drink on transport, you're doing something horribly, horribly wrong. It's like running a brothel in a port and not getting any customers.
 
2012-08-05 08:51:18 AM

farkeruk: Cato: The three bits that, taken together, made me do the Jackie Chan WTF face:

If you can't make money from food and drink on transport, you're doing something horribly, horribly wrong. It's like running a brothel in a port and not getting any customers.


The problem, according to he article, is labor costs - so like anything with federal bureaucracy. It says a hamburger costs them $16 to make. Sixteen bucks. McDonald's can sell a burger for $1 and make money, but Amtrak can't make them for less than $16. And nobody is going to pay $16 for a burger of the kind of quality you can make on a train. That's just dumb. Their costs are inflated by a factor of 10.

Hard to make money that way.
 
2012-08-05 08:52:28 AM
farkeruk: If you can't make money from food and drink on transport, you're doing something horribly, horribly wrong.

A few years ago I took Amtrack from Detroit to Chicago, and the "dining car" consisted of a guy wearing a wadded up uniform that looked like he'd found it outside somewhere, and he was only open for about an hour. He set up a tray of outrageously expensive candy, sold microwaved sandwiches at a premium, and instead of using a register for cash transactions he had a cardboard box that he held the cash in and made change from. Seemed legit to me.
 
2012-08-05 08:57:35 AM
I see the Republican talking points are out early this week. Did someone take Monday off?
 
2012-08-05 09:02:19 AM
A billion a year to subsidize Amtrak is nothing compared to what we spend on everything else.

In a federal budget of $3.7 trillion, that is only 1 of every 3,700 dollars the government spends.

It's really quite an amazingly low subsidy. I had occasion to ride Amtrak a couple of months ago from Providence to New York. What a nice way to travel and stay off the highways.

// Amazingly low.
 
2012-08-05 09:04:27 AM
I'm as liberal as they come, and I agree that this should be fixed. It's pretty obvious that the people in charge of the food service didn't give a shiat about efficiency, quality, or cost containment. They should all be fired and a new team brought in.
 
2012-08-05 09:10:41 AM

Firethorn: Amtrak's problem, I think, isn't the food service. It's that it doesn't have an extensive enough network to compete against both the private auto and planes.

If you could get from (say) NYC to Orlando in about a day more, for about the same cost of a flight, in far more comfortable conditions, I bet you could get a lot more riders. Add ability to get between the coasts in a reasonable amount of time, and you'd be golden.


As someone who actually rides amtrak a ton, No. I have better things to do with a full day of time than sit on a train.

It works between NYC\BOS\DC\Philly because it is competitive with planes in terms of time. Occasionaly I take the train from NYC to Rochester (in fact I'm doing so this week). Price wise it is usually a few bucks cheaper than a plane, but not any kind of meaningful difference. say, 60 dollars for the train, 80 bucks for the flight.

By train it takes about 7 hours to get there. By plane it takes an hour of flight time. It also takes me about 30 minutes longer to get to the airport, another 30 to clear secuity, and then another 30 or so of planeing\de-planeing, etc.

So the plane still wins out. However, what I like about taking the train is even though it is longer, I can get work done on it, which is why it appeals to business folk.

The idea of someone taking a train between NYC and chicago or something is just silly. A plane will always crush it on time and cost, and you will have a choice of more than one or two a day.

As for the food, its surprisingly good, for what is basically cafeteria food. If they really wanted to make money, they would just put in a true bar car on most trains. There is something sad about sitting in the snack car drinking a Budweiser. If it was sitting in a real bar car having a nice drink though, I'd be throwing money at them my whole trip.
 
2012-08-05 09:13:06 AM

notmtwain: A billion a year to subsidize Amtrak is nothing compared to what we spend on everything else.

In a federal budget of $3.7 trillion, that is only 1 of every 3,700 dollars the government spends.

It's really quite an amazingly low subsidy. I had occasion to ride Amtrak a couple of months ago from Providence to New York. What a nice way to travel and stay off the highways.

// Amazingly low.


A billion here. A billion there. Eventually it does add up. There is absolutely no reason that train service in this country should be this farked up. Why does Amtrak sell food. Contract that out for chrissakes and join every hospital, ballpark, etc. in the country that has done so.
 
2012-08-05 09:14:47 AM
I've eaten on Amtrak. They don't sell food.
 
2012-08-05 09:19:21 AM

t3knomanser: I've eaten on Amtrak. They don't sell food.


The burger is on par with something from burger king, which considering it is just a microwaveable burger, isn't bad. Sure, I wouldn't take a date there, but it is edible.

The two reasons food service doesn't work on the shorter trains is that people can get better food before and after they board. If I'm going to be on a train for a couple of hours, why would I wait to eat until on the train?

On longer runs, sure, you have a captive audience, but I suspect those are the profitable portions. The person running the snackbar on the northeast corridor or empire lines basically stands around, moves a couple bags of chips, and sells a few beers on most runs. No reason you couldn't replace him with a vending machine.
 
2012-08-05 09:19:29 AM

Close2TheEdge: notmtwain: A billion a year to subsidize Amtrak is nothing compared to what we spend on everything else.

In a federal budget of $3.7 trillion, that is only 1 of every 3,700 dollars the government spends.

It's really quite an amazingly low subsidy. I had occasion to ride Amtrak a couple of months ago from Providence to New York. What a nice way to travel and stay off the highways.

// Amazingly low.

A billion here. A billion there. Eventually it does add up. There is absolutely no reason that train service in this country should be this farked up. Why does Amtrak sell food. Contract that out for chrissakes and join every hospital, ballpark, etc. in the country that has done so.


A billion dollars to help alleviate some of the congestion in the Northeast is money well spent.

Firing the union workers and charging $12 for a hot dog would not fix anything.

And ballparks and hospitals are good examples. Most of them lose money. Society loses billions supporting those boondoggles. Let's close them all down.
 
2012-08-05 09:24:06 AM
Fark: they lose 8 million a year to employee theft

If people are stealing employees, it's time to implement some better management controls.
 
2012-08-05 09:24:22 AM

LineNoise: empire lines


I do miss riding the Empire. It's a nice route, and a nice way to get into the city. Not as cheap as Metro North, and I still wish they'd figure out how to extent that up to the capital region.
 
2012-08-05 09:26:17 AM
If Amtrack still needs subsidys after all these years close down all the unprofitable lines. If there are no profitable lines close the whole thing down.

You can always take a bus.
 
2012-08-05 09:30:58 AM
That's nothing.

Just wait till California's new high low-speed rail system gets built.
 
2012-08-05 09:39:13 AM
Bladel:
Well, we've vilified firefighters and teachers, so minimum wage railroad workers had to be next.

The teachers have been self-vilifying - the complaint by the GOP has been against teacher's UNIONS for the most part. I've never heard a politician of any sort "vilifying" firefighters. Amtrak workers on trains are not - by any stretch of the imagination - "minimum wage."

It's also funny that the Republicans talk about cutting budgets in all sorts of unrelated parts of the government, while the Democrats start off with police, fire, and education cuts (because they know those are sacred cows for most Americans), to protect the huge amount of money spent on thousands of completely wasteful government programs - that tend to employ Democrats.
 
2012-08-05 09:43:27 AM

cirby: Bladel:
Well, we've vilified firefighters and teachers, so minimum wage railroad workers had to be next.

The teachers have been self-vilifying - the complaint by the GOP has been against teacher's UNIONS for the most part. I've never heard a politician of any sort "vilifying" firefighters. Amtrak workers on trains are not - by any stretch of the imagination - "minimum wage."

It's also funny that the Republicans talk about cutting budgets in all sorts of unrelated parts of the government, while the Democrats start off with police, fire, and education cuts (because they know those are sacred cows for most Americans), to protect the huge amount of money spent on thousands of completely wasteful government programs - that tend to employ Democrats.


It is amazing that, especially in California, the first and only place the Democrats look for budget cuts is teachers and firefighters. Every election, same thing "give us what we want or we got to cut those budgets first".
 
2012-08-05 09:44:08 AM
I hate Amtraks pricing.. In order to make an affordable Amtrak journey you have to schedule a week, to sometimes a month ahead of time because they less tickets that are available for the trains, the more Amtrak charges for the tickets. It's the stupidest pricing scheme ever and highway robbery.

Let's say I want to take a nice cross country journey from Philly to Los Angels...

Booked this week: $415.00 (one way)
Next week: $$266-312.00 (one way)
Three weeks out: $212-$266 (one way)
 
2012-08-05 09:45:56 AM

Close2TheEdge: notmtwain: A billion a year to subsidize Amtrak is nothing compared to what we spend on everything else.

In a federal budget of $3.7 trillion, that is only 1 of every 3,700 dollars the government spends.

It's really quite an amazingly low subsidy. I had occasion to ride Amtrak a couple of months ago from Providence to New York. What a nice way to travel and stay off the highways.

// Amazingly low.

A billion here. A billion there. Eventually it does add up. There is absolutely no reason that train service in this country should be this farked up. Why does Amtrak sell food. Contract that out for chrissakes and join every hospital, ballpark, etc. in the country that has done so.


Well we can tell these folks didn't read the article. It not a billion, its 800 million and THAT'S OVER 10 YEARS.
 
2012-08-05 09:55:07 AM

Barricaded Gunman: A few years ago I took Amtrack from Detroit to Chicago, and the "dining car" consisted of a guy wearing a wadded up uniform that looked like he'd found it outside somewhere, and he was only open for about an hour. He set up a tray of outrageously expensive candy, sold microwaved sandwiches at a premium, and instead of using a register for cash transactions he had a cardboard box that he held the cash in and made change from. Seemed legit to me.


Indian trains just have people who get on at a station with food and sell stuff to passengers and get off again. According to a friend, it's pretty decent fresh food.
 
2012-08-05 09:56:01 AM

insertsnarkyusername: Republicans, do not fark with the best way to travel between cities. It is the only civilized form of mass transit left to us.


Seconded. I really like the Amtrak Cascades line. Much less stressful than driving, IMHO.

/ wi-fi was broken when I rode it, however
// minor nitpick..
 
2012-08-05 10:02:53 AM
How does a $2 soda cost $3.40 to produce? Soda is freaking cheap. Do they sell cans or bottles or is it from a fountain? Either way unless you're selling liters at a time, there should be plenty of markup in that $2 to break even. Unless it is a quantity of sales issue. Then you've gotta come up with a solution to increase the amount of sales.
 
2012-08-05 10:13:33 AM

tenpoundsofcheese: cirby: Bladel:
Well, we've vilified firefighters and teachers, so minimum wage railroad workers had to be next.

The teachers have been self-vilifying - the complaint by the GOP has been against teacher's UNIONS for the most part. I've never heard a politician of any sort "vilifying" firefighters. Amtrak workers on trains are not - by any stretch of the imagination - "minimum wage."

It's also funny that the Republicans talk about cutting budgets in all sorts of unrelated parts of the government, while the Democrats start off with police, fire, and education cuts (because they know those are sacred cows for most Americans), to protect the huge amount of money spent on thousands of completely wasteful government programs - that tend to employ Democrats.

It is amazing that, especially in California, the first and only place the Democrats look for budget cuts is teachers and firefighters. Every election, same thing "give us what we want or we got to cut those budgets first".


Furthering the GOP Myth that there is a huge pile of "wasted" money just sitting somewhere in a closet. But local governments, like most businesses have their budgets tied up in healthcare, pensions and people.
 
2012-08-05 10:16:54 AM

Barricaded Gunman: farkeruk: If you can't make money from food and drink on transport, you're doing something horribly, horribly wrong.

A few years ago I took Amtrack from Detroit to Chicago, and the "dining car" consisted of a guy wearing a wadded up uniform that looked like he'd found it outside somewhere, and he was only open for about an hour. He set up a tray of outrageously expensive candy, sold microwaved sandwiches at a premium, and instead of using a register for cash transactions he had a cardboard box that he held the cash in and made change from. Seemed legit to me.


I was on that train 10 years ago... when that same guy was working the dining car.
 
2012-08-05 10:17:42 AM
Well when you factor in you are probably paying the guy who sells it to you 15 bucks an hour, plus benefits and a pension, it starts adding up.
 
2012-08-05 10:19:13 AM

insertsnarkyusername: Republicans, do not fark with the best way to travel between cities. It is the only civilized form of mass transit left to us.


That's exactly why they're trying to destroy it.
 
2012-08-05 10:23:05 AM

Firethorn: Amtrak's problem, I think, isn't the food service. It's that it doesn't have an extensive enough network to compete against both the private auto and planes.

If you could get from (say) NYC to Orlando in about a day more, for about the same cost of a flight, in far more comfortable conditions, I bet you could get a lot more riders. Add ability to get between the coasts in a reasonable amount of time, and you'd be golden.


I just went to CheapTickets.com & Amtrak.com & from New York to Orlando Amtrak is about $74 less & takes about 23 hours.
 
rpm
2012-08-05 10:23:21 AM

Radioactive Ass: Either that or just put in vending machines and microwaves.


Their "food service" isn't much more than that, with the staff being the vending machines. Take hot dog out of fridge. Nuke. give it to you.
 
2012-08-05 10:32:49 AM

farkeruk: Barricaded Gunman: A few years ago I took Amtrack from Detroit to Chicago, and the "dining car" consisted of a guy wearing a wadded up uniform that looked like he'd found it outside somewhere, and he was only open for about an hour. He set up a tray of outrageously expensive candy, sold microwaved sandwiches at a premium, and instead of using a register for cash transactions he had a cardboard box that he held the cash in and made change from. Seemed legit to me.

Indian trains just have people who get on at a station with food and sell stuff to passengers and get off again. According to a friend, it's pretty decent fresh food.


Yes, but it would be a huge security issue here in the US. But the stuff on Indian trains is pretty good- someone comes around with hot chai every hour or so, and then there's bagged chips and candy.


BizarreMan: How does a $2 soda cost $3.40 to produce? Soda is freaking cheap. Do they sell cans or bottles or is it from a fountain? Either way unless you're selling liters at a time, there should be plenty of markup in that $2 to break even. Unless it is a quantity of sales issue. Then you've gotta come up with a solution to increase the amount of sales.


That's what I'm not getting- buy sodas from Sams Club: like $.25 a soda, so hopefully the gov't is getting at least that price. Put sodas on train. Sell over ice. How can that cost $3.40??

LineNoise: On longer runs, sure, you have a captive audience, but I suspect those are the profitable portions. The person running the snackbar on the northeast corridor or empire lines basically stands around, moves a couple bags of chips, and sells a few beers on most runs. No reason you couldn't replace him with a vending machine.


actually, the article says specifically its the western long-hauls that are unprofitable.
 
2012-08-05 10:46:15 AM
It's like some of you aren't aware that being a Democrat doesn't mean that you have to defend every single federal government program.

/and not being a Democrat doesn't mean every single one is evil
 
2012-08-05 11:13:32 AM
What they could do is reduce the number of food service workers until the loss due to theft was balanced out by the reduction in staff costs. Lose 8 million in food? Cut 8 million in staff expenses. Eventually there might be a fractional staff but the theft would stop.

This is why we can't have nice things, farking thieving americans.
 
2012-08-05 11:17:37 AM
/Better get Chef Ramsey all up in that joint.
 
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