Facebook Page
Midwest Rail Rangers Visit the Lake Shore Limited

Midwest Rail Rangers Visit the Lake Shore Limited

A Look at the New Viewliner II Dining Car & Meal Service Changes


By Robert Tabern - President, Midwest Rail Rangers &
Kandace Tabern - Educational Officer, Midwest Rail Rangers

Published: June 15, 2019

Change is about the only thing that has been constant when it comes to the meal service on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited. Not that long ago… Boston and New York City-bound sleeping car passengers would get a full dinner in a heritage dining car before departing Chicago Union Station. That was scaled back to a wine and cheese reception for sleeping car passengers… maybe some fruit or nuts would be thrown in there. Then, that was scaled back to absolutely nothing… I guess it was done to save money – or maybe someone at Amtrak realized that people didn’t really want a full meal that late at night (even though for awhile the Lake Shore Limited was boarding 60 to 90 minutes before the 9:30pm departure time – and people could eat their dinner while still in the station).  Passengers still had a full breakfast and lunch service in a heritage dining car the following day.  In 2017 and 2018, the heritage dining cars on the Lake Shore Limited were “phased out”… for a few months there was just an Amfleet diner… that was before the new Viewliner II dining cars were introduced.  Even though the Lake Shore Limited route got new dining cars --- passengers would lose traditional dining car service.  In 2018, Amtrak introduced it’s “fresh and contemporary” dining car service on both the Lake Shore Limited and the Capitol Limited. At first, there were NO warm meal options for breakfast or lunch --- but eventually more choices were added. And that brings us up to where we are now.







In May 2019, we decided to take the train one-way between Chicago and New York City to visit Robert’s sister who lives in Manhattan.  It had been over a year at that point since our last overnight Amtrak trip --- so it was about time to get a sleeping car fix on.  (The last overnight sleeping car trip we did was during the last run of the Coast Starlight in February 2018).  Except seeing one of the new Viewliner II dining cars on display at Union Station, we had never rode in one either.  We wanted to see what the food and dining car/lounge car situation was now like on the Lake Shore Limited --- and what the good points and bad points were.

We arrived at Chicago Union Station around 7:00pm on Friday, May 3, 2019… this gave us enough time to get some deep dish Chicago pizza and relax a bit before our train would be called for boarding.  With the extra time we decided just to take our showers in the Metropolitan Lounge, which is a free service provided to sleeping car and business class passengers. There is only one small shower per car in the Viewliner sleepers and we didn’t know what the demand was going to be like with a 9:30pm boarding.  This was the first time either of us used the showers in the Metropolitan Lounge and they were very nice. All you have to do is leave your ticket and ID at the front desk and you are given the key card and a towel set to use. We were definitely happy to take a shower in a much larger space --- that wasn’t moving.

We were called for boarding around 8:30pm… apparently this is a normal thing now for the Lake Shore Limited out of Chicago.  We were surprised because most long distance train board just 30 minutes before departure for sleeping car passengers. We asked the conductor about this and it was mentioned this was done for two reasons --- first, the Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago can close after the Lake Shore Limited boards… so there is some urgency to get staff out on time.  Also, there were 3 sleepers and 6 coaches on the Lake Shore Limited… and the conductor mentioned sometimes a full hour is needed especially in the summer months and during the holiday period. We got our suitcase and laptop settled into our roomette and spent the hour walking the train platform and taking photos.  The train was pretty much boarded completely by 9:00pm, but had to wait until the official departure time of 9:30pm.  The crew was so eager to board that they shut ALL of the sleeping car doors --- so we had to walk up to one door in coach that was still open for potential stragglers.  We knew that the train couldn’t leave before 9:30pm, but there was some uneasiness that it just might… LOL.

Anyway, since we had to board in coach and walk back to our New York sleeper, we had to pass through the Viewliner II dining car.  That is where we were greeted by LSA Nancy and two couples from England who were enjoying some wine.  Nancy was super friendly and asked if we wanted a drink and to join in on the fun conversations going on.  Apparently to perhaps off set the “new” meal service… Amtrak has decided to give unlimited free non-alcoholic beverages to sleeping car passengers… AND one free alcoholic beverage, too.  We both got whatever white wine they were serving and enjoyed the darkening views of Northwest Indiana that were passing by outside the window. Excited about the train ride, we decided to stay up until Midnight when we reached South Bend. We found it very interesting to compare where the Norfolk Southern/Amtrak line went vs. the South Shore Line --- especially since we, as part of the Midwest Rail Rangers, narrate for passengers on the South Shore Line several times per month between South Bend and Chicago. It was fun seeing the South Shore come and go from view as we proceeded through Northwest Indiana.






It became clear that the Viewliner II dining car, designed to be a traditional dining car, was being use more as a First Class Lounge Car for passengers.  There were no reservations times and we were told by Nancy that passengers could stay in there as long as they wanted --- all the way from one bumping post in Chicago to the other bumping post at New York Penn.

Service in the lounge car continued until around 11pm CT, so you have about 90 minutes to get your drink if that is how you want to spend your complementary beverage.  Anyway… we headed back to our sleeper somewhere between South Bend and Elkhart.  Since it was just going to be one overnight and about 18 hours on the train, we opted for a roomette. We got a “low bucket” deal for just over $400 on the room --- so we were happy with that.  The bedroom was almost $1000 total (or $600 more) --- not worth it in our opinion.  Kandace took the top bunk and Robert got the lower bunk… it was pretty much “lights out” right away.

We thought maybe we would wake up in Toledo or Cleveland --- but didn’t wake up until an announcement was made around 7:50am that we were coming into Buffalo-Depew!  We were so tired after a long week at work that we slept through half of Indiana, all of Ohio, the corner of Pennsylvania, and wow… we were waking up in New York State already.  Pretty cool.




After Buffalo we made our way to the dining car, where most of the room temperature breakfast items were located on a table where people could help themselves. If you wanted a refrigerated item like milk --- or the hot breakfast sandwich which had egg, cheese, and ham on it --- you could put a request in with the LSA and she would bring it to you.  Thoughts??  The new set up for breakfast is BOTH good and bad.  I certainly missed the yummy Amtrak French toast or pancakes or fresh cooked eggs that were part of the traditional dining car.  That would have been a nice treat.  However, Robert is not a big breakfast person anyway, so some fruit, a pastry, and coffee was good enough --- and is what he would have at home anyway. About the same for Kandace, too.  It is bad that the new dining car configuration took the job of two of the three dining car staff who would have been on the train.  Previously, the dining car crew was based out of New York --- they all have been re-allocated to other positions --- and the LSA is actually Chicago-based now in the dining car.  One of the nice changes was that there were no firm breakfast hours --- if you wanted to come down at 10:30am and have your meal you could… just note you are going to get whatever is left.  Sometimes we are not “morning people” and feel forced to get up by 8:30am or 9:00am on a long-distance Amtrak trip with traditional dining car service to make “last call”.  We never understood why breakfast was so early on the trains with traditional dining car service --- especially since a lot of people traveling are supposed to be on vacation after all, right??   People did come in later to eat too on our Lake Shore Limited.  The other nice thing was there was NO wait for your food --- just grab and go or wait a few minutes for your milk or hot sandwich to be delivered.  Sometime it can be painful waiting 30 minutes for breakfast while being forced to make idle “it’s way too early chit-chat” with strangers at your table.  Oh, and speaking of that --- the new configuration is not as crowded as a traditional dining car --- so you are not forced to sit four to a table either.  (Don’t get me wrong, sometimes conversation in the dining car is fun… I just don’t feel like talking or feeling like I have to talk… in the morning esp. if I have not slept well).

By the time we finished breakfast, we were rolling into Syracuse and it was time to be able to get off the train for a few minutes. 




Sometimes called a “smoke stop”… I call them “photo stops” because it’s time to get off and get some pictures of the exterior of the train.  We had kept good time overnight and were not more than 20 minutes late into Syracuse.  We recalled the last time we were there in Syracuse ---- we took the eastbound Lake Shore Limited to Syracuse… got off and transferred to the westbound Maple Leaf to Toronto… and then connected to the westbound Canadian to Jasper.  While we were sitting in the Syracuse station, we got a call from our friend Mike who was going to travel with us and who was already in Toronto… he delivered the news that our train would be delayed 6 hours because the inbound train was about 14 hours late!  I think we will always remember THAT phone call whenever we go through Syracuse in the future!  LOL ---- We ended up boarding the westbound Canadian on that trip somewhere around 2am… it was just painful…  So much so, our friend Mike decided to bail fearing it would just keep losing more time as it headed west.

Anyway, back to this trip…

After Syracuse, we decided to test out the “lounge” part of the Viewliner II dining cars… and took up a table to play a board game we brought along.  By the way, if you have never played “Ticket to Ride”… you need to. It’s sorta like monopoly… expect you’re building railroad lines and trying to block your opponents rail lines they need to build.  It’s especially fun to play aboard a train because about every third person who passes you looks at you and laughs and says --- “So cool, man…. A train game on a train!!”   We ended up playing four rounds of “Ticket to Ride” (Robert won 3-1) between Syracuse and Albany. 




We enjoyed the rolling views of Upstate New York from the Viewliner II car… also enjoyed the scattered views of the Erie Canal which we were roughly paralleling.  Having what was essentially a “First Class Lounge Car” on the Lake Shore Limited was a VERY NICE addition.  Prior to this, you had to pretty much stay confined to your room. The dining car was off-limits except when eating meals.  There was an Amfleet  lounge car, but you had to walk through about 7 cars to get there… and seating was so limited because you were sharing about 6 booths with everyone on the train.  There were plenty of times when we would just give up on even attempting to go down to the traditional lounge.  We both felt there was something ironic about the food service being simplified --- BUT ---- a new first class lounge car was pretty much added as a perk.  With the elimination of the Pacific Parlour Cars from the Coast Starlight in February 2018 --- the Viewliner II dining cars were now basically the only first class lounge car on the entire Amtrak system.




We would not have been very happy if we were in coach though on the Lake Shore Limited I can tell you.  Coach passengers are NOT allowed in the Viewliner II dining car now --- which means all of their meal service must come from the café car.   As you probably know, coach passengers are allowed to purchase their meals in the dining car after all of the sleeping car passengers have been given reservations.  But there are no prices on the menu for the dining car on the Lake Shore and not enough meals are stocked for coach passengers to be able to eat inside the dining car anymore.  The worst part is that the café car ends up going to Boston after the train splits into two at Albany --- which means NO meal service what-so-ever for New York bound coach passengers between Albany and New York --- a distance of about 3 hours. So pack your own water and snacks if you are not opting for the sleeper.






After about a one hour break in Albany where we watched crews swap our diesel locomotive with an electric one… we were underway again.  We opted for a late lunch in the Viewliner II sleeping car after Albany.  Note that lunch is served all the way until Poughkeepsie… so you can eat as late as 4:00pm.  Kandace opted for the hot beef dish and Robert had the cold turkey sandwich.  For all of the negative things we heard about the food --- both meals were actually quite acceptable --- even a little tasty.  We would not want this kind of meal service for a two day trip out west … but it was tolerable for just two meals… especially since we normally had sandwiches and other lighter fare for lunch when we were at home. 

We enjoyed view of the ever-widening Hudson River after lunch – until arriving into New York Penn Station almost right on-time at 6:30pm. 



From there, we checked our bags into Club Acela and joined founders Steve Grande and Barbara Cepinko at a nearby pizza joint for some supper.



So what are our overall thoughts on what we experienced on the Lake Shore Limited?  First, we are sad that two positions in the dining car were cut --- its never a good thing when anyone loses their job.  And, we missed the good French toast and pancakes in the morning plus Robert’s bacon that he loves dearly. It’s also sad to see a brand new dining car with a griddle and full kitchen prep area going un-used.  The LSA told us that per the union contract she can not even touch anything in the kitchen except the microwave/convection oven and the coffee pot. She could not put anything on the griddle or use many of the new features that Amtrak spent money on.

However… we actually felt that having a First Class Lounge Car out-weighed the downgrade in food service. One can eat a heavy dinner in Chicago before the Lake Shore Limited leaves --- and then eat a heavy dinner in New York after the train arrives --- and be fine with the fare that is offered for breakfast and lunch on the train.  We can see though why people are upset with the choices (as several folks were and got quite vocal complaining to the LSA) because you are paying a lot of money for sleeping car services and might expect something better.  What Amtrak needs to do through is play up the perk of the “First Class Lounge Car”… why they have failed to do this is beyond understanding to me.  It would totally counter-act those who were complaining about food service.  My fear though is that maybe Amtrak is not playing up the First Class Lounge Car aspect (where you can realty go and stretch out) because they aren’t sure what is going to happen.  We heard about 3 different rumors from staff on the train ---- from one extreme (full dining car service would be back before the end of the year) to the other (the new Viewliner II diners are just months away from being sold to VIA Rail Canada for use on their “Ocean” train between Halifax and Montreal.

So --- I guess if we had to give this whole thing a grade --- I would say a “B+” under the condition that Amtrak keeps the Viewliner II as a First Class Lounge Car as it is now.  If Amtrak is planning to sell these cars off though and just serve people food from the café in their rooms… then it will be a big “F” in our book and we would not ride under those circumstances. The First Class Lounge Car on the Lake Shore was so enjoyable we were thinking of booking another trip to either New York or Boston in the fall to enjoy it again.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider learning more about the Midwest Rail Rangers. We are an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides on-board educational programs on private and public rail excursions across the Upper Midwest -- including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Did you know that Midwest Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides ride aboard the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana two to three weekends per month year-round?  It's a great program that you can attend for no more than the cost of a regular ticket to learn about all of the people, places and history passing by outside your window. Our Guides are occasionally part of various Amtrak Coach Charters (with the 20th Century Railroad Club) and private rail excursions on historic rail cars from the 40's and 50's.  Check out for more information... or drop our Board of Directors an e-mail at is a proud supporter of the Midwest Rail Rangers.

The Midwest Rail Rangers have also researched, written, and published a large series of railroad route guidebooks. Books are available for both train lines in the Upper Midwest and across the United States.  Your purchase of our route guidebooks is the number one source of funding for our non-profit organization --- plus they're very popular for passengers looking to enhance their experience aboard their train ride. We also have our guidebooks now available in E-Book PDF format and MP3 podcast format for immediate download on to your electronic device.  Check out for more on our guidebooks, e-books, and MP3 guides.


Amtrak Website for the Lake Shore Limited


  Midwest Rail Rangers Website | Midwest Rail Rangers on Facebook | Robert Tabern on Facebook

Outside the Rails Route Guides on Facebook
| Purchase Copies of Outside the Rails Route Guides | | | | Other Rail Travelogues