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New Acela Nonstop train details, upgraded sleeping cars

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WASHINGTON — A series of changes are on track to debut soon on Amtrak trains.

After revealing new amenities exclusive to its new Acela Nonstop service between New York and Washington on Thursday, the company announced it’s also updating its sleeping car trains, including a new sleeping car for its East Coast trains (the first such update in more than 25 years).

The Acela Nonstop route, which debuts Sept. 23, will offer items like complimentary coffee, tea, a light snack and an “at seat” cashless cart service that will allow passengers to purchase additional drinks and food without going to the dining car.

The nonstop trip will take approximately 2 hours and 35 minutes each way. Initially, only weekday service will be offered with the single southbound train departing New York’s Penn Station at 6:35 a.m. and arriving at Washington’s Union Station at 9:10 a.m. The northbound train will leave Washington at 4:30 p.m. and arrive in New York at 7:05 p.m.

USA TODAY caught a glimpse of Amtrak’s revamped long-distance trains (covering routes over 750 miles) during a preview event Friday. The new Viewliner II sleeping cars will be added to trains in the next few months.

While the sleeping car’s layout isn’t changing dramatically, its “roomlettes” will get updates, including a stronger table and four electrical outlets instead of just one. They will no longer have toilets (it was a little too close for comfort).

Upgraded bedding, towels and linens are also on the way and will debut on the company’s Auto Trains. 

Amtrak is also refreshing its long-distance coach cars on the Cardinal, Crescent and Silver Meteor trains in the coming months. Changes coming to the East Coast trains in the coming months include new seat cushions, curtains and LED reading lights. The company has also replaced carpets and introduced walk-off mats to improve cleanliness.

Roger Harris, an executive vice president and chief marketing and revenue officer, tells USA TODAY Amtrak’s personal space on trains like this is “better than a domestic first class seat on an airline.”

But why has it taken more than 25 years to update the sleeping cars?

“Sometimes big changes are too hard to make,” Harris says. “Let’s do the best we can for now and keep working on the future, but for the next five years, let’s have it be nice,” he adds.

Although baby boomers are the dominant demographic on Amtrak’s overnight trains, the company wants to change that by attracting more Gen X and millennial riders.

One way to do that is by updating its dining services to cater to those customers, who make heavy use of food-delivery services, while also making the traditional communal dining experience more pleasant.

“We’re trying to create service delivery so our customers receive it the way they want, rather than dictate exactly the way we want,” Peter Wilander, Amtrak’s vice president of product development and customer experience, tells USA TODAY.

Beginning Oct. 1, the Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Crescent and Silver Meteor train sleeping car customers will see an upgraded dining service. Perks of the new Flexible Dining program include:

  • dining menu with new breakfast, lunch and dinner choices (think items like red wine-braised beef and Creole shrimp and Andouille sausage for dinner and lunch, plus a deluxe continental breakfast buffet for breakfast)
  • Wine, beer and spirits — with the first drink on the house  — and unlimited soft drinks
  • Room service courtesy of the sleeping car attendant
  • Exclusive lounge space for sleeping car customers to eat and socialize
  • Flexible dining times (i.e. no reservations)

This revamped dining service will also be available on the Silver Star next year. All these routes serve cities like Atlanta; Charleston, South Carolina; Cincinnati; Indianapolis; Memphis, Tennessee; Miami; New Orleans; New York; Orlando, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Washington.

An earlier iteration of the dining service is already available on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited trains.

Contributing: Julia Thompson

BIG news, as noted above: Amtrak’s nonstop train service between New York and Washington, D.C., is (almost) here

Woah: 45 years of Amtrak locomotives

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