Train journeys are an enriching experience, and few things can compare with the wonder and tranquility of sitting in a coach and watching the pristine scenery pass by. And the ride is always better when you’ve got something yummy to munch on during your journey. But is train food expensive?
Train food is relatively expensive compared to the food you would buy in a grocery store or restaurant. The price will vary depending on your order and whether it’s a hot or cold meal, but train food is relatively expensive either way.
Of course, affordability is relative, and what may be expensive to some will be affordable to others. That being said, there’s also a general idea of how much specific snacks should cost, and this article will discuss why train food isn’t worth the price.
What Makes Train Food Expensive?
While you can’t change food prices on a train, it helps to understand why rail operators charge high prices to begin with. By knowing the reason behind their pricing, you can decide whether it’s worth paying the fee or not.
Amtrak and other railways provide onboard dining services, and customers can order fully-prepared dishes during meal times. These railways often have a cafe on the train that customers can visit to pick up a quick bite or something to sip.
However, snacks on the train can be considerably more expensive than food at a regular cafe. And if you’re ordering a full meal, you’re likely to spend well over $10.
So, what makes train food so expensive?
Amtrak makes a big portion of its revenue from ancillary sales, including food items sold onboard. Since Amtrak receives no government funding, it must sell food at a premium to cover its operating costs.
Additionally, most railway lines are owned by private sector companies and wealthy individuals. These companies and individuals charge Amtrak a premium for using their lines, and based on where the train is going, Amtrak may have to pay more than one individual to use the lines.
This extra cost needs to be covered to recoup their expenses, and besides the high ticket price, the charge is recovered by selling expensive food to customers. So, if you’re wondering why a plain bagel costs nearly $4, it’s the railway’s attempt at offsetting their expenses.
How To Avoid Overspending on a Train
If you’re planning to take a train across the U.S., you’ve probably already come to terms with the exorbitant ticket costs. And while the journey is still pleasurable, there’s no need to spend extra on refreshments.
Here are a few tips to ensure you keep spending to a minimum when traveling by train.
1. Bring Your Own Food
Perhaps one of the best features of the Amtrak line is that they allow customers to carry their refreshments on the train. As such, if you’re prone to getting hunger pangs or you have a long journey ahead, consider packing some food before you set out.
It’s worth mentioning that you want to pack items that don’t spoil too quickly and can be easily unwrapped and consumed. You want to avoid gravies, curries, chilies, and most liquid and semi-solid foods on the train because things can get pretty messy. You can also carry an ice pack with meats or cheeses so they stay fresh longer.
Fortunately, you’ll find comfy seats and tables in the dining section of the train to eat your meal in peace. And even if you don’t pack enough food for the entire journey, you can significantly reduce your meal costs by bringing some food from home and ordering the rest on the train.
2. Order Cold Foods
While train food is relatively more expensive, the price will vary based on how your meal is prepared. For example, hot meals prepared fresh tend to cost significantly more than cold foods that are refrigerated and stored for future consumption.
For example, hot breakfast items, like the Jimmy Dean breakfast bowl, cost a few dollars more than cold items like the cream cheese bagel. So if you’re looking to save some money and just want something to munch on, consider the snacks and other knick-knacks on the menu.
While a single purchase may not make much difference, it’s best to purchase the cheaper items if you’re spending a considerable amount of time on the train.
This YouTube video will give you a better idea of the prices of different food on the Amtrak Railway:
Check it out if you’re planning to buy food on the train
3. Pick Up Food at a Stop
Before you set out on your journey, check your route and look for possible stops along the way. You can find out from the railway the various stations they may be stopping at and the duration of each stop.
Most of these stations will have stores selling snacks, beverages, and perhaps even small eats, like sandwiches or bagels. And you can bet that the prices at these stations will be significantly lower than what you’ll spend on the train.
Of course, the duration of each stop will depend on the train you’re taking, and in some cases, you won’t have enough time to get off and get back on.
In fact, the Amtrak personnel will try to dissuade you from getting off at any station to avoid missing the train. However, they would much rather you spend your money on the train, so check about stop timings before you start your journey.
Another option is to order food at the station you’re arriving at and ensure the delivery person is there well before you come. This way, you can enjoy whatever cuisine you want and tip them a little extra for their service.
While train food is considerably overpriced, you can still pick up a few items from the cafe with the right budget. However, if you’re on a trip across the country by train, it’s best to take measures to ensure you don’t spend too much on the train.