The evolution of the railroad dining car

Dinner aboard a dining car has always been an exhilarating and a vastly enjoyable experience even if the cuisine isn’t always of five-star quality.

Has there ever been a more novel restaurant designed by humankind than a railroad dining car, where the unfolding scene and atmosphere outside the window changes by the minutes?

The dining car evolved from humble origins. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad entered the dining car business in 1842 when they outfitted a car with a board or table, with benches on either side to accommodate hungry passengers.

Nearly 40 years would pass before the B & O rolled out what would be considered the modern dining car that was outfitted with rare woods, stained-glass windows and plush carpets, where diners enjoyed under hissing gaslights meals that had been prepared from scratch in the car’s galley.

Several years ago, Amtrak placed an order with CAF USA in Elmira, N.Y., to replace its aging Heritage Fleet dining cars, which operate on long-distance trains.

Costing a million dollars each, the 25 Viewliner II diners feature multiple rows of “windows, comfortable booth seating, and the latest in cooking technology,” according to Amtrak.

The Viewliner II dining cars are named for state capitals, and the Annapolis, No. 6801, made its debut run from Miami to New York on Dec. 5, 2016, in the consist of the Silver Meteor. The cars will be assigned to trains operating in Amtrak’s Eastern region. The entire order is expected to be on line by this fall.

frasmussen@baltsun.com

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