Lunch boxes and food delivery to carriages at stations may come to replace them. Passenger communities say the idea is wrong.
The head of Russian Railways Oleg Belozerov recently announced his intention to abandon dining cars. According to the carrier, a passenger may have different food needs depending on the length of the route, and for short distances he may prefer a lightweight format: a cafe or a bistro, and the company must catch these wishes.
As the holding's CEO noted, the word “restaurant” is associated with high prices, and the client should always have a choice: buy a special dish in a restaurant car, warm up food in a regular car, or order delivery via a smartphone. “A cafe or bistro is another element of life. We think over how these individual rooms could be called and what the service should be. Accordingly, this is a certain type of food, and we would like to be able to afford it on trains. We made a set, warmed it up, applied it”, - Belozerov said.
In its usual form, restaurant cars are offered to be left only on tourist and branded trains. In the rest of the compositions, restaurant food will be replaced with fast food sets. In cities and large settlements, it is also planned to let delivery people onto the platforms; by the time they park, they will bring orders to the cars, which the passenger will make and pay in advance.
Russian Railways is already testing a new concept and a new line of food in a number of areas. The updated menus include a list of dishes that can be quickly reheated and served, such as burgers. Oleg Belozerov also admitted that he himself loves fast food, including burgers.
“They are already practicing a new line of products. Recently I traveled in the direction of Moscow-Petersburg. In the morning the conductor brings the list. There are different variations of the sets. You order the chosen one. To be honest, the set is not good, but you can eat it, for short distances it will do”, - comments the President of the National Union of Railway Workers Yuri Busygin.
In our country, a semblance of a dining car appeared in 1910 as part of an express train between St. Petersburg and Verzhbolovo. Dining cars were added to long-distance trains much later, by the mid-1960s. The minimum assortment in restaurant cars was approved by the USSR Ministry of Trade. It included at least two first courses and four second courses, at least five cold dishes and snacks, desserts and bakery products, wine and vodka and tobacco products, beer, as well as hot and non-alcoholic drinks.
The intention to reduce the number of restaurant cars of JSC Federal Passenger Company (subsidiary of JSC Russian Railways, is responsible for long-distance passenger traffic) was expressed earlier.
In 2019, the company developed criteria for including dining cars on a train. It was assumed that only branded, international, double-decker trains and trains used by organized children's groups would be equipped with them. The development of a new food concept was also carried out, which was planned to be introduced at Russian Railways from 2021.
Ilya Zotov, a member of the Public Council under the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation, chairman of the All-Russian Association of Passengers, notes that the request for changes is ripe, the quality and availability of food on the trains really leave much to be desired. But the closure of dining cars is not an option in this case.
“I personally travel on trains at least 100 times a year, this makes it possible to understand the situation myself, in addition to this, we, of course, constantly study the opinion of citizens.
Passengers have been complaining about the work of the dining cars for a long time, saying that it’s time to do something with this whole economy. The prices are very high, the average dinner check is about 1000 rubles, the quality is low, the food is not always fresh. As a result, the pasture-restaurants are empty.
But I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the closure of dining cars is a bad decision. Our association is against their elimination. Lunchboxes may still be fine for short destinations. But on those trains where people travel for more than one day, the dining cars must remain. People get tired of being in a cramped carriage without getting out for several hours, or even days in a row, they want to move around, relax, change the environment. And if this is the top shelf? Recently, the internal rules of Russian Railways have prohibited the passengers of the upper shelves from claiming passenger space from the lower shelves. Eating on the top shelf is actually not very easy, ”he said in an interview with Novye Izvestia.
President of the National Union of Railway Workers Yuri Busygin agrees that dining cars became economically unprofitable long before the pandemic, and the coronavirus put a final end to them.
“The system of economic maintenance of restaurant cars has become a burden for Russian Railways and is dragging its profitability. The pandemic played an important role here: the slowdown in the movement of people is certainly a deterrent. The economy hits both the people and the workers of these cars, and the Russian Railways themselves. Moreover, the winter and transitional seasons are traditionally low. Recently I spoke with the director of one of the dining cars. We earned 5 thousand rubles from a two-day trip one way. This is a net loss. The money earned does not even pay off the purchase of products and personnel. Recently I traveled by train myself. I think the decision is made purely for economic reasons. The passenger cars themselves run half empty, not to mention the restaurant cars. I’m not up to fat, I’d live”, - he said in a comment to Novye Izvestia.
In the summertime, there is still some activity on the routes by which people get to places of rest. People go on vacations, for impressions, they go with money, they do not mind visiting restaurants. But in most other areas this has not been done for a long time, Busygin added.
Today, Russian Railways' restaurant cars are leased to other small contractors, whose revenues have recently dropped below the plinth.
Ilya Zotov believes that for quality changes one should start with revising the principles of selecting suppliers.
“Now the subsidiary of Russian Railways, the Federal Passenger Company, is playing and handing over restaurant cars to many different small companies. Chaos is going on in the management of these restaurant cars, the tender procedures, in my opinion, are also opaque, apparently, these small contractors are trying to avoid taxes. Payment is made to the cards of Sberbank of employees who serve these cars. I myself have come across this more than once. Large, efficient companies will not undertake such a fragmented structure - it is simply not profitable for them to service one carriage at a time. It is clear that Russian Railways will record losses. The situation would have been saved, not in my opinion, lots, maybe delimited by federal districts (to avoid the monopoly). Then there is a chance that a large, modern and transparent player will take over this whole economy”, - Zotov believes.
Bulk purchase of products will allow you to save on a unit of production, and prices will become more affordable. A major player, for example, a catering company, is able to fight for each of its potential customers - to monitor the quality of food, service and adequate numbers on the menu. They will be directly interested in passengers using their services. And for Russian Railways, such a reformatting will become an asset, not a burden, as it is now, the expert adds.
Kirill Yankov, chairman of the Interregional Public Organization for Assisting the Protection of Passengers' Rights "Union of Passengers", also considers the idea of abolishing restaurant cars in most trains erroneous.
FPC has long been saying that restaurant cars are unprofitable. However, for a long time, a compartment has no different from an airplane ticket price, and many passengers choose a train just because of the opportunity to sit in a dining car. By abandoning them, trains lose their main advantage over airplanes and give a significant part of the passenger traffic to air transport, the expert comments.
“When discussing the new concept of catering in trains, Russian Railways takes into account only the technological aspect. From the point of view of the convenience of providing passengers with food, this idea may seem correct: a conductor came, handed out boxes to everyone, everyone is happy. But besides the technological, there is a psychological aspect. Restaurant cars are an image attribute of train travel. A certain amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates can indeed be consumed out of the box and done in a short amount of time. But the opportunity to sit, talk, meet someone, eat, and maybe drink (I myself, however, do not drink on trains) - this is already the atmosphere", - explained Yankov in the commentary to Novye Izvestia.
In his opinion, Russian Railways makes a decision without taking this detail into account. 30% of passengers visit dining cars. Even if only half of them go to airplanes, this is minus 15%, additional losses will arise for the carrier, and they will be tangible.
The expert also believes that there is no need to expand the catering line, since Russian Railways has been selling tickets for seats with optional meals for a long time already, besides, most of the economy class passengers take food with them or buy it at stations - from hands or in kiosks.