Whatever happened to the Restaurant Car?
Anyone who’s enjoyed an old movie set on a train will be familiar with the restaurant car (or Dining car in the U.S) - it’s an important place for characters to mingle, converse and flirt in classic’s like The Lady Vanishes, North By Northwest, From Russia With Love or the numerous version of Murder on the Orient Express.
(Incidentally you can check out some of our favourite Steam Engine Movies in a previous post!)
But what happened to Restaurant Cars and do they still exist?
Restaurant Car or Dining Car?
To quote George Bernard Shaw:
“England and America are two countries separated by a common language"
In Britain a passenger railway carriage that serves elegant sit-down meals in is called a “Restaurant Car” whereas in the U.S. it is called a “Dining Car” - but they both boil down to the same thing (although one is easier to spell!)
The International Wine & Food Society has a marvellous Pinterest page with new and old photos of Restaurant Cars from different places and different Eras such as this sleek design of the dining car on the Fort Worth and Denver (Burlington) Railway's "Texas Zephyr"
Or this image reportedly showing the first dining car introduced by The Pullman Palace Car Company.
What happened to Restaurant Cars
Restaurant Cars were a fixture of British railways since their introduction on the East Coast line in 1873, according to the Independent’s article on the last dining car in the UK.
They were still much in evidence even when British Rail was privatised between in 1994 and 1997 - there still reportedly being 250 restaurant cars in operation, but this was the beginning of the end and by 2011 the last continual service not the London to Leeds train ended.
As The Independent’s article states though there is one last Restaurant car in operation on the London Paddington to Penzanze line! (Although unsurprisingly the Restaurant Car service has been suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic! - but fingers crossed it will be back again!)
Dining Cars in America aren’t faring much better than their British counter parts with Amtrack announcing that it would no longer be offering traditional dining car service on its trains east of Chicago and New Orleans.
This announcement triggered an uproar leading to an online petition being organised (which is currently at just over 150,000 signatures!)
Vintage Documentary films of Restaurant Cars
Last but not least we found some great vintage film footage of the UK Restaurant Car experience of yesteryear.
This first one on Youtube is from the 1940’s :
We also came across a huge archive of vintage films on all sorts of subjects call the Huntley Film Archives including this amazing short film from 1909 showing a LNWR Caledonian journey in 1909 with it’s “Excellent restaurantcar with waiters”!
Header image: originally posted to Flickr by Archives New Zealand at https://flickr.com/photos/35759981@N08/10469603484
By Alastair Baker at 17 Dec 2020, 00:00 AM