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I recently traveled down to Cornwall, from London, on the train. I took trains from 2 different companies (South Western Railways, and Great Western Railways.) While on the GWR train, there was a food cart, selling all sorts of hot and cold drinks and snacks, as the journey was a number of hours if you are riding end to end (3-3 and a half hours.) For comparison, the SWR train, which took 4 hours, did not serve any refreshments.

Why do only some long-distance trains serve refreshments onboard, while others don’t provide any, even when the journey is significantly longer?

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  • different companies have different practices. As to why they do what they do, you can only speculate
    – njzk2
    Sep 11, 2022 at 16:53
  • Possibly, some routes are serving commuters mainly (not tourists). Even if the journey took 4 hours, most people just hop in and hop out in their daily commute from/to the next bigger city. Sep 11, 2022 at 23:17

2 Answers 2

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Out of the list here https://www.nationalrail.co.uk/stations_destinations/catering-facilities.aspx only three train companies (South Eastern, Southern, and South Western) don’t offer an on-board refreshment service. My guess is this is due to constraints such as carriage design.

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  • South Western used to have on-board catering until the recent pandemic and have not yet reinstated it. It was a trolley, not a buffet car but SWR is predominantly a commuter railway which runs a few long-distance trains.
    – mdewey
    Sep 11, 2022 at 12:35
  • Several train companies do offer them, but they don't operate food services on many of their trains. I used to commute between Bradford and Leeds often, as well as out to Manchester, up to Edinburgh and down to London and further afield. Catering was rare.
    – user25730
    Sep 11, 2022 at 22:27
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Railway companies (around Europe) have cut food sales due to lack of profits from them and the difficulties to implement them in certain trains. Others have kept them and if run well they can bring in money.

So you need to have a train company which is willing to take measures to sell food or have an other company in to do the food service. Then you need a train that is compatible or a food selling service which can handle the shape of the train. And as some food and drinks sellers have nothing but a backpack to sell from, most trains will allow some selling.

My guess is that the train companies that do not sell food and drink, or allow others to do so, on their trains have come to the conclusion that the most passengers do not stay on the trains long enough to spend enough money to make it worthwhile.

In the Netherlands, where I live, most train services have to do without food services, some have or used to have the backpack services. In the past double decker trains where fitted with lifts so carts could be brought up and down into the cabins. But the service was discontinued as the sales did not meet expectations. Later a few long distance services did get the new backpack approach but I have not used those trains enough to be sure whether they still work.

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    I don't think it's neccesarily the length of journey. In the UK on train food is notoriously poor quality and expensive (as well as unreliable) so for long journeys most peopel take their own if at possible, this of course creates a downward spiral as demand lessens provision gets worse.
    – deep64blue
    Sep 11, 2022 at 21:34

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