Restaurants & Bars | December 26, 2020 5:20 pm

Remembering the Brief Heyday of the McDonald’s Dining Car

The McTrain ran in Germany for a few years in the 90s

McDonald's sgn
McDonald's sign is seen on December 17, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.
Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images

Eating when on board a train has gone through a number of permutations over the years, and is constantly changing. Looking back on bygone methods of dining car life can prompt a variety of nostalgic forays; the process can also summon up memories of intriguing combinations that never quite clicked. Such was the case for a few years in the 1990s, when McDonald’s experimented with operating dining cars on German railroads.

Writing at The Drive, James Gilboy explores this strange convergence of fast food and railway travel. Dubbed the “McTrain,” the initiative began when the Deutsche Bundesbahn looked into the possibility of McDonald’s operating food services on some of the country’s rail lines. In early 1993, the first McTrain in Germany began operating on the Hamburg-Berchtesgarden route.

While both running rail systems and making fast food depend heavily on precise logistics, the logistics that work well for one aren’t always beneficial to the other. “Resupplying was reportedly done via restaurants along the route, complicating inventory management, and if one of the five kitchen crew showed up late to their shift — say, after the train had left — they effectively hadn’t shown up at all,” writes Gilboy.

Making matters even more complex was the fact that the McTrain cars used a lot more power than the dining cars they replaced. By 1995, the McTrain had gone the way of Mac Tonight. Still, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the recent history of transit, and a good explanation of why something that seems like it might work didn’t actually do so. And it offers one of the strangest takes on a McDonald’s in a German-speaking country, fitting in neatly beside the Austrian rest stop McDonald’s in a Friedensreich Hundertwasser-designed building.

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