Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak equipment’

Crystal Ball Look at 2018 and Railroads

January 3, 2018

With a new year upon us, it’s time to look ahead to what 2018 might bring in the railroad industry. Such predictions are fraught with peril given that unexpected developments can occur at any time that dramatically changes the trajectory of the industry or its individual components.

A year ago at this time we thought E. Hunter Harrison was living out his days as CEO of Canadian Pacific. Few knew that he was plotting with a hedge fund to take over CSX.

Even fewer knew that Harrison was in his final days of overseeing any railroad and would die before the year ended.

With that in mind I press ahead in reviewing four stories to watch in 2018.

What now for CSX? The patriarch of precision scheduled railroading left before his model could be fully implemented.

Look for CSX to continue the PSR model under new CEO James M. Foote, although with some modifications.

Much of the early months of 2018 will see Foote finding his way at CSX while assuring investors that he was a wise choice to replace Harrison.

Industry analysts have pointed out that Foote is thin in operating experience. Much of his industry time has been spent in marketing and sales.

That could turn out to be a good thing for CSX because customer relations was not Harrison’s strong suit. He was an old school operating man who wanted to dictate terms to shippers not the other way around.

Look for CSX to appoint an operations vice president so that Foote can focus on what he knows best.

Both Canadian National and CP have done quite well post-Harrison. Will the same be true for CSX? Perhaps, but if that is the case it will be due to Harrison having laid the foundation not from having built the house as was the case at CN and CP.

What now for Amtrak? Richard Anderson is firmly in control of the nation’s rail passenger carrier with Charles “Wick” Moorman having retired.

Anderson, the former CEO at Delta Air Lines, has hired a supporting team that includes former airline executives. It remains to be seen what that means.

These airline executives cut their teeth during the airline deregulation era when airlines learned ways to squeeze every last dollar out of passengers through such things as baggage fees and seat assignment fees, among others.

Remember the last time that an airline served you a not meal in coach as part of your fare? Yeah, it’s been a while.

Anderson won’t necessarily remake Amtrak in that model but look for him to move in that direction.

The name of the game will be maximizing revenue yield – something Amtrak has already been doing – as the carrier seeks to recover even more of its expenses from the fare box.

Anderson will have his hands full this year attending to matters that grabbed a disproportionate number of headlines in 2017. This includes the rebuilding of New York’s Penn Station and dealing with the aftermath of the derailment of a Cascades Service train in Washington State.

Much of the latter has focused on the fact that positive train control was not yet in operation on the route. Questions are being raised about the adequacy of training of Amtrak operating employees and the railroad’s safety culture.

These matters will continue to attract attention in 2018 and take up much of Anderson’s time.

Rail passenger advocates in places such as Ohio will continue to be disappointed in Amtrak in 2018. But that is nothing new.

Little, if any, progress will be made in terms of route expansion, new equipment for long-distance trains or expanding the frequency of such tri-weekly services as the Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that the aging Superliners will get a new interior look starting later in the year.

Will Railroads Make the PTC Deadline? The last day of 2018 is the deadline for the railroad industry to implement positive train control systems on routes that handle passengers and/or carry hazardous cargo. The deadline has been moved once already.

The Federal Railroad Administration has warned that waivers won’t be issued again, but that was during a different administration.

The Trump administration might be far more sympathetic to railroad industry pleas for a little more time due to the expense and complexity of PTC systems.

Some railroads will make the deadline, but others are going to be cutting it close.

Will the Trump Infrastructure Plan See the Light of Day? Candidate Donald Trump liked to talk about his big plans to revamp the nation’s infrastructure. President Donald Trump has barely mentioned it other than to pay it lip service on occasion.

The administration has been tight lipped about the scope of the plan other than a few broad details, such as $200 billion in federal funds will be used to leverage $1 trillion worth of infrastructure improvements.

Supposedly, the infrastructure plan was being held in abeyance until Congress passed a tax bill, which it did in late December.

In theory, an infrastructure improvement plan should have bi-partisan support. But in a hyper partisan environment during a midterm election year bi-partisan support might be hard to come by. Political hardball will be the rule.

There remains the question of how much the railroad industry would benefit from an infrastructure plan once or even if it is implemented. Few rail infrastructure plans come with a private developer other than than the railroad itself to provide matching funds.

Passenger rail should be a prime beneficiary of an infrastructure plan, but given the current political climate it might find little to feed on except for a few token crumbs that will be eaten by Northeast Corridor infrastructure needs, of which there are many.

Freight railroads might fare a little better in getting funds for some projects, e.g., enlarging tunnels or replacing bridges that they agree to help fund.

But don’t be surprised if the infrastructure plan winds up benefiting highways and even some areas that only a strained definition of infrastructure would incorporate, e.g., a veteran’s hospital. It will hinge on how the terms of the plan are written.

A lot of hungry government agencies and private companies are going to be looking for a slice of the infrastructure pie and might provide tortuous explanations as to how their project constitutes infrastructure.

I’m reminded of that famous response from bank robber Willie Sutton in the Saturday Evening Post as to why he robbed banks: “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.”

The infrastructure plan might make available money not available otherwise so there are going to be a lot of hand out seeking a part of it.

Conservatives in Congress will not necessarily offer automatic support for an infrastructure plan, which they might fame as a stimulus plan. That would remind them too much of something they despised during the early years of the Obama administration.

And conservatives absolutely, positively dislike spending federal money on passenger rail. They are not all that more supportive of public transportation even when it uses rubber tires on asphalt and concrete surfaces.

Details, Details

November 7, 2016
A journey by rail begins with the first step from the platform to a waiting passenger car. These are the steps to a Horizon fleet coach.

A journey by rail begins with the first step from the platform to a waiting passenger car. These are the steps to a Horizon fleet coach.

The cumulative effects of wear and tear.

The cumulative effects of wear and tear.

I’m a details person. When I have time to study a piece of equipment, I like to study facets of what most people give at best just a glance if they notice it at all.

Most railroad photograph is done of moving trains, which makes it difficult to hone in on and get detail photographs.

Often the best place to get detailed photographs is in a railroad museum. But you can also capture details at railroad stations.

Here are a couple of detail shots that I made in Durand, Michigan, last July. The train is the westbound Blue Water from Port Huron, Michigan, to Chicago.

The equipment is a Horizon coach, which is not something that we see very often in Northeast Ohio because the Horizon fleet tends to be concentrated on corridor trains in the Midwest and California.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Boardman Sees Hope For Getting New Equipment to Bolster Amtrak’s Aging Long-Distance Fleet

December 11, 2015

Although he didn’t make any promises, Amtrak President Joseph Boardman sees a glimmer of hope that the railroad’s aging Amfleet and Superliner equipment might be replaced or at least supplemented.

In an interview with Trains magazine held a week before he announced that he will retire from Amtrak in September 2016, Boardman said he didn’t expect any difference in the annual appropriations but that the transportation legislation authorizes money for the “Gateway” Hudson River tunnel project might free up funds that can be used to buy equipment for long-distance trains.

Boardman said that means “that there’s going to be capital money that needs to be made available for our national system and to replace and improve the equipment we have out there.”

Much of Amtrak’s current fleet was built in the 1970s or 1980s and is now older than the streamliner era equipment that it inherited when it began operations in 1971.

In the meantime, Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles continues to build new Viewliner equipment at its plant in Elmira, New York.

“We’re really working hard to make sure we get the CAF deliveries for long-distance equipment,” Boardman said. “We have all the baggage cars now, the dining cars are in the climate chamber, and then we move on to (the baggage dorms and sleepers).”

Boardman doesn’t expect to see equipment arrive for the Northeast Corridor during his remaining time with Amtrak although he does expect to announce the details about an equipment order within the next three months.

“I don’t expect to be here when they get here, but I want to make sure they get ordered and that gets done before I leave,” he said.

At present, Amtrak doesn’t have “a final figure from the vendor and we don’t yet have approval on a Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan but we are doing all the due diligence that we are supposed to do to make that happen.”

During Boardman’s watch, Amtrak began taking delivery of new Siemens electric locomotives with 56 of the 70 ordered having been delivered thus far.

Boardman said he wants to get Amtrak’s Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System version of positive train control installed on all sections of the Northeast Corridor by the end of 2015.

When he steps down next year, Boardman will have served as Amtrak’s president for eight years, which will be the second-longest tenure among Amtrak presidents. Only W. Graham Claytor Jr. at 11 years served in the post longer.

The announcement that Boardman would retire came in a letter to employees that was sent a month after the Amtrak board of directors had voted to extend Boardman’s tenure for another two years.

“When I look back at this time I see so many accomplishments and so many changes we made to make America’s Railroad a stronger, safer and a more important part of our nation’s transportation system,” Boardman said.

“Our debt is lower, our revenues are up, our ridership is up, our labor efficiencies have improved. There’s no question that we’ve got more to do — I think we’re more incremental (recently) because we have so many things to move forward, like Americans with Disabilities Act improvements and implementation of all of the ideas and concepts that came out of the PRIIA legislation. I think we’ve gotten a lot done.”

1st New Viewliner Baggage Car Leave Plant

May 19, 2014

The first new baggage car constructed by CAF USA for Amtrak departed the plant in Elmira Heights, N.Y., last Friday morning.

The train had Amtrak P42DC No. 203, Amfleet food service car No. 43358, new baggage car No. 61000, and GP38H-3 No. 520.

The 61000 is the first of 55 baggage cars being built for Amtrak. The body of the car is based on the single-level Viewliner car design and features two sets of double doors that swing inward. The baggage cars will also include bike racks.

4 Amtrak Viewliner II Cars Nearing Completion

October 31, 2013
Amtrak's Viewliner diner "Indianapolis" is the only such car in the fleet. But within the next year other Viewliner diners will be rolling along. The "Indianapolis" is shown in Cleveland on the eastbound Lake Shore Limited in June 2012. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

Amtrak’s Viewliner diner “Indianapolis” is the only such car in the fleet. But within the next year other Viewliner diners will be rolling along. The “Indianapolis” is shown in Cleveland on the eastbound Lake Shore Limited in June 2012. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

Amtrak recently offered the news media a glimpse at the new Viewliner II cars that are being built by CAF USA in Elmira, N.Y.

Four cars – a baggage car, diner, baggage dorm and sleeper – are nearing completion and are expected to be field tested this winter on the Northeast Corridor.

The $298.1 million order for 130 single-level long distance passenger rail cars includes 25 sleeper, 25 diners, 25 baggage/dormitory cars and 55 baggage cars. More than 120 suppliers in 25 states and 93 cities are providing parts for the new rail cars.

The new cars will be used on Eastern long-distance trains, including the Lake Shore Limited and Cardinal. The baggage cars will be used on long-distance trains nationwide.

The new long-distance cars will both replace and supplement the existing single-level fleet and allow Heritage fleet cars built in the 1940s and 1950s to be retired.

The first of the new cars is expected to begin service in summer 2014. Those are expected to be baggage and dining cars.

All 130 cars are expected to be delivered by the end of 2015 or early 2016. Amtrak placed the first of its original order of 50 production Viewliner sleeping cars in service on the Lake Shore Limited in November 1996.

Those cars, built by Amerail, reequipped most of Amtrak’s single-level trains. Amtrak produced three prototype Viewliners, two sleepers and one diner, at its Beech Grove, Ind., shops in 1987. The new Viewliners will feature modern interiors with better layouts, better lighting and more efficient air conditioning and heating systems, additional outlets to power personal electronic devices, improved accessibility for passengers with disabilities, and bicycle racks in the baggage cars. The new cars also feature improvements for employees such as functional kitchen layouts that are easier to maintain, a more efficient process to stock food, and an improved baggage car for easier organization, including the addition of bike racks. The baggage cars can accommodate up to 16 bicycles, baggage dorms up to eight. The baggage cars will have hinged doors that seal, which is designed to provide climate control.  They also will have good lighting, and two levels of pull-down racks (one near the floor) so that suitcases normally will be placed on racks instead of on the floor.

The dining cars have 12 tables, including one ADA table (seats on just one side).

Sleeping cars have 12 roomettes, two deluxe bedrooms (which can be sold as a single suite) and one ADA room, whose door is powered.

For roomette passengers, there are two public restrooms and one shower. There are still fold-down sinks in the roomettes.

For this fleet only, Amtrak is reintroducing its Phase III red white and blue stripes, and the company’s original logo.

Amtrak President Joe Boardman said a decision has not been made on the extent to which the new Viewliners will enhance capacity rather than simply replace older cars. He noted, however, that the order includes 25 diners whereas Amtrak has only 16 single-level diners today.

CAF USA, based in Washington, D.C., is the U.S. subsidiary of Spain’s Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles S.A.