Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak rolling stock’

Amtrak Equipment Shortages to Continue Into 2023

November 17, 2022

About 11 percent of the equipment Amtrak once assigned to its long-distance trains remains sidelined awaiting mechanical restoration.

Amtrak Vice President of Long-Distance Service Larry Chestler told members of the Rail Passengers Association this week that it will be more than a year before that equipment is back in service meaning reduced consists are likely to be norm through much of 2023.

Speaking during an RPA online event, Chestler also said full-service dining is expected to return to the New York-Miami route early next year but did not indicate that Amtrak has plans to move away from the flexible dining model of serving meals in a bowl on other eastern long-distance trains.

Although Amtrak has experimented with allowing business class passengers to buy dining car meals on the Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight with the experiment expected to be soon extended to coach passengers.

However, there apparently are no plans to extend that practice to all long-distance trains anytime soon.

Chestler did indicate that coach passengers on two other trains will eventually be able to buy dining car meals. The overall thrust of his comments was that dining cars meals will continue to be largely limited to sleeping car passengers for the time being.

The equipment shortages that cut the number of coaches, sleeping cars and lounge cars assigned to long-distance trains stems from Amtrak’s decision during the COVID-19 pandemic to sideline a sizeable number of cars at a time when ridership had collapsed.

At the same time, the passenger carrier reduced the size of its mechanical force and is now struggling to hire enough mechanics to get sidelined equipment back in service.

Also exacerbating the availability of Superliner equipment were derailments involving the Empire Builder in 2021 and the Southwest Chief in 2022 that took more cars out of service.

Chestler said Amtrak has yet to complete a schedule for returning idled passenger cars to service although he said such scheduling could be achieved “in the coming weeks.”

As for when that equipment might return to service, he said Amtrak’s objective is to reduce the 11 percent gap during 2023 with an eye toward restoring “as much of the equipment as is feasible” by 2024.

Amtrak also has begun the planning process toward acquiring new equipment to replace the existing passenger car fleet assigned to long-distance trains.

That process is in the design phase and requests for information will be issued to passenger car manufacturers later this year.

Chestler said Amtrak expects to issue a request for proposals by late 2024.

During his presentation Chestler said Amtrak is developing new procedures that call for senior management to get involved in situations in which a train on the road has lost head end power and the crew has been unable to resolve the situation.

Related to that, he said Amtrak is increasing the number of personnel assigned to contact passengers affected by service disruptions as well as seeking ways to make rebooking easier for passengers whose travel plans have been adversely affected.

A report on Chester’s comments can be found at https://www.trains.com/trn/amtrak-long-distance-capacity-to-remain-tight-through-2023/

Amtrak Overhauling Interiors of Passenger Cars

September 24, 2022

Amtrak has launched a media campaign to tout a $28 million project to overhaul the interiors of Superliner and Viewliner cars used by long-distance trains.

Some of the renovated cars are being placed in service this month.

The first overhauls are being made to Superliner cars with Viewliner sleeping cars expected to be overhauled next.

The project involves giving the cars new seat cushions and upholstery; carpeting; curtains; LED lighting; tables; bedding, linens, and pillows; towels; and updated toiletry dispensers with eco-friendly body wash, conditioner, shampoo and soap.

Venture Coaches Withdrawn Over Magnet Issue

April 2, 2022
Two Venture coaches were in the consist of Lincoln Service Train No. 301 at Springfield, Illinois, on March 1.

Amtrak has temporarily withdrawn new Venture cars from operation on Midwest Corridor trains due to technical issues.

Trains magazine reported on its website Friday that magnets in the four-seat work tables in the coaches were disrupting operation of smart phones and laptops computers by causing them to shut down. The magnets are used to lock extensions on the tables.

The report said Amtrak is eyeing a short-term fix of affixing brackets that prevent passengers from extending the outer flaps until correct-strength magnets can be installed.

Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Speegle said his agency is working with Amtrak and Seimens, which built the Venture cars, to solve the problem.

IDOT was the lead agency involved in the acquisition of the cars, which also will be used on corridor services in Missouri, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Venture cars began revenue service in February on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

Thus far only coaches have been delivered from Siemens to Amtrak, although three combination business class and coach class cars are in the process of being accepted.

The combination cars will have 36 business class seats, which is double what is currently available in Horizon and Amfleet equipment used in Midwest corridor service.

Venture Cars Enter Amtrak Revenue Service

February 2, 2022

Amtrak’s new Venture cars made their first Midwest corridor revenue service run on Tuesday on Lincoln Service No. 303 from Chicago to St. Louis.

Equipment from that train turns in St. Louis and returns to Chicago as No. 306.

The Venture cars, built by Siemens, have been in Amtrak’s possession for more than a year, but undergoing testing on various Midwest routes, including corridors extending to Detroit and Carbondale, Illinois.

The first of the Venture cars built for Midwest corridor service were delivered in August 2020.

Siemens also built Venture equipment for California corridor service that has yet to enter revenue service. 

As was the case with the development of the Siemens SC-44 Charger locomotives used on Midwest corridor trains, the Venture cars were a collaborative effort involving state departments of transportation in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri.

How IIJA’s Rail Funding is Being Allocated

November 14, 2021

Second in a three-part series

If you’ve ridden an Amtrak long-distance train lately, you know why the passenger carrier could use some new equipment.

As you sit in your Superliner sleeper room you’ll hear squeaks and rattles. Savvy travelers have learned to bring duct tape with them to help muffle the noise.

It will take awhile but new equipment to replace the Superliners, the first of which entered revenue service in 1979, may be on the way thanks to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

IIJA is a way for Amtrak to capture capital funding it has coveted for years but been unable to get approved by Congress.

Much of the $66 billion for rail in the IIJA will be used to rebuild existing infrastructure and buy new equipment to replace passenger cars and locomotives that are long in the tooth.

As for how the money in the IIJA for rail will be divided, the Northeast Corridor gets $30 billion with $6 billion going directly to Amtrak and $24 billion being funneled through the Federal Railroad Administration for federal-state partnership grants.

Amtrak’s priorities for this funding include replacement of the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River in New Jersey; construction of new tunnels under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York City; rehabilitating a tunnel under the East River in New York City; replacing the B&P Tunnel in Baltimore; and planning to rebuild or replace bridges over the Susquehanna and Connecticut rivers.

The national network gets $28 billion of which $16 billion goes directly to Amtrak and $12 billion to FRA federal-state partnership grants.

Aside from buying new equipment, this funding will be used for infrastructure work on select national network routes, including Amtrak maintenance facilities and passenger stations.

Much of the latter involves bringing stations up to date in meeting standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The federal Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program gets $5 billion but this money is not restricted solely to passenger rail projects.

The FRA’s grade crossing elimination program gets $3 billion, which can be used for Amtrak-owned lines, such as the one in Michigan, or for freight and commuter rail lines.

The bill reserves $50 million for an FRA Restoration and Enhancement Grants program, which is the funding mechanism for new service on routes Amtrak does not now serve.

There is also $15 million set aside for the FRA to conduct a study of routes operated “less often” – think the Cardinal and Sunset Limited – as well as restoration of previously discontinued long-distance routes or new long-distance routes.

All that is guaranteed to happen is the FRA will conduct a study that might recommend changing tri-weekly trains to daily operation,

The FRA study might recommend adding new long-distance routes or restoring trains that vanished decades ago such as the North Coast Hiawatha, Lone Star or Broadway Limited.

It will be up to Congress to appropriate the money to pay for those trains and Amtrak would need to negotiate operating agreements with the host railroads.

It will be years before the potential of the IIJA is fully realized.

Amtrak is in the very early stages of designing new cars to replace the Superliner fleet.

Even when new cars and locomotives roll off the factory floor it can be months before they begin revenue service.

The new Siemens Venture cars to be used in Midwest corridor services have yet to begin revenue service despite having been on the property for months.

The first new Siemens ALC-42 Charger locomotives are still undergoing testing. For that matter Amtrak has yet to put into revenue service all of the Viewliner II equipment it has.

Many of the improvements the money from the IIJA is expected to pay for will occur behind the scenes, such as modernizing the reservation system.

As has been demonstrated many times during Amtrak’s 50-year history, the wheels of change turn slowly and sometimes they don’t turn at all.

A host of obstacles lie in the path of new and improved rail service over which Amtrak and the Biden administration little to no control.

These have the potential to thwart new services and even reduce the effectiveness of the IIJA.

Next: The challenges facing passenger rail will dictate how transformative the IIJA turns out to be.

Expanding Capacity and Dining Car Service Moving at Slow Pace, Amtrak Officials Say

September 24, 2021

Top Amtrak executives gave a glimpse of Amtrak’s near-term future this week during a meeting of the Rail Passengers Association and many rail advocates are likely to frustrated and encouraged at the same time by what they heard.

On the positive side, Amtrak is moving to make dining car meals available to passengers other than just those holding sleeper class tickets. It is even working toward upgrading dining car meals on eastern long distance trains.

Yet it will take some time before coach passengers anywhere will be able to buy dining car meals.

Also expected to take time will be increasing capacity on long-distance trains because the cars needed to do that are in storage and Amtrak needs to bolster its mechanical work force before those cars can be put back into revenue service.

Amtrak’s chief marketing and revenue officer, Roger Harris, said the passenger carrier is still seeking “to get the service right” before opening dining car meals to coach passengers.

A first step in that direction will be taken in October when business passengers aboard the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight will be able to buy dining car meals.

Harris cited a litany of factors for moving slowly to open up dining car meals to more passengers.

He said many on-board crew members have returned from furloughs imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic and Amtrak doesn’t want to overwhelm them with such tasks as collecting cash and overseeing COVID restrictions.

“Our intention all along was to get to a point where we could offer it to coach customers,” Harris said.

He described the Coast Starlight move as a trial run to see how it plays out.

“The idea is to start small and work through the issues that we inevitably will encounter by opening up the dining car to more customers,” Harris said. “Then if the test is successful, we will roll it out to additional markets.”

As for the eastern trains, Harris said Amtrak is consulting with a food vendor who has worked with the passenger carrier to enhance meals served on Acela trains in the Northeast Corridor.

The vender is working with Amtrak “with a lot of menu items to find out what will work well within the constraints of single-level dining cars.” Harris said.

Harris acknowledged that many passengers riding eastern long-distance trains have complained about repetitive food offerings.

Starting in June 2018 Amtrak began moving away from full-service dining cars on eastern long-distance trains in favor of food prepared off the trains and reheated onboard.

That service eventually evolved to one bowl entrees with a few side items.

“By trying to offer different types of foods that are more appealing we think we can substantially upgrade the food offerings on the East Coast,” Harris said.

“We’re also looking at putting on new types of ovens and other kitchen equipment to be more creative in the types of food offerings we have.”

Amtrak initially chose its western long-distance trains for upgraded dining car service because it had the ability to restore employees on those trains and dining is such a critical part of the experience,” Harris said. “We wanted to live up to the expectations of our customers there.”

However, the return of full-service dining has yet to come to the Texas Eagle, in part because of equipment shortages that also have limited capacity of long distance trains.

Harris acknowledged that equipment shortages stem from decisions made last year about how much equipment to put in storage and how many mechanical jobs to cut.

At present, the Coast Starlight is the only Superliner-equipped long-distance trains with a coach devoted to business class.

Those passengers receive a free bottle of water and an “onboard credit for food and beverage purchases.”

Both the Eagle and the Capitol Limited have been operating for the past several months without a Sightseer Lounge car.

“Eighteen months ago we had to decide how much fleet we were going to be able to run and how much money we were going to spend on overhauls and how many employees we thought would be able to work on the equipment because we didn’t have enough demand to justify keeping the system running at historical levels and we didn’t think we would have enough money from Congress at that point,” Harris said.

“So what you see running on the system is all the equipment we have available,” he said.

He said some employees took early retirement, resulting in a reduced mechanical staff.

“We have to re-recruit for some of those [positions]; there is this unintended effect, but at this point unavoidable where we have to work through this backlog to get back to what was once our historic fleet availability, and that will take some time.”

He indicated that Amtrak is likely to be working through the winter to get transition sleepers back in service so that rooms now being taken by crew members can be sold to the public.

Also speaking to the RPA conference was Executive Vice President-Major Program Delivery Laura Mason.

She said the Amtrak would be able to step up replacement of aging equipment now used in the national network if Congress approves an infrastructure bill now pending in the House.

The bill has also received Senate approval. Of late, the infrastructure bill has been hindered by political wrangling in the House.

Even without the infusion of capital funding Amtrak hopes to get from the infrastructure bill, Harris said the carrier has been slowly replacing its fleet over the past five years with new Acela trainsets, new Viewliner cars and Venture cars being built by Siemens for use in state-funded corridor services.

Amtrak also has chosen Siemens to build replacement cars for Amfleet equipment used in the Northeast Corridor.

“This is not something Amtrak really has a deep bench on, in terms of doing procurements, so we really need to tackle these sequentially. So, there’s some elements of the Amfleet replacements that we need to wrap up still from that procurement, and then we will begin to have the capacity to work on the long-distance procurement,” Harris said.

Mason said Amtrak is “laying the groundwork to receive the substantial infusion of federal funding” contained in the infrastructure bill.

 “With the state of our infrastructure today and the funding that we have hopefully coming towards us with the infrastructure bill, we need to be able to build up the capacity to do multiple billion dollar programs, to have just not one focus but many,” she said.

 “We have $40 billion of planned critical infrastructure, facility and fleet investments that we need to turn into a reality.”

Mason also said Amtrak faces the challenge of recruiting future workers.

 “One of the big challenges to the industry is how do we get people excited and involved?” she said. “We need to recruit at all levels; I think entry-level is very important, but also mid-level.

“We need to bring in people from different industries and help them see the rewards that come from working in rail. That you can do well by doing good, and also that you can have a tremendous positive impact.

“I talk about this when I go out recruiting, about the impact. Do you want to affect tens of thousands of people a day? Hundreds of thousands? Millions of people a year? You can do that in transportation.”

She said Amtrak might need to appeal to younger would-be employees by tying the transportation industry to climate change.

“I say: Make it your day job; come work in rail. If you want to combat climate change, help be part of the solution of making rail and carbon neutral transportation an option for everybody,” Mason said.

Amtrak Sets Deal to Buy New Trainsets

July 8, 2021

Amtrak will spend billions to buy new trainsets from Siemens Mobility that will replace Amfleet I equipment in the Northeast Corridor and state-supported corridor trains.

How much the deal is worth depends on whose news release you read. Siemens said the deal is worth $3.4 billion while Amtrak put it at $7.3 billion.

The Amtrak news release indicated that the contract also covers parts and service, facilities upgrades and other related expenses. The deal has an option for up to 140 additional trainsets and related maintenance agreements.

Siemens characterized the contract as its largest North American order in its history.

Back in April Amtrak had announced it had chosen Siemens to build replacement equipment for its corridor trains.

Corridor trains expected to get the new equipment include the Adirondack, Carolinian, Amtrak Cascades, Downeaster, Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Keystone Service, Maple Leaf, Hartford Line and Valley Flyer, Pennsylvanian, Vermonter and Virginia services.

The long-distance Palmetto between New York and Savannah, Georgia, also will receive the new trainsets.

Amtrak said the Siemens order will include dual-power and battery hybrid trains, therefore ending locomotive changes in Washington and New Haven, Connecticut.

Also displaced by the new equipment will be dual-mode locomotives now used on Empire Corridor trains.

The announcement did not say how the order is to be divided between dual-mode and hybrid equipment.

Trains will have individual power outlets and USB ports, onboard WiFi, a digital seat reservation system, and trip information and digital navigation displays.

Cars will have ADA accessible restrooms, vestibules, and food service cars, wheelchair lifts, and inductive hearing loops.

Few other details about the makeup of the trainsets were provided other than saying they will have predictive maintenance technology and real-time digital monitoring

Siemens plans to build the trainsets in Sacramento, California, with the first deliveries being made in 2024. Deliveries will be completed in 2030.

Water Problem Sidelines New Venture Cars

June 4, 2021

An issue with the water supplies in the restrooms has delayed use by Amtrak of new Siemens Venture passenger cars in corridor service in the Midwest and California.

The problem was found during routine testing last November, a California Department of Transportation official said.

A Siemens spokeswoman said the company has found a solution to the problem but further testing is needed before the cars can be delivered.

The spokeswoman said the fix will enable the cars to meet water-quality standards of the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency.

Caltrans is the lead agency overseeing the $386 million, 137-car order for single-level cars that was awarded to Siemens in 2017.

California will receive 49 of those cars while Midwest corridor trains will use 88 cars.

Contractor Sumitomo Corporation has been paid $28 million for its work on the cars, but the Caltrans spokesman said Sumitomo won’t be paid for the cars themselves until the water issue has been resolved.

California officials had hoped to put the cars into revenue service this fall but now the timeline for their debut is unclear.

Four Venture cars have already been delivered to Amtrak in Chicago for testing on the Chicago-Detroit corridor and on the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor.

The cars are based on the design Siemens used to build passenger cars for Florida’s Brightline intercity rail passenger service where they began revenue service in December 2017.

Siemens to Build New Cars for Amtrak

April 21, 2021

Amtrak will contract with Siemens for new equipment that will be assigned to service in the Northeast Corridor, on some state-supported trains and for the New York-Savannah, Georgia, Palmetto.

The passenger carrier said Siemens was chosen as the “preferred bidder” to build 83 intercity trainsets.

Siemens is already constructing new Venture cars to be used for Midwest and California corridor services.

Amtrak said it chose Siemens as part of a competitive procurement process that began in January 2019.

The new equipment will feature dual power in some cases and will replace Amfleet I and Metroliner cab cars.

The equipment is also expected to replace existing equipment used in Cascades Service in the Pacific Northwest.

Siemens and Amtrak are talking about a contract for construction and long-term service that both parties hope to sign this summer.

The contract would also include technical support, spares and material supply.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said the carrier would not release any other information about the equipment order beyond what was reported in a news release.

Biden Campaign Train has Amtrak Consist

September 30, 2020

Democratic president candidate Job Biden will be riding an all-Amtrak consist as he tours Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania today (Sept. 30) by train.

An online report indicated that Biden’s campaign train left Chicago Tuesday night following the eastbound Lake Shore Limited with two P42DCs, conference car 9800, two Amfleet coaches, an Amfleet dinette, a Viewliner diner, another Amfleet coach and executive car American View.

The train was reported to have passed Chesterton, Indiana, at 1:03 a.m. (CDT) and Elkhart, Indiana, at 3:35 a.m. EDT.

The train is to leave Cleveland this morning and make a stop in Alliance late this morning en route to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, via Pittsburgh.