Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Superliners’

Amtrak Seeking Info for New Long-Distance Equipment

January 21, 2023

Although Amtrak has set in motion the process to replace aging Superliner, Viewliner and Amfleet equipment used in its long-distance network, many decisions have yet to be made as to the attributes that that equipment will have.

The passenger carrier this week announced it sent a request for information to various rail passenger car builders.

Amtrak said it expects as many as 10 companies to express interest in the project.

A formal request for proposals is expected to be sent to interested builders by the end of this year.

Among the unanswered questions are whether the replacement cars will be single level, such as Amfleet and Viewliners, or bi-level, such as the Superliner fleet.

Likewise the designs of the cars have yet to be determined and it remains uncertain when production of the new equipment will begin.

A report on the website of the Rail Passengers Association said answers to questions such as these are expected to emerge in the answers that Amtrak gets from interested car builders.

Funding for the acquisition of the new cars is expected to come from the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act.

Amtrak’s 14 long-distance routes are served with a mixture of equipment. Routes operating primarily east of Chicago are assigned Amfleet and Viewliner equipment whereas routes west of Chicago use Superliner cars.

Some of the newest Viewliner dining, sleeping and baggage cars seem likely to be used alongside the new equipment Amtrak wants to develop. Some Viewliner cars have been in service less than a decade.

The request for information Amtrak sent to the car building industry was only a few pages and designed primarily to solicit ideas for what is possible and desirable in a future fleet of passenger equipment.

Amtrak has had mixed experiences acquiring new equipment. The new equipment for Acela service in the Northeast Corridor is two years behind schedule and yet to go into service.

The most recent order of Viewliner equipment built by CAF USA was several years behind schedule.

More recently, the Venture cars built by Siemens Mobility for corridor services, particularly in the Midwest, has entered revenue service in fits and starts as cars have been removed from service to fix various mechanical issues that cropped up in service.

Last month Amtrak provided information about the Airo equipment to be built by Siemens that will replace Amfleet cars in corridor services.

Production of the Airo fleet is just now getting underway.

Amtrak Takes Step to Replace Long-Distance Fleet

January 20, 2023

Amtrak said this week it has taken the first step toward replacing rolling stock now used on its 14 long-distance routes.

The passenger carrier said it has contacted rail car builders to seek expressions of interest on bidding on a contract for replacement equipment for the aging Superliner and Amfleet equipment used on those trains. Some of that equipment dates to the late 1970s.

Some single-level trains have Viewliner sleepers and food service cars that were built within the past decade.

Amtrak described the requests for expressions of interest as a first formal step in a years-long process.

It expects to release a formal request for proposals later this year.

Amtrak Expansion Still Far Off

December 5, 2022

During remarks to the Amtrak Board of Directors last week, CEO Stephen Gardner gave an upbeat view of Amtrak’s future that he then qualified with numerous caveats that suggested expansion of the Amtrak network is still far away.

The board met in St. Louis and heard top Amtrak managers give a snapshot of where the passenger carrier is, which is recovery mode from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ridership is at 85 percent of pre-pandemic levels with 22.9 million passengers handled during fiscal year 2022, which ended on Sept. 30.

Revenue of $2.8 billion was down 15 percent compared with fiscal year 2019.

In the past year fares have been higher and Amtrak’s capacity has been lower due to equipment that was idled during the pandemic still not being available for revenue service due to shortages of mechanical workers and funding.

During fiscal year 2022, Amtrak operated 80 percent of its pre-pandemic schedule.

As for expansion, Amtrak in 2021 released its Connect U.S. plan that called for new intercity rail passenger service to 160 communities.

Funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was expected to be a major down payment on that plan.

“We’re entering a new [era] . . . for passenger rail in America, and Amtrak’s future could never be brighter,” Gardner said.

But then Gardner began issuing his list of caveats. Topping the list is that it will take longer to get new routes up and running than some rail passenger advocates would like.

Just two new routes began in FY2022 and both of those were in the development stage before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although new service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, was mentioned along with development of a corridor between Richmond, Virginia, and Raleigh, North Carolina, no timeline for implementation of those services was provided.

Another key caveat is the network expansion hinges on state and local government financial support.

Gardner noted during his presentation that state and federal financial support is key to new service because the influx of funding made available by the IIJA mandates that just 80 percent of the cost to develop a new service can be provided by the federal government.

“Amtrak is not a unitary actor,” he said. “We cannot tomorrow say ‘we want to stop here and issue an edict.’”

Amtrak Board Chairman Anthony Coscia said later, “There is a meaningful difference between states in terms of their ability to be supportive of passenger rail.”

Amtrak already appears to be pulling back on its ambitious Connects U.S. project.

Executive Vice President Dennis Newman introduced a new map that showed “expressions of interest” that reflects potential new service where there has been significant state and local interest.

This includes a new train between Fargo, North Dakota, and Spokane, Washington, which would mirror the former Chicago-Seattle North Coast Hiawatha that was discontinued in early October 1979.

Also on the map is proposed service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, proposed service between Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho, and a Dallas section of the New York-New Orleans Crescent.

The Las Vegas and Boise service proposals would revive other former routes of the Desert Wind and the Pioneer, respectively.

During the question and answer session of the meeting, Gardner said Amtrak can’t expand long-distance routes without additional funding from the federal government.

Aside from the open question of whether Congress would agree to provide that funding, long-distance network expansion is hamstrung by equipment shortages that have reduced the capacity of existing trains.

In response to an audience member question, Gardner said some stored equipment that is no longer commercially viable is being used as a parts supply.

“We also have to analyze the dollars available,” he said and then added that additional capital is needed to put equipment back into service.

For now, Garnder said Amtrak is seeking to get more equipment back into service “just to catch up on overhauls and maintain the current fleet.”

Although the audience member was asking about Superliners, Amtrak has found itself short of equipment for corridor services because many of the 60 Venture cars it had expected to be in service this year remain sidelined by production issues and quality control matters.

Instead, Amtrak has only been able to use about 30 of the Venture cars.

New equipment that Amtrak had expected to use for its Acela service in the Northeast Corridor remains on the sidelines. Gardner said that equipment is not expected to begin revenue service until late 2023, which is two years later than originally projected.

New equipment that Amtrak plans to order for Northeast Regional service in the Northeast Corridor won’t be available until 2026 at the earliest.

“There is not an off-the-shelf product, in most cases, that is available,” Gardner said when speaking about equipment issues. “We don’t have the domestic supply base.”

Amtrak Fall Foliage Two for Tuesday

October 25, 2022

I’ve been focusing on seeking trains and fall foliage in the past couple of weeks because we are in the peak color period of October.

Last Sunday I made a trip to the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern to find autumn colors. Here are a couple images of Amtrak and fall color.

In the top image, the westbound Capitol Limited is nearly on time as it charges through Chesterton, Indiana. The train had six Superliner cars, which was one more than its usual five. The sixth car was a transition sleeper on the rear.

On the point is a lone P42DC, which also is the norm for Nos. 29 and 30.

In the bottom image, the westbound Blue Water passes a colorful stand of trees in Porter, Indiana. Train 365 originates in Port Huron, Michigan, and runs with a locomotive on each end to avoid having to turn the train in Port Huron.

The consist is six Horizon fleet cars, including a food service car. The motive power is an SC-44 Charger, which has become the standard motive power for Midwest corridor trains.

No. 365 It is on Amtrak-owned trackage and the signal visible on the left protects the junction with the NS Chicago Line at the CP 482 interlocking plant.

The signal also marks the end of Amtrak ownership of the line, which extends from Porter to Kalamazoo, Michigan. This is the longest stretch of Amtrak-owned trackage outside the Northeast Corridor.

The heritage of this track is Michigan Central. Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains also use these tracks.

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.

Opening the 2022 Photo Season

March 27, 2022

Whether it is a sports team, a theater company, or a musical ensemble, there is something special about opening day or opening night. The players or performers have been putting in hours of practice and planning as they pointed toward the moment when the season, run or concert series would begin.

There is much anticipation and hope for an auspicious start that will herald great things to come.

And so it was as I made my way to east central Illinois back on Feb. 20 for my first railfan photography outing of the year.

That day proved to be far from a promising beginning. Shown above is the only train I wound up photographing.

Amtrak’s northbound Saluki passes the former Illinois Central station in Arcola, Illinois. There is still some snow lingering from a previous storm and Train 390 was more than a half hour late. On the point was a P42DC rather than the usual SC-44.

I would spend the rest of the day hanging out in Tuscola but train traffic was minimal and I ended up going home feeling disappointed. It was just one of those days.

Opening day is never the only game or performance of a season and this won’t be my only outing of this year. More and better days lie ahead. I’m looking forward to them because you never know what you will see, what you will find.

Article and Photograph by Craig Sanders

Racing North Near Leverett

December 22, 2021

To appreciate this image it probably helps if you grew up in a place with a lot of flat farmland.

Shown is Amtrak’s City of New Orleans racing northbound toward Chicago near Leverett, Illinois, shortly after sunrise on a Sunday morning.

No. 58 was more than an hour behind schedule leaving Champaign. The train is on the Chicago Subdivision of Canadian National, which at one time was the mainline of the Illinois Central between Chicago and New Orleans.

As for what I, an east central Illinois native, see in this photograph, I see familiarity. There are no striking physical features such as mountains and valleys, just farmland and in the distance traces of urbanization in Champaign-Urbana. Above the Superliner cars you also can see the top of the grain elevator at Leverett.

This is all familiar to me and in a way comforting.

I would not have been able to get this image had No. 58 been on time as it would have been dark as it passed through here. It was a nice way to get a day of railfanning off to a good start.

If you look closely, you will see there is frost on the crossties of the CN track. Temperatures were in the 20 when I made this photograph on a winter morning.

I later checked and determined No. 58 halted at Chicago Union Station 58 minutes late.

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.

Amtrak Refurbishing Interiors of Superliners

June 18, 2021

Amtrak publicity photo of the new seating designs for Superliner coaches.
The new seating shown here in a Superliner Sightseer Lounge will also be applied to dining cars.

Amtrak has begun a three-year program to renovate the interiors of its Superliner fleet with the first of the new look cars entering revenue service later this month.

The passenger carrier will spend $28 million to give all of its 450 bi-level Superliner cars new seating cushions and upholstery, carpets, LED lighting, tables and curtains.

Booths in lounge and dining cars are being replaced with seating with a distinctive arched seat back.

Sleeping cars will receive new bedding and towels. The new bedding was tested last year on the Auto Train.

A supply shortage means the refurbishment of sleeping cars won’t start until August. The new bedding and towels will be provided in all sleepers as soon as the supplies are available, including in unrefurbished cars.

In sleeping car bedrooms, the single-use containers will be replaced by large pump dispensers for soap, shampoo and conditioner.

Amtrak officials said this change is similar to what major hotel chains are doing in an effort to reduce the significant amount of trash generated by single-use containers.

Superliner cars were delivered to Amtrak in the 1980s and 1990s. They are assigned to all western long distance trains plus the Capitol Limited, City of New Orleans and Auto Train. At times, some Superliner cars have been assigned to Midwest corridor trains.

Amtrak displayed this week at Chicago Union Station cars that have already been refurbished.

Superliner dining cars will receive a look similar to that recently applied to Viewliner I sleeping cars including the same color scheme, fabric selections, and design elements.

The refurbishment is only a partial rebuild. Shop workers are not stripping the cars down to the walls and rebuilding the interiors.

Amtrak vice president Roger Harris said the carrier is replacing those things that can be replaced quickly.

For example, Harris said, Amtrak is not changing the lighting or anything that needs to be done during a heavy maintenance overhaul.

Larry Chestler, vice president, long distance service line, said the project is expected to be completed in 24 months with coaches completed in about 18 months.

The work is being done at the Beech Grove heavy maintenance shops in Indiana as well as maintenance shops in Seattle and New Orleans.

Chestler said just three cars will be out of service at any one time to be refurbished.

2 For Amtrak’s 50th Anniversary

May 3, 2021

I wanted to get out and photograph Amtrak on its 50th anniversary day last Saturday. I began my quest by setting next to the CSX Monon Subdivision south of Linden, Indiana, to capture the westbound Cardinal.

No. 51 was right on the money about 10 minutes past 5, having made a station stop, in Crawfordsville about 12 minutes earlier. It was about a half-hour after sunrise.

Next I motored over to east central Illinois to get the northbound Saluki, a corridor train funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation that originates in Carbondale and travels to Chicago.

No. 390 is shown above taking a signal at Humboldt, Illinois. It, too, was running on time.

None of the equipment seen in these photographs existed in 1971 and most of it had not been created yet as a concept.

The Amfleet coaches and food service car of the Cardinal come closest because Amfleet equipment was based on the design of the Budd Metroliners of the 1960s. Superliner equipment was inspired by the Hi-Level cars of the Santa Fe.

In 1971 EMD E and F units with a handful of passenger equipped geeps, U boats and SDs were the common motive power. It all wore the markings and liveries of its owners.

The Saluki does not normally operate with Superliner equipment, but has since Amtrak reduced the frequency of most long-distance trains last year to tri-weekly.

Starting May 24 Amtrak plans to begin to restore daily service to most long-distance trains — the Cardinal and Sunset Limited are exceptions — so the Superliners now on the Saluki probably will be replaced with Horizon and Amfleet equipment.

But not for long as Amtrak has begun taking delivery of and testing the new Siemens Venture cars and they are expected to begin revenue service later this year.

The long distance trains are also slated to begin receiving Charger locomotives similar to the SC-44 seen above pullking the Saluki albeit with a difference livery.

With Amtrak things are always changing even if it doesn’t always appear that way at first glance.