Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Superliners’

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.

Out of the Fog

March 1, 2021

Last Saturday’s weather forecast called for high temperatures in the 50s and mostly sunny skies so I ventured over to east central Illinois for my first railfan foray of 2021.

The day began, though, in heavy fog caused by a temperature inversion. When I arrived in Rantoul, Illinois, the temperatures were in the low 30s.

Those conditions wouldn’t last long, but while they did I was able to get this image of Amtrak’s northbound City of New Orleans cutting through the fog at the Rantoul station.

Although this is an Amtrak stop, the City is not scheduled to stop here. The train was operating as No. 1158 on a schedule 90 minutes than usual.

That was due to track work by host railroad Canadian Pacific in the South that has the northbound CONO running later than normal two days a week.

Charging Past Some Lingering Fall Color

November 15, 2020

I didn’t expect to find any fall foliage still in its glory during a mid November excursion to east central Illinois.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find some trees in Pesotum, Illinois, on the Champaign Subdivision of Canadian National still boasted peak seasonal color.

Show is Amtrak’s northbound Saluki headed to Chicago from Carbondale, Illinois.

On the point is a SC-44 Charger locomotive owned by the Illinois Department of Transportation, which also funds the operation of No. 390.

The Siemens-built Chargers are standard motive power on Amtrak’s Midwest corridor trains.

Within a couple years Chargers will replace the GE-Built Genesis units that pull Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

The Saluki these days is operating with Superliner equipment made “surplus” by Amtrak’s reducing the frequency of operation of its long-distance trains to tri-weekly.

Dynamic Duos

August 15, 2020

An eaastbound Burlington Northern stack train at Paola, Montana, on Aug. 3, 1991.

In July 19091 Ed Ribinskas and his new bride rode Amtrak’s Empire Builder to Glacier National Park on their honeymoon.

He said that in putting together highlights of the trip he thought of the phrase “dynamic duos,” as in Batman and Robin.

In this story, though, that meant himself and Ursula, and the Great Northern Railway and Glacier National Park.

“Everything about this trip,” he said.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

An eastbound passes the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex, Montana.

A westbound stack train about 8 miles east of West Glacier, Montana.

The eastbound Empire Builder crosses the Midvale trestle. The photograph was made from a balcony at Glacier Park Lodge and is no longer possible because a wind fence has been installed on the bridge.

Nos. 7 and 8 pass in western North Dakota.

Passing through snow sheds 5 and 6.

Taken from the garden of Glacier Park Lodge.

Getting off the train for a few minutes in Minot, North Dakota. The car number shows 2830 but it should be 2730.

The eastbound Empire Builder at Essex, Montana, on Aug. 4, 1991.

 

Like Two Trains in One

August 8, 2020

Amtrak’s westbound Cardinal is ferrying equipment from the Beech Grove shops to Chicago today and as a result No. 51 appears to be two trains in  one.

The front half of the train is P42DC No. 77 along with two Superliner cars and two Viewliner baggage cars.

Behind that is the normal consist of No. 51 of P42DC No. 205, two Amfleet II coaches, an Amfleet food service car, Viewliner sleeper and Viewlier baggage-dorm car.

The two trains were combined at Indianapolis Union Station.

The image was made on Aug. 6, 2020, at Cherry Grove, Indiana, on the CSX Monon Subdivision.

The stop sign is for a spur into a grain elevator out of view to the left.

Looking for the Baggage Cart

April 15, 2020

An Amtrak crew member stands in the doorway of a baggage car in the consist of the eastbound Capitol Limited on April 4, 1996, in Cleveland.

The platform is crowded with passengers boarding and disembarking even though it is the middle of the night.

That was the way it was before the pandemic hit. These days No. 30 is only four cars, has few passengers and isn’t carrying a baggage car.

The heritage baggage cars have been retired from active service by Amtrak in favor of new Viewliner baggage cars.

One Night in Cleveland

March 6, 2020

Amtrak’s eastbound Capitol Limited is making its nocturnal station stop in Cleveland in late May 2013.

The Superliner car in the foreground is a sleeper and chances are most of its passengers are in their beds asleep and unaware that their train has stopped in Cleveland.

I was at the station waiting for the westbound Capitol, which was due in shortly before 3 a.m., and which I would be riding to Chicago.

It’s eastbound counterpart, No. 30, is scheduled to arrive in Cleveland at 1:45 a.m. and on this night it must have been running late if I saw it.

The tall building behind the train is Key Tower, which at 57 stories (947 feet) is the tallest building in Cleveland and the 34th tallest in the United States.

Pennsylvanian Loses Amfleet II Coaches; Capitol Limited Consist Cut by 1 Sleeper, 1 Coach For The Winter

January 15, 2020

An online report indicates that Amfleet II coaches have been removed from the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian and replaced with Amfleet I cars.

The equipment change may have been motivated by a bid to increase capacity because Amfleet I coaches have 12 additional seats per car.

At times the Pennsylvanian has experienced standing room only conditions between Harrisburg and Philadelphia on weekends.

The typical Pennsylvanian consist until this week had been a business class car, Amfleet cafe car and lounge, three Amfleet II coaches and one Amfleet I coach. The train also has a Viewliner baggage car.

Reports also indicate that the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited is operating with its winter consist of one crew car, one sleeper, Cross Country Cafe for sleeper class passengers, Sightseer Lounge, two coaches and a Viewliner baggage car.

The crew cars has sleeping accommodations available for sale to the public.

Motive power can be one P42DC, but some recent sightings have shown two locomotives assigned to Nos. 29 and 30.

One online report from a passenger who rode on No. 30 earlier this month said the train was oversold leaving Chicago.

The report quoted two Amtrak onboard employees as saying that overselling had happened before and that the train is often sold out between Chicago and Pittsburgh.

The normal consist for the Capitol includes another sleeper and coach.

The online reports indicated that a computer glitch had allowed some passengers to buy sleeper space in the car that was dropped for the winter.

Amtrak typically reduces the consist of Nos. 29 and 30 in January as well as those of other long-distance Superliner-equipped trains.