Saturday, June 6, 2009

Amtrak Major Passenger Car Order - Thoughts

A major car order would certainly establish that Amtrak is in the game to play and it is here to stay. While I am not dismissing the projects that Amtrak has allocated its ARRA '09 Stimulus appropriations as meaningless "make work", many are comparatively invisible to John Q. Such an order would certainly signal to John Q that Amtrak is "for real", and are not just putting forth meaningless rhetoric and photo ops such as the Inauguration Special.

At this time Amtrak is "discussing" an order of single-level Long Distance (LD) cars comprising 25 Diners and Sleepers each, and 75 Baggage Dormitory cars. Also under discussion are 130 bi-level Coaches which obviously would be assigned away from the Northeast Corridor.

Whatever builder, domestic or foreign, is to be awarded the prime contract to build any such equipment, all can be assured that it will have substantial US content. In all likelihood, that US content will include final assembly with the attendant "photo-ops'. After all, how many photo-ops arose from Amtrak's first passenger carrying equipment order when the two ANF Turbo trains were unceremoniously off loaded by crane from a vessel docked at the Port of Baltimore?

Regarding the single-level cars for the LD's I guess it is a case of if you are going to continue to have 'em and I believe, right or wrong notwithstanding, such will be the case, you had best have roadworthy equipment for such. Having to set out a, say, bad ordered Diner en-route has a way of tying up a Class I's 'bread and butter', let alone passenger inconvenience and the spate of letters of the "Congressman, my Amtrak had no food and I got hungry...." varietal.

Regarding the 130 bi-level cars, what concerns me is every time I hear the "Perils of Pauline" tales regarding state fiscal woes, I have to ask how long can those with major programs such as California continue to fund trains? Somehow I think the health and welfare of a child comes first. Same of course applies to states with more limited programs such as Illinois. If local jurisdictions are serious about continued funding of intercity trains, best they seek grants from the Federal Transit Administration for needed equipment and not from Amtrak's appropriations. If Amtrak acquires additional cars for Locally funded services, then the local sponsors are in a position to blackmail the Federal legislative majority (aptly noted as 218 Representatives + 51 Senators + 1 President, or simply 218+51+1) into funding their services saying "you got the cars but we haven't got the $$$$ for the trains; what are you going to do, Feddies"?

All told, I would hold that a more suitable allocation of Amtrak appropriations would be cars for the Federally funded services. In addition to the 125 LD cars noted, 200 standard class (presently branded Northeast Regional) and 40 Acela cars added to the existing 20 sets would represent the best allocation of funds. Should local services live on being fed hand to mouth by their sponsors, that's what displaced Amfleet-I's will be for.

Finally, The New York Times recently editorialized with regards to the "Buy American" language included within enacted ARRA '09 "Stimulus" legislation pointing out that in Today's globalized economy, such a policy can be the double edged sword.


  1. A car order does not tell John Q that Amtrak is for real, as John Q has no clue about car orders and the like.

    As long as long-distance trains serve NY, you need a single-level fleet - the tunnels there are not going away.

    As for additional Acela coaches, the three maintenance facilities and many platforms cannot be extended to accommodate trains longer than the current trainsets.

  2. Amtrak has done pretty well considering their almost non-existent subsidy in maintaining a single-level fleet for access to NY-Penn Station and a bi-level fleet to go from Chicago to points south and west. I see no reason why Amtrak shouldn't get a tripled or quadrupled subsidy over the next 10 years to replace its rolling stock, establish new routes, and put more frequent service to its existing routes. It is simply ridiculous to have long distance routes served by '3-a-week' service. Trains should run at the very least on a daily basis, otherwise Amtrak jeopardizes their potential to be profitable and popular.

  3. Amen, Chris! Amen!

    To adopt a spin on NEA's (National Endowment for the Arts) motto, "A great Nation deserves great rail." (smile)