Amtrak: Integrated Trainsets for Long Distance Fleet?

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Amtrak: Integrated Trainsets for Long Distance Fleet?
Posted by CMStPnP on Wednesday, September 13, 2023 8:52 AM

Anyone see that RA article on Amtrak reviewing both single level and bi-level plans for an integrated LD train set concept (permanently coupled cars).    While I am sure the benefit here is that Amtrak Management won't lose or imbalance locations of critical one of a kind cars like Sleepers.    The whole concept of a single trainset is for high frequency corridor use not once or twice a day long distance use.   I understand previewing the plans is just looking and not really deciding but the article also makes a good point.    Amtrak only has three years left to commit funds for a major LD car order before it loses the funds entirely and so far they have no real tested LD car design replacement nor have they attempted to modify any existing manufacturer designs yet for LD use.    It's like the clock is ticking and not much action or care on the LD front.    I know they submitted a kind of RFP of sorts for concepts from manufacturers but that is preliminary at best and results are not due until next year?   Not sure on that.

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Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, September 13, 2023 8:52 PM

According to a Trains article, it seems the permanently coupled trainset is to keep together a set with interconnected ADA compliant coach, diner, longe and sleeper cars.  They would include passage on the upper level of bi-level cars.

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Posted by Erik_Mag on Wednesday, September 13, 2023 10:06 PM

Many of the early streamliners were integrated trainsets, but the downside of having one bad car taking the whole train out of service eventually led to going back to a train being made out of independent cars.

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Thursday, September 14, 2023 1:06 AM

mu understanding is that the set will consist of a 3 car "UNIT" of lounge - diner - cafe. So, to that unit add coaches on one end and sleepers on other.  All ADA access will be in "UNIT" with an ADA coach first on one end and ADA sleeper on the other end.  Then aadditional coaches and sleepers as needed connected to respective ADA cars .Amtrak will need of course some additional "units" For all "UNITS: will be installed at least 2 lifts on each side for boarding ADAs to respective passage levels of cars

As welll will be compatible with Amfleets, Viewliners, & for bi-levels Superliers.  Now if this is the configuration then it should work.  That works only if dedicated PM is done on the "UNITS" to prevent most enouroute failures.  Much like was done at one time on AX-1s.

Although not entirely sure this  will work worth a try.  Worse case if does not work run the separate cars and just always dispatch with individual cars always to make a "UNIT".  This does allow each train not have all cars ADA accessible gtom ground at boarding or alighting.

If you have a lot of ADA using lift(s) then station dwell time will increase,

A big problem will be those station that split trains.  SAS, Spokane, Albany, future Meridian.  Spare "UNITS" will be needed at those stations. As well some  way to switch revenue cars onto various trains.  Idealy one switch unit at each end. If it can be worked out just a couple track mobiles to move cars.

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Thursday, September 14, 2023 9:53 AM

En route passenger switching is going to require something with a little more speed than a Trackmobile or Shuttlewagon unless you're only adding or removing one car.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by Carl Fowler on Saturday, September 16, 2023 2:17 PM

I hope readers have had the chance to read Jim Tilley's superb Railway Age critique of Amtrak's plan to acquire fixed consist train-sets in conjunction with the re-equipment of the cars in the National Network. If not it can be read at

I hope you will indulge me if I share some historical context into why the private American railroads once tried this approach, but ultimately went to use almost exclusively individual cars to equip their trains--especially on long distance trips.

In the 1934-40 era the first streamliners appeared. The Union Pacific, the Burlington Lines and the Boston and Maine in particular were early adapters of new speedy train-sets with fixed consists. The earliest examples were short trains--typically made up of just three or four cars.

The most famous example was the Burlington's "Pioneer Zephyr", which remarkably survives to this day as a unique (underground) exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The train-set was three cars, but one of those was also the locomotive. That cab/power/storage car was permanently coupled (and shared a truck/wheel-set) to a true "Jack of All Trades" second car with a baggage-room/Railway Post Office/kitchenette--dinette area and coach seats. That in turn was permanently coupled to a combined coach/observation-lounge car (the lounge seats could be sold as First Class parlor seats if desired). Regular "revenue" seat capacity was for 72 riders.

The train made a remarkable dawn to dusk nearly non-stop run from Denver to Chicago, covering 1015 miles in 13 hours and 5 minutes, averaging just short of 78mph. As a generator of positive publicity the train was a juggernaut, but its seat capacity was so low that it spent most of its regular career on the secondary routes such as Kansas City to Omaha and Lincoln, or Galesburg, Il to St. Joseph, MO. But she ran in regular service from 1935-1960. From the start the Burlington realized that her fixed consist made her too short for serious mainline service. Because of the limitations of her power plant she was not sent to the shops to have more capacity added by inserting a full coach.

But the Burlington was certainly sold on the concept of light-weight, fast fixed consist Budd built streamliners. Subsequent orders included trains whose fixed consists expanded to 8-10 cars and later examples allowed for the addition of multiple extra cars. The 1936 version of the "Denver Zephyr" is a good example.

As delivered this first "DZ" was a 10 car set, with coaches, a full diner, a lounge car and sleepers. The train was put on a 16 hour dusk to dawn schedule and was spectacularly successful--so much so that she was adapted to accept conventional coaches and sleepers as extra cars as well. After the 1956 vista-dome version of the "DZ" (the last full train delivered for overnight service before Amtrak in 1971) arrived, the 1936 set was switched to run as the "Texas Zephyr" from Denver to Dallas. As this route was much less busy the train-set was actually cut back several times to match route demand.

Similarly the Boston and Maine's new in 1935 near twin of the "Pioneer Zephyr" was a huge hit when delivered for service as the "Flying Yankee" between Boston North Station and Portland, ME. Also a three car speedster the "Flying Yankee" proved so popular that the B&M removed it from its Mass/Maine route after only 5 years. Seat demand overwhelmed capacity! Although the set operated until 1957 (and survives today partially restored at Lincoln, NH), from 1940 she was variably run from Boston to the White Mountains as "The Mountaineer", to Troy, NY as "The Minute Man", and for over a decade to White River, Jct., VT via Keene, NH as "The Cheshire". Only in that last assignment did her lack of capacity not arise as an issue.

Cash-strapped as always, the B&M chose not to expand the consist of the 1935 set. Rather, (and like the Burlington) she was replaced by conventional train-sets. The Boston-Portland route got a beautiful new Pullman built locomotive-hauled conventional train-set, with a full diner-lounge car, although the coming of I 95, and the New Hampshire and Maine turnpikes meant these cars too ran for only a few years before declining demand led to the use of self-propelled Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs) in their stead--also a Budd Company product.

But if fixed consist trains could be expanded with extra cars (at least in some designs) why didn't the carriers stay with them? The answer lies in an intrinsic problem with a pre-set train. What do you do if the diner in the middle of the fixed consist with shared wheels has a break-down? What do you do if the engine (power car) fails? The only fix in that case is to temporarily replace the entire train-set, at least until the regular set can be fixed. When the railroads stabled huge coach fleets of spare cars that was annoying, but quite doable, but Amtrak, as we painfully know, does not maintain substantial reserves. Moreover if the fixed consist sets are "high(er) speed" cars can Amtrak really do a simple switch-out to reserved equipment that might not be cleared for fast schedules.

Even today Amtrak faces the fixed consist dilemma with its ACELA EXPRESS fixed-consist trains. These sets can not be expanded, and their new replacement, the newly built "Avelia Liberty" sets have the same restriction. The only way to add capacity to an individual train-set (at least on a train in a particular timetable slot) is to add an entire additional train-set coupled to the regular cars (or running 5-10 minutes later as a Second Section--which Amtrak virtually never does). Amtrak was also long impacted by this issue on the Cascades line, with its reliance (at least pre the Dupont, WA tragedy) on the fixed consist Talgo trains.

The "core" concept may indeed be required for Amtrak to meet ADA requirements, but we will need to hope that Amtrak has somehow multiple spare sets of "cores" for maintenance, or else trains will be forced to go out without food service or accessible) cars or more likely in the new era simply be cancelled for at a minimum one round trip cycle. From past performance, alas, it is very unlikely that Amtrak will order any substantial extra cars of whatever design.

Fixed consist trains are indeed common worldwide. But their use--for example--by the European railways, comes in a very different context than in the USA. In Europe the train remains crucial to the surface transportation network. There are substantial reserves of extra trains (and cars) for periods of peak demand. And many services are run with Diesel (or Electric) Multiple Unit cars that are self-propelled. Like the still useful Budd RDC cars here, (which date from the 1950s), two DMU sets can be coupled together by Scotland Rail if more capacity is needed today on the local train from Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh, which normally runs with just a single DMU car. Amtrak has stubbornly resisted the use of modern DMUs--for example to cover new services on regional/secondary routes like New Orleans to Baton Rouge, or (dare I dream) New York to Scranton and Binghamton.

Flexibility comes with locomotive-hauled train-sets. Of course two cars of conventional design could be permanently coupled together to, for example, provide for an extra spacious diner and lounge car. "Twin Unit" diners were common on select high-demand trains like the streamlined era "20th Century Limited".

And of course Amtrak must not only follow the law but also the needs of all its ridership to accommodate passengers who use a wheelchair. But this is clearly easier using individual cars.

One of the most obvious problems with fixed sets comes with trains that need to divide enroute. Although Amtrak hates to do that, it happens on every trip of the EMPIRE BUILDER at Spokane--forming separate trains for Seattle and Portland. The LAKESHORE LIMITED splits at Albany for Boston and New York. For decades the Florida trains split into Miami and Tampa sections at either Jacksonville or Auburndale. And soon Amtrak hopes to split the CRESCENT at Meridian, MS into Fort Worth and New Orleans sections. And the SUNSET/TEXAS EAGLE trains hand-off cars at San Antonio.

In each of these cases the first combined train splits into two unequal-length trains. For example, the Boston section of the LAKESHORE typically carries one sleeper, a cafe car and one to two coaches, but two-three sleepers, a diner and two-three coaches, plus a baggage car go to New York. Fixed sets will be incredibly difficult to adapt to this sort of pattern.

But Jim Tilley is right that overall fixed consist train-sets are not the way to go. Fixed sets will strangle ridership growth and impose much higher costs on Amtrak for maintenance, seasonal demand adjustments, crewing and route selection. We must not forget the lessons of 20th century railroading. Long-term fixed consists did not work on most long-distance routes.

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Posted by samfp1943 on Saturday, September 16, 2023 10:39 PM


Many of the early streamliners were integrated trainsets, but the downside of having one bad car taking the whole train out of service eventually led to going back to a train being made out of independent cars.


     Thisn "new idea' might sound good around the water cooler, in the Main Shed HQ in Washingtoni, D.C. among the folksthat may really want to 'kill' all those

AMTRK LD trains, but out where the Operational 'Wheels hit the rails' they will become an Operational nighmare;for not only AMTRK , but its 'host' railroads, when the various varieties of operational 'issues' arise.... hEADACHES, WILL also ARISE.




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Posted by blue streak 1 on Saturday, September 16, 2023 11:43 PM

Have some questions about unit trains. However it can work even with some cut and add trains.  A prime example would be the Crescent loosing cars at ATL.  Using the stadard way the front would have to disconnect with layover cars and plug them into a siding.  Then locos back onto train.  Loco would have pulled mid portion off back cats Then train pulls out and switcher woud recover all cars and put them in Steel siding.

Or have loco, baggage coaches, mid unit . sleepers both thru and drops, then drop coaches. Then drop those cars and pull out.  That could work at any drop and add location.  

Now if DFW train is added and dropped at Meridian then same senerio at Meridian instead of ATL.   However, all these switching moves may be slowed due to transferring ADA passengers to the mid units with elevator lifts.  The ADA problem really calls for high level platforms to speed boardings and alightings espececially at drop and add stations such as ATL or MEI.

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Posted by CMStPnP on Saturday, September 16, 2023 11:57 PM

     Thisn "new idea' might sound good around the water cooler, in the Main Shed HQ in Washingtoni, D.C. among the folksthat may really want to 'kill' all those AMTRK LD trains, but out where the Operational 'Wheels hit the rails' they will become an Operational nighmare;for not only AMTRK , but its 'host' railroads, when the various varieties of operational 'issues' arise.... hEADACHES, WILL also ARISE.

OK, three mile long Amtrak LD trains with distributed power?   They should blend right in plus Amtrak already misses the scheduled time with many of it's LD trains.........soooooo....

Maybe a small silver lining to this might be finally Amtrak will purchase a large centralized sewage holding tank where they only have to service it at either end terminal instead of all the insanity with that in the past.

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