Future Amtrak sleeper?

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Although it's been mentioned before in other threads, the answer is still some variation on airline "lie-flat" seats in an open-coach environment as the lower cost alternative to an actual enclosed bedroom. The historical example is CN/VIA Rail's Dayniter concept, which has also been discussed at length. Count me among those who think couchettes in North America won't fly.
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MisterUptempo

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Does anyone remember the Budd "Sleepercoach", with very small single rooms in kind of a staggered, interlocked design. There also a few double rooms in the car. They came out in the 1950s and were sold as a premium form of coach; a first class ticket was not required. About a half dozen railroads used them. Illinois Railway Museum has an example.
Those are the Slumbercoaches that jis mentioned a little further upthread. If you want to refresh your memory, or for those unfamiliar with the concept, The Wayback Machine has an archived copy of a 2006 NRHS Bulletin that dives into Slumbercoaches pretty deeply.

Regarding resurrecting a version of the Slumbercoaches for use today, the author writes about his experiences using them-
I have spent many nights in Slumbercoaches, feeling that they were comfortable enough, and the savings allowed some rail travel that might not otherwise have been made. But when I tried using a Slumbercoach for a Seattle-Chicago trip on the North Coast Limited, I quickly concluded that Slumbercoaches were not meant for long trips! The compact Slumbercoach design which I had admired turned out to be too compact after two days. That was enough for me; my next trips to the Northwest were on the Empire Builder in standard Pullman roomettes. (I could never picture a Slumbercoach on the Empire Builder!) I continued using Slumbercoaches on shorter overnight trips, although I must admit that as I grew older (and maybe a little heavier) I began to find them more claustrophobic.
Amtrak started using Slumbercoaches in 1973, and, by 1974, had moved all of them onto routes that traveled no further west than Chicago and none appear to have been more than one night.

That sort of jibes with thoughts I expressed regarding the new NightJet pods/mini-suites-that they would not be very comfortable on longer routes. I can't imagine spending nearly all of a 46 hour trip on the Builder either laying or sitting in bed.

Here's a shot of what appears to be an upper berth on a Slumbercoach- 030217_camera_ready_train_station-33.jpg
img src - train-museum.org

To start, I think the Slumbercoach concept could be carried out in a much more aesthetically pleasing manner today. Also, ditch the toilets and sinks; eliminating all that plumbing should make for an easier car to service. With the extra space, widen the corridor a bit and make the seats and beds wider as well.

Provide a communal rest room as well as a communal shower. I've seen videos for transport in Japan that featured a pay-as-you-go shower. Perhaps, if new Slumbercoach chambers utilized key cards, those cards could double as a sort of debit card, permitting each user, maybe, 10 minutes of shower time, with the option of paying for more time, if desired. Similar to a coin-op car wash. You start to lose revenue space by providing a shower, but I'd be curious whether the loss would be particularly significant.

Install a fold-down table/work space, a couple of power outlets, and decent wi-fi and I think you've got a winner.

To keep fares down, separate the transportation from the food. If a train has a café, the rider can avail themselves of that. Or, like on NightJet routes, allowing Slumbercoach riders to order à la carte meals to be prepared and delivered to their space. Or, if a rider is content chowing down on a Costco-sized bag of hot pork rinds all the way to their destination, fine. Or, and I know some will hate this idea, vending machines.
 
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zephyr17

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Those are the Slumbercoaches that jis mentioned a little further upthread. If you want to refresh your memory, or for those unfamiliar with the concept, The Wayback Machine has an archived copy of a 2006 NRHS Bulletin that dives into Slumbercoaches pretty deeply.

Regarding resurrecting a version of the Slumbercoaches for use today, the author writes about his experiences using them-

Amtrak started using Slumbercoaches in 1973, and, by 1974, had moved all of them onto routes that traveled no further west than Chicago and none appear to have been more than one night.

That sort of jibes with thoughts I expressed regarding the new NightJet pods/mini-suites-that they would not be very comfortable on longer routes. I can't imagine spending nearly all of a 46 hour trip on the Builder either laying or sitting in bed.

Here's a shot of what appears to be an upper berth on a Slumbercoach- View attachment 29848
img src - train-museum.org

To start, I think the Slumbercoach concept could be carried out in a much more aesthetically pleasing manner today. Also, ditch the toilets and sinks; eliminating all that plumbing should make for an easier car to service. With the extra space, widen the corridor a bit and make the seats and beds wider as well.

Provide a communal rest room as well as a communal shower. I've seen videos for transport in Japan that featured a pay-as-you-go shower. Perhaps, if new Slumbercoach chambers utilized key cards, those cards could double as a sort of debit card, permitting each user, maybe, 10 minutes of shower time, with the option of paying for more time, if desired. Similar to a coin-op car wash. You start to lose revenue space by providing a shower, but I'd be curious whether the loss would be particularly significant.

Install a fold-down table/work space, a couple of power outlets, and decent wi-fi and I think you've got a winner.

To keep fares down, separate the transportation from the food. If a train has a café, the rider can avail themselves to that. Or, like on NightJet routes, allowing Slumbercoach riders to order à la carte meals to be prepared and delivered to their space. Or, if a rider is content chowing down on a Costco-sized bag of hot pork rinds all the way to their destination, fine. Or, and I know some will hate this idea, vending machines.
You know you pretty much landed on a description Superliner roomettes, right?
 
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Many Americans do sleep in shared environments even if we are disinclined to believe so. The aforementioned couch surfing, hostels, and dorms are but three such examples. Americans also sleep in the homes and bedrooms of strangers via American-based services like abnb & vrbo with a high potential for privacy invasion and very little oversight. On Amtrak today singles traveling in coach are expected to sleep with strangers in reclining loveseats with no dividers. That confers even less separation than a couchette. A train full of mixed couchettes would probably fail miserably but shared sleeping quarters grouped by gender might work. It's hard to say for certain until someone actually tries it.
In essence, I partially agree with you. But, the examples you bring up are kind of apples and oranges situation.
-A college dorm is not comparable to strangers that you meet on a train and presumably will never see again. There is an overseeing system of accountability in the schools administration, and there is general social compliance set by the overall collegiate community.
-Nobody couch surfs with complete strangers. In most situations I've done this or known someone who did it, it was at least a "friend of a friend."
-Every Airbnb I've stayed at was at least partially separated from the other people in the house. You could at least shut a door.
-Hostels in America do not see anywhere close to the level of popularity they see in Europe.

For what its worth, my previous post saying "sleep with other people," really ought to have read as "sleep with strangers." (Since edited) I thought this went without saying as people sleep with friends, family, and acquaintances all the time. Complete strangers (like couchettes in Europe) is the situation I was referring to.

I thought that a significant proportion of not so well to do people do share living quarters and sometimes bedrooms too, but I guess on this board everyone is rich enough to put that section of population out of sight and out of mind. Afterall they could not afford Amtrak driven by the desires of today’s Sleeper aficionados anyway, like I could not when I was a student and did share living and sleeping quarters. 😉
Though its pretty presumptuous of you to speak as such for people you don't know at all, your point is taken.
People who book sleeper trains (or any class out of coach for that matter) aren't lower income individuals to begin with (mostly), so its a non starter.

Again, I guess my wording was misunderstood.
 
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MisterUptempo

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You know you pretty much landed on a description Superliner roomettes, right?
If I've decided to travel by train alone and wish to book a sleeping accommodation, the only choice I have currently is between a roomette or a bedroom, both of which have two beds. Booking either, I must pay a premium to travel as a single.

For a roomette on the Lake Shore in early March, the price for two people to travel is $538.00. To travel as a single it's $394.00. If the two-bed roomette was broken up into two singles, it might be reasonable to expect the price to be half the cost of two people booking a roomette, which would be $269.00. Take the meal away and it's even less. In this scenario, if someone wants to travel as a single in a roomette, they still can - for $538.00.

Speaking strictly for myself, I would prefer to have the option of a single without meals. I can only sleep in one bed at a time and I'd rather know the breakdown between my room and my food as opposed to a single price for everything where I don't know that breakdown. That way, I can determine for myself whether the fare is reasonable or not. And if I want something to eat, I can explore the options mentioned in my earlier post.

Let's also look at this from the standpoint of availability. If I end up booking that roomette on the Lake Shore as a single, not only does it cost me more than it would for a single bed, it also takes a bed out of inventory that someone else might want but cannot book. If there were a sleeper car of singles, or even half a car of singles, the chances of that car being sold out are reduced. Having singles also provides the opportunity for better utilization of the rolling stock and the possibility of increased revenue for Amtrak.

My previous post was in response to someone who mentioned Slumbercoaches and whether reintroducing the concept would be beneficial. So, I posted an image of an original Slumbercoach space and presented ideas as to how I thought it could be appealing to, and fulfill the needs of, many of today's travelers.

But, you're right, except for the only one bed part and the more reasonable fares for single travelers part and the making dining an option to keep fares down part and the better chances of snagging a room part and the better utilization part and the potential of increased revenues part, it's exactly the same as a roomette. Exactly.
 
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zephyr17

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If I've decided to travel by train alone and wish to book a sleeping accommodation, the only choice I have currently is between a roomette or a bedroom, both of which have two beds. Booking either, I must pay a premium to travel as a single.

For a roomette on the Lake Shore in early March, the price for two people to travel is $538.00. To travel as a single it's $394.00. If the two-bed roomette was broken up into two singles, it might be reasonable to expect the price to be half the cost of two people booking a roomette, which would be $269.00. Take the meal away and it's even less. In this scenario, if someone wants to travel as a single in a roomette, they still can - for $538.00.

Speaking strictly for myself, I would prefer to have the option of a single without meals. I can only sleep in one bed at a time and I'd rather know the breakdown between my room and my food as opposed to a single price for everything where I don't know that breakdown. That way, I can determine for myself whether the fare is reasonable or not. And if I want something to eat, I can explore the options mentioned in my earlier post.

Let's also look at this from the standpoint of availability. If I end up booking that roomette on the Lake Shore as a single, not only does it cost me more than it would for a single bed, it also takes a bed out of inventory that someone else might want but cannot book. If there were a sleeper car of singles, or even half a car of singles, the chances of that car being sold out are reduced. Having singles also provides the opportunity for better utilization of the rolling stock and the possibility of increased revenue for Amtrak.

My previous post was in response to someone who mentioned Slumbercoaches and whether reintroducing the concept would be beneficial. So, I posted an image of an original Slumbercoach space and presented ideas as to how I thought it could be appealing to, and fulfill the needs of, many of today's travelers.

But, you're right, except for the only one bed part and the more reasonable fares for single travelers part and the making dining an option to keep fares down part and the better chances of snagging a room part and the better utilization part and the potential of increased revenues part, it's exactly the same as a roomette. Exactly.
Well, my position is the price of an accommodation, all other things being equal, is a function of size in a conveyance where space is very limited. Amtrak "roomettes" are approximately the same size and layout as a Slumbercoach Double room. Single Slumbercoach rooms were "duplexed" in a higher/lower combination stepwise combination saving space, doubles were not.

So, in terms of space utilization, Amtrak roomettes are little different than Slumbercoach Doubles. Single person private accommodations such as classic Roomettes and Slumbercoach Singles were economically driven and targeted towards business travelers. Business travel largely abandoned the rails in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and business travelers are not returning despite fantasies to the contrary. Sleeping accommodations are now oriented towards leisure travelers, and therefore couples.

There is a valid argument around unbundling sleeping car fares from meals, which was an Amtrak invention. There is also a valid argument that fares are currently being driven up currently through forced scarcity due to equipment shortages.

But there is no magic bullet in "Slumbercoach" fantasies. I find it telling that the original name of what Amtrak now calls "roomette" was Economy Bedroom. In size, layout and original intent they were "Slumbercoaches". Slumbercoach Doubles. As I said, space, the number of private accommodations that can be crammed into a car, is a prime driver of price. You cannot create a two person private accommodation much smaller than an Amtrak roomette. AKA "Economy Bedroom". AKA "Slumbercoach Double".

The key to lower prices is creating more supply to better meet demand. That is a win-win, with both lower prices for passengers and more revenue for Amtrak, if only Amtrak could see past their cost centric mindset.

Like many leisure oriented travel options, like cruises or tours, single travelers get the shaft. Paying for two beds in Amtrak private accomodations is just their version of the common, and dreaded, "single supplement".
 
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I don't believe that the "couchette mini sleepers" would go over well here in the USA. As referenced previously its like crawling into a coffin. Very claustrophobic for my taste. The full sized suites are very nice but if Amtrak ever goes with Siemens I see no reason why the Amtrak sleeper design or similar cannot be built. We hear talk from board members about replacing the fleet but it seems right now its just talk.
 

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As efficient in design, as they were, the Single Slumbercoach room still takes up more space, than half of a Double Slumbercoach room would, hence they can’t be sold to one person, as economically as half the price of a Double.
The only type of accommodation that can do that is the Section, split into Uppers and Lowers. Perhaps a modern version could be built with sliding doors instead of curtains, for more privacy, or perhaps built as “capsule” type rooms that “Cabin” bus line used., as well as some micro-hotels in airports.
But that design would only work for strictly overnight trips, with no room for sitting on longer trips.
The Section could, but then both parties would have to have the same sitting or bed time…
 
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Historical question: I thought we had open berth sleepers here at one time, didn't we?

It might be an interesting historical study to see the differences in how various countries came to the compartment, even for day use, vs open coach (I seem to remember lots of Victorian open coach illustrations from the US) which seems to have become the standard, if not default, layout here.
 

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In essence, I partially agree with you. But, the examples you bring up are kind of apples and oranges situation.
-A college dorm is not comparable to strangers that you meet on a train and presumably will never see again. There is an overseeing system of accountability in the schools administration, and there is general social compliance set by the overall collegiate community.
-Nobody couch surfs with complete strangers. In most situations I've done this or known someone who did it, it was at least a "friend of a friend."
-Every Airbnb I've stayed at was at least partially separated from the other people in the house. You could at least shut a door.
-Hostels in America do not see anywhere close to the level of popularity they see in Europe.

For what its worth, my previous post saying "sleep with other people," really ought to have read as "sleep with strangers." (Since edited) I thought this went without saying as people sleep with friends, family, and acquaintances all the time. Complete strangers (like couchettes in Europe) is the situation I was referring to.


Though its pretty presumptuous of you to speak as such for people you don't know at all, your point is taken.
People who book sleeper trains (or any class out of coach for that matter) aren't lower income individuals to begin with (mostly), so its a non starter.

Again, I guess my wording was misunderstood.
Isn’t it pretty presumptuous of you to presume that you know enough about me to make that statement about me! May I remind you very gently that you know next to nothing about me? 😏
 

cassie225

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Well, my opinion and only my opinion, is with all the crazies out here, would I really want to sleep with some one, I don’t know!!! Just saying. I have slept in hostels but I knew everyone in the room.I don’t think I would book a couchette at all.
 

MARC Rider

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Open section sleepers weren't exactly totally "open," as things are in coach. They were well curtained off, so that he sleeping person had some privacy and seclusion. I also once rode in a Japanese couchette type sleeper where each bunk was similarly curtained off. These were pretty heavy blackout curtains, so you could actually turn on a reading light and read to your heart's content without disturbing the other passengers.

American passengers don't seem to mind the total lack of privacy in coach. I would think there would be a fine market for couchette type cars, too.
 
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Open section sleepers weren't exactly totally "open," as things are in coach. They were well curtained off, so that he sleeping person had some privacy and seclusion. I also once rode in a Japanese couchette type sleeper where each bunk was similarly curtained off. These were pretty heavy blackout curtains, so you could actually turn on a reading light and read to your heart's content without disturbing the other passengers.

American passengers don't seem to mind the total lack of privacy in coach. I would think there would be a fine market for couchette type cars, too.
See the 1959 Marylin Monroe/Jack Lemmon movie Some Like It Hot.
 

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Besides the Single Slumbercoach rooms, other types utilising the “duplex” design included Duplex Roomettes, which were First Class accommodations, with a longer and wider bed than a Single Slumbercoach room. It was priced below a standard Roomette. There was also the Duplex Single Room, priced above the Roomette, but below a standard Double Bedroom. Its bed ran cross-wise in the car.
 

rs9

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Would Amtrak view lie-flat seats as too much competition with the cash cow of their sleeper offerings?
 
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I think the airline lie flight seats could be positioned as a business class product on overnight trains. Those seats are pretty comfortable IMHO compared to anything Amtrak currently offers. Those sleeping cars from Europe are going to have to have a daytime configuration. The best thing would be to have the European cars fitted with an all roomette configuration for standardization.

A question: Would it be possible to allow Siemens to have access to the budd streamliner designs so that they could see how to implement that in cars built for US service?
 

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I think the airline lie flight seats could be positioned as a business class product on overnight trains. Those seats are pretty comfortable IMHO compared to anything Amtrak currently offers. Those sleeping cars from Europe are going to have to have a daytime configuration. The best thing would be to have the European cars fitted with an all roomette configuration for standardization.

A question: Would it be possible to allow Siemens to have access to the budd streamliner designs so that they could see how to implement that in cars built for US service?
Anybody has access to all the now expired patents covering things that they productized and even things that they did not.
 
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Many Americans do sleep in shared environments even if we are disinclined to believe so. The aforementioned couch surfing, hostels, and dorms are but three such examples. Americans also sleep in the homes and bedrooms of strangers via American-based services like abnb & vrbo with a high potential for privacy invasion and very little oversight. On Amtrak today singles traveling in coach are expected to sleep with strangers in reclining loveseats with no dividers. That confers even less separation than a couchette. A train full of mixed couchettes would probably fail miserably but shared sleeping quarters grouped by gender might work. It's hard to say for certain until someone actually tries it.
Your first, let us know.
 

zephyr17

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Doesn't VIA run some sleepers with "single bedrooms" that are duplexed? Were those originally Slumbercoaches?
VIA has duplex roomettes in their former CP Chateau series sleepers that were not tubed out and rebuilt for Prestige.

While the duplex roomettes were sold at a slightly lower price points than the standard roomettes in the Manors, they were not sold as or considered slumbercoach singles. The Chateaus originally had 4 Open Sections, 3 Double Bedrooms, 1 Drawing Room, and 8 Duplex Roomettes. One section was removed to put in a shower when the cars were HEP'd in the early 1990s, now the non-Prestige Chateaus have 3 sections, otherwise the car layout remains the same.

Both Manor series standard roomettes and Chateau series duplex roomettes are now sold as "Cabins for One" in VIA-speak at the same price points. Those Chateau duplex roomettes kind of suck. I like the standard ones in the Manors much more.

Slumbercoaches were purpose built cars that were all Slumbercoach. Although some railroads would sell standard roomettes as Slumbercoach to compete with railroads that had actual Slumbercoaches, notably on UP's City of Denver in competition with Burlington's Denver Zephyr.
 

flitcraft

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For me, the issue isn't privacy, it's safety. In an open coach area, it is less likely that women travelers will be assaulted. That's why I am okay with being on a plane overnight with strangers and no privacy. But in a secluded area with several strangers? I wouldn't recommend risking it. And no way would I book it personally. I'm willing to compromise a lot on privacy, but not on personal safety.
 

zephyr17

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As efficient in design, as they were, the Single Slumbercoach room still takes up more space, than half of a Double Slumbercoach room would, hence they can’t be sold to one person, as economically as half the price of a Double.
Yeah, a "set" of two duplexed Slumbercoach Single rooms were about 1 3/4ths the footprint of a one Double, perhaps a bit less maybe 1 2/3rd.
 

zephyr17

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Historical question: I thought we had open berth sleepers here at one time, didn't we?
Yes, we did, the standard heavyweight Pullman was a 12-1, 12 open sections, 1 compartment. Watch "Some Like It Hot".

Open Sections became hugely unpopular post-World War Two when private sleeping accommodations of various types became widely available. Private rooms were often a feature of streamlined trains and the large move towards private rooms started in 1930s and greatly accelerated with post war car orders. People like privacy. One thing that kept some sections in service was that the US government would only pay a lower berth tariff for official travel. However, rather than keep unpopular open section cars in regular service for government employees, railroads and Pullman simply sold roomettes at lower berth rates to those on official travel.

There were streamlined open section cars in included in the California Zephyr car order. They did not sell well. In the early 1960s, the CZ open section cars were converted to coaches, the only flat top CZ coaches.

By AmDay there were very few American trains offering open sections, mostly only on trains having cars in which sections were combined with other accommodation types, like CP(VIA)'s Manor and Chateau sleepers. The only train I know for sure offered up them right up to 4/30/71 was UP's Salt Lake City-Butte "Butte Special".

Open sections are still available on the VIA's Canadian.
 

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Many Americans do sleep in shared environments even if we are disinclined to believe so. The aforementioned couch surfing, hostels, and dorms are but three such examples. Americans also sleep in the homes and bedrooms of strangers via American-based services like abnb & vrbo with a high potential for privacy invasion and very little oversight. On Amtrak today singles traveling in coach are expected to sleep with strangers in reclining loveseats with no dividers. That confers even less separation than a couchette. A train full of mixed couchettes would probably fail miserably but shared sleeping quarters grouped by gender might work. It's hard to say for certain until someone actually tries it.
Having gender specific accommodations would bring up certain issues that Amtrak would most definitely not want to have to address and that we should probally avoid discussing in detail.
 
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