Hypothetical High Platform Superliner Replacements

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jadebenn

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Talking about the Siemens Venture procurements and their 48" level boarding height has got me thinking about the future of the Superliners and the Amtrak LD fleet.

A similar topic was discussed in this thread, but it was derailed by the idea of making the bilevel stock able to run on the NEC, which I fundamentally don't think is worth the design tradeoffs of the restricted loading gauge.

So, let me propose some alternate criteria. Is it possible to create a bilevel Superliner replacement that has high-level boarding and full inter-car accessibility from the first floor (so no steps to move between cars in order to satisfy modern ADA-compliance rules, but steps for second-floor access are fine), while fitting within the existing Superliner loading gauge (AAR Plate F, I believe).
 

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sttom

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Their either going to figure out you can do level boarding at 25 inches or make everyone do a stair lift to 48 inches and reduce capacity. Those are your two options.
 

jadebenn

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The obsession with foamers and multilevel cars never ceases to amaze me.

We're going to see a standardized, single-level, long distance fleet at some time during the next decade.
Is it really that unreasonable to wonder if it's possible to have the capacity benefits of a bilevel and the accessibility of a high level car given the very generous tolerances of American loading gauge? I think it's pretty unfair to characterize that as a "former obsession."
 

Ryan

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It's not an unreasonable thing to wonder about in the abstract as long as one recognizes that whatever hypothetical thing you come up with isn't going to be the Superliner replacement. Commonality of the fleet is what Amtrak is after, as it simplifies maintenance and operations. The LD fleet is already small. Further subdividing it by purchasing cars that can't run on the NEC is highly unlikely.
 
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There are many low level stations on the routes these trains will serve including points south of Richmond that are regionals to Virginia and the Carolinian and Palmetto stops. So I was glad to see this in one of the links provided:
“Automated steps will also be included to speed up boarding at stations without high level platforms, while lifts will allow passengers with reduced mobility and wheelchair users to more easily board.”

I wonder if the interior height is sufficient to permit bunk beds if a LD version is ever produced. If nothing else, I would think the Auto Train would be slated to get them. Can the Superliners survive that long?
 

railiner

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Talking about the Siemens Venture procurements and their 48" level boarding height has got me thinking about the future of the Superliners and the Amtrak LD fleet.

A similar topic was discussed in this thread, but it was derailed by the idea of making the bilevel stock able to run on the NEC, which I fundamentally don't think is worth the design tradeoffs of the restricted loading gauge.

So, let me propose some alternate criteria. Is it possible to create a bilevel Superliner replacement that has high-level boarding and full inter-car accessibility from the first floor (so no steps to move between cars in order to satisfy modern ADA-compliance rules, but steps for second-floor access are fine), while fitting within the existing Superliner loading gauge (AAR Plate F, I believe).
The only cars that I know of that would have that capability, are the Alaska "ultra-domes", but those are too tall to fit in places like Chicago Union Station...
 

jadebenn

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It's not an unreasonable thing to wonder about in the abstract as long as one recognizes that whatever hypothetical thing you come up with isn't going to be the Superliner replacement. Commonality of the fleet is what Amtrak is after, as it simplifies maintenance and operations. The LD fleet is already small. Further subdividing it by purchasing cars that can't run on the NEC is highly unlikely.
How would it be a further subdivision? The Superliners already can't run on the NEC. Doesn't seem to be a deal-breaker.

Of course simplifying the fleet benefits Amtrak, but so does the doubled capacity per car of the Superliners. That's why they were ordered, and that's why they're still in service. If there were no appreciable benefits, to using the bilevel, Amtrak would've just rolled out a fleet of LD Amfleets/Horizons/Viewliners back in the day instead.

You're acting like this is some unrealistic foamer pipe dream when it is literally the current state of the network. All I'm asking is if there are any clearance issues that prevent a move to 48" platform heights while maintaining a bilevel LD fleet.
 
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The obsession with foamers and multilevel cars never ceases to amaze me.

We're going to see a standardized, single-level, long distance fleet at some time during the next decade.

while said in a pretty condescending way, he’s right.

Fleet commonality is by far more important than any benefits that duplexes provide. West coast LD consists are always pretty short (especially compared with the past). In terms of pax numbers, just adding more cars could offset any advantage superliners add.

That said, I think it’s fun to see what’s possible!
 

jadebenn

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Well, I'm tired of debating it either way. It's totally tangential to my actual question.

So assuming bilevels, does the math work with the clearances available? Is it physically possible for passengers who aren't hobbits? That is the question I would like answered. I am genuinely curious if there's enough space to pull that off with high platforms and end-to-end first-floor train connectvity.

The only cars that I know of that would have that capability, are the Alaska "ultra-domes", but those are too tall to fit in places like Chicago Union Station...
The clearances at CUS are probably the bottleneck, here.
 

Trogdor

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The only cars that I know of that would have that capability, are the Alaska "ultra-domes", but those are too tall to fit in places like Chicago Union Station...

If my reading of the specs is correct, those cars are maybe 2 feet too tall to fit within Plate F limits.
 

railiner

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If my reading of the specs is correct, those cars are maybe 2 feet too tall to fit within Plate F limits.
That's what I suspected. I only mentioned them because they have sufficient height to allow pass-thru on both levels, plus they have ADA lifts to enter car, and between levels...
 

jadebenn

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That's what I suspected. I only mentioned them because they have sufficient height to allow pass-thru on both levels, plus they have ADA lifts to enter car, and between levels...
I did some napkin math, and I think you could get a bilevel high-platform if you can use the whole 17 feet of plate F. But it's tight.

So, doing the basic napkin math of 17 feet minus 48 inches, then dividing the remaining height clearance by two, you get 6.5 feet. That's enough, right? Except in the real world you're going to lose some of that clearance to the floor and ceiling. Even assuming that only causes a loss of 6 inches of vertical clearance, that's more like 6.2 feet per floor. You'd need to start looking at clever ways to partially drop the ceiling, and while that's probably theoretically possible, it's dicey.

So, the alternative is if it's possible to go past plate F. The mainlines themselves shouldn't pose much of an issue; the host railroads have upgraded most of their infrastructure to run double-stacks, after all. Though it's possible there are a few tunnels along the way that haven't gotten the memo, and CUS clearances are tight...

Hm. Okay. That particular concept could work, but if there's even a single blockage on the existing LD network, it's immediately not worth it. Murphy says there probably is.

Alternatively, it might be possible to maintain level floor connectivity on the second floor, and just have an "elevator" car in each train consist. Though even with a dropped floor for able-bodied passengers, you'd still have some pretty tight spaces near the vestibules...

So I really think the answer of whether or not this is practical depends on what the ultimate chokepoint is on the network, and what height said chokepoint allows. If they can get 18 feet, I think they can pull it off. Otherwise, it is very difficult for me to conceptualize a high platform bilevel that can still meet ADA accessibility requirements.
 
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While it would be great to have level-boarding bilevels for LD trains, it's not going to happen any time soon, if at all.

#1 - First and foremost, as all or nearly all stations west of Chicago have low level platforms only. There would be at least a 5 year overlap from when the first high platform bilevels debut and all stations have high level boarding. That assumes Amtrak has the money to BOTH build new cars AND upgrade stations at the same time! Good luck with that! During the overlap, all stations will have to be able to handle both low- and high- level boarding until everything is done. Station dwell time will more than double during the overlap period as, perhaps, only 3-4 cars at a time would be at the right-height platform.

#2 - Car design - Take a look at the new bi-level cars on the way to California. They have BOTH low level AND high level doors! Cars on the South Shore (CSS&SB) out of Chicago have the same arrangement. Roughly 30% of the stations served by the South Shore (once off the electrified METRA line at Kensington) have high platforms. The rest are all low level. Assume that each entrance on each side 'consumes' 2 rows of seats or one roomette, thereby impacting saleable seats/rooms/revenue. One solution would be like LIRR and NJ Transit does...high level entry at car ends over the trucks with some seating then a couple stairs up or down to bi-level seating as all stations have high platforms. Additional entrances would have to be at the low level seating to accomodate low platforms for Amtrak. Articulated cars such as used by various light-rail operators have everything low level, only a couple inches above pavement level and inside steps up to the ends over the trucks. Maybe something like that would work.

One of the more fascinating solutions I found was the light rail system in Denver. Everything is low level boarding and passengers have to climb steps. However, there is a ramp up to high level at the 'front end' of the loading area designed for wheel chairs to go up. When the operator stops the car, he stops such that the entrance directly behind him is at the high platform. He/She then easily swings down a light weight platform over the car steps that is level with the ramp. The passenger rolls on, the platform swings up and is latched. The whole operation is less than 2 minutes! Perhaps that would work. The 'key' is that the operator stops with the ramp directly behind them. Try to spot a 10 car train from a locomotive cab and line it all up. Yes, Metro North and Amtrak do it daily on the New Haven line if track 3 or 4 (the outside tracks) are out of service and temporary walkways are used over the out-of-service track. But that is the same engineers/operators doing it several round trips PER DAY, not an engineer that does 2 round trips per week (10-12 hrs each way). If my experience riding Amtrak from the Windsor Locks CT station with it's 20 foot long low level platform is any measure, at least 3 engineers consistently overshoot and have to back up to spot the doors from adjacent Amfleet I cars on the platform!

#3 - The idea of being able to pass from car to car at the lower level such as bilevel METRA cars in Chicago requires that the entire lower level is above the trucks. Because of that, the lower aisle 'gallery' is actually a foot or so above the floor of the upper level and headroom on lower level seating is such that it is impossible for an adult to stand fully upright from the seated position. So...the only way to provide 'reasonable' headroom on both levels is to increase the height of the cars. I don't know off the top of my head how high Superliners are above the rail, but I do know that double stack containers are 20 feet 2 inches. So there should be a couple inches available for increased height.

#4 - Another issue is where to put all the 'mechanicals' for the car...HVAC, lighting controls, brake valves and reservoir(s), and even restrooms. On Superliners, most of that is tucked underneath the stairs and some above the trucks. Where will all THAT be put for ease of access from inside as well as from outside for maintenance?

Maybe the solution would be to build a 'Super Train' like the NBC show maybe 35 years ago on TV. The cars were extra wide that on what appeared to be a double track 'standard' railroad the cars spanned the outer rails of each track making them maybe 25 feet wide, perhaps?
 
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west point

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Chicago Union Station is a problem of clearances that will have to be fixed regardless of Amtrak needs. First some background,
1. One day observed a mechanic that had to fix something on the top of a superliner. Watched him as he struggled to crawl there. He was wedged between car and roof. Had this poster worried if car made any movement at all. I estimated clearance as 8 - 10 inches at that location. Other locations have no idea.
2. No matter what Amtrak should decide for taller cars the clearances will need raising. That is because the proposed HSR if built is going to use CHI US. Since the 25 kV CAT will need ~ 1 foot below the ceiling and ~ 1 foot above any passenger car. That means present Superliners cannot clear would as they probably rub the CAT. Standard clearances for 25 kV CAT is ~ 24 feet above top of rail
3. I Have not been there to study clearances but undercutting 4 feet seems problematic due to Chicago river elevations,
4. If impediments are removed for at least 2 feet above it probably is no big item to clear at least 4 feet or more.
5. If these impediment are removed then the HSR CAT can allow for a taller 2 level car ( 2 - Ft. + ) that solves all the problems listed in previous posts.
6. Maybe Amtrak is waiting to see if clearances are going to be raised then Amtrak can consider ordering taller 2 level car(s).
7. Of course some route modification of platform canopies will be needed. That would be for only platforms that are not presently cleared for domestic double stacks and auto carriers. That will also apply for in between station locations not cleared for double stacks and auto carriers. Plate "H" clearances at some locations is already useable for the taller cars.
8. One items in many posts forgotten is that freight lines that run by present platforms cannot have high platforms as close as Amtrak now uses. Perhaps high platforms could be service by cars having an extendable car walkway such as Brightline uses.
 

George Harris

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Let's have a few real numbers:
Superliner: 16'-2" high
AAR Plate F: 17'-0" high This is generally the highest enclosed car except autoracks
AAR Plate H: 20'-2" high. This defines maximum for double stacks.
Autoracks are usually in the range of 19'-0 to 19'-6"
LEGAL minimum offset to platforms for tracks carrying freight trains at single level car floor elevation varies by state between usually no less than 8'-0"

If you want a car floor at high platform elevation, and then have around 7'-0" clear, the top of car would be at least 4+7+1+7+0.5 = 19'-6" above the top of rail. You may want to quibble about the need for a foot deep structure between floors and 6 inches at the top, but to have a ceiling of less than 7'-0" is not reasonable. Even if you shrunk some, you still will be above Plate F. By the way, the entire US freight system will not clear plate F anyway.

There are bi-level cars built for high platform boarding, but for these, neither floor level is at the platform level. If you are seated in the lower level of one of these things, you will be looking at the knees of the people on the platform.

Further, a bi-level car does not give you twice the seating of a single level car. Space is lost from both levels for the stairs between levels.

If we want to go back to single level long distance trains, then we go back to vestibules with steps and use of wheelchair lifts, either car mounted or provided on the platforms. My opinion is that car mounted is better.
 

Ryan

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You're acting like this is some unrealistic foamer pipe dream when it is literally the current state of the network. All I'm asking is if there are any clearance issues that prevent a move to 48" platform heights while maintaining a bilevel LD fleet.
You are correct, and the current state of affairs is not sustainable. Amtrak is moving towards fleet commonality, and the LD fleet is going to follow that lead. The math above shows that what you seek is impossible.
 

George Harris

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The Talgo picture: note the door elevation does not match a low platform either. It is probably somewhere in the range of 18 inches (or higher?) above the top of rail. this does not match either low level or high level platforms. a platform to match this elevation would foul the legal clearance requirement, so a waiver would be required and would not likely be given nor be tolerated on any of the major railroad companies..
 
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Talking about the Siemens Venture procurements and their 48" level boarding height has got me thinking about the future of the Superliners and the Amtrak LD fleet.

A similar topic was discussed in this thread, but it was derailed by the idea of making the bilevel stock able to run on the NEC, which I fundamentally don't think is worth the design tradeoffs of the restricted loading gauge.

So, let me propose some alternate criteria. Is it possible to create a bilevel Superliner replacement that has high-level boarding and full inter-car accessibility from the first floor (so no steps to move between cars in order to satisfy modern ADA-compliance rules, but steps for second-floor access are fine), while fitting within the existing Superliner loading gauge (AAR Plate F, I believe).
I would use the VR Lapland cars from Finland. The cars are bilevel and are designed to run on OHE (overhead electric) routes too so it fits in tunnels fairly easily. They're similar in height to the Superliner cars so transitions to engines won't look awkward. In fact these actually will match the ALC-42 super well in my opinion.

The top photo is a VR Sleeper and the bottom is a VR Coach:
1631348139722.png
1631348428812.png
 
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