Long Distance (LD) fleet replacement discussion (2022-23)

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Amtrak25

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The Lake Shore Ltd pre-Covid had six 60 seat Am-2 coaches and a 48 seat diner. It worked fine for decades with two reservation dinner seatings before Albany (with 4 coaches) and 2 after (with 6 coaches). They also had take-out of coffee and cold snacks from the diner where there was no cafe car south of Albany.

The Empire Builder with a St Paul cut car once had 5 Superliner coaches and a 72 seat diner. There were 5 dinner seatings and taking numbers for breakfast and lunch. They also loaded a couple of dozen chicken dinners from Havre Box Car Lunch, now defunct and forgotten.

We don't know what consists will be like with a new fleet, but are unlikely to have more coach capacity than that, and probably less the way they are headed now.

People who say coach passengers usually didn't eat in the diner can't explain these multiple dinner seatings in a nearly full car where sleeper car patrons amount to only 25% of the manifest.

Only in the Richard Anderson era of slashing diner car staff 75% did it become forbotten to serve coach passengers in the diner, but also extorted far higher sleeping car charges for lousier TV dinner food now that the entire overhead cost of the diner and commissary is restricted to the few who are in sleeper.

Perhaps if passengers paid when seated, which sounds tacky, would increase table turnover, not having to wait when done eating for the one and only LSA who was allowed to handle money come around to everyone.
 

Siegmund

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Can confirm that in the 'olden days' they knew how to get people in and out very efficiently. I don't remember seeing 5 dinner seatings in the diner, but I do remember 4, at 45-minute intervals, with just about every seat full. That feeds 288, and that is about how many people wanted to eat, out of 400 or so aboard. (Back when a few of the Superliner trains actually ran with as many as 4 or 5 coaches and 3 sleepers.) The only time they needed a second diner was on the combined CZ/Pioneer/Desert Wind in peak season - and even then I think it was more to spare the crew from long shifts, and the passengers from long walks and unfamiliar mealtimes, than actual necessity.

I don't recall any big delays associated with money handling but that probably means that the LSA-only rule is newer. Training a second person to handle cash, and checking people out in a rotation of some type --- maybe even SEATING alternate halves of the diner at 20- or 25-minute intervals, instead of the whole thing at 45s --- would alleviate that.

In the post-covid era, a takeout window could be a good idea. Though it does bring with it the need to handle a lot more smelly trash throughout the train, and may well do more harm than good, vs. just having sit-down food in the dinner and only selling easily portable snacks in the lounge.
 
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In the old days, they were frightfully efficient. I spent the summer of 1975 riding the Merchant's Limited between Philadelphia and New Yor, which had a full dining car. You could enter the car with no reservation at Trenton, and be finished with dinner, including payment, before the train got to Newark. It's true that the trains weren't as fast then as they are now, but it was still less than an hour. The main way this was done was that the diner wrote the order on the check, and the waiter didn't really have to interact too much with the customers. I would think that application of modern technology would allow this kind of service in modern Amtrak dining cars. All they would need is some kind of computerized order/payment device on the table, and then the LSAs would only be needed to seat people and bring out the food.
 

Anderson

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So if the diners cannot handle the capacity... doesn't that mean the diners are desirable and we should add more? Cutting them because they are too popular doesn't make any sense to me.

Yes, I'd love it if they disconnected meals from the sleepers and adjusted the pricing. That would reserve diner space for people that actually value it and will pay directly for it. It would also give a better price for sleepers for people like me that just want a flat bed. Perhaps they could have sleepers at both ends of the train... at the rear by the diner are the sleepers that include meals. At the front of the train are the sleepers that don't include meals. Or something like that.

I really like your idea about a takeout window in the diner. I think lots of people would enjoy that option.
In principle, yes. The issue is train configuration and, as @jis said the question of non-revenue space on trains. If you put (one of) the diners on an end of the train, where it would never need to make a smaller station platform, that might make it easier to work with a longer train. Having said that, if you simply have a "crater" in the middle of the train it wouldn't affect short-platform spots (you need two of those), but it would affect longer platforms (e.g. a number of the Florida service stations) where you might otherwise be able to do a single spot.
 

Crowbar_k

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My two cents on a couple of the the points made above:

- Can't have backwards-facing seats on LD trains. The fact that they have them on corridor trains is really annoying. There are many people (my wife) that can't face backwards or they'll get motion sickness. Just turn the dang train at each end.

- Have we given up on coach passengers being able to buy a meal in the diner? What a shame. They're not just cattle. I don't want to eat in the diner every meal... but once on the LD train as a treat would be nice.

- Conversely, the biggest upgrade I want on a train is to lay flat to sleep. Don't care about privacy, don't care about meals. Laying flat to sleep overnight is the only upgrade that really moves the needle for me to pay more. Amtrak has gotta come up with a mid-cost solution. Could be airline-like lay-flat seats, could be roomettes without meals included, could be some other solution.
Yes. I feel that a cheaper lay flat option would definitely work on routes like the City of New Orleans, Capital Limited, and of course, the Auto Train. These are routes that they've a major city in the evening, and arrive in another major city in morning or afternoon.l the next day. If they can get the price of a lie flat bed to be the same or cheaper as a plane ticket between the two cities, that could win over a lot of new passengers.

This is especially true for the Auto Train. I feel that it would work best as a sleeper only train. If Amtrak has a fleet of cars that were only roomettes, I wonder how many extra train cars they would have to use to have the same capacity they have now.
 

mlanoue

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Wouldn't work when meals are missed since LD trains are routinely 3 - 10 hours late.
Good point. This might be expecting a lot out of Amtrak, but since we're kind of just theorizing here--perhaps a passenger could place the order ahead of time on their phone and put their credit card in, and it would just put a hold for a specified amount. Then if they actually had the meal the charge would go through. Kind of like when your card gets a temporary hold for $100 at a gas station, but in the end you only get charged for the amount of gas you actually bought.
 
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Good point. This might be expecting a lot out of Amtrak, but since we're kind of just theorizing here--perhaps a passenger could place the order ahead of time on their phone and put their credit card in, and it would just put a hold for a specified amount. Then if they actually had the meal the charge would go through. Kind of like when your card gets a temporary hold for $100 at a gas station, but in the end you only get charged for the amount of gas you actually bought.
With Amtrak IT programming it, that would be verrrry risky! :D
 

fengshui

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With Amtrak IT programming it, that would be verrrry risky! :D
Perhaps, this could be a greenfield system that wasn't tied to all the legacy stuff. That's the real challenge Amtrak has, they have to keep the trains moving (literally) while doing any upgrade or improvement on what they have. Same problem the airlines see, but they have more revenue to leverage to improve things, and still they lag (see the Southwest crew scheduling system).
 

Touchdowntom9

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The way I see it, they should either use the same shells as the rest of their fleet for commonality (Siemens Venture) or go with the Bombardier Multilevel Coaches for the benefit of existing and proven off the shelf models, as well as these coaches being flexible enough to easily support whatever product Amtrak wants to offer. I would also use large luggage racks and eliminate the baggage cars.

The Multilevels offer the best of both worlds (IMHO) if you can navigate the elevator ADA issue. I could be wrong, but I believe you can you just install one of those seat elevators you frequently see on the home staircases of elderly people that they can sit on and ride up. Pop that on the existing staircase and you have an off the shelf solution that doesn't require special bespoke designs that end up never working well.

Power and Configuration:
It would make sense to use trainsets of 10-12 multilevel cars with an ALC-42 on each end. For the midlevel section (on the end of each car) you have a luggage rack and bathroom on each side (where there are currently folding seats on NJT) For those trains that pass on NEC territory, you would marry a multilevel EMU to each Charger (see NJT’s Multilevel EMU, another off the shelf product) so that they can use overhead power in electric territory and get a HP/acceleration boost as well. In diesel territory, 8800HP should be plenty sufficient for a 10 or 12 car set, and would be able to make comparable speed/acceleration to an NJ Transit consist on the NEC (not great, but decent for diesel). In electric territory you would get something closer to 14,000-1600HP which would match anything Amtrak currently uses outside of the Acela. I also think you could ask Bombardier to attempt to reduce the weight where possible given the recent change in FRA buff strength rules by using aluminum instead of stainless steel, which could reduce the weight. But that is not needed to make this work, it’s simply just nice to have. This makes it a very effective dual mode train set.

The trains are already rated for 110mph, they are affordable and have an established user base with NJT that helps reduce any teething issues Amtrak is concerned by.

Layout and Product Design:
For the coach product you use a typical Domestic First Class airline seating product in a 2x2 configuration and include modern airline like overhead bins. My quick math would imply you would be able to fit 96-104 passengers per coach class car (using 37-38 inch seat pitch and using the midlevel area as bathrooms and extra luggage racks)
For First class product, you use the Delta One Suite pods. My math estimate comes out to imply you fit 40-44 first class pods per multilevel coach.

For the cafe car or lounge car, you have the entire lower car level for a full kitchen if you desire, or can have massive seating areas on both levels instead depending on how you want to use them. Either way it provides great flexibility for Amtrak.

Overall, this gives you the ability to supply around 885 seats in a 10 coach configuration where 2 of them are first class seating coaches. They are affordable and can travel anywhere in the USA with room for tunnel clearance and have no shortage of speed capabilities.

Cost:
With each charger costing around $6.5M and each multilevel costing around 3.5M, you are looking at a cost of $45-50M per train set, but if you look at it on a per seat basis, it’s about $42K per seat if you use 12 coach trains, which is a pretty good price considering what it might cost when using single level coaches which much less seating capacity which would average around 60-68 passengers per car in a similar configuration (see Brightline)

While nothing is perfect, I think the above is a pretty strong solution and should make it very rare that Amtrak suffer any issues regarding capacity on their long distance trains. All of the trains would be off the shelf designs that help Amtrak avoid paying more than they need to. Let me know if you disagree, would love to hear what others think about it.
 

Amtrak25

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There is no absolutely no way NJT MLV type cars will work.

You cannot restrict ADA passengers to the outer ends of the car like on a commuter railroad, stair-gliders are one more thing to break and get in the way, the stairways are too narrow for that, there woud be no food service, no bathroom access (there are very few tip-up seats outside the bathroom), more than one bathroom is needed per coach, no overhead luggage racks (I for one will not never my bags out of sight), and that is true of lots people, the lighting is very harsh, and the ceilings over the seat are too low. If I have to leave my bags out of sight, then forget Amtrak; I will take Greyhound or Megbus.

I don't think Amtrak would permit long trains to be topped and tailed, which could bridge phase breaks. They don't let NJT do that.
 

Crowbar_k

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One clarification I would add to @Anderson 's statements about Dining Service in India is that when they figured out that they do not want adequate number of non-revenue cars (aka Diners) to serve 16-24 cars worth of passengers 60 per car, they replaced the Diner by a Pantry/Food storage and distribution car, and arranged to deliver food to each passenger at their seat/accommodation at meal times. This is a relatively labor intensive activity which probably would not fly at Amtrak. I don't know whether IR's contention that the added revenue from the cars that replace the non-rev cars more than covers the extra labor cost.

Originally they had two Pantry cars and 2 Luggage/Brake Van/Generator Cars in a 16-20 car consist. Since then they have gotten rid of one of Pantries and replaced it with a revenue car and and have talked about replacing one of the Luggage/Brake/Generator cars by a revenue car, with the locomotive delivering hotel power to the train, and one higher capacity Generator providing standby power if the loco fails or is detached. So the revenue vs. cost balancing act may be more complicated than meets the eye. But IR's mix in their environment produces a winning formula for these trains to be cash cows for the fares they charge. Food is included in the fare in the premium trains.

In any case Amtrak will have to decide what it will do with food service on LD trains before they can finalize the order for replacement fleet.
I wonder what capacity would be like if the entire passenger train fleet was just the "delta one" cars. No coach. No sleeping cars. Just the sleeping pods. Looking at images on Google, it seems that they take up about as much space as a long distance coach row of seats. So and entire train car filled with them would be roughly half the capacity of a coach car. Heck, if we want to get really creative, there might be a way to stagger the pods on top of each other, creating a quasi upper level, similar to the old duplex sleepers.
 
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Touchdowntom9

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I wonder what capacity would be like if the entire passenger train fleet was just the "delta one" cars. No coach. No sleeping cars. Just the sleeping pods. Looking at images on Google, it seems that they take up about as much space as a long distance coach row of seats. So and entire train car filled with them would be roughly half the capacity of a coach car. Heck, if we want to get really creative, there might be a way to stagger the pods on top of each other, creating a quasi upper level, similar to the old duplex sleepers.
If you look at my comment above, I believe you can get about 40-44 pods per multilevel train. I would guess you could get around 26-30 per single level car, or Amfleet car. I estimate they are about 44 inches long per pod since your legs are technically under the seat in front of you when it’s laying down flat
 
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I wonder what capacity would be like if the entire passenger train fleet was just the "delta one" cars. No coach. No sleeping cars. Just the sleeping pods. Looking at images on Google, it seems that they take up about as much space as a long distance coach row of seats. So and entire train car filled with them would be roughly half the capacity of a coach car. Heck, if we want to get really creative, there might be a way to stagger the pods on top of each other, creating a quasi upper level, similar to the old duplex sleepers.
Not a good idea unless it’s in addition to sleeper coaches. Overnight trains are a niche product in the US.

I would never take a 2-night overnight train trip in a Delta One pod over a traditional sleeper cabin, and I would bet everything I have that I am in the majority. Now if this accommodation is in addition to coach and sleepers, that’s an entirely different story.

Two nights is a hotel, and requires hotel-like accommodations.
 

fdaley

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So no sleeping cars? That would be a huge mistake. Delta One style pods might be sufficient for strictly overnight routes (for example 65/66/67) or to fill the Slumbercoach niche, but sleeping cars are definitely needed for most long-distance routes (especially the 2 night ones).
Not to mention, quite apart from the issue of passenger comfort, which may not be the highest consideration for the current Amtrak leadership, the Delta pods simply are not going to command the premium fares Amtrak now manages to collect for roomettes and bedrooms. They would take a big hit on revenue, which is something they do seem to understand.
 

fengshui

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I could be wrong, but I believe you can you just install one of those seat elevators you frequently see on the home staircases of elderly people that they can sit on and ride up. Pop that on the existing staircase and you have an off the shelf solution that doesn't require special bespoke designs that end up never working well.
This would be woefully insufficient. Those only work for people with partial mobility problems who can generally move themselves. Imagine a large, full adult with a battery-powered scooter. Both the scooter and the adult need to get upstairs, and they could weigh 200+ lbs each. Transfer is possible with two staff assisting (see what the airlines do), but it takes time that planes have during pre-boarding, and which trains generally do not at a short stop. Air travel also does involve moving around the plane other than to and from the bathroom as a part of the journey. Scooters are also often quite large, and would not necessarily be able to fit up the staircase pathway.
 

fdaley

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I would also like to point out using something like Bombardier Multilevels is going to limit the size of overhead luggage racks on coaches and make upper berths in sleeping cars virtually impossible. Also Delta Pods aren't really suited for families or couples.
Yeah, the already extremely tight clearance of Superliner upper bunks is something I would hope to see improved upon in any new sleeper design. The Viewliner uppers are vastly superior. Perhaps this is another argument in favor single-level equipment.
 
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Yeah, the already extremely tight clearance of Superliner upper bunks is something I would hope to see improved upon in any new sleeper design. The Viewliner uppers are vastly superior. Perhaps this is another argument in favor single-level equipment.

I don't know if height clearance in stations like Chicago Union will be a limiting factor, but as I recall the Stadler-built cars for Rocky Mountaineer are almost 2 feet taller than Superliners. If that additional height could be translated to a Superliner III design that extra 22 inches could mean a world of difference.
 

keelhauled

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Not to mention, quite apart from the issue of passenger comfort, which may not be the highest consideration for the current Amtrak leadership, the Delta pods simply are not going to command the premium fares Amtrak now manages to collect for roomettes and bedrooms. They would take a big hit on revenue, which is something they do seem to understand.

The other related problem that also precludes them from being a third class of service is that there isn't the floor space to stuff enough of the things in a railcar, you can't herringbone or stagger them because you haven't got the width. At best you're pretty much matching the capacity of single occupancy roomettes and you come out behind as soon as some of those are fully occupied, so you might as well forget engineering a new type of interior and just add more sleepers to meet demand for lie-flat accommodations since the revenue potential is so much more.

Personally I don't really find any value in the cost of sleepers (for that kind of money I'll just fly) but an intermediate step between coach and sleeper would be attractive. Unfortunately I don't think there's a logistical way to get to an intermediate price.
 

Bob Dylan

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The other related problem that also precludes them from being a third class of service is that there isn't the floor space to stuff enough of the things in a railcar, you can't herringbone or stagger them because you haven't got the width. At best you're pretty much matching the capacity of single occupancy roomettes and you come out behind as soon as some of those are fully occupied, so you might as well forget engineering a new type of interior and just add more sleepers to meet demand for lie-flat accommodations since the revenue potential is so much more.

Personally I don't really find any value in the cost of sleepers (for that kind of money I'll just fly) but an intermediate step between coach and sleeper would be attractive. Unfortunately I don't think there's a logistical way to get to an intermediate price.
Back in the Good Ole Days, Slumber Coaches were the Alternative to Expensive Sleepers,( Meals weren't included with either) and of course a step up from Coach, since you had a Private Room with a Bed and a Bathroom.

I think Amtrak could fill every Slumbercoach on LD Trains ( include 1 in every LD Consist)if the Price was Right.
 

Willbridge

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Thanks to the late Ed Von Nordeck, here's how coach passengers were served:
1966 UP summer Cities 001.jpg
And here's how the Q served coach passengers in the Chuck Wagon on the Denver Zephyr:
1966 Q Chuck Wagon  003.jpg

And the GN, of course, had the Ranch cars on the Empire Builder. I still remember coming home from the Army and in eastern Montana sitting at the counter next to a cowboy who asked the counter man for "booze" (his word). It served an excellent hamburger.
 
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