SSLs used as axle count cars

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John819

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I don't know about US railroads, but most European railroads have a minimum number of axles needed to (1) allow for train identification and (2) activate signals. There used to be (perhaps still is) a directive for Swiss railroads that trains cannot have an axle count of 256, because that will roll-over the counter to zero and make the train disappear from the system.

Perhaps that is what is happening here.
 

jis

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I don't know about US railroads, but most European railroads have a minimum number of axles needed to (1) allow for train identification and (2) activate signals. There used to be (perhaps still is) a directive for Swiss railroads that trains cannot have an axle count of 256, because that will roll-over the counter to zero and make the train disappear from the system.

Perhaps that is what is happening here.
No. This is a track circuit issue. Nothing is actually counting axles as they pass as is done in axle count based train presence and integrity detection system. Those are not used on the route in question.
 

Siegmund

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If extra equipment is already available, it makes sense to operate it.

If one were contemplating buying extra equipment to make grade crossing circuits happy... IMO it would make considerably more sense to buy the necessary hardware to improve the circuits themselves. You can buy between-rails devices that magnetically detect the passage of a huge chunk of iron overhead, and complete the circuit, rather than relying on the train's axles to carry the current; I would think expect those to run five figures per installation, while equipment up to passenger train standard runs to seven.

Hm. Might be a nice use of any infrastructure funding that is available, that would deliver results in months rather than the ~5 years we wait for new equipment to arrive on the property after it's ordered.
 

Trogdor

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So you literally did say that it can’t be done…but oh well.

Here I thought this post was about SSLs and other Superliners being used for axel count cars and suggestions were made for how to help out this situation. Especially when Amtrak is having a hard time getting enough cars on the road 5 days a week to fill out it’s current lower capacity trains. I’m not Amtrak management, neither are you, and I highly doubt they are trolling here looking for ideas on how to run the company.

Ryan’s point was about how you can’t “magic wand” away the need to modify equipment to work for this purpose. It takes actual resources (financial and human) to do that. And my (and others’) point is, and has been, that there is virtually no scenario in which the resources needed to do that wouldn’t be better directed towards getting Amtrak’s existing fleet back in good condition.

Even assuming that Amtrak today has plenty of money to spend, “just contract it out” is again magic-wanding away the troubles of manpower. Staffing shortages aren’t just an Amtrak thing. They are a nationwide problem, affecting nearly every shop and every industry. Who are you going to get to do the work that has a ton of shop capacity just sitting around waiting to modify a bunch of railcars?

If shops really did have spare capacity sitting around (again, doubtful), why not subcontract out the repair of existing equipment to get it back in running condition?
 

John Santos

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Ryan’s point was about how you can’t “magic wand” away the need to modify equipment to work for this purpose. It takes actual resources (financial and human) to do that. And my (and others’) point is, and has been, that there is virtually no scenario in which the resources needed to do that wouldn’t be better directed towards getting Amtrak’s existing fleet back in good condition.

Even assuming that Amtrak today has plenty of money to spend, “just contract it out” is again magic-wanding away the troubles of manpower. Staffing shortages aren’t just an Amtrak thing. They are a nationwide problem, affecting nearly every shop and every industry. Who are you going to get to do the work that has a ton of shop capacity just sitting around waiting to modify a bunch of railcars?

If shops really did have spare capacity sitting around (again, doubtful), why not subcontract out the repair of existing equipment to get it back in running condition?
It seems to me the correct criteria for deciding whether to spend resources repairing existing cars or adapting surplus standard non-passenger cars for use on a passenger train is the relative amount of work involved. If you could adapt 3 or 4 box cars (or any other freight car), making any necessary HPE pas-through cables, adapting the brakes, certifying the modified cars for the maximum required speed, etc. for the same cost as repairing or refurbishing (not manufacturing from scratch) an out-of-service passenger car, then it might be worth it to make ten or twenty or so such adapted cars, especially if it could be done in parallel with repairs. But that would delay the re-introduction of the repaired cars and wouldn't be particularly useful in the long term.

Amtrak really needs MORE cars. The VL II contract was way too small. But they do have a large number of Siemans coaches on order which have started to arrive. Wouldn't it be sensible to use the Amfleet I and II cars they replace as axle count cars? They are already safe, approved and capable of being part of a passenger consist. I don't know the schedule of new cars coming into service, but it is certainly faster than any significant number of adapted freight cars could be acquired. I'm pretty sure the "retired" Amfleet cars would work just fine coupled either to the end of the Superliners or in front, directly behind the engines (in front of the baggage car and/or transdorm, if any.)
 

jis

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Unfortunately none of the new Siemens cars received so far actually are replacements for any Amfleet I or II cars and there are no cars on order at present to replace the Amfleet II cars. The Amfleet I replacements are more or less four years from substantial delivery. So in fact there is no Amfleet cars available for the role contemplated at this time.

Now one could think of using some Horizons either in or headed to mothballs. But between taking a car out of mothball to put into revenue service and poccasionally as a axle car vs. taking one out of mothball just to be an axle car, the choice would appear to be the former, not the latter.
 
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Ryan’s point was about how you can’t “magic wand” away the need to modify equipment to work for this purpose. It takes actual resources (financial and human) to do that. And my (and others’) point is, and has been, that there is virtually no scenario in which the resources needed to do that wouldn’t be better directed towards getting Amtrak’s existing fleet back in good condition.

Even assuming that Amtrak today has plenty of money to spend, “just contract it out” is again magic-wanding away the troubles of manpower. Staffing shortages aren’t just an Amtrak thing. They are a nationwide problem, affecting nearly every shop and every industry. Who are you going to get to do the work that has a ton of shop capacity just sitting around waiting to modify a bunch of railcars?

If shops really did have spare capacity sitting around (again, doubtful), why not subcontract out the repair of existing equipment to get it back in running condition?

I understand it would take resources, that’s obvious. I never implicated it wouldn’t. But the possibility of freeing up a significant number of usable deadheading cars, very possibly at a lower cost and shorter timeframe than new equipment, is an idea worth looking at. Amtrak used to use out of service/stored/retired cars for this, if those are still available, then by all means, use those.

There are a number of companies who repair and can modify railcars. Do they have capacity to do this type of work today? I would think something could be sourced at the right price. But without digging into it and making phone calls, it’s hard for anyone to know what’s actually out there. Does Amtrak have money for it? Again, its hard to say, but they have access to more money now than they have had in years, if not ever. Not to mention their massive backlog of work. Contracting out work is a very viable tool and used in many many industries. Most freight railroads have offloaded car repair capacity and contract it out. Another example is airlines flying jets to Asia (among many other areas in the world) for inspections and work, of which includes modifications, upgrades, and whatever they want done. Even though they have massive departments here in the US that can do said work without the ferry flight costs.

Your last question is a great one and one that I think we should all be asking. Obviously passenger cars are a bit of a special breed and take lots of talents to work on. Is that capacity out there? I really don’t know, but given the amount of work available with this fleet right now, I’d wager somebody out there could or would step up given the opportunity. On the other hand, considering Amtrak’s history of not doing this, I’d venture to guess they are restricted by either union contracts or by strings attached to the money they receive from the government.
 

John Santos

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Unfortunately none of the new Siemens cars received so far actually are replacements for any Amfleet I or II cars and there are no cars on order at present to replace the Amfleet II cars. The Amfleet I replacements are more or less four years from substantial delivery. So in fact there is no Amfleet cars available for the role contemplated at this time.

Now one could think of using some Horizons either in or headed to mothballs. But between taking a car out of mothball to put into revenue service and poccasionally as a axle car vs. taking one out of mothball just to be an axle car, the choice would appear to be the former, not the latter.
So are all the Midwest cars (apparently currently on hold to replace the magnets in the seat trays, but otherwise ready for service) for NEW service, or are they replacing existing cars? If so, what kind of cars? It's not a question of taking cars OUT of mothballs. Never put them into mothballs in the first place. Just use them to replace the axle-count SSLs, and restore those SSLs to the trains that need them.

My understanding is the Midwest Siemans Venture cars were already in service, but were then withdrawn when the magnet issue was discovered. Replacing the seat tray magnets and getting them back into service is a matter of months, not years, so any cars they replace should be available in the same time frame.

P.S. While I was composing this, F900ElCapitan posted their response, and mentioned third-party maintenance companies. I think Amtrak does all repairs and refurbishments in-house, but there are dozens of commuter rail systems. Many of them have cars which can't be all that much different from Amtrak's, and there may very well be third-party maintenance companies that serve that market. For that matter, would retired commuter rail cars work as axle-count cars for Amtrak?
 

amtrakpass

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I hesitate to ask the reasons but why would there be any horizon cars in mothballs or out of service until the siemens deliveries are complete? Unless they have some immediate major structural defect which I don't think is the case you would think it would make sense to keep them going as long as possible. Secondly it is unfortunate there hasn't been federal regulatory action limiting excessive axel count restrictions on certain railroads. Every railroad has train length and speed requirements for things like single engines or maybe 1 to 3 car trains but anything 4 cars and up should be able to go track speed on main line track in the united states. The idea that an Amtrak train on the Norfolk Southern Chicago line has no speed or axel count restrictions and the same Amtrak train on CN to carbondale does is preposterous. The signal systems are just not that different when it comes to something so basic like track circuits and shunting.
 

jis

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I hesitate to ask the reasons but why would there be any horizon cars in mothballs or out of service until the siemens deliveries are complete? Unless they have some immediate major structural defect which I don't think is the case you would think it would make sense to keep them going as long as possible.
The why of it I don't know and can only speculate (see below). But apparently close to a third of the Horizon fleet is now in mothball.

I suspect it might be a situation similar to what we faced with the Heritage Diners. Their withdrawal was timed for the next major PM and then the Viewliners were expected to be on line. But they were not. So LSL and Star lost their Diners under various pretexts for a period of time.

I think it is possible that the Horizons were slated for withdrawal upon the arrival of the Ventures (this was clearly stated at one point and then later erscinded, at least for part of the fleet), which as we know were delayed. The Horizons targeted for mothballing at the next PM dd get withdrawn. Of course this was also in the middle of the pandemic when it is likely that there was no one to do the PM anyway. This is just a somewhat educated speculation on my part as to what might have transpired.
 
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west point

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Now one could think of using some Horizons either in or headed to mothballs. But between taking a car out of mothball to put into revenue service and poccasionally as a axle car vs. taking one out of mothball just to be an axle car, the choice would appear to be the former, not the latter.

jis: Agree. It is important to get all present cars and mothballed cars in operating service as quickly as possible. Then it is as important to get all stored wrecked cars in service. There needs to somehow protect those cars needing repair not to be disposed of to other entities. If any damaged cars are roadworthy but not passenger friendly why can't they be used as axel count cars? Still do not understand why heritage bags cannot be used as axel count cars. Of course if there is not enough OBS yet then can understand. But once enough OBS then it is a good question.

Another possibility might be acquiring back the material handling cars? The ones that have pass thru HEP and passenger car braking. As I understand it they would need ballast to operate at speeds above 70 MPH. Unless they could be refurbished by some independent freight car repairer that should be at the end of the repaired car pipeline.

After viewing all the mechanical openings and training IMO it will be at least mid 2023 before all current passenger cars can be repaired or refurbished.

Do you or anyone have a reliable list of each car and its status? It would help us understand how soon additional capacity will be available once the OBS recruits and T&E become fully qualified for revenue service. The Amtrak monthly reports no longer have the cars that were in for repair or refurbishment.
 

jis

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Do you or anyone have a reliable list of each car and its status? It would help us understand how soon additional capacity will be available once the OBS recruits and T&E become fully qualified for revenue service. The Amtrak monthly reports no longer have the cars that were in for repair or refurbishment.
Unfortunately that would appear to be a well guarded secret. We can only come up with educated guesses based on bits of information gathered from various sources spanning the space of good to dubious.
 

enviro5609

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Unfortunately that would appear to be a well guarded secret. We can only come up with educated guesses based on bits of information gathered from various sources spanning the space of good to dubious.
Google Maps or Earth is an interesting sources for some fun wild speculation on whats going on at Beech Grove. Its only a snapshot in time, but the satellite imagery is timestamps and relatively recent.

As of the last imagery, which is credited only to "2022" there are 5 SSLs visible in outdoor storage at the Beach Grove facility. SSLs and Viewliners are the only two cars I can reasonably identify with the top down view. Maybe others know more.

There are quite a lot of cars parked out there, in various states of disrepair. And at least two Superliners with crash damage that seem to be fenced off and wrapped up.

The full Google Earth client has a lot more functionality, so you can compare images over time. There are also composite 3d images so you can see what's parked there at an angle. I don't have that installed at work currently, though, so I can't check.
 

WWW

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Those wrecked (covered) Superliners ? perhaps from the EB rail accident in Montana -
Probably in a state suitable for pieces and parts to fix other cars -
If short on equipment why isn't something being done to put Humpty Dumpty back together ?
 

Cal

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Those wrecked (covered) Superliners ? perhaps from the EB rail accident in Montana -
I think they're from a more major wreck from a while ago. I think they're also badly burned. However I'm not entirely sure, I just know last year I did a big dig about wrecked equipment and found out what two wrecked cars were.
 

AmtrakBlue

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Those wrecked (covered) Superliners ? perhaps from the EB rail accident in Montana -
Probably in a state suitable for pieces and parts to fix other cars -
If short on equipment why isn't something being done to put Humpty Dumpty back together ?
If the ones from the EB accident are covered up it’s probably because the NTSB is still doing their investigation and they are “evidence”.
 

railiner

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Could be that wrecked cars are covered up to hide them from public view, as well…same with buses…
 
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