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With a new administration in D.C., it's time to think outside of the box because passenger rail's survival just may depend on it

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Macro View of Amtrak's Equipment Issues

From a March 25 Trains Magazine News Wire story: 
WASHINGTON - The long-distance passenger train appears to face a junction between continued federal operation and some form of state or regional operation. Rumors now abound about the long-distance train, as well as when-or if-Amtrak will order any new bi-level long-distance passenger cars to replace or supplement the aging Superliner fleet.
Much of Amtrak's current long-distance car fleet is soldiering on well into its third decade of service. The original orders of Amfleet and Superliner cars were designed and delivered in the late 1970s. The second batch of Amfleet II cars came in the early 1980s and the Superliner II cars arrive in the mid-1990s. Amtrak's newest long-distance passenger cars are the single-level Viewliner sleeping cars, delivered throughout 1996.
Derailments have thinned the passenger car fleet, particularly the Superliners, limiting Amtrak's capacity. With its current fleet, Amtrak is often unable to add enough cars to meet demand at peak travel periods, especially with sleeping cars.
Steven Kulm, Amtrak's director of media relations, tells Trains News Wire,"While we continue to work on an updated fleet plan, we don't presently have a target date for its release." Kulm adds, "This is, in part, because the updated plan is being written to better align with the Amtrak Strategic Plan with a focus on the needs of the new business lines and the long-distance business 
line, in particular, still in development.

Kulm continues, "In addition, [President Joe] Boardman has long argued long distance trains are a particular responsibility of the federal government and we are eager to see how Congress addresses long-distance equipment capitalization in the reauthorization. So, with no present funding, an updated fleet plan awaiting specific input from the long distance business line, and pending reauthorization, a date for ordering new bi-level long distance cars has not been identified."
Other Amtrak sources have estimated that an updated five-year plan will be out yet this spring. Any order of any new long-distance equipment, particularly bi-level, is much less certain.
Is it not Amtrak’s responsibility to rebuild the cars that they already have? Don't get me wrong, Amtrak needs new equipment, but, they also need to rebuild the cars that have been taken out of service and expand its routes. If the agency would just restore its existing fleet, then, it would solve its problems with equipment shortages and route frequencies.

As of last year, at least 23 Superliners had been scrapped, with at least another dozen sitting around and waiting to be scrapped. Meanwhile, Amtrak listed 429 active and 50 out of service Superliner cars (at least half of which will never be restored) on January 1 this year. This is an outrage! In the past, Amtrak management has said in the past that it wouldn't give its older equipment to other operators. To make matters even worse, the leadership out of D.C. made no effort to help the western long distance trains by failing to budget any money for those routes while it ordered new Viewliners for the eastern overnight routes and new equipment for the Northeast Corridor. 

Amtrak is essentially letting the long distance network shrink by inaction. Evidence is as follows: Boardman not disputing Union Pacific's high cost to make the Sunset Limited daily, other studies that come with hefty price tags to restore service, and being passive with other host railroads when it comes to improving service as part of PRIIA-mandated studies.

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