When something goes wrong with one of Amtrak’s long distance trains, problems can snowball and, before you know it, things get ugly. Such was the case several nights ago when Amtrak’s Train #1, the fabled Sunset Limited, was heading for Los Angeles but stalled about seven miles from Tucson, Arizona.
Actual facts are hard to come by, but we do know that the locomotive broke down completely and everything shut down. That meant no air conditioning, no lights, no hot food in the dining car, no ice for cold drinks in the lounge car … well, you get the picture.
Meanwhile the temperature outside the train was probably 90 degrees and the lack of A/C became a real problem almost immediately with many passengers affected. EMTs arrived on the scene, but they couldn’t assist everybody—there were just too many people in distress.
Compounding the problem, for whatever reason, a replacement locomotive was not immediately available. I haven’t been able to find out how long #1 was stranded in the desert totally without power, but based on news reports, it was at least seven hours.
I know I’ve taken the long way ‘round getting to my concern, but it’s this: because there was no power whatsoever throughout the stalled train, I suspect there was only one locomotive in the consist. And that begs the question: Why is a passenger train with more than 200 people on board sent off across miles of ferociously hot desert in the middle of the summer with only one locomotive? Please tell me it’s not to save money on fuel.
One thing is very clear: Amtrak needs new equipment. The fleet of P-42 locomotives used on the long-distance routes first went into service in the late 1990s and the oldest of the Superliner sleeping cars date back to the mid-1970s.
For Richard Anderson, Amtrak’s president and CEO, it’s getting very close to fish-or-cut-bait time. Is he prepared to make a commitment to the national network of long-distance trains? If so, he’ll need to somehow, some way, work with the next Congress to come up with a plan for obtaining new rolling stock and find a way to pay for it.
Yeah … well, good luck with that.