Any New Equipment for Amtrak?
Once again on my latest trip, I heard fellow passengers remarking on the state of Amtrak equipment. The fact is, some of the Superliner sleeping cars running back and forth across the country were built in the mid-1970s. That makes them some 40 years old.
Then, of course, they find out I’m involved with RPA (that’s the Rail Passengers Association, which is now what we’re calling NARP), and ask, “What are you guys doing about it?”
Short answer: we spend our own time and money contacting elected officials at all levels, pressing for more support for Amtrak. So far, most of the progress has been in convincing elected officials that we NEED Amtrak. Next? Convincing Congress that Amtrak needs new equipment and getting them to find a way to help Amtrak pay for it.
There is some encouraging news on that subject. Amtrak’s new president, Richard Anderson, spoke to RPA’s meeting in Chicago early this month. He stated that Amtrak would have a new fleet plan out by the end of this year or by early 2018. All well and good, but here are the harsh realities which all concerned will have to confront:
1. At this time, there are only two companies in this country capable of building both single and bi-level passenger cars suitable for inter-city rail service—Siemens and Alstom, both located in Sacramento.
2. Siemens is building the trainsets for the Brightline passenger service between Miami and Orlando and it will take them two more years to finish building those 137 units.
3. Alstom would have to gear up before they could even begin to undertake an order for bilevel cars from Amtrak. One knowledgable person I know says it could take as long as five years before Alstom could actually begin building rail cars.
4. Amtrak’s first order will probably be for something like 700 units. And that would just be for single and bi-level coaches. There will have to be an additional order for replacement sleepers.
5. Amtrak operates at a deficit, albeit a relatively small one, but somehow, someway, they have got to find the money—or get a bona fide assurance that they will get the money—before any orders can be placed.
Yes, it’s a tough slog, but Congress is the key and, believe it or not, we are making progress, albeit slow but steady.