Amtrak’s president explains purchase of new equipment during press conference

From Trains magazine

WASHINGTON – Amtrak President Joseph Boardman fielded reporters questions today about the 130-car, $298.1 million order the company announced Friday for 25 sleeping cars, 25 baggage-dormitory cars, 55 baggage cars and 25 diners. The winning bidder for the single level equipment, which will replace Heritage cars whose original manufacture dates to 1948, is CAF USA, a North American subsidiary of the Spanish company Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles.

Boardman noted that in addition to having the low bid, CAF’s decision to manufacture both the cars and stainless steel shells at its transit plant in Elmira, N.Y., played a key role in winning the contract over Alstom, USA, which was the only other qualified bidder (an Alstom factory, where Amtrak’s 1995-built 50 Viewliner sleepers were assembled, is located in nearby Hornell, N.Y.) CAF is currently completing orders for 192 5000-series heavy rail transit cars for Washington Metro’s subway system, and has built or is building light rail vehicles for systems in Pittsburgh, Sacramento and Houston.

Although the new single-level cars will be built to specifications based on the existing Viewliner sleepers and Amtrak-designed prototype diner 8400 under renovation at the company’s Beech Grove, Ind., back shop near Indianapolis, Boardman said the new cars would not look exactly the same. “The specification gives the builder the flexibility for enhancements and upgrades, but we did not require the cars to have the same shape,” he said. Reportedly, one of the differences will be that individual toilet facilities in each roomette will be replaced by separate bathrooms “down the hall,” as is currently the case on bi-level Superliner cars.

He defended the purchase of the baggage dorms as freeing up revenue space in sleeping cars now currently occupied by on-board service employees, noting that such cars were inherited from host railroads but had been retired as they became more expensive to repair. Chris Jagodzinski, general manager of operations, estimated that the cars would free up from 6 to 10 Viewliner rooms on every train that are now used to house the crew. In fact, the cars will also replace full baggage cars on many overnight trains so will not necessarily add to a consist’s length. Addition of the new baggage cars means that Amtrak will have the flexibility of adding checked baggage capability to 110-mph trains because the current aging fleet of baggage cars and heritage diners is limited to 90-mph.

In response to a question from Trains magazine columnist Fred Frailey, Boardman said that Congress has given Amtrak a “positive response” to the company’s fleet plan proposal, which includes the immediate purchase of 70 electric locomotives to replace 30 year-old AEM-7 electrics, but he admitted that an exact appropriation amount has not been determined. “We have specifically asked for funding (of the cars and locomotives) and increasing ridership and revenues support our request, but we think a combination of appropriations and loans is the likely means of financing,” Boardman said. The first year of the single-level car contract is being paid for with $29.8 million from Amtrak’s current revenues. He noted that the company’s share of the Rail/Air market has risen to 65 per cent between New York and Washington, and 52 per cent between New York and Boston.

Left unsaid was whether the new cars will be called Viewliners or given some other fleet name. According to some insiders, that decision is yet to be made. – Bob Johnston