Amtrak Updates


Future of Amtrak

Amtrak has submitted an RFP on their procurement page for a Diesel Locomotive Refleet, aimed at replacing the war-weary P42s. Richard Anderson, in an interview with the Rail Passenger Association, has expressed his desire to get the new locomotives in service as soon as possible. That means that companies with active passenger locomotive production lines like Siemens and EMD have a good shot at the contract than GE/Wabtec, who would be designing the new engines from scratch.

However, something noted in the RFP that wasn't stated in the interview is that Amtrak will also accept bids for a near-complete rebuild of the P42DCs, changing them into P42ACs.

I'm attempting to link the procurement website but it seems to be down right now. Once it is back up, the information can be found at

In addition to the strong possibility of new diesels, I'd start saying goodbye to the Superliner equipment. Amtrak is looking at how to overcome the problems that have plagued the Superliners in recent years, and refurbishment is not on the table.

This is the full text of the interview, including the new diesels as well as other possible new equipment and the future of long distance trains.

In a wide-ranging meeting with Rail Passengers Association President and CEO Jim Mathews this week, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said that there are no immediate plans to suspend service on any long-distance routes. Amtrak Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner, who joined the meeting, added that any changes that might result from failures by commuter agencies to address Positive Train Control issues would be temporary service disruptions.

Both executives sought to ease concerns among rail advocates that Amtrak management is moving towards abandoning service on large parts of the National Network in favor of corridor investments, particularly in the Northeast Corridor. These followed similar assurances Gardner offered to Senators during public testimony last week that put Amtrak on record before Congress that no plans exist for permanent reductions in service through Amtrak’s next authorization in 2020.

PTC adjustments “are not an abandonment strategy,” Gardner noted.

That’s not to say that the nature of Amtrak service won’t evolve or change over time, but both executives stressed that they are pursuing a growth strategy for Amtrak aimed at serving more Americans rather than fewer. Further, Anderson added that there will always be long-distance trains, and that in many cases Amtrak will try to upgrade the experience on these routes--trains Anderson describes as “epic, experiential trains” like the Empire Builder, Coast Starlight or other long-distance services.

However, growth in the near-term and opportunity in the medium term lie in services around the country in corridor segments of under 600 miles, and ideally about 400 miles, Gardner said. This is a “sweet spot” in which multiple daily frequencies can be serviced with an optimized number of trainsets, so that both fares and trip times can be competitive with other modes.

In any case, the long-term shape of the National Network will be determined by Congress, which makes the upcoming re-authorization of the surface transportation bill even more important to RPA and its members. And it’s why we continue to ask RPA members to take part in our Mayors campaign and our continued outreach and education efforts to their local congressional representatives and Senators.

Mathews also asked about several specific concerns raised to him by RPA members, such as the “contemporary menu” now being rolled out on the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited routes, plans for new equipment and rolling stock, and safety.

Anderson and Gardner both told Mathews that Amtrak wants to improve the food offerings systemwide, and Anderson added that the railroad is prepared to spend more money on food to accomplish this. Gardner acknowledged that the Lake Shore/Capitol menu is a work in progress, noting that there is more to be done. Amtrak expects eventually to restore at least one hot-food option to that menu, as well as the ability for Coach passengers to buy meals from that menu in the diner or elsewhere.

Amtrak is looking to renegotiate its food contracts across the system so as to upgrade the quality of the food available, as well as looking at ways to let passengers choose their meals ahead of time, and choose when and where they would like to eat--in the diner at fixed mealtimes, or in their room or at their seat when they want. Amtrak also wants eventually to go cashless, with on-board attendants using point-of-sale portable devices to charge for these items.

Management hopes to get the new-build CAF diners now accumulating in Florida out on the road and into service soon, but Gardner reports that those 11 diners now parked in Hialeah are awaiting parts and modification. Once they are completed, they can go into service.

Speaking of new equipment, Amtrak is ready to move any day now with a Request for Proposals (RFP) to replace the diesel locomotive fleet, and the plan is to move quickly to award the contract and begin getting locomotives built and into service. Gardner told Mathews that Amtrak is looking to issue a Request for Information this summer to poll manufacturers about the availability of single-level trainsets and diesel multiple units, or DMUs, again with an eye toward moving quickly to get equipment under contract and into a delivery pipeline. Next up will be identifying ways to replace the Superliner Is and IIs which are now reaching the end of their reasonable service lives.

Anderson acknowledged that while he had talked in November at the RPA meeting about possibly re-fitting these cars, it has since emerged that they are simply too old and have too many serious concerns--including the need for all new frames--that the answer really is replacement rather than refurbishment. Meanwhile the Amfleet I refresh is nearly finished, and the Acela refresh is beginning to put improved trainsets back out to the Northeast Corridor.

In safety, Anderson is laser-focused not only on Positive Train Control but on leading the industry in implementing an airline-style Safety Management System, or SMS, by the end of the year--a step, he reminds, that is required of Amtrak by FRA regulation following the National Transportation Safety Board’s implementation recommendation. Anderson believes the freight railroads have a "risk-tolerant" mindset and he finds it baffling; "they're perfectly willing to accept that they'll wreck a train every three years."

As a comprehensive, systematic way of assessing individual risks to safe operation and identifying specific mitigation steps for each risk, SMS is proven in the aviation world not only to improve safety but to continuously drive down incidents and risk. It’s why the SMS at Amtrak will identify a range of ways to reach “PTC-equivalent” levels of safety in areas that aren’t fully PTC-compliant. Mitigations include everything from slow orders to spiking or blocking facing-point switches for mainline movement, applying different technologies to assure accurate train location, sending the conductor up to the head or, failing everything else, using buses to move passengers around the affected track segment.

This is Amtrak’s official line. As advocates, we need to be observant of what this all means in practice -- while gearing up to fight for a national vision in the coming reauthorization.
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I just hope that Amtrak has a future :eek:

I'd say there is. I mean, there was an entire train of GOP lawmakers (a party historically against Amtrak) who took the train to a retreat in WV. I highly doubt Amtrak will be abolished; however, there is the matter of funding. Amtrak has always been cheated on how much money they have available vs. how much they should have to be able to create the kind of service that the public wants and what Congress expects. I've seen people on Facebook constantly calling for increased frequency of trains, restoration of trains like the Desert Wind and a full Sunset Limited but no one seems to understand that Congress isn't giving money to Amtrak to purchase the amounts of equipment and real estate needed to do those sorts of things. The states have helped some in the form of the Chargers, but that's only a stopgap compared to what needs to be done in order to make Amtrak even more competitive.
For those of you who haven't been following the flurry of updates in regards to Amtrak:

Amtrak submitted an RFP (request for proposal) for new diesel locomotives to replace the P42s. This RFP also includes the possibility of rebuilding the P42s and changing them from DC to AC traction. The RFP has since closed, and I assume Amtrak's Procurement Team are looking at their options with senior management. Don't expect any news soon.

Additionally, Amtrak has also submitted an RFI (request for information) for the replacement of the Amfleet I cars, many of which are at least 40 years old. The RFI indicates that relatively all options will be considered, including integrated trainsets (like Brightline), individual coaches, and even DMUs. These cars are being designed for corridor routes operating east of the Mississippi. All interested parties have an opportunity to pitch their product to senior management in a 90-minute meeting in DC over the next month. After deliberation, Amtrak will submit an RFP for the new cars, expected sometime in 2019.

On the Long Distance front: Amtrak has proposed replacing the Southwest Chief between Albuquerque and either La Junta or Dodge City with bus service, effectively terminating it as a national train and turning the Chief into two "stub trains", one between Chicago and La Junta/Dodge City, and the other between LA and Albuquerque. This hasn't gone over well with elected officials or passenger rail advocates, who believe Amtrak lied to them and is not following a Congressional mandate to operate a "national network".

That's all for now.
I think Americans are unfortunate regarding passenger rail and when compared with elsewhere. Kind of shame it has went that way.