Issues, Rail Photos, Reports

Amtrak California Railcar Development Open House

Report by Jarrod DellaChiesa, Director and Website Editor

As we all know, there are currently no funds available for new railcars.  In 2006, Californians approved the procurement of new railcars through Proposition 1B.  The budget crisis has caused the release of the Prop 1B bonds to be put on hold indefinitely.

In the midst of this, Caltrans is once again being a leader in intercity rail and is, on their own, working with Amtrak, other states, railcar builders, rail groups and riders to design the third generation of California Cars – a National standardized railcar.  This design will allow any state to purchase railcars quickly, at a lower cost and will provide railcar manufactures an incentive to tool a shop for continuous building of bi-level intercity railcars.  Since the cars are being designed now, once funds are released, a bid will be able to be sent out without further delays.  Any state will be able to add onto the car order and make any minor modifications to suit their own needs.

Caltrans Division of Rail is currently holding three open houses this week to discuss their proposed plans.   I attended the Sacramento meeting on April 26 and was joined by Bill Kerby, RailPAC Director, and Mike Barnbaum, Associate Director.  A PowerPoint presentation, as well as posters of the proposed floor plans and rendered images of what the car interiors would look like were displayed.

The pictures below are renderings of the proposed railcars.  Click on each thumbnail to see the full image.

Below are some highlights about the new cars:

  • American Built: The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) stated that Congress wants any new cars to be 100% American Built.
  • Base Car Design: The cars share the same base design as the second generation of California Cars built in 2002, with some improvements.  This simplifies the designs significantly – the car doors, bathroom modules, and other components are already proven technology.
  • Data Enhancements: A robust  infrastructure of GPS receivers, Ethernet and WiFi will gather and provide additional data, allowing for crews, maintenance bases and commissary to be more efficient, reduce paperwork and provide real-time data.
  • Business Class: Rather than purchasing new Business Class Cars, Caltrans is taking a “airline-style” approach to the concept.  They are designing a Business Class appliance module with a coffee urn and storage for refreshments and newspapers.  This module will take the place of 2-4 seats, simply lock into the seat track and get plugged into the existing electrical plugs.  Like airplanes and coach buses, the overhead lights and speakers will also be adjustable using overhead tracks to allow them to be adjust to whatever seat pitch the car is set up for (41 inches for Coach seating and possibly 51 inches for Business Class).  These new features will allow for any car to be converted into a Business Class car overnight.
  • Bicycles: There will only be slightly more space for bicycles.  The plans allow for 1-3 additional bicycles in the cab cars.  Coach cars will hold 3-4 bicycles.
  • Tables: Tables will mainly be placed in the middle of the coaches.  They are designed to absorb energy in a crash and will crumble upon impact.
Unable to attend one of the open houses?
Amtrak California is hosting a virtual open house from April 30 – May 28, 2010.   There you will be able to review the information and provide your feedback through a simple survey.
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