By Noel T. Braymer
Back in 2012 with much fanfare, the States of California, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri announced a joint agreement to order 130 bi-level rail passenger cars capable of speeds up to 125 miles per hour. California would get 42 additional cars for ridership growth on the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner services. The remaining 88 cars would be for expanded service in the Midwest with speeds up to 125 miles per hour. The $352 million dollar contract was awarded to Sumitomo, with assembly work done by Nippon Shayro at a plant in Illinois. The first cars were scheduled to be delivered by late 2015 with final delivery by 2018.
A recent story in the Wall Street Journal reports due to delays the first cars may not even be delivered before 2018. Last Fall the prototype bi-level car failed the critical crash strength test. This has forced a major redesign of the car and caused major layoffs at the Nippon Shayro factory. Now it may be 2018 before production of this order will begin. The issue raised in the Wall Street Story article was over the Federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the project which is paying for roughly 75 percent of the car order. The Wall Street Journal claims that the car order needs to be completed by September of 2017 to qualify for the full “stimulus” funding. This wouldn’t mean that the full amount of the grant would have to be refunded. But the Federal Government might not pay anymore money towards the project after 2017.What ever happens, Sumitomo and Nippon Shayro will likely be subject to major lawsuits from the States and Federal Government for failing to meet its contract obligations.
This raises the question: what will these States do for equipment in the near future and later with delays or even the collapses of this car order? Here are some potential alternatives for either the short run or long run.
1. There are 55 ex-Santa Fe High Level Coaches owned by the Corridor Capital company which they would be only to happy to lease or sell to replace or fill in for the Sumitomo order. There is no word of the state of these cars which have been in storage for some years. Under Amtrak these cars were converted to Head End Power and given chemical toilets and other upgrades. The biggest issue with these cars may be the fact that train employees would be needed to open and close the manual exterior doors for these cars. The diaphragms for these ex-Santa Fe cars are compatible with the existing bi-level cars used in California’s rail corridor services. On the Pacific Surfliners some Superliner coaches are used with the Surfliner cars for additional seating. The exterior manual opening doors on the Superliner cars are kept shut and passengers enter from adjoining Surfliner coaches. At least in California these Ex-Santa Fe cars could be added to existing trainsets to add capacity and create more trainsets by adding cars to existing equipment.
2. In order to improve loading at stations, existing low level equipment and surplus Metrolink bi-level cars can be used to create additional trainsets. Existing low level intercity cars require attendants to open and close the doors. These cars are also slow to load for corridor service due not only to the limited number of open doors, but also to the narrow doorways and extra steps on these cars compared to a low-level loading railcar. The first generation Metrolink cars have extra capacity and faster loading with low level powered doors. Combining these bi-level cars with low level cars is possible because unlike the Amtrak’s bi-level cars, they have diaphragms compatible with low level equipment.These old Metrolink cars also have excellent access for handicap passengers as well as roomy handicap toilets. These cars might need new seats for intercity service. But the cars can easily be converted for additional baggage and bike storage by removing lower level seats. Creating a lower level food service area would meet all the needs for handicap passengers eliminating the needs for wheelchair lifts with simple low level wheelchair ramps which provide faster, safer and more comfortable loading.
3. Siemens has an intercity rail car under production now in California. These are cars for the Brightline passenger rail service in Florida between Miami and Orlando with service expected to begin in 2017. These cars are low level and likely to have less capacity than the larger bi-level cars. But they are Made in America which is a major factor for Federal Funding. Siemens also has many versions of it rail cars including low floor loading and bi level equipment. It might be possible to order a version of these existing cars adapted for FRA and AAR standards. The Brightline car order uses Stainless Steel for the car’s skin.
4. We could order a new generation of Pacific Surfliner Cars for the California Intercity corridors and for the Midwest. Alstom has an American Factory and built the current Pacific Surfliner cars which have been quite successful and were suppose to be the basis of the order given to Sumitomo.