Friday, February 05, 2010

Amtrak releases “Fleet Strategy” for rolling stock

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An in-house Amtrak study, entitled "Amtrak Fleet Strategy," has framed the need to upgrade its aging passenger rolling stock at cost of $11 billion (2009 dollars) during a 14-year period. Amtrak also projects follow-up needs for another 16 years beyond the initial period.

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In a 99-page document, Amtrak has set forth its preference for “recapitalizing [its] entire fleet over a period of time in a manner thatwill not only provide new and modern equipment for our customers but will also develop and sustain the domestic production capacity needed for the long-term viability of intercity passenger service in the United States.”

Amtrak breaks down its initial replacement needs into three categories: 1,200 passenger cars (780 single-level cars, 420 bilevel cars); 334 locomotives (70 electric engines, 264 diesel units); and 25 high speed rail train sets. “This is just a start of the process. In order to meet the lifing policies, further acquisition programs will run indefinitely,” Amtrak adds.

“It is no secret that there has been very limited investment in new passenger equipment by Amtrak in recent years,” the railroad says. “The result is that Amtrak’s fleet is generally quite old, which creates numerous financial, marketing, and operating challenges.” The fleet’s age ranges from Amtrak’s Acela consists, 9-to-10 years old in 2009, to its aptly named 92-car Heritage fleet, inherited by Amtrak from private carriers and logging in 53-to-61 years of service.

Industry observers have criticized Amtrak for being too slowto initiate any equipment upgrade program, notwithstanding strong fiscal support offered it by the Obama Administration in 2009. But Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black notes, “A fleet plan cannot be executed in a short period of time, despite the hopes and wishes of the traveling public. This process takes some time. Ultimately, it’s an ongoing process, and it’s begun in earnest. It will continue to evolve into additional acquisitions in future years.”

As a start, the study notes, “At the time of this writing, there are two active acquisition projects under way within Amtrak, and a third is in development.”  The projects include: a “single level long distance vehicle project” to replace the Heritage fleet; replacement of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor workhorses, the AEM-7 electric locomotives; and a potential purchase for additional bilevel cars to first supplement, then eventually replace, its existing bilevel corridor (Amtrak California) fleet.

Among other options, Amtrak affirms its long-rumored interest in diesel multiple-unit (DMU) cars, though the study carefully lists numerous caveats. “If Amtrak is to take a leadership on a DMU concept,” the study says, “there must be sufficient vehicles required to justify a new product development launch. Ideally this should be a vehicle requirement ofover 100 cars."