Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Joe Boardman: “It’s time to retire our fleet”

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In February, Amtrak will release a long-awaited detailed master long-range plan for replacing almost all of its aging, 1,400-plus-unit car and locomotive fleet. The plan, which will be released as part of a legislative and grant request to Congress, also includes renewal of some critical infrastructure, particularly in the Northeast Corridor, and preparations for going to higher speed rail in some corridors. 

joe-boardman.jpg“Amtrak enters 2010 with a strong sense of optimism, enthusiasm, and purpose,” said President and CEO Joseph Boardman, who was recently given an “indefinite” contract extension by the Amtrak board of directors. Under a new Strategic Guidance program, “we have an aggressive plan to modernize, renew, and grow America’s passenger railroad.”

“It’s time to retire our aging fleet of cars and locomotives,” Boardman said, adding, “We’re looking at every source of funding, not just the federal government.” Amtrak’s equipment plan is expected to include “purchase of several hundred single-level and bi-level long-distance passenger railcars and more than a hundred locomotives.” Due for replacement are 412 Amfleet I, 122 Amfleet II, 122 Superliner I, 184 Superliner II, 50 Viewliner, 92 Horizon cars, as well as Heritage baggage and dining cars. Among the locomotives are 20 AEM7 d.c. electric locomotives (the remaining 29 have been rebuilt with a.c. propulsion), and the railroad’s F59PH, P42, P40, and P32DM fleets. Currently, an RFP is out for 125 single-level coaches/baggage-dorm cars/diners and 20 electric locomotives.

In late 2010, Amtrak will complete a program to upgrade the interior of all Acela Express trainsets, including leather seating, improved tray tables and ovehead luggage compartment doors, and better at-seat electrical outlets. The trainsets themselves, which have been in service for more than 10 years, eventually will be replaced with high speed equipment currently dubbed “Acela II.” These “next-generation” trainsets will be capable of speeds up to 180 mph, with infrastructure upgrades, Boardman said.

This year, Amtrak will undertake track and bridge construction projects, and safety and security enhancements funded in full, or in part, by $1.3 billion in ARRA (American Reinvestment and Recovery Act) funds. Among these projects are: replacement of the 102-year old movable bridge over the Niantic River in Connecticut; modernization of transformers and other electrical equipment used to power trains between Washington, D.C. and NewYork; improvements to tracks and switches at Chicago Union Station; and construction of new maintenance buildings for passenger railcar equipment in Los Angeles and in Hialeah, Fla. Beyond the ARRA funded projects, Amtrak will spend $442 million as part of its annual FY 2010 engineering program. Among these projects  are installation of more than 112,000 concrete crossties and more than 49,000 wood crossties on the Northeast Corridor; construction of a new air ventilation shaft for the New York tunnels; and repair to several bridges in Michigan, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey. In addition, Amtrak will complete the multi-year modernization of the catenary wires on the Hell Gate Line in New York, begin construction of upgrades to the Seattle maintenance facility, and improve accessibility at stations in Philadelphia, Pa., Baltimore, Md., Providence, R.I., and elsewhere.

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Longer-term, the NEC is due for $10 billion in upgrades, $6 billion of that between Washington and New York. Amtrak is looking to replace all the NEC’s aging variable-tension catenary between Washington and New Haven,Conn., with a modern constant-tension system (like that in place between New Haven and Boston). A $700 million Washington-New York replacement program is already under way. Catenary improvements, along with improvements to curves and tunnel approaches and tie replacement, is expected to decrease trip times initially by 15 minutes. Further improvements should shave another 15 minutes. Boardman said Amtrak’s goal is to increase the Acela Express’s top speed on this segment of the NEC to 150 mph from the current 135 mph.

Amtrak is committed to “an aggressive, self-imposed schedule” to install Positive Train Control (PTC) by the end of 2012, “three years ahead of a Congressional deadline for the rail industry,” on sections of right-of-way it owns. On the NEC, ACSES (Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System) rollout will be completed. In Michigan, continued rollout of ITCS (Incremental Train Control System) will enable increased train speeds of up to105 mph between Porter, Ind., and Kalamazoo, Mich. Boardman said Amtrak “is in discussions with host railroads” about participating in and possibly providing some funding for PTC on lines owned by freight railroads.

Boardman took an aggressive stance on Amtrak’s potential role in higher speed rail corridor development. “We’re  playing a major role in the developmentand expansion of intercity and high speed passenger rail,” he said. “As America’s provider of intercity passenger rail service and its only high speed rail operator, we have unmatched knowledge, experience, and expertise in the U.S. rail environment. Other potential operators are surfacing, but they have never done here what we have been doing for a long time.” Boardman added that Amtrak is partnering with 25 states in support of more than 100 projects submitted for funding from the $8 billion in ARRA intercity and high speed rail capital improvement grants. (An announcement from the U.S. Department of Transportation on which projects have been selected is expected soon. DOT said “this winter” in an earlier announcement.)

Amtrak will expand corridor services in collaboration with state partners. In Virginia, a fifth Northeast Regional train will operate between Richmond and Washington, D.C. In North Carolina, a second Piedmont roundtrip between Raleigh andCharlotte will be added. In Washington State, a second Amtrak Cascades train is now operating from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C., through the duration of the 2010Winter Olympics and Paralympics Games. In addition, Amtrak is finalizing a new operating contract with the Metrolink commuter rail service in Los Angeles to provide train and engine crews on all seven lines.

Amtrak will also undertake “an in-depth evaluation of the poorest performing long-distance routes to identify and implement changes where possible to improve key measures such as customer service, ridership, and financial performance.” The five routes being analyzed are the Sunset Limited,Cardinal, Texas Eagle, Capitol Limited, and California Zephyr.