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Date: 09/15/23 12:54
Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: Railvt

I hope Trainorders readers have had the chance to read Jim Tilley's superb Railway Age critique of Amtrak's plan to acquire fixed consist train-sets in conjunction with the re-equipment of the cars in the National Network. I hope you will indulge me if I share some historical context into why the private American railroads once tried this approach, but ultimately went to use almost exclusively individual cars to equip their trains--especially on long distance trips.

Here is the RA link if you haven't seen it.  https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/intercity/amtrak-ld-service-why-integrated-trainsets-wont-work/

In the 1934-40 era the first streamliners appeared. The Union Pacific, the Burlington Lines and the Boston and Maine in particular were early adapters of new speedy train-sets with fixed consists. The earliest examples were short trains--typically made up of just three or four cars.

The most famous example was the Burlington's "Pioneer Zephyr", which remarkably survives to this day as a unique (underground) exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The train-set was three cars, but one of those was also the locomotive. That cab/power/storage car was permanently coupled (and shared a truck/wheel-set) to a true "Jack of All Trades" second car with a baggage-room/Railway Post Office/kitchenette--dinette area and coach seats. That in turn was permanently coupled to a combined coach/observation-lounge car (the lounge seats could be sold as First Class parlor seats if desired). Regular "revenue" seat capacity was for 72 riders.

The train made a remarkable dawn to dusk nearly non-stop run from Denver to Chicago, covering 1015 miles in 13 hours and 5 minutes, averaging just short of 78mph. As a generator of positive publicity the train was a juggernaut, but its seat capacity was so low that it spent most of its regular career on the secondary routes such as Kansas City to Omaha and Lincoln, or Galesburg, Il to St. Joseph, MO. But she ran in regular service from 1935-1960. From the start the Burlington realized that her fixed consist made her too short for serious mainline service. Because of the limitations of her power plant she was not sent to the shops to have more capacity added by inserting a full coach.

But the Burlington was certainly sold on the concept of light-weight, fast fixed consist Budd built streamliners. Subsequent orders included trains whose fixed consists expanded to 8-10 cars and later examples allowed for the addition of multiple extra cars. The 1936 version of the "Denver Zephyr" is a good example.

As delivered this first "DZ" was a 10 car set, with coaches, a full diner, a lounge car and sleepers. The train was put on a 16 hour dusk to dawn schedule and was spectacularly successful--so much so that she was adapted to accept conventional coaches and sleepers as extra cars as well. After the 1956 vista-dome version of the "DZ" (the last full train delivered for overnight service before Amtrak in 1971) arrived, the 1936 set was switched to run as the "Texas Zephyr" from Denver to Dallas. As this route was much less busy the train-set was actually cut back several times to match route demand.

Similarly the Boston and Maine's new in 1935 near twin of the "Pioneer Zephyr" was a huge hit when delivered for service as the "Flying Yankee" between Boston North Station and Portland, ME. Also a three car speedster the "Flying Yankee" proved so popular that the B&M removed it from its Mass/Maine route after only 5 years. Seat demand overwhelmed capacity! Although the set operated until 1957 (and survives today partially restored at Lincoln, NH), from 1940 she was variably run from Boston to the White Mountains as "The Mountaineer", to Troy, NY as "The Minute Man", and for over a decade to White River, Jct., VT via Keene, NH as "The Cheshire". Only in that last assignment did her lack of capacity not arise as an issue.

Cash-strapped as always, the B&M chose not to expand the consist of the 1935 set. Rather, (and like the Burlington) she was replaced by conventional train-sets. The Boston-Portland route got a beautiful new Pullman built locomotive-hauled conventional train-set, with a full diner-lounge car, although the coming of I 95, and the New Hampshire and Maine turnpikes meant these cars too ran for only a few years before declining demand led to the use of self-propelled Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs) in their stead--also a Budd Company product.

But if fixed consist trains could be expanded with extra cars (at least in some designs) why didn't the carriers stay with them? The answer lies in an intrinsic problem with a pre-set train. What do you do if the diner in the middle of the fixed consist with shared wheels has a break-down? What do you do if the engine (power car) fails? The only fix in that case is to temporarily replace the entire train-set, at least until the regular set can be fixed. When the railroads stabled huge coach fleets of spare cars that was annoying, but quite doable, but Amtrak, as we painfully know, does not maintain substantial reserves. Moreover if the fixed consist sets are "high(er) speed" cars can Amtrak really do a simple switch-out to reserved equipment that might not be cleared for fast schedules.

Even today Amtrak faces the fixed consist dilemma with its ACELA EXPRESS fixed-consist trains. These sets can not be expanded, and their new replacement, the newly-built "Avielia Liberty" sets have the same restriction. The only way to add capacity to an individual train-set (at least on a train in a particular timetable slot) is to add an entire additional train-set coupled to the regular cars (or running 5-10 minutes later as a Second Section--which Amtrak virtually never does). Amtrak was also long impacted by this issue on the Cascades line, with its reliance (at least pre the Dupont, WA tragedy) on the fixed consist Talgo trains.

Fixed consist trains are indeed common worldwide. But their use--for example--by the European railways, comes in a very different context than in the USA. In Europe the train remains crucial to the surface transportation network. There are substantial reserves of extra trains (and cars) for periods of peak demand. And many services are run with Diesel (or Electric) Multiple Unit cars that are self-propelled. Like the still useful Budd RDC cars here, (which date from the 1950s), two DMUs can be coupled together by Scotland Rail if more capacity is needed today on the local train from Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh, which normally runs with just a single DMU car. Amtrak has stubbornly resisted the use of modern DMUs--for example to cover new services on regional/secondary routes like New Orleans to Baton Rouge, or (dare I dream) New York to Scranton and Binghamton.

Flexibility comes with locomotive-hauled train-sets. Of course two cars of conventional design could be permanently coupled together to, for example, provide for an extra spacious diner and lounge car. "Twin Unit" diners were common on select high-demand trains like the streamlined era "20th Century Limited".

And of course Amtrak must not only follow the law but also the needs of all its ridership to accommodate passengers who use a wheelchair. But this is clearly easier using individual cars.

One of the most obvious problems with fixed sets comes with trains that need to divide enroute. Although Amtrak hates to do that, it happens on every trip of the EMPIRE BUILDER at Spokane--forming separate trains for Seattle and Portland. The LAKESHORE LIMITED splits at Albany for Boston and New York. For decades the Florida trains split into Miami and Tampa sections at either Jacksonville or Auburndale. And soon Amtrak hopes to split the CRESCENT at Meridian, MS into Fort Worth and New Orleans sections. And the SUNSET/TEXAS EAGLE trains hand-off cars at San Antonio.

In each of these cases the first combined train splits into two unequal-length trains. For example, the Boston section of the LAKESHORE typically carries one sleeper, a cafe car and one to two coaches, but two-three sleepers, a diner and two-three coaches, plus a baggage car go to New York. Fixed sets will be incredibly difficult to adapt to this sort of pattern.

But Jim Tilley is right that overall fixed consist train-sets are not the way to go. Fixed sets will strangle ridership growth and impose much higher costs on Amtrak for maintenance, seasonal demand adjustments, crewing and route selection. We must not forget the lessons of 20th century railroading. Long-term fixed consists did not work on most long-distance routes.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 09/15/23 17:44 by Railvt.



Date: 09/15/23 13:32
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: CDTX

I stopped reading about 3/4 of the way down when i realized that current Amtrak mentality is to cancel trains for anything and everything they possible can on a whim. With that operating philosphy i would say fixed consist are perfect as the cars won't be stolen to run other trains and they can cancel those as well. With the choice to go to fixed consists they have clearly involved the operating department and you can't find that sort of teamwork in all corporations.


Jeff



Date: 09/15/23 13:53
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: restricted_speed

CDTX Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I stopped reading about 3/4 of the way down when i
> realized that current Amtrak mentality is to
> cancel trains for anything and everything they
> possible can on a whim. With that operating
> philosphy i would say fixed consist are perfect as
> the cars won't be stolen to run other trains and
> they can cancel those as well. With the choice to
> go to fixed consists they have clearly involved
> the operating department and you can't find that
> sort of teamwork in all corporations.

I had the same reaction. Back in the day, the railroads did not like fixed consists because the railroads at that time were still trying to actually provide good reliable passenger service.

Today's Amtrak on the other hand seems not so motivated. Fixed consists would give them the perfect excuse for not adding capacity to sold out trains. And also any little problem with the set could allow them to annul the entire train. I can see why Amtrak might be leaning toward fixed-consist equipment.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/15/23 13:53 by restricted_speed.



Date: 09/15/23 15:36
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: amtrakbill

Very well written

I hope Amtrak management reads this and understands the pitfalls of fixed-consists

If they go this route it will be very difficult to manage an efficient network of long distance trains

Posted from iPhone



Date: 09/15/23 15:53
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: joemvcnj

Unfortunately and not the least bit surprisingly, RPA has taken Amtrak's bait on the Aug 31 Hotline, without much thought of its operational impracticality and reliability, and seems as ignorant of such as Amtrak, restorting to ridiculous distractions of airline seat belt signs:

"Endorsement of Amtrak’s Proposed Alternate Method of Compliance: Based on our review of the publicly available procurement specifications, Rail Passengers believe Amtrak has achieved an appropriate balance between overall capacity and improving access for passengers with disabilities in its proposed Alternative Design Standards. Amtrak’s accessible core trainset design will provide passengers with disabilities with equal access to all the onboard amenities—dining car, café care, lounge car, and sleeping car.

It will also allow them to move about the train at their own discretion, accessing amenities as and when they desire. In conversations with our membership, one of the key features passengers value in train travel is the freedom to move about the train, unencumbered by turbulence and ‘fasten seatbelt’ lights. The accessible core design satisfies this goal, and it is a substantive improvement over any design which satisfies a per-car-accessibility rule but fails to allow for the unencumbered movement of passengers with disabilities between onboard amenities."




Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/15/23 15:55 by joemvcnj.



Date: 09/15/23 17:45
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: Flyer92122

My thoughts mirror others. I will just add it's sad that Amtraks biggest equipment order in its history will be made (assuming they actually make it) by what most, if not all of us consider Amtraks worst management in its history. The wrong order could have huge implications that could cripple the company or worse. This is a once in a generation order.

One thing I keep coming back to. Congress knows Amtrak management has little to no interest in truly running the long distance network from managements past comments. Congress felt it necessary to write into the funding bills that Amtrak maintain all service on the national network (LD trains). Congress also decided Amtrak management was not capable of doing a legitimate unbiased study of new long distance routes so it delegated the job to the FRA. That all said why on earth didn't Congress delegate the long distance order to the FRA also? Food for thought. It's not like this management will be around when the equipment actually arrives.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 09/15/23 19:14 by Flyer92122.



Date: 09/15/23 18:01
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: prr60

Just posing a question. Is it possible that the requirement to allow the safe movement of 32” wheelchairs between cars requires a more stable inter-car connection than a standard coupler can provide? I know that I would not want to roll a wheelchair between Superliners at 79mph on some of the track the LD’s traverse.



Date: 09/15/23 20:57
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: Peter_Hawtrey

 I thought handicapped was seated downstairs on that equipment. I'd hate to drag big 'ol wheelchair up those twisting stairs or worse try to evacuate a wheelchair upstairs in an emergency.
Superliners to me are inherent deathtraps due to those winding staircases and single door option per side that everyone has to funnel out of at the bottom to exit.



Date: 09/15/23 21:30
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: NPRocky

To me what I'm seeing is wildly overcomplicated design resulting in an end to split trains despite the fact that we're going to continue to need them.  It seems to me, for example, to continue a split Empire Builder with a central core, for example, we would need for a minimal off-season consist, either single level or bi-level: Seattle section- baggage-dorm, sleeper, accessible sleeper, accessible diner-lounge, accessible coach, coach.  The Portland section would have the same, except in reverse order.  I'd say that simplifies design a lot and probably complies with ADA.  At the very least it would be a lot better for wheelchair riders than what we have now.  Extra non-accessible cars would still be possible for peak seasons, hopefully not overstressing the two diner-lounges.  The 32-inch aisle core would be only in the accessible coaches and sleepers and the food service car.  Also, there would be no semi-permanent couplings.  Attendants would have to deliver food and beverages to the Portland handicapped folks if their diner-lounge had to be cut out en route and vice-versa for Seattle, but hopefully that would be a rarity.  



Date: 09/16/23 00:40
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: SCspotter

It's an absolutely terrible idea and may work for other operators but for someone like Amtrak, it just doesn't fit or work. Too many variables like constantly changing consists, equipment changes on a specific route, etc. Plenty of other arguments could be made on why they wouldn't work. And it's a scary thought that literally the WORST management Amtrak has ever had might quite possibly be the ones making this decision that could have serious repercussions down the road.



Date: 09/16/23 03:20
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: jp1822

SCspotter Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> It's an absolutely terrible idea and may work for
> other operators but for someone like Amtrak, it
> just doesn't fit or work. Too many variables like
> constantly changing consists, equipment changes on
> a specific route, etc. Plenty of other arguments
> could be made on why they wouldn't work. And it's
> a scary thought that literally the WORST
> management Amtrak has ever had might quite
> possibly be the ones making this decision that
> could have serious repercussions down the road.

All good points. I understand that these consist designs are "concepts," but I really hope they are not being designed by people that have never stepped foot on a train before, or don't understand the idea of combining and splitting train sets to make for a more efficient utilization of equipment either. Amtrak touted itself in hiring a LOT of capital procurement folks. Seems there's more of them than mechanical and crafts folks, but lets not go there. In many respects, I feel that Amtrak should just build off of its current equipment of Superliners and Viewliners. A Superliner III concept, for example, may be better than a total re-invention. EVERY time Amtrak goes down this road of reinvention, there's issues. Even the Viewliner II designs had their run of design and layout issues. 



Date: 09/16/23 04:00
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: joemvcnj

Of the 15 LD trains, just over the past few days, it was reported on TO that 2 of them had to get a car cut or swapped out mid-trip with defects, one a hot wheel bearing, another damaged cables. I think it is clear that whoever came up with is has never in fact stepped foot on a LD train and has no grasp of reality. 



Date: 09/16/23 04:26
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: Englewood

Just remember that whatever decision is made it will have
to be lived with for 40+ years.

All the clowns on the board will be gone before cars are even delivered.

 



Date: 09/16/23 07:00
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: Railvt

The "core" concept may indeed be required for Amtrak to meet ADA requirements, but we will need to hope that Amtrak has somehow multiple spare sets of "cores" for maintenance, or else trains will be forced to go out without food service or accessible) cars or more likely in the new era simply be cancelled for at a minimum one round trip cycle.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/16/23 08:21 by Railvt.



Date: 09/16/23 07:09
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: alan2955

joemvcnj Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Of the 15 LD trains, just over the past few days,
> it was reported on TO that 2 of them had to get a
> car cut or swapped out mid-trip with defects, one
> a hot wheel bearing, another damaged cables. I
> think it is clear that whoever came up with is has
> never in fact stepped foot on a LD train and has
> no grasp of reality. 

Not to mention the frequent cases where cars have to be swapped out in Chicago at the last minute before departure. They already take a two-hour hit just swapping a dining car out. If you have a fixed consist and the dining car is found to be bad right before departure, then what happens?

Posted from iPhone



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/16/23 07:10 by alan2955.



Date: 09/16/23 07:24
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: joemvcnj

Railvt Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The "core" concept may indeed be required for
> Amtrak to meet ADA requirements, but we will need
> to hope that Amtrak has somehow multiple spare
> sets of "cores" for maintenance, or else trains
> will be forced to go out without food service 9oe
> accessible) cars or more likely in the new era
> simply cancelled for at a minimum one round trip
> cycle.

Amtrak has locomotives coming out of their ass, yet won't so much keep a protect loco in Pittsburgh, Florence, Havre, Denver, St Louis or Albuquerque. As for core train sets, forget about "hoping" - it is not going to happen. What will happen are many enroute train cancellations, cancelled departures on the spot, setting out core trainsets, busing, and hotelling for the next day's train. ADA lawyers will be fine with all that and with trainoffs since everyone will be treated equally. 



Date: 09/16/23 07:53
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: Lackawanna484

Does Amtrak really have an abundance of locomotives?

They've cancelled or delayed trains out of WAS regularly over the past few months

Posted from Android



Date: 09/16/23 07:56
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: joemvcnj

Lackawanna484 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Does Amtrak really have an abundance of
> locomotives?
>
> They've cancelled or delayed trains out of WAS
> regularly over the past few months

Obviously not serviceable. Take a look at Beech Grove. Take a Look at Chicago.  Proves my points even further.  



Date: 09/16/23 11:07
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: NPRocky

The comment about it taking two hours to switch out a defective diner reminded me of a North Coast Limited trip in the summer of 1959.  My mother and I waited and waited for the eastbound train at the old East Auburn station.  It finally arrived from Seattle about two hours late.  We found out that the air conditioning on its brand new Budd diner had failed and the NP had to insert one of the old Pullman Standard diners it had on hand at Seattle but not fully ready to go.  Later we walked through the Budd diner to get to the Pullman Standard one (they kept it on the train to ferry it back to St. Paul).  It was sure hot in there!  The old Pullman Standard diner behind it really felt good by comparison!



Date: 09/16/23 11:53
Re: Thoughts on Fixed Consist Train-sets
Author: dan

PULLMAN STANDARD INSULATED THE CARS BETTER better HVAC just didn't use all stainless construction. p/s cars rode better to experts have said



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