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New Midwest trains will be modern, single-level Siemens design

November 09, 2017

Great news: Caltrans announced that the order for new passenger coaches for California and Midwest corridor trains will now be filled by Siemens. The joint order by Caltrans and Illinois Department of Transportation is for 137 cars, 88 of which are for the Midwest. The coaches are expected to be similar to the cars Siemens is delivering to Brightline. The press release touts "spacious, modern interiors that focus on passenger comfort and convenience, such as Wi-Fi, spacious seats with convenient power outlets, large windows with great views for all passengers, bike racks, overhead luggage storage, work tables, state-of-the-art restrooms with touchless controls and full ADA accessibility throughout the cars."

There are a number of technical and operational details about the Brightline cars that may change for this new order. The Brightline cars are designed to meet a high-level platform, but the Midwest and California cars will need stairs and an accessible lift to serve low platforms.

Now it's time for Congress to fund replacements for the Superliners that Amtrak uses for long-distance trains.

At a Rail Passengers Association event in Chicago last week, new Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson made it clear that new rolling stock is a priority for the railroad. He said three times that the Superliners need to be completely rebuilt or replaced entirely.

Two-level cars have a number of serious disadvantages. Passengers must navigate a cramped staircase when boarding or leaving the train, which makes station stops longer. People with limited mobility are confined to seats or rooms on the lower level and are unable to move around the train, because the passages between cars are on the upper level.

Modern, single-level coaches are safer, protecting passengers better in a crash. They are strong yet light, allowing them to accelerate quickly and ride more smoothly on rough track. They operate as unified trainsets, which allows means better management of forces in case of a collision or derailment. The sealed passageway between cars eliminates the hazardous vestibule, which is slippery during rain and snow. Locomotives or driving cabs on both ends allows a train to simply head back the way it came when it reaches its destination, instead of requiring a slow and expensive turn-around move in a yard.

Mr. Anderson is right: Amtrak desperately needs better train equipment. It should acquire modern, single-level trainsets instead of continuing to rely on the aging and inefficient Superliners.