• Amtrak DMU / RDC Potential Operation Discussion

  • Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.
Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

Moderators: GirlOnTheTrain, mtuandrew, Tadman

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  by Backshophoss
RDC's and SPV's had a habit of not always shunting track circuts,requiring positive block protection when on the move.
Have not yet seen proof that the DMU's will always shunt track circuts,there have been some mech problems
with the SDNR DMU's on Oceanside-Escondido services(braking system and shoes wore out too fast)
Both SMART/NWP and SDNR/SD&IY operate as time seperate setups,with NWP & SD&IY freights operating
when the DMU's are NOT running.

Believe everybody remembers what happened to a pair of ATSF RDC's in San Diegan service,which is one of the
reasons for the FRA compliance specs.
  by DutchRailnut
Even in Europe they had problems with detection, and lots of lines had to have standard block detection changed to axle counters.

Crashes do not always have to be smashing into other trains, a 60 ton (two cars) DMU hitting or side swiping a 150 ton freight car can do lots of damage.
and no detection system will stop an incident on adjacent track, not even PTC.
  by FCM2829
Sounds good for short haul intercity, such as lines within Maine should NNEPRA eventually serve L/A. Could also work for off-peak times to Boston, BUT-

1) Not reliably shunting track circuits would be a HUGE problem. Any savings based on ops/maintenence would be erased due to signal system or track circuit upgrades.
2) Pan Am would not in in any way consent to changes in their operations due to technical difficulties from a tenants' equipment fleet (vis a vis time separations)
3)Amtrak would likely turn their noses up at unproven (well, US anyway) technology unless NNEPRA decided to assume all liability due to maintenance and operations teething difficulties. Add also crew base qualification, and they'd likely go to bat with BLE about potential grade crossing collisions/crew protection, for which I'd be inclined to agree.
4)How does it solve the 'no diesels near the head house' situation in North Station? That's a long walk for passengers in snow/rain.
5)PTC. North of Haverhill not an issue, but would need to be ACSES equipped to comply with 2018 or 2019....maybe 2020 MBTA northside mandate.

Best fit would be for a trial period for ONE ACSES equipped three car Nippon-Sharyo set, but for this to happen NNEPRA would likely become the holder of the lease, as Amtrak would not accept liability for unproven eqpt. If the NNEPRA procurement div (which doesn't exist) can work something out with Nippon Sharyo (12 month trouble-free and your money back if not positively delighted!), and Pan Am doesn't reject everything out of hand, then yeah, full speed ahead!
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
We seem to be dodging the question here. Is there anywhere on Amtrak where a DMU offers something above-and-beyond what the current fleet allows...for Amtrak operating practice, not commuter rail or somebody's favorite Euro reference spec taken in a vacuum?

-- Amtrak doesn't have VIA Rail's federally mandated routes to tiny fishing villages. Likewise, there are quite a few European DMU routes that split/combine trains for a low-demand branchline only because the low-demand branchline(s) have government-mandated service regardless of their ridership. That is not a consideration in the U.S.

-- Amtrak doesn't have any routes like VIA's suspended Malahat that are isolated from the national rail network on a large island.

-- Amtrak has very few routes that split/combine trains (one of the main applications where DMU's in Euro intercity are utilized). There are very few routes proposed or desired where split/combine would provide any tangible benefit that running additional frequencies on a forked route wouldn't solve more easily and robustly.

-- A state that cannot afford to pay for additional frequencies on a forked route will most certainly not be able to afford the going rate for an ownership share in a PRIAA-spec DMU fleet. A state that cannot find enough demand to pay for the operating cost of additional frequencies on a forked route will most certainly not be able to afford the operating costs of a split/combine route. If either of these conditions are in-play that state will quite likely also not be able to afford the capital costs of constructing the very branch they want to fork. Caveat emptor, Northern Maine.

-- Amtrak doesn't have many push-pull routes period. The push-pull routes it does have tend to be some of their busiest and most car-hungry routes, not applicable to DMU's. Most new push-pull routes officially proposed likewise overwhelmingly trend to higher-demand, equipment-hungry, multiple daily frequency service.

-- The most oft-cited prototype for DMU's on Amtrak--the one that used to run DMU's, the Springfield Shuttle--is not a prototype route for new DMU's on Amtrak because it only exists as a substitute for a long-missing commuter rail line. A commuter rail line that is at long last going online in another 18 months and which will largely supplant the Shuttle. Proposals for repurposing the Shuttle are either short-term, like pokes north to Greenfield or Brattleboro as interim incubator for eventual Knowledge Corridor commuter rail, or much larger in scope, like New Haven-Boston which will fill >4 cars and cease running as push-pull. Lines that should be commuter rail lines are not an invention for DMU's on Amtrak. The Shuttle runs small because it's such a very, very poor substitute for real commuter rail frequencies.

-- Perennially underfunded trains that run short because their frequencies are artificially crippled by state-level budget stinginess are not DMU prototypes. The Hoosier State wouldn't be running short if it weren't a perennial political football. The Heartland Flyer wouldn't be running short if the various high-demand expansion proposals for roping in a third state had more political support. States that are more ideologically reluctant to fund intercity service are the least likely to want to invest in specialty rolling stock. Didn't we find that out the hard way with the Wisconsin Talgo debacle?

-- There is very little fleet scale to be had in a DMU purchase unless routes can be identified that constitute more than one-off exceptions or misfits. The Cascades is the system's 8th busiest route, with 7 dedicated trainsets of 12-13 cars each; that's the only reason it can support a dedicated Talgo fleet. Are there enough prospective DMU routes in the entire country to support a PRIAA-spec order large enough to 1) net a decent unit price from a manufacturer, 2) net decent parts/maintenance cost scale, 3) group enough of the fleet around common maintenance bases around the system? The PRIAA coach and locomotive orders the states are buying and will be buying cluster around big regional nodes: California, Chicago hub, East Coast and New York State. Scale is everything in those orders, and the states that feed out of a large hub have many more options for initiating or expanding state-sponsored services at lower cost than those are isolated from a large equipment hub. Especially now that equipment is being mass-procured to ease longstanding shortages. If there is only a need for 20 DMU's to run widely scattered niche services in Maine or the Plains, operating costs for those individual states soar in a way the low margins on those services can't close. Where does the ordering scale come from without either a really big and car-hungry route like the Cascades or a big multi-route hub? If there isn't an operationally and economically ideal DMU application that is uniquely large, or concentration of DMU route clustering that is dense from a particular hub...it is very hard to find scale that can justify a unique equipment purchase. We have to do better than coming up with discrete and widely-scattered exceptions that all trend small in ridership and consist size. That's not going to cut it.

-- The PRIAA legislation's actual effects impose more fleet uniformity than fleet fragmentation. Don't cite the Piedmont as some sort of "anything goes" model for custom rolling stock just to dare to be different. Everything from rolling stock maintenance to track maintenance is wholly-outsourced by NCDOT to an outside private company, with Amtrak supplying the crews and giving it *basic* national conformity for ticketing and customer service. The Piedmont isn't functionally much different from INDOT more or less opting the Hoosier State out of the AMTK system for the Iowa Pacific outsource. NCDOT just did it as part of the plan when it began that route discontiguous from any Amtrak hab; INDOT's move was one of manufactured political crisis. Don't cite the Talgos as a model for custom rolling stock; the Wisconsin debacle ended that experiment in openness and bottled up availability of those custom rolling stock choices to the Cascades giants of the system and the states willing (for better or worse judgment) to open a full-time factory. The hurdles are massive for going it alone, and not conducive to going way way off-script with rolling stock. You're not going to get new DMU's by hiring Iowa Pacific; you're going to get very old and conservatively-managed conventional coaches. While I would not put it past NNEPRA to say something monumentally stupid about coveting things it has no means or mechanism to pay for, they are not getting Nippon-Sharyos to run a microscopic Downeaster fork to Lewiston any more than they're getting their own Talgo factory.

So what are the realistic possibilities? I'm having trouble thinking of any, since most of the route candidates that fit the profile go at the most unrealistic small end of the scale and are the exact inverse of what'll float a PRIAA equipment buy or a private outsource deal.
  by Ryand-Smith
I pointed to 3 big routes that combine, the Virginian section of the NEC, Maine to Boston North which is dependent on a cabbage for both push pull AND cargo. which is aging. (Virginia mainly because all the routes terminalize at Washington Union and have to swap power to go up, but unlike the ultra long hauls to the South.(With the exception of the overnight hauls of 66/67). In theory, they could be ideal for New York as well, as the lighter DMUs would save money on the New York routes since they operate frequently as commuter, AND as a way to add more frequency to the New England routes like the Vermonter/Saratoga Line routes, since before Colorado Railcar imploded they were proposing DMUs up in New England.

Thank you all for your posts, I learned a lot from them! F-Line was very well put out.
  by BandA
I think there is a future for DMU's, but they have to get the cost down so that it is comparable or less than locomotive-hauled. Innovative quick & easy coupling/decoupling would give them an operational advantage. And of course flexible work rules that allow staff to be scaled to the number of passengers (I know very little about Amtrak's work rules).

I see them on the long-distance routes, perhaps for additional frequencies that will ultimately bring greater ridership. So, some manufacturer(s) are going to have to innovate with commuter rail operations first (in order to get enough scale) before this will come to Amtrak.
  by Greg Moore
The only real use I see is as feeders into existing routes. i.e. basically the sort of routes that F-line to Dudley via Park points out Amtrak doesn't really have at this point.

This COULD change, but would take a concerted effort.

For example, say a ALB-Pittsfield route that can accelerate quickly over the hills. There's not much traffic here, but some. Or perhaps ALB-SPG.

And then say additional ALB-Saratoga feeder trains with cross-platform transfers to Empire Service trains. There's probably not enough traffic to support 5 car trains multiple trains a day on this route, but might be enough for a DMU in the morning and afternoon and evening.

But again, this would take a very huge change in how we as a country approach rail.

Honestly, I think the technical problems are far easier to solve than the political ones (or more accurately lack of political will to expand rail like that.)
  by mtuandrew
I was thinking that too, like (Marquette-Escanaba)-Green Bay-MKE, TOH-Eau Claire-MSP, Winnipeg-GFK, Rochester-WIN, and Des Moines-OTM service. But we still run into the same trouble - it's a lot faster to use a bus or two along the parallel interstates and US highways (speed limit 55 to 70) than it is to use a DMU (speed limit 40 to 60, on a less direct route.)
  by ExCon90
Backshophoss wrote:Believe everybody remembers what happened to a pair of ATSF RDC's in San Diegan service,which is one of the
reasons for the FRA compliance specs.
The incident that I remember involving the ATSF RDCs wasn't a collision, but an overspeed derailment on a 10-mph curve, resulting in the reassignment of the RDCs somewhere out of State. Was there another one?
  by Backshophoss
After rebuilding,the ATSF RDC's found a"home" on trains 13/14,the El Pasoan,for awhile,that was 1 RT El Paso-ABQ daily
  by wigwagfan
Remember that in the Portland, Oregon area, TriMet operates its WES commuter rail service using the Colorado Railcar DMUs. Mechnically the bugs have been sorted out and the vehicles generally provide acceptable uptime, but the service itself is woefully underperforming (fewer than 2,000 daily riders, WELL below any of the established ridership goals; the cost per boarding ride is seven times more than a comparable bus rider.)

Meanwhile, just a few miles away, Amtrak and ODOT are still trying to gain ridership on the Amtrak Cascades route south of Portland, where ridership barely fills two of the nine coaches on the Talgo trainsets through the Willamette Valley. Even a recent schedule change designed to attract ridership has basically flopped, and ridership actually dropped.

One idea: Keep the Talgos north of Portland, where a truly frequent service can be offered where ridership continues to grow; move the DMUs to the Portland-Eugene route where there would still be ample seats for the ridership. While the Portland-Eugene riders would lose their bistro/café cars, the trip is only two and a half hours long from end to end. Portland's station has a nice little convenience store/market right next to the boarding gate, and certainly Eugene could arrange for some kind of similar setup.

The one drawback, of course, is that the DMUs require a high level platform, which doesn't exist anywhere around here. So either new DMU specific platforms would have to be built at the five stations (Portland, Oregon City, Salem, Albany and Eugene), or the cars would need to be modified (stairs and ADA lifts).
  by talltim
DutchRailnut wrote:Even in Europe they had problems with detection, and lots of lines had to have standard block detection changed to axle counters.
In the UK, there is a move to axle counters, but they are still in the minority. The issue with lightweight DMUs not actuating track circuits really came up with the introduction of the Class 158 units in the 80's. The problem was not only weight but a combination of light weight and disk brakes. Tread brakes keep the wheel rims clean. For a while the new units had to run as a hybrid, half class 158 and half class 156 which had tread brakes http://members.madasafish.com/~dysgraph ... 151092.jpg" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
The answer was to do two thing, fit 'scrubber blocks' to clean the wheel rims and fit Track Circuit Actuators (TCA). These are loops under the non-powered truck which induce a current to flow across the axles and through the film on the wheels. (halfway down http://members.madasafish.com/~dysgraph ... 6_mods.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;) These are now fitted to all units.
So a solution to the track circuit operation problem is available without any infrastructure work and with the extra weight any US DMU meeting FRA standards there should be no issues.
Last edited by talltim on Tue Mar 22, 2016 7:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by electricron
talltim wrote:So a solution to the track circuit operation problem is available without any infrastructure work and with the extra weight any US DMU meeting FRA standards there should be no issues.
I'll agree that track shunting difficulties wouldn't be a problem with FRA compliant DMUs. I believe DCTA's has the most recent experience with light weight Stadler GTWs and heavy weight Budd RDCs. They never operate in service with a single car with either because of inconsistent track shunting problems. With two RDCs of eight axles, or with two GTWs of twelve axles, they haven't experienced any problems - but they had with single car GTW operations. Those remedies you suggest only work so far. While DCTA would prefer to run single car GTW operations midday, so far they haven't been able to.

Never-the-less, I don't foresee Amtrak ever buying DMUs. Amtrak isn't in the business of running small trains down branch lines. They operate large trains, more than 4 single level cars or their equivalent (suggesting 3 double level cars) everywhere. Any new branch line service most likely will be subsidized and financed by the states - either as a stand alone commuter rail service or regional Amtrak service. If Amtrak can not operate a daily train between the nation's fourth and fifth largest metros in the second most populated state without state subsidies, I can not see Amtrak running a short train down any branch line on its own, there wouldn't be enough riders to justify the service.

Don't forget the experience of the TRE stating it's cheaper to run a four Bombardier BiLevel cars with one diesel locomotive than running four Diesel powered RDCs. That's why they rarely ran RDCs with more than three in a train after placing BiLevel cars into service.

I don't see Amtrak on its own ever running three or four single level car trains anywhere, either as conventional trains or with DMUs.
  by talltim
A DMU doesn't have to be short. My commute is often on a 7 car or 2x5 car underfloor engined 125mph DMU, single deck yes, but there isn't room for double deck in the UK loading gauge.
I find it interesting that so many people in this thread still think of DMUs in terms of RDCs, technology has moved on a lot since they were built. Unless I needed to run single car trains, I would not buy single car units, cabs cost money and take up space (from what I've seen of the driving position on RDCs, it basically a tip up seat in the passenger doorway, don't think you'd get away with that on new builds)
Having said all that, I'm not a fan of underfloor engines for long distance trains, it's always a pleasure when I catch an HST with power cars at the ends, so much less noise and vibration
  by electricron
While it is true DMU trains don't have to be short, it is true longer DMU trains are not as efficient as conventional locomotive and trailer trains.

RDCs were very common throughout America and Canada. There are locales where they are still in use after 60 years. While modern DMUs are in use, they have limited exposure in America.
Locales using modern DMUs are:
Ottawa ON, Toronto*, ON, Anchorage* AK, Camden to Trenton NJ, West Palm Beach* to Miami FL, Beaverton* to Wilsonville OR, Oceanside to Escondido CA, Leander to Austin TX, Carrolton to Denton TX, and soon Pittsburg to Antioch CA, and Santa Rosa* to San Rafael, CA. None run more than 2 married pairs on each train normally. Note: Those DMUs with * are fully FRA compliant.
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