Posts Tagged ‘Metroliner’

Metroliner at Morrisville

April 13, 2020

An Amtrak Metroliner cruises the Northeast Corridor at Morrisville, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 23, 1978. Note that the cab car is between liveries and has elements of old and new. The Metroliner would provide the template for Amfleet equipment that would become a mainstay in the corridor.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Amtrak Wants to Replace Amfleet I Fleet

January 19, 2019

Amtrak has taken a step toward replacement of its Amfleet I fleet by issuing a request for proposals for new single-level passenger cars.

The new cars are expected to replace 470 Amfleet I and former Metroliner cars that range in age from 40 to 50 years.

Most of the new equipment would be used in the Northeast Corridor, but also be assigned to

Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Maple Leaf, Adirondack, Vermonter, Downeaster, Carolinian, Pennsylvanian, Keystone Service, Virginia Service and New Haven/Springfield Service.

“Nearly half of Amtrak’s annual ridership is comprised of trips along the Northeast Corridor and adjoining corridors, and this new state-of-the-art equipment will provide customers with an enjoyable and efficient travel experience,” Amtrak Vice President of Corporate Planning Byron Comati said in news release.

Amtrak said the new cars should have improved Wi-Fi equipment and connectivity; enhanced seating; weather-tight doors and vestibules; large picture windows; improved climate control systems for passenger comfort; and new designs for restrooms and passageways between cars.

The new cars would be distributed to 75 trainsets or their railcar equivalents with options to provide equipment for future service growth along the NEC and state-supported routes.

Metroliner Debuted 50 Years Ago

January 17, 2019

A former Metroliner turned cab car is ready to lead the Twilight Limited out of Pontiac, Michigan, on March 23, 1996.

This week marked the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Metroliner between New York and Washington, which has been described as the first high-speed rail service in the United States.

The equipment, which was built by the Budd Company, made a publicity run on Jan. 15, 1969, and started scheduled service the next day.

Operated by Penn Central, the Metroliner was in part the U.S. answer to Japan’s Shinkansen trains that had been introduced in 1964.

During the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, Congress in September 1965 adopted the High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965.

The Metroliner was an outgrowth of that law, which set an ambitious goal of achieving 110 mph service by October 1967.

Eventually, the Metroliner was supposed to operate at a top speed of 150 mph.

The first of the 50 electric multiple unit cars were delivered by Budd until September 1967 but mechanical problems discovered during testing delayed the inauguration of service until early 1969.

Originally designed for the Pennsylvania Railroad, by the time the Metroliner debuted the PRR had merged with arch-rival New York Central to become Penn Central.

The initial schedule had just one roundtrip a day between New York and Washington.

The top speed of 120 mph was cut to 110 due to the condition of the track and overhead catenary.

Another roundtrip was added in February and as the Metroliner gained popularity. By October, there were six round trips per day.

On the day that Metroliner service began, a first class seat cost $19.90. The inaugural run arrived in Washington seven minutes late.

A New York Times account of that first trip reported that passengers enjoyed the fast running and the novelty of the train.

However, one passenger quoted by the Times said, “You still know you’re on a train,” in reference to “abrupt swaying motions.”

Another passenger interviewed by the reporter said, “The luxury is terrific. There’s no worry about stacking up on the airlines. The phones are terrific. I called my wife and made two business calls for appointments. I couldn’t believe it when they announced 110 mph. It didn’t feel like it.”

In theory, the Metroliner was a two-year demonstration project.

The Metroliner train sets cost $21.5 million. Penn Central spent $35 million to upgrade its Northeast Corridor for 110 mph operation and the federal government contributed $11.3 million toward the demonstration project’s cost.

The PRR and later PC may have thought that cooperating with this project would pay off in winning governmental approval to discontinue passenger trains elsewhere.

The Metroliner was not without its problems. On any given day a third of the fleet was often out of service.

The top speed had to be lowered to 100 mph due to deteriorating infrastructure.

Despite those things, the demonstration project never really ended. Amtrak continued to use the Metroliner equipment and brand name for several years after its 1971 startup.

Today the high-speed trains in the Northeast Corridor have been branded Acela Express, but even the rank and file NEC trains hit more than 100 miles per hour during their journey.

The Metroliner cars were the model for Amtrak’s Amfleet equipment, which was also built by Budd.

Amfleet had its roots in a 1973 order for 57 non-powered Metroliner coaches. Those eventually morphed into the Amfleet I fleet.

Most of the original Metroliner cars were retired and scrapped, but more than 25 were transformed into cab cars used on corridors outside the Northeast Corridor, including between Chicago and Detroit, Milwaukee and Springfield, Illinois.

On occasion the former Metroliner cab cars were used a standard coaches in the consist of Amfleet-equipped trains.

Although the Metroliner cab cars no longer operate in the Midwest, a few still see service in the Keystone Corridor and on trains going to Springfield, Massachusetts.

Speed, Glorious Speed

March 11, 2009

The $8 billion allocated to the development of high-speed intercity passenger rail service that was slipped into the economic stimulus bill at the behest of the Obama administration has many dreaming of fast passenger trains. What some have in mind are the type of swift and reliable trains cruising at triple digit speeds that travelers have long enjoyed in Western Europe and Japan.

The quest for faster passenger trains is as old as rail transportation itself. It may be hard to fathom today, but railroads of the middle 19th century were slow and dangerous. Trains could run 15 miles per hour, which some in that era considered reckless or contrary to
how God intended man to travel. But rail travel was faster than walking, riding on horseback, traveling in a horse-drawn wagon or going by boat. Despite the qualms of some about speed, travelers and shippers wanted faster trains. By the 1850s trains were capable of 30 mph.

In the late 19th century, a wave of mergers and consolidations created a network of trunk railroads and competitive pressures prompted them to speed up their passenger trains. I say some of them because for all of the attention paid to the “limiteds” of that era with their opulent coaches, sleeping cars and diners, most trains continued to move rather slowly in terms of trip time.

The development of the air brake helped make faster speeds possible, 60 mph or better. But among the other measures implemented to speed things up were better roadbeds and track, signaling systems and making fewer stops en route, hence the name “limited,” as in
limited stops. The public loved it. News accounts of the late 19th century and early 20th century were replete with such descriptions as fastest schedule yet.

In those days railroads used speed to attract long-distance travelers. Personifying this was the celebrated 1902 launch of a pair of speedsters between New York and Chicago. The Twentieth Century Limited of the New York Central Railroad and the Broadway Limited
of the Pennsylvania Railroad made the 900-mile trip in 24 hours. Eventually this would fall to 16 hours. These trains captivated the public imagination and defined rail travel.
Railroads had speed limits that engineers were to adhere to, but it was common for management to look the other way when engineers exceeded them to make up lost time. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. The legendary Casey Jones was trying to
make up lost time when his train struck the rear of another train in Mississippi in April 1900. Jones died in the accident, but no one else did, largely due to Jones trying to stop his train until the bitter end.

In the 1930s railroads began another effort to speed up their passenger trains, this time to win back passengers lost to airlines, buses and the private automobile. Railroads introduced streamlined passengers trains, some of which were pulled by internal combustion locomotives. These new trains were lighter and able to operate at speeds of 80 to 90 mph while other trains were held to 70 to 80 mph.

During World War II, the government forced the railroads to slow their trains to conserve fuel and for safety reasons due to the heavy volume of war-induced rail traffic. Following the war, the speed restrictions were lifted and many railroads increased the speed limits
for passenger trains.

Then the government stepped in again to slow the trains. The Interstate Commerce Commission in 1947 mandated a top speed of 79 unless the track was equipped with an automatic train stop, automatic train control or a continuous cab signal system. Most
railroad routes lacked this and railroads were not inclined to spend the millions needed to install such an apparatus.

By the late 1950s, many railroads had lost their enthusiasm for passenger trains. Making them run faster was no longer a priority or even a goal. In some places, trains ran slower because financially pressed railroads cut costs by skimping on track maintenance, if not
skipping it altogether. The safety systems that some railroads had installed following the ICC order of 1947 gradually were removed on many lines.

The mid-1960s saw the emergence of a new push for high-speed passenger trains, this time originating within the government. The result was the development of the electrically powered Metroliner between New York and Washington, and the ill-fated Turbo train between Boston and New York. Unlike earlier movements to speed up passenger trains, the idea now was to attract short distance passengers traveling between urban centers.

For much of the Amtrak era, the issue has been less about how fast do the trains go, but whether they operate on time. In some instances, railroads have demanded, and gotten, Amtrak permission to increase the travel time in the name of better on-time performance. While some Amtrak trains in the northeast corridor hit 150 mph, Amtrak trains elsewhere seldom top 79 mph, if that.

Now another push is originating within the government to speed up passenger trains. Actually, this movement is not new. There have been numerous proposals for high-speed rail corridors since the 1970s, but aside from appropriating money for studies, Congress
has never approved the kind of big bucks that it would take to develop these corridors. The $8 billion of the stimulus package notwithstanding, it still hasn’t.

What does this short history of the quest for high-speed rail mean for today’s developments? For one thing it offers a cautionary tale. The efforts of the 1960s to develop high-speed passenger rail failed to spread beyond the northeast corridor. There are many reasons for this, but the list starts with the fact that the freight railroads that own
the tracks “out there” saw no need for the kind of blazing speed that the planners and policy makers had in mind.

Much of the quest for speed over the years had come from within the railroads, first in an effort to remain competitive, and then in an effort to compete with other modes of travel. Finally, the railroads decided they didn’t want to compete with those other modes of
travel and gave up on rail passenger service, fast or otherwise.

The latest attempt to develop high-speed passenger trains comes from outside the railroad industry. Interestingly, those who support the push for high-speed rail argue that highway and air travel have become too congested. Hence, they argue that we need fast passenger trains. In fairness, not everyone who advocates expanded intercity rail passenger service is saying that we need 100 plus mile per hour passenger trains. But speed is never far from the discussion and it is what attracted President Obama to the cause.

Yet aside from a few stretches here and there, most of the routes identified as future high-speed rail corridors involve tracks owned by freight railroads. The new fast trains are either going to have to use those tracks or there will need to be built dedicated high-speed
passenger tracks.

Coal, grain, chemicals, or even trailers and containers do not need to move at triple digit speeds on the open road. Indeed railroads have reoriented themselves when it comes to the concept of speed. The culture of haste that motivated railroads to think of moving trains over the road as fast as possible has given way to way new ways of thinking about how to provide reliable and efficient service. It is not that speed doesn’t figure into the equation, just that it does not in the way that it once did when moving passengers was part of the railroad’s business plan. And for most railroads, moving people at any speed is still not in their long-range plans.