News & Reviews News Wire Siemens equipment delays aggravate Amtrak capacity issues: Special report

Siemens equipment delays aggravate Amtrak capacity issues: Special report

By Bob Johnston | April 1, 2022

Part One: With new cars sidelined, equipment shortages cascade across system

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Passenger train in darkness at station
The first revenue run of Midwest Venture equipment prepares to depart from Chicago Union Station on Feb. 1, 2022, on Lincoln Service train 303. The cars are currently not in service. (Bob Johnston)

First of two parts

CHICAGO — Delayed deliveries of new Siemens-built Venture rolling stock for Midwest and California routes have added to a cascading lack of equipment at a time of surging travel demand — a problem felt beyond the areas where the new equipment will operate, and extending into the long-distance fleet.

Cars in the Siemens order for coaches, business class, and café cars, purchased by the states, began arriving in summer 2020. After numerous delays caused in part by supply chain, testing, and manufacturing issues, four coaches finally began carrying travelers on one Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trainset on Feb. 1, 2022 [see “First look: Siemens Venture coaches debut …,” Trains News Wire, Feb. 2, 2022].

Cars withdrawn over table problem

View of two train seats and table
Magnets that hold these table extensions in place have been removed. Brackets are being installed to keep the flaps from extending while less powerful replacement magnets are acquired. Strong magnetic fields had disrupted electronic devices. (Bob Johnston)

But the Siemens equipment has since been withdrawn from service after it was learned that magnets in the four-seat work tables in the coaches were disrupting operation of passenger smartphones and laptops. Those magnets are used to lock extensions on the tables.

“While there were some reported occurrences of the magnets on the tables causing electronic devices to shut down, we have not received any reports of the magnets causing damage to any electronic devices,” says Scott Speegle, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation. “Out of an abundance of caution, the decision was made to take the Venture cars out of service and come up with a solution to the issue. We are working with our partners at Siemens and Amtrak to determine the best course of action and return the Venture cars to service as quickly as possible.”

The tables are different from those in similar equipment delivered to Brightline in 2018. Sources tell News Wire that a short-term solution is to affix brackets that prevent riders from extended the outer flaps until correct-strength magnets can be substituted.

New cars continue to arrive. “Three (combination) business class-coach cars have been delivered and are in the process of being accepted by the Midwest states and Amtrak,” Speegle says. This will have 36 business-class seats, double the seating available in the Horizon and Amfleet business class/café cars currently paired with the new equipment.

Still to come are the Venture cafés, which had always been planned as the final Midwest cars built.

This deployment setback is only the latest blow in an equipment shortage that has reverberated throughout the Amtrak network.

Domino effect

At the March 2020 outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Amtrak and states sponsoring short-distance corridors began mothballing unneeded cars and locomotives to avoid inspection and maintenance costs. The move spread to the long-distance fleet that October, when most trains were reduced to triweekly departures. That is also when operating, maintenance, and onboard service employees at many locations were furloughed or encouraged to take employment buyouts.

Amtrak received generous federal funding contingent on a return to daily operation, but management did not invest enough of that money into the equipment and personnel needed to ramp up capacity. That made the company especially vulnerable to the nationwide trend of prospective workers, including those it had previously furloughed, choosing new careers.

Additional shortfall issues developed when the Washington Department of Transportation’s Rail, Freight, and Ports Division opted to wait years for new state-owned Siemens coaches rather than continue what had become a fractured relationship with Talgo, Inc. This resulted in the abrupt 2020 retirement of four 22-year-old Series VI trainsets and cancellation of a maintenance contract with the builder. It also doomed use of three never-operated Talgo Series 8 trainsets, compatible with the two Oregon-owned sets which remain in operation on the Seattle-Eugene, Ore., Cascades corridor.

Talgo trainsets sitting on sidings
Idle Talgo Series 8 trainsets originally purchased by Wisconsin for Hiawathas undergo modifications at the company’s Milwaukee facility in July 2020, but they never entered service. The trainsets were recently sold to Nigeria.

Amtrak initially pushed for — and paid to help facilitate — retrofitting the orphan Series 8s with upgraded Wi-Fi and positive train control at Talgo’s Milwaukee facility that summer. This was meant to help fulfill Amtrak’s commitment to furnish equipment to replace that lost in the fatal December 2017 derailment of a Cascades train at DuPont, Wash. But when WashDOT said it didn’t want the brand new Talgos, Amtrak supplied 32-year-old Horizon coaches and business class/café cars. The Talgo trainsets were eventually sold for use in a new commuter operation in Nigeria.

Demand for Horizon cars remains

There was every reason to believe Horizons would become surplus once the Siemens equipment entered revenue service. As many as 12 coaches and five business class/café were sent to the Pacific Northwest to create four trainsets, but lately the active number is down to nine coaches and four cafe-business cars. With the two Oregon Talgos continuing to rotate among departures, this is just enough to protect three daily round trips north of Portland, Ore., to Seattle, and two that extend south to Eugene, Ore. Once Seattle-Vancouver, B.C., service begins, another trainset will be required, though no date for that resumption has been established [see “VIA’s Canadian restores dome access …,” News Wire, March 14, 2022].

Train at station platform
Seattle-bound Cascades train no. 500 departs Portland, Ore. on June 17, 2021, with Horizon equipment that replaced Talgo trainsets. (Bob Johnston)

Financially, Amtrak benefits from the Cascades arrangement because Washington state is paying it to lease and maintain fully depreciated Horizon cars, instead of having the money go to Talgo, as had been the case since the 1990s. But Amtrak still must provide at least 14 equipment sets to the Midwest while dozens of Venture cars remain idle.

Some Horizon cars have been repatriated from California, which has not yet placed its Siemens cars in service for reasons the state has declined to discuss with News Wire. But the Amfleet 1 coaches and café cars currently working on the Northeast Corridor could help fill the equipment demand.

Coming Saturday, April 2: Solutions to fill the gap

24 thoughts on “Siemens equipment delays aggravate Amtrak capacity issues: Special report

  1. There is not a railroad in the US more mismanaged that Amtrak. Period. And the reason is that it is a government-owned company.

  2. Clearly, current Amtrak mgmt is deliberately sabotaging service outside the NEC actively–short, reduced amenity LDTs, passively–failure to properly maintain/repair cars engines (say Chicago), and incompetence in the state services cars fiasco. Our Congressional representatives, DIOT Sec’y Buttegig, and Pres. Biden need to be emailed en masse to get the Amtrak board replaced and given firm direction. We got station staffing into the legislation last year only to have Amtrak pull the BS at Michigan City. They clearly act as if they have cover for wrecking the system.

  3. Hmmmm, magnets used near electronic devices, who could’ve seen that problem coming? 🤦‍♂️ Amtrak is a joke and needs to be scrapped and started over again.

  4. Hi people. Just a friendly reminder the Siemen’s Venture cars are not owned by Amtrak. They were not ordered by Amtrak. They are part of a mulit-state procurement led by I think Illinois. Please put the blame on the states not Amtrak.

    1. Illinois turned to Seimens when the bilevel order from the Japanese company failed the sill compression test. Anyway I should think someone at Amtrak was called on the vet the Seimens order and its various components major, minor and trim.

    2. As the bi-level order was financed by the Obama Administration, what federal agency vetted Japanese contractor to allow the deal to be subcontracted? Given the success enjoyed by Bombardier with its o wee n bi-levels initially developed by Canadian Car Co (Hudson Bay), why was Bombardier not considered.
      So Siemens takes over the corridor car order, but not for no-levels.

  5. There was a time when we had 4 major American passenger car builders who competently built the postwar streamlined equipment without major problems or delays (exceptions were initial supply chain issues 1945-1947; Corten steel cars rusting under faux stainless steel, e.g., MKT.
    Sadly, although the U.S. identified a national industrial policy to protect the heavy manufacturing base of aircraft construction, our government did not protect passenger railroad car manufacturing. The consequence was how Washington allowed Budd, Pullman, ACF, and StLouis Car to twist in the wind to be savaged by foreign competitors from Asia.

    As a state-owned enterprise (SOE), why should anybody be surprised with the history of problems and delays on Amtrak orders for new equipment, e.g., Superliners, CAF cars, Acela Ii, Siemens passenger cars, and now even LD diesel power. One particular reason can be attributed to the inability of Amtrak to assign knowledgeable managers on-site at the factories to ensure accountability for construction without the usual plethora of errors.

    Despite Amtrak’s track record of consistent failure to embrace accountability and transparency (see latest OIG report), we cannot expect any corrective action until Capitol Hill, which controls the purse, makes its demands known. This can only happen through the purse strings; including to turnout corporate management and the Board Chair.

  6. The article is pretty clear on the tables, variations between Amtrak’s and brightline order.. so not a true apple to apple comparison.
    But have to agree wholeheartedly with the the comments to the idiotic approach that Amtrak is taking in regards to the magnets, Why wouldn’t the design and engineer allow for magnetics to be removed themselves? So one less minor plus (having a magnet keeping your phone or device on the table) for the riders but that is what the airlines would do, or Greyhound would do. They would try to remove magnets as quick as possible and keep assets in use when demand soars. Airlines don’t tell everyone to get off the plane and park it if wifi doesn’t work, or can’t provide free in flight movie, or they don’t have enough cans of Coke, so on

  7. This is a rather sad commentary on the state of affairs about the country that led in development of railroad technologies for a century… A German company is building Amtrak trainsets in the US and nobody seems to have the engineering experience, organizational knowledge or ethics to provide something ON TIME, and WITHIN BUDGET.

    For those of you needing a reminder that the US can’t seem to build High Speed Rail (decent 60 MPH passenger rail) take a look how China is building HSR in Indonesia, on top of an active freeway!. Consider how absolutely pathetic the California HSR project has been or the failure to build true HSR in the Acela corridor, or even build 2 Hudson River tunnels.

    Indonesia’s Jakarta-Bandung HSR hits new milestone, completes complex section

    At least USA!USA! has the F-35, the Littoral Combat Ship, the KC-46 and the Ford Class of aircraft carriers (aka Sitting Ducks or DF-21 decoys).

    1. With a $780 billion annual defense budget we can build the best weaponary in the world hands down. Enough said on that point
      At some point you get world class rail if you spend enough money and or a autocratic society where the government can pretty much do anything please as like China

  8. The reason the cars in California are not in service is design stupidity. The cars are semi-permanently coupled together and need to be unbolted to separate them. The air hoses in between the cars have no coupling, the same as the air hose between well flats, they need to be disconnected with a wrench. If you have to set one out on the road it is a minimum of a half hour to unbolt everything and then again to couple back up. And then there is a problem with the new steps/handicap ramps that would need modifications to the station platforms. BNSF said “No way” to all of the above and rightly so. I am guessing the stupid comes from both Amtrak and Siemens. Siemens makes junk and Amtrak buys it.

    1. The Brightline fleet has the same couplers and BP/MR hoses and operates daily.

    2. The Amtrak Venture cars are individual pieces of equipment, they’re not semi-permanently or permanently coupled together like Brightlines. They have regular Tight-lock couplers and airhoses at both ends…perhaps you looked at the wrong bodies in the factory.

      P.S. – I think the magnets is just an excuse, a magnet shouldn’t affect your smart phone or tablet…especially cause it to turn off.

  9. Brightline was shut down for some time during covid so possibly the problems hadn’t been noticed yet & not many people ride it either.

  10. Why is it that a private outfit like Brightline is able to order and have delivered new cars and locomotives in a reasonable amount of time? If it is a case of private firms being able to acquire new equipment, then let some private firm buy it with money that Amtrak could repay as part of lease payments with an option to buy at the end of the period.

  11. They are withdrawing the cars because of the tables aren’t perfect!? Give me a break. This is a ridiculous joke Amtrak.

  12. When the first Venture series trainset joined the pre-Venture sets already in service in South Florida there was no problem.

  13. Why is this article avoiding the issue of out of service locos and cars that have been reported as high as 50% + ?

  14. “Spot ON” Galen. Becomes pretty clear, no usable equipment , no trains running L D. The handwriting on the wall is obvious!!!!

    1. Happened in Canada. Decades ago new LD equipment cancelled, now they have enough hertigae equipment for a few trains each month.

  15. So we have new Acelas, new Viewliners for estrn routes, new Siemans for midwest intercity …Somthing is missing? Oh yes new LD equipment for wstrn trains. Superliners are older than most of this equipment 40 yrs old for Sprlnr I’s. Or is this the plan wait until next year when/if Congress flips & the appropriations get clawed back & repurposed? Oh sorry no money left for new LD equipment we’ll have to make do with what we have but they’re getting too expensive to maintain so we will have to reduce service to reflect this.

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